We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Occasional Convergences

Doi Saket Temple, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Although we sometimes seem to live in different worlds, there is evidence of a fair amount of cross-fertilization between evangelicals and ecumenicals (a.k.a. the mainline).  A wing of the evangelical movement, for example, has developed a deep concern for issues of social justice and for the environment.  There are mainline churches, meanwhile, that are discovering the importance of engaging in evangelism.  In particular cases, ecumenicals and evangelicals are each learning to speak the language of the other.  A case in point is a recent posting by Prof. Paul Louis Metzger, a self-styled evangelical, entitled, "Mormons and Buddhists are not “Isms” or “Ists.  They're people.”  Metzger calls on evangelicals to be more sensitive to the heritages and faith perspectives of people of other faiths and advocates what we might call a "soft" approach to evangelism by which one approaches others out of respect and a genuine desire to learn about their faith in hopes that the sharing that follows will help them see Christ. He concludes the posting by saying that, "Hopefully, the more personally and particularly we engage diverse religious practitioners from the perspective of their experiential participation in their traditions, the more they will experience through us and hopefully for themselves how personal—not packaged—the Jesus revealed in the Bible really is."

While some liberal Christians might feel that Metzger still has too much of an agenda, the tone and feel of his approach to people of other faiths stands in stark contrast to that of many evangelicals who are dismissive of other religions and certainly would not be willing to listen to what their adherents have to say.  In interfaith settings, there is nothing inherently wrong with a respectful mutual sharing of one's own faith.  The key is a willingness to be shared with as much (or more) than to share.  I recommend that you take a look at Metzger's posting.  It represents a hopeful convergence between the best of ecumenical and evangelical thinking.