REV. MATHEW PHILIP

Happy Christmas & A Prosperous New Year...re to edit subtitle

Stanley Jones' Dialogue

THE UNIQUE CHRIST AT THE CENTER OF JONES’ ROUND TABLE CONFERENCES AND THE IMPLICATIONS TO THE INTER-FAITH DIALOGUE TODAY

 

Mathew Philip

Published in Biblical Theology of Missions, Bangalore: cfcc, 2005. pp. 302-322.

 

Introduction

The Round Table Conferences organized by Dr. E. Stanley Jones, who was an American Methodist missionary in India for more than forty years, have wider implications for the inter-religious dialogue today in India and worldwide.  There is much in common between these Round Table Conferences and dialogue of more recent concern.  The writer assumes that most of the inter-faith dialogues today have become trendier and not much experience-based. So the result of which is compromise that leads to syncretism.  The concern of the writer here is whether Christ can be compromised for the sake of dialogue. The writer’s intention in this study is to examine the Round Table Conferences of Jones and to apply the lessons to inter-faith dialogue today.

The Round Table Conferences conducted by Stanley Jones, between adherents of different faiths in India, was one of his approaches to reach non-Christians with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This Round Table approach was an offspring of his public lectures to the intellectuals of India.

What made Jones’ Round Table Conferences inevitable?  He wrote in 1928 that until then the usual attitude of members of the various faiths and cultures toward each other was that of criticism and a lack of appreciation.  Today the pendulum has swung back the other way to an attitude on the part of many of unqualified approval or to the attitude that all faiths are more or less the same.  The time has now come for an attitude between these extremes; namely, an attitude of appreciation with appraisal.[1]  In order to discover what is most delicate and fine in religion, Jones argued, there must be an attitude of spiritual openness, of inward sensitiveness to the Divine, a willingness to be led by the beckoning spiritual facts.  Jones felt the Round Table Conferences tended to bring this about.[2]  He found this type of dialogue one of the most effective methods of approaching the intellectuals of India.  In one of his best-known books, Christ at the Round Table, Jones described the principles of his work.

A.     The Inception of Jones’ Dialogue

Jones discovered a way to meet and fellowship with non-Christians.  That was in his Round Table Conferences.  Regarding this, he said, ‘it is not the way, it is a way to the way, a very effective way.”[3]  He felt the necessity of a dialogue that was more intimate and personal than professional public meetings.  This attempt was made in the late 1920s, which was at least forty years before the present vogue of dialogue arose.[4]  Stephen Neill in his autobiography stated that Jones was doing something that at that time no one else was doing in India and Jones made this his lifework.[5]  Jones then, was the pioneer of dialogue in India.

The inception of Jones’ Round Table Conference was at a tea party arranged by a Hindu friend at his home.  This Hindu friend invited several of his friends to his home to listen to Jones.  They sat in a circle on the floor and talked about how they might find Christ in their lives.  When one of them asked Jones how he found Christ, he explained the story of his conversion and subsequent experience.  The participants were very much impressed by this Christ of experience and asked how to find Christ.  There he found a deeper demand for Christ by non-Christians.  Regarding this Jones said, “They wanted to know about this Christ of experience.[6]  He offered to invite a similar group of men to a garden party at which Jones could try to proceed with the same sort of discussion.  As Jones was walking through the garden on his way to the group thinking of what he should say to them, a thought came into his mind.  It was to turn the whole meeting into a religious Round Table Conference asking each man to tell what religion meant to him in personal experience.[7]  Out of those conversations Jones’ famous Round Table Conference grew.  From then onwards he had conducted scores of Round Table Conferences and found them to be very successful in communicating Christ to the people of other faiths.

