Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Humble dialogue

Yesterday I was reading an interesting article by John Azumah1 which argues for the centrality of Jesus' uniqueness in interfaith dialogue. He argues, from his experience in Africa, that only by maintaining Jesus' uniqueness do we accord right respect to our dialogue partners. But, significantly, he still thinks this will lead to humility in evangelism, because the manner of our dialogue will reflect God's attitude.

Finally, in talking about following Jesus as unique Lord and Saviour in a broken world, Christians should bear in mind how the Lord Jesus himself chose to be remembered. ‘And he took bread, [...] It is significant that, of all which he accomplished during his time on earth, Jesus chose the brokenness of his body, his crucifixion and death for his own memorial, rather than his miracles or exaltation. The lust for power and dominance is one of the principal causes of the brokenness of our world.2

This particularly struck me because earlier I had read an article reviewing Cardinal Ratzinger's theology of dialogue prior to his becoming Pope Benedict XIV.3 Caldecott also is confident that a claim that a belief is true need not lead to an arrogant attitude in dialogue. In his article, it is provided by a confidence that truth is external to those in dialogue and is being sought by them. He considers, with Fr Kereszty, that for Christians this stems from the incarnation:

God’s mode of self-revelation takes this into account, since God (who is the ultimate truth) approaches us through an Incarnation that only fully reveals its riches “through the whole of history and through all redeemed humankind”. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.4

Adding Azumah's observation, it is not just that God bends down in the incarnation but that he humbles himself to the point of dying for us.

And I wonder if that implies that one of the best ways of entering into dialogue with other faiths is to introduce them to this truth that stands outside ourselves. That is, to read the Scriptures with them. They, in turn, will point us to wherever they believe they encounter objective truth. But for a Christian to read Scripture with someone should be an immense act of humility, for we are encouraging them to hear the message of Christ, not as we would argue and present it, but as it is proclaimed by the Scriptures themselves. And we will look, not to our own persuasive power, but to the Spirit to make this external truth effective for that individual.

And further, if they reject this truth, we do not need to feel personal offense. For they have not rejected us and our arguments. They have been interacting with the Father who speaks in the world by the Gospel which testifies to his Son. And it is the Spirit who will make that word effective. Even for us.

1 John Azumah, ‘Following Jesus as Unique Lord and Saviour in a Broken Pluralistic World’ Evangelical Review of Theology 31/4 (2007): 294–305.

2 Azumah, 'Following Jesus', 305.

3 Stratford Caldecott, ‘Benedict XVI and Inter-Religious Dialogue’ Transformation 23/4 (2006): 199–204.

3 Caldecott, ‘Benedict XVI’ 202.

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