Christianity and Religious Diversity
Christopher J Wiles
pastor | writer | speaker
“When I was a teenager, my dad gave me several books to read – the Bible, the Koran, the I Ching, some Buddhist writings – so I could be open-minded and discover a spiritual path for myself and understand God more fully. Christians don’t seem to appreciate the beauty of other faiths. They seem so closed-minded and even look at other religions as enemies….After reading the various religious writings that my dad gave me, I was drawn to more of a Tibetan Buddhist spirituality. The mysticism is very attractive and it is steeped in history and tradition that predates Catholicism and Christianity, which I also found fascinating. I didn’t realize that most world religions have beginnings that predate the church.” (Duggan, 30 yr old coffee shop manager)
“Why do Christians act so horribly self-righteous when they tell us that they are the only true religion and everyone else who holds to other faiths is wrong? They have this ‘my god is the biggest god on the block and can beat up your god’ attitude. I don’t see this attitude in what I know of Jesus.” (Penny, 35 yr old advertising director)
Duggan and Penny, quoted in Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus but not the Church, are not alone.
According to a 2002 study conducted by NEWSWEEK magazine and Beliefnet, 8 out of 10 Americans believe that more than one faith can lead to salvation. Roughly 1 in 5 had switched religions as an adult.
In a 1998 interview with Q Magazine, Madonna stated that “…all paths lead to God. It’s a shame that we end up having religious wars, because so many of the messages are the same.”
The irony is that Christians are not really that different. According to research conducted by Lifeway research, 61% of evangelicals believe that “the God of the Bible is no different from the gods or spiritual beings depicted by world religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.”
In this kind of culture, it seems little wonder that comments such as those made by Brit Hume would be received with such disdain.
TOWARDS AN UNDERSTANDING
These next few posts will be dedicated to understanding the culture around us with respect to religious diversity. The incident involving Brit Hume reveals the widespread lack of preparedness (on both sides) for intelligent dialogue on the subject.
Let me be clear: I am not trying to defend Brit Hume. As far as Hume is concerned I hold two things in tension: I’m genuinely unsure if what he said was appropriate for the situation and yet, at the same time, I certainly don’t see any wisdom in the suggestion that as a reporter, Hume should be expected to check his faith at the door.
What I am concerned with is equipping my readers towards a more intelligent dialogue on such questions as, “What is religion?” “How do we deal with the diversity of religions out there?” and “Isn’t it arrogant to suggest that one religion is better than another?” The latter question lies at the heart of the Brit Hume debate.
I keep editing this post as I write. The great temptation is to dive in and immediately start dropping words, quotes and ideas like hand grenades. But I really want to take some time and court these ideas rather than running down the aisle of the wedding chapel (feel free to use that metaphor).
There are many concessions I feel are worth making:
- I am a seminary-educated, evangelical Christian. I make no secret of my deep faith and strong convictions. These posts will be written from that perspective.
- I do not believe in absolute objectivity. We all have biases of some fashion. The goal should not be to ignore our biases, but to become more fully aware of them and how they shape our thinking.
- A worldview (more on this later) is a lens through which we observe the world, but it is also a set of blinders that prevent us from seeing things from others’ point of view. We must be cautious of this, especially since my main objection has been that Hume’s critics have assumed themselves immune from this phenomenon.
- We must avoid the dreaded “culture war.” I’m sorry to say that many Christians actually pride themselves for standing up against the infamous “liberal agenda.” The end result is an “us” versus “them” scenario that only furthers the divide between Christianity and mainstream culture.
- In today’s world, dialogue is more valuable than debate. The reason? It’s not about winning arguments. It’s about sharing a message of love and grace.
I write about a lot of things. Faith and culture is my specialty. I don’t always write that well. Bear with me.
But please stick with me on this one, because it is so very important regardless of where you are spiritually. If I succeed, these posts will make you better able to navigate the seas of contemporary religious discussion.
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Christopher J Wiles
pastor | writer | speaker
Chris is a writer and speaker. He currently serves as teaching pastor at Tri-State Fellowship and as a research writer for Docent Research Group.
Human beings, as we’ve just noted, bear God’s image. We “take after” God, so to speak—much as we might say that a child “takes after” his earthly father. It means that we share with God some aspect of his character, his nature, even his gifts. In the immediate context of Genesis, this means two things. Because man bears the image of a Creator, we share in his capacity for creativity. And because we bear the image of God’s divine community (Father, Son, and Spirit), we share in his capacity for relationship.
Or perhaps “capacity” is too clinical a term for such elemental gifts. For these qualities are indeed divine gifts, just as human language likewise has its origin in God himself. In his recent work on the clarity of Scripture, Mark Thompson notes that “God is himself the source of human language. He is the first speaker and invests language with a deep significance for generation and nourishing personal relationships.”
If language is a divine gift, writing becomes a liturgical practice. It is through language that the human needs for creativity and relationship are brought together. Surely writing is not the only means of human communication, but there is a uniqueness to the craft that cannot be so easily snuffed out by a so-called “post-literate” world. When we write, we write to engage the world—or at least our small corner of it. We write in order to hone our God-given skills of creativity and make a meaningful contribution to humanity’s collective imagination. We write because it’s in our blood, in our hands, in our soul.
Christianity says that God’s Word shaped God’s original creation, but God’s Word likewise takes prominence in God’s new creation. “In the beginning was the Word,” John tells us—cribbing lines from the opening pages of Genesis. The Word of God, once confined to the page now takes on human flesh in the person of Jesus. Christianity calls this the incarnation, meaning that in Jesus God literally became a human being to walk among us, to share life with us, and to give his life that we might live.
Writing is part of the way we engage and share the gospel narrative. Writing is therefore an incarnational practice, a means by which the story of God is translated into the various languages of human culture.
Living the gospel narrative means not only “take and read” but also “write and give.” Every voice is different. Every voice matters.
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