The origin of the name was earlier than this garden party.  He had held a Round Table Conference for some active nationalists at which they had talked of the Christ of the Indian road and the plight of the outcastes.  Also a committee at the 1923 central Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church of South Asia, of which Jones was the chairman, recommended the use of such Conferences with educated non-Christians to talk over difficulties and objections and get them into living touch with Christ.[8]  Stanley Wolpert shows from the history that there were political Round Table Conferences going on between Indian National Congress and British in 1930s.[9]  So, Jones might have picked up the term, ‘Round Table Conference’, from the Britishers of that time.[10] 

Initially all the Conferences were for men only since this was what the social customs dictated.  However, at times Jones held them for groups of women.[11]  Participants of such Conferences included judges, government officials, doctors, lawyers, and devotees of various cults.[12]  The basis of his Conferences was religious experience.  For the emphasis on experience, he felt, was closer to the mind of Jesus.  According to him, the heart of the world through its scientific outlook is being prepared for this emphasis.  Further he said that India too was more and more turning from wordy disputation to the facts and to experience.[13]  R.S. Varma, the present Acharya of Sat Tal Ashram,[14] said that Jones had done an excellent job in approaching Indian intellectuals through his Round Table Conferences.

He was a friend of Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and other national leaders.  So intellectuals in the higher levels of society knew him very well.  So they were ready to go to him and discuss religious matters.  They had a high regard for him.  No intellectuals in those days would go to an Indian priest or religious leader.  It was a tremendous experiment done by Jones in his days.  He set an example for us to continue to use the methods involved in it for the present day dialogue.[15]

B. The Method of Dialogue

How Jones through his Round Table Conferences implemented dialogue needs special consideration.  He defined the word dialogue in this way: “The word “dialogue” means “through words”, an exchange of words.  That can be helpful to get understanding of each other’s standpoint and outlook.  But it can also be very shallow, inconclusive, and fruitless”.[16] 

So Jones was led in his simplicity to adopt a method that went deeper.  During his public meetings he would announce what he called a Round Table Conference.  He usually would invite about fifteen members of other faiths and about five or six Christians to compose the Round Table.[17]  He tried to get the members of other faiths at the very highest level.  Obviously a majority of them were educated.  He also invited representatives of other faiths who had been untouched by Western education and who spoke only in the vernacular, namely, Pandits, Sadhus, Moslem maulvis, and Buddhist monks.  Among the Christians the majority were usually Indians.[18]  By the 1940s, the number in these meetings was raised to between thirty or forty.[19]  He suggested two thirds be non-Christians and one-third Christians in his Conferences. That was to avoid the misunderstanding that Christians had packed the meeting.[20]

The conferences had been remarkably free from wordiness.  He allowed people to speak from their real experiences.  In the dialogue which he developed the main emphasis was neither on the rival civilizations of East and West, nor on the rival scriptures of Hindus and Christians, not even on the rival personalities of Krishna and Christ, but on what each man’s religion meant to him in his own experience.  Even though this has been criticized by many, and one cannot help agreeing that human testimony does seem rather to have eclipsed the divine objective testimony to Christ in Scriptures, John Stott said that God honored Jones’ method.[21] In these Conferences he would ask each member to tell the group what they had found through their faith and what did it do for them in their everyday life.  He also suggested,

No one argue, no one talk abstractly, not one discuss the other person’s faith pro or con, no one preach at the rest of us; but you simply tell what you have found in experience.  If you are an agnostic or an atheist, tell us what your agnosticism or atheism has done for you in experience. [22]

He did not compel any one to share, nor did he comment on what each had said.  He also would not sum up at the close and draw conclusions.  He would rather simply allow the facts to speak for themselves.[23]  Sherwood Eddy stated that Jones would leave his meetings open to questions, and usually had round table groups in which the freest discussion was welcomed.[24] 

It is true that the nature of his dialogue was open to frank discussion.  Regarding this Jones himself stated,

I felt I would be unfair if I did not let these representatives speak and interpret their own faith.  I could do it because these Round Table Conferences were not Round Table Confidences.  They were open and frank, each man laying before us what religion was meaning to him.  Each was given the chance to say the best he could about his own faith.[25]

Usually the more familiar approaches were controversial, comparative and dogmatic in regard to religion.  Jones, however, adopted a new method that was more closely akin to the scientific method.  According to him it was a method very gripping to the mind of the world.  This method had three outstanding things in it.  They were Experimentation, Verification, and sharing of Results.[26]  He allowed others to tell what their religions meant to them, and what religion had brought to them.  They would discuss what it brought in terms of light, or moral dynamic for personal and social life, of inward peace and harmony, of redemption from sin and from the power of this world, or God and what are they verifying as true in experience.  He allowed them to share the results of their verification.[27]  At the beginning of each Conference Jones would say, “Let everyone be perfectly free, for we are a family circle; we want each one to feel at home and we will listen with reverence and respect to what each man has to share.”[28]

