Posts Tagged ‘Evangelism’

Christian Witness in a Pluralistic World: Renewing Christian Faith

Monday, June 10th, 2013 by Amos Yong

witnessThere is no doubt that Christian faith is exclusively in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NRSV), and the apostles also declared, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jews might anticipate a messianic deliverer who will reunite the people of God with Yahweh, but they do not hold, as Christians do, that Jesus is that Messiah. Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet but both subordinate his message to that of Muhammad’s and do not understand his claim, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30), in a similar manner as Christians. In other words, Christians make unique and exclusive claims about Jesus as savior and revealer of the Father.

But Christians are not the only ones with unique and exclusive claims. In fact, all religious traditions, by virtue of the fact that they are what they are and not something else, have such claims. Some might even follow up on such claims with concomitant actions in ways that put Christians to shame. The apostle James agrees that, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:17).

Apologetically, then, I think actions speak louder than words. While on occasions thoughtful members of other faiths convert to Christ because of the rhetorical persuasiveness, intellectual coherence, and aesthetic attractiveness of the Christian message, these are exceptions that still, in time, ought to be followed by conversions of the heart. At this level, people come to Christ not because he is reducible to a set of ideas but because as the living “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb. 1:3a), Jesus and his followers touch hearts, heal bodies, and transform lives and communities. Christian mission in a pluralistic world is most effective when clear proclamation of the message of the gospel – of Jesus as savior, healer, sanctifier, and coming king – is preceded and supported by works of love, mercy, peace, and justice.

Trinitarian mission in this holistic sense cannot be merely exclusivistic. Sometimes communal transformation invites Christians to work alongside people of other or no faith in order to effect change. There is no need to compromise on what we believe and confess in these cases, but there may be many good reasons to collaborate with others in order to bring about common good. Sometimes, we may even need to choose not to engage in certain actions, otherwise appropriate and even normative, if that might distract from or stumble the “weak” – as St. Paul, for instance, suggested not eating meat offered to idols in some contexts which might be fine in other contexts – and thereby undermine the witness to Christ needed for the moment. There are many levels at which Christians can and should address the plight of the unfortunate (orphans, widows, the impoverished, and people with disabilities, among others), and some levels of engagement summon, if not require, interfaith cooperation. Christians bear witness to the living Christ on these occasions by serving those in need; in fact, it may well also be that all so engaged minister to Christ himself. Effective missional witness in a pluralistic world, hence, involves addressing human heads (the cognitive dimension) and human hearts and hands (the embodied and social domains).

Yet I also think that given the goodness, truth, and beauty that is refracted through other cultural and religious traditions, Christians should be motivated to dialogue with those in other faiths not only missionally but also for our ongoing self-understanding. By dialogue, however, I don’t mean only those formal occasions involving representative intellectuals but those circumstances when we can be hosts and guests of those in other faiths in order to get to know them, share our lives with them, and learn from them. The point of dialogue is that there is a mutuality of interaction, relationship, and transformation, just as when Peter met Cornelius (Acts 10). I mention being hosts and guests since sometimes, Christians are reluctant to embrace the latter role. It is simpler, and safer, to be hosts of those in other faiths since hosts establish the ground rules for the meeting. However, Jesus Christ himself is the paradigmatic guest himself in his incarnation even as the Holy Spirit desires to be the guest in every human heart. Christian missionaries have also been exemplary guests, as they are sent ones who enter into the spaces and times of others. Guests bring with them gifts – the gospel – but are also open to the hospitality of others, as Paul himself received such from the Maltese barbarians (Acts 28:1-10).

And what do others have to offer besides physical nourishment? Do Christians really have anything to learn from others that they do not already know? The Day of Pentecost narrative suggests that God’s salvation history involves the redemption of many languages in order that the world might say, “in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11). Languages we know are culturally embedded, as are religious traditions. Hence, the capacity of languages to declare the glory of God suggests that the highest aspirations of cultural and religious traditions may also be redeemed for divine purposes. This is not to say that each and every word of every language is sanctified in some absolute sense, nor is it to naively sanction all cultural and religious realities. It is to say that there is no reason why authentic dialogical and conversational interaction with people of other faith should not be catalytic for Christian self-transformation. Might not our interaction with religious others teach us humility, open us up to graces all humans hold in common, prompt question our own traditions (which are sometimes also encrusted in many ways by cultural accretions such that their original purposes have become obscured), and help us recognize that despite all we think we know, often in the face of reality we must be mute and wait for divine revelation to know how to “live, and move, and have our being”?

Christians should expect nothing less in faith. Not only do we now see through a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12), but we worship and serve a living Christ who cannot be reduced to any set of propositions. In fact, only in the eschatological future will he be fully manifest: “when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). This is not to say that the future revelation of Christ will contradict what is known about him now from scripture and especially the dogmatic tradition, rightly understood. It is to say that there might be unexpected convergences that the eschaton will bring to light.

Evangelicals like to say that theirs is not a religion but a relationship. They are also primed, when they go on mission trips, to testify about their own lives being changed by the experience. I see no reason why interacting with people of other faiths ought not also to transform their lives by deepening their understanding of and relationship with the living Christ. Especially when led by the Spirit of Christ, Christian witness in a pluralistic world will surely bring about conversions to Christ; but it might also bring about Christian transformation, indeed revitalization and renewal.


