Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Inter-Religious Dialogue

Over at 'A Thinking Reed' blog they have posted on 'Stendahl's Rules'. They are a set of three rules attributed to Krister Stendahl, meant for use with inter-religious dialogue. Supposedly they were formulated when he had dialogue regarding the building of a Mormon temple. The rules are:

(1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.

(2) Don't compare your best to their worst.

(3) Leave room for "holy envy." (By this Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)

Whether the are actually his or not I think these are a great place to start. Too often Christians go in all guns blazing trying to force Christ upon non-Christians and beat them into submission rather then acting with grace and as 1 Peter 3: 15-16 states; "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (My emphasis)

I think that Acts 17: 16-24 is a great place to start in understanding a Christian response to other religions. Here Paul seems to do at least two of Standahl's rules. Here Paul is evangelising to the Athenians including Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who wished to know more so invited him to share. Here we see a genuine interest in communicating from both sides, rather then Paul just shouting at random people. Paul has, before this interaction, studied the iconography of the city (TO AN UNKNOWN GOD and studied the poetry of its adherents (Rules 1). I think it's not too much of a stretch to assume that Paul had learnt this from adherents and also since he uses it positively that he is using their best to compare with Christianity (Rules 2). For Rule 3 we need to move away from Paul and see that when Paul talked of the resurrection some of the philosophers stayed open (although it was contrary to their beliefs, and asked to hear more on the subject.

I'm not suggesting that we copy exactly what Paul did as he worked within their culture, (As Verse 21 says, "All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas"), but the concept are there I think.

With that said I think we need to add one more rule:

4) [Do not be] "ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." (Rom 1:16).

Too often with inter-religious dialogue it seems that if people aren't at each others throats they are so concerned with finding similarities that they are ashamed, or at least refuse, to share the things which are unique and in the Christian case that is the good news that can save. What is the point of Inter-religious dialogue? I can only see two:

A) Bring about/ keep peace between differing groups

B) Evangelise

I believe both parts are important and all 4 rules are needed for a base point to achieve the purposes of inter-religious dialogue.

Till Next Time!

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