He always wanted to bring an atmosphere of deep reality and sincerity in sharing at the Round Table Conferences.  In these Conferences, the presupposition was that the people of other faiths would be glad to have a chance to present the best they could about their faith.[29]  Jones was also flexible in his method.  It was not compulsory that everyone should share.  He suggested, “no one need feel that he must speak at this Conferences.”[30]

Six categories of people attended his Conferences.  There were (1) the followers of the Vedanta; (2) the followers of Bhakti or devotion to the personal God or gods; (3) the followers of Karma Yoga or the way of works; (4) those who are skeptical; (5) those deeply influenced by Christianity; and (6) a group holding miscellaneous views.[31] There was no boasting of spiritual attainment which would have made the whole thing intolerable, but only grateful hearts laying the tribute of their love to the feet of the Redeemer.[32]  Even though non-Christian faiths seemed to be proving inadequate for life, Jones tried to look at both sides of things.  He said, “It would not be a Round Table if we looked at only one side of things.”[33] 

On what basis was the dialogue to take place?  Was it to be on the basis of discussing the views and opinions and doctrines and practices of the Christians and the non-Christians?  According to Jones, modern dialogues in India have been on the basis of discussing the views and opinions and doctrines and practices of the Christians and non-Christians.  Jones found that this method would end up in a discussion group, which tried to find verbal answers to verbal questions.  To him, it would be the Word become Word.  He said, “We felt we should drop from the verbal level to the vital level – the Word must become flesh.  We would share at the level of experience.”[34]  So his Round Table Conferences dropped from the verbal level to the vital level and he shared at the level of experience.  Jones made religion in experience as a basic working hypothesis for his dialogue.

The Purpose of Jones’ Dialogue was not a victory over another faith.  He said, “I found myself not particularly interested in the victory, as such, of one religious system over another.  That might take place and we be still far from the goal.”[35]  If victory of one faith over another faith is the aim, one cannot attain the ultimate goal.  Pursuing this further Jones wrote, “The crusaders conquered Jerusalem and found in the end that Christ was not there.  They had lost him through the very spirit and methods by which they sought to serve him.  Many more modern and more refined crusaders end in that same barrenness of victory.”[36]  Rather his purpose was an attempt to arrive at a mutual understanding between the different faiths or ideologies.  He asked,

Why not sit down at Round Tables as Christian men and women and see what religion is meaning to us in experience?  We would listen reverently to what the other man would say it was meaning to us.  At the close we might not be agreed, but we would be mutually enriched, and certainly we would be closer to the real issues.[37]

By his Round Tables he thought participants themselves would decide for Christ eventually, if convinced.  Stephen Neill substantiated Jones’ claim that his task was to make his hearers think, and not to press them to have an immediate change.[38] 

His Round Table approach was not easy.  It was daring and decisive.  Regarding this Jones said, “Here we were putting all our cards on the table and asking the non-Christian world to do the same.  Suppose our “hands’ with which we were playing the game of life should turn out inadequate; and suppose other ways of life should prove more adequate?”[39]  But in every situation the triumph card was Jesus Christ.  He made the difference.  Jones wrote, “There was not a singly situation that I can remember where before the close of the Round Table Conference Christ was not in moral and spiritual command of the situation.”[40]  Jones knew that he was spotty and inadequate for such conferences, but he was sure that he had hold of the spotless and the adequate who is Jesus Christ, or better, this Jesus had hold of him.”[41]  This was the secret of Jones’ method in Round Table Conferences. 

Jones did not mean to say his experiment in the Round Table Conferences settled everything for the world.  It was too limited an experiment for that, he agreed.[42]  But he was able to relate to the people of other living faiths and present Christ to them. 

It is also noticeable that Jones made dialogue his life-style.  Wherever he went, whomever he met in his travels, he used to dialogue with them.  Evangelist Francis Vijayakar, who was a convert of Jones, disclosed the same thing in an interview with him at Sat Tal Ashram.[43]  Whenever he traveled by train or by bus Vijayakar would offer a chocolate and then would enter into deep discussion on religious experience.  One can see how successfully Vijayakar carried out the instruction that he received from Jones.