Reflections on Christian T-Shirts & Bumper Stickers

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 by Marc Santom

While I was driving up to Michigan from Ohio a few weeks ago, I noticed a giant billboard that read, “Jesus is Real.” Now, as a Christ-follower, I already know that Jesus is real, but seeing it written against a 40- foot high silver backdrop, it actually made Jesus seem less real to me in that moment.  I thought, “If the immeasurably transcendent and all powerful God of the universe is real, then why would He need some tacky billboard to declare what He could not declare, Himself?” That well-intentioned billboard somehow managed to make the reality of Jesus quite artificial.

In that same vein, I’ve been noticing what is actually written on Christian t-shirts donned by fellow followers of Jesus. Here are a few I saw just this past week: “Get Right or Get Left” and “This Blood’s for You” and “Jesus: Tougher Than Nails.”

While I was at it, I observed a few bumper stickers out on the road: “Jesus Is The Answer” and “Know Jesus, Know Peace. No Jesus, No Peace” and, one of my favorites: “Jesus Loves the Hell Out of You.”

We evangelicals really don’t get that there is a lot of truth to the saying that ”the medium is the message.” God knows this; that’s why He orchestrated the Incarnation of Jesus instead of merely sending us a book that informed us about grace, love and salvation. Instead of dropping tablets from the sky declaring the truth of redemption and information about promise of the Spirit and the coming Kingdom, He sent His Son in flesh and blood—the fragile child clothed in humanity who was also the full manifestation of the Father, not to mention the personification of grace, love and redemption. Jesus didn’t just bring the message of God. He was the message of God.

So what does this have to do with Christian t-shirts and bumpers stickers?

Read the rest of this entry »

So You Think You Can Dance?

Sunday, April 11th, 2010 by Marc Santom

Given the renewal nature of our upstart blog (and the evangelical propensity to try and contain, confine and control how God works), I wanted to share one of my favorite non-biblical expressions about the nature of the Holy Spirit. It’s from a chapter entitled “Fear of Dancing” from John Fischer’s book, Real Christians Don’t Dance.

The Spirit of God dances. He can’t be tamed. He won’t be contained. He refuses to be confined to a weekend retreat, an evening meeting, or even a moment of devotion. He doesn’t follow schedules, programs, or agendas, and He doesn’t wait for His name to be called.

The Spirit of God dances…on out into the streets. He dances by the harlots in the red-light districts, by the victims of AIDS in lonely homes, by bag ladies in the inner cities, and by struggling farm families across the plains. He finds the orphans and widows and dances through the lonely pain of their lives.

He dances through the camps of hungry children, through the crowded streets of the oppressed, and past the wire where the South African woman is hanging out ragged laundry as well as by the scrubbed white faces sitting in church in the nearby city.

His favorite dancing places are those where [we] don’t want Him to go: on MTV, on drive-in movie screens, or on smoky stages with microphones that smell of whiskey. The Spirit of God loves sinners and dances best where life spills out on the floor.

The Spirit of God refuses to be choreographed. His dance is raw, new, and jerky. It’s not always pleasing to the eye, but His dance is fresh in the lives of human beings whose floors have not been cleaned up. It isn’t well-rehearsed, polished, or perfect; it slips and slides, sometimes innovative and shocking and at other times just exhilarant, but it’s always real.

Most people, even those who pride themselves in their dancing, are afraid of this spontaneous dance. They’re afraid of anything they can’t control…so they must create their own dance of predictable steps and prescribed routines and send all their people through dance school — or outlaw dance altogether.

But this should come as no surprise. It has always been this way. The Lord of the Dance himself was here once, and it was the same way then. He danced on the keepers’ holy days and broke their holy laws. His timing — if not His whole dance — always seemed offbeat…

He wanted to turn their empty religious movements into heartfelt, joyous dancing. He wanted them to exchange the grip of the Law for the freedom of the dance. But they thought He was a clumsy dancer, always bumping into their traditions and stepping on their pious toes. He even danced with the wrong crowd, in smoke-filled rooms and on messy floors.

Once He described His generation and declared, “We played the flute for you, but you would not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ “

No, nothing’s really changed… but the Spirit of God dances on.

While most of Fischer’s words aren’t Scripture, they are bursting with compelling reminders as to the uncontainable, un-confinable and uncontrollable nature of the Holy Spirit. And, like a snowball in the face, his words remind us of our innate fear of following God’s Spirit into places that are seemingly dark, uncharted, off-limits, secular and, heaven forbid, offensive to our Christian sensibilities.

You see, I grew up in a church culture where the Spirit of God was free to dance in the midst of our Sunday morning party, but I suppose we figured it best if we locked him up in the sanctuary all week so He could rest up and prepare his new song and dance for us the following Sunday. Many of us didn’t know that He, like Jesus, would not be restrained to dancing only with religious people in sacred settings. We didn’t know that, when church was over, He was rolling up His sleeves and going to dance in places we would never go–lest we get too offended or “infected” by the dirtiness of those places and the people who lived there.  Don’t get me wrong, we’d be willing to breeze in and out of there to hand out tracts to these “spiritual targets.” But to dance with them and do life with them? That just wasn’t for us.

May I continually be reminded that the Spirit of God first hovered over the dark, formless chaos (Gen. 1:2) and continues to, like the wind, blows where it wishes (John 3:8).  This same Spirit knows no boundaries and finds no dark, shadowy territory to be off-limits. After all, if it is true that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Ps. 24:1),” then why shouldn’t we expect the Spirit to be imparting God’s life to every square inch of this fallen world?  And dare I follow His lead as He teaches me to dance out there where church steeples are no longer in sight?