Should Christians Respect "Other" Beliefs?
Last week I attended a gathering titled "The Dare Effect" with guest speaker Dilly's Brooks. This blog series are my thoughts on some of the conversations we engaged in.
Alterity is defined as "the state of being other or different". At first glance, alterity appears to be just a fact of life that we must all learn to live with. After all, our world is full of diversity. But how do we relate to this concept of "otherness" when it comes to faith and worldview? For example, Jesus declared that a connection to the Father is not possible outside of himself. In truth, Jesus has just declared that there is a gulf that separates man from God and that there is only one bridge which allows man to reconnect with God. Jesus then declares that he alone is that bridge. By default, all other bridges are faulty. In his immediate context these would have been the bridges of Platonism, Aristotelianism, Hellenism, Pharisaism, and contemporary Judaism. Jesus doesn't seem to mind that he is offending his hearers by neutering the perceived effectiveness of their systems of belief. He declares unequivocally: "No one can come to the Father except through me" (John 14:6)
So where does this leave us in the present age? In a world in which many worldviews and religions coexist? How are Jesus-followers to relate to the Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews? How are we to connect with the Marxist, Humanist, Skeptic, and Post-Modern? Do we respect their worldview? Or do we condemn it as just another faulty bridge unable to fully bridge the gap between God and man?
The question is truly not difficult to answer. All one needs to do is observe the many decades in which the church has attempted to force its belief on other cultures to realize that it never has nor will it ever work. If there is a faulty bridge that eclipses all other faulty bridges in its faultiness it is the bridge of coerced religion. If there is one thing guaranteed to not only keep man and God separated but to compound the separation it is this: religious intolerance. If the Jesus story is to penetrate the human heart one thing is clear - it cannot be forced.
However, the opposite is just as true. In our Post-Modern world tolerance has taken on a whole new meaning. What was once seen as a healthy respect for the "otherness" of another has now morphed into a type of indifference which considers the very proclamation of an alter-story the height of arrogance. In order to avoid being seen as Bible bashers many Jesus-followers embrace this hyper-tolerance and in doing so lose their sense of urgency - or even necessity - to share the Bibles redemptive alter-story. We reason that telling the story is too confronting so we stop telling it even though Jesus himself charged us to tell it.
So is there a middle ground? Is it possible to be intentional about the Jesus-story without being intolerant toward the "otherness" of the culture around us? I believe so. Here are some of the ways in which I personally approach this tension:
- Don't try and convert people. Just love them. It's God's responsibility to lead the conscience of man, not ours.
- Don't make relationships with people because you are looking for a baptism. Connect with them because you really, truly care.
- Seek to be with people.
- Seek to understand people rather than argue with them about their beliefs. Ask them to explain their worldview to you and seek to truly enter into their world and see the world through their eyes. In other words, become an other with he who is another.
- Find common ground with other worldviews and celebrate those.
- Live out the Jesus-story in your personal life and be ready to connect others to him. Don't hide your faith. Instead, live it out in an organic and enriching way.
- Plant seeds. Let God water and grow them.
- Be prepared to teach the gospel from the Bible and to lead someone into a relationship with Jesus. Although God is the one who waters and grows the seed, he is known to use us as his watering-can.
- Seek God constantly for indwelling of his Spirit. Apart from him we can never hope to connect anyone to Jesus.
The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, "Follow Me." - Ellen G. WhiteDo you have any other ideas that can help? Share them below!