Two particular aspects of Jones’ Round Table method impressed John Stott.  The first was his insistence on fairness and mutual respect.  The second impressive point was that in them all the supremacy of Jesus Christ was apparent.[44]  There was not a single situation in which Christ was out of place in his Round Table Conferences.  This unique Christ was the irreducible minimum for him in all his Conferences.  He made his whole approach Christocentric. 

Jones’ Attitude in Dialogue

The attitude that Jones had in his Round Table Conference was sympathetic.  Jones said, “In these Conferences we have tried to understand sympathetically the view point of the other man – to sit where he sits, and I have been enriched through them.  Life can never be quite the same again.”[45] 

The deepest things of religion need a sympathetic atmosphere.  In an atmosphere of debate and controversy the deepest things, and hence the real things of religion, wither and die.[46] At the very beginning of his ministry in India he was challenged by the religious pluralism of India.  He said, “From the very first moment that I arrived in India I have met the attitude that all religions are the same and lead to the same goal.”[47]  The parallels in other religions were what challenged him most.  He wrote, “When I began my work in India, I felt I had absolute uniqueness in Jesus, but I had a series of shocks.  For everything I brought up, the non-Christian intellectuals brought up a parallel…The Hindus would always try to bring up a parallel.”[48] 

Therefore, to Jones, the method of comparative religions, studying which idea in which religion was beside the point.  It is comparing incomparable things, namely, Jesus and His message.  It is equally important to note that showing the differences between the faiths is also not wise.  It will always end up in controversy.  So Jones made it a policy and a principle that he would never attack another person’s faith in his Conferences.  He stated,

I present what I have and leave him to come to his own conclusions.  Again and again I am pressed by Hindu to show the differences between the faiths.  I always refuse.   For the moment I call attention to differences, there is controversy.  And Christianity can not be seen in a controversy.[49]

Jones’ attitude toward the people of other faiths in all his Conferences was positive.  There was a delicate sense of spiritual appreciation.  He said, “The spiritual possibilities in India are surely the greatest of any race of the world, for here religion seems natural and unaffected.”[50]  He emphasized the necessity of learning from other faiths.  He argued, “No one has a right to teach others who is not learning from them.”[51]  Jones felt that he was being called upon to face religion and life in a new way.  It was not only Jones but also all those who engaged in the conferences felt the same.  He said, “We all felt we were entering a new stage of religious inquiry in India.”[52]  He believed that men are incurably religious.  A great many in his Conferences had lost their faith under the impact of modern life, but had regained a faith of some kind or other, however inadequate it might be.[53]  It was also his attitude that humanity is fundamentally one.  He declared, ‘I can no longer think of a man as a mere Hindu or Moslem or Parsee or Christian.   He is a brother man facing the same problems and perplexities which I face.”[54]  He also believed that the fundamental need of the human heart is redemption.

It was also Jones’ attitude that the good, noble and great ion the Indian outlook on life, should not be lost or destroyed by the presentation of the Gospel.  It was because he believed that Jesus is the Savior, and this meant that he not only saved people from evil but also saved the good to them.[55]  It was Jones’ presupposition that all those who call up on the name of the Lord would be saved.  He affirmed, “Jesus stands on the peak of Life, not merely fulfilling this incomparable path that rose upward to him from the Jewish people, but also those upward reaches running to him from all sides of that peak.  He is not the Son of the Hebrews, he is the Son of Man.”[56] 

Even though Jones had a sympathetic attitude toward the people of other religions, and learned from them, his conviction on the uniqueness of Christ was very great.  He appealed to all from his own personal experience to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Thus he indicated his own belief that Christ offered a better and surer way of redemption than any other.[57]  Jesus became the Redemptive Word and, in Him, Jones found the difference between the Christian faith and other faiths.

This Word become Word and this Word become flesh – here is the profound and decisive difference between the Christian faith and all others.  It separates them not in degree but in kind.  All other faiths are philosophies or moralisms – man’s search upward.  The Gospel is God’s search downward.  Religions are man’s search for God; the Gospel is God’s search for man.  There are many religions, but one Gospel.[58]

He further stated, “The Christian gospel begins with a Word, a redemptive Word, sending out of the very nature of the redemptive God.[59]  According to him all religions are not the same.  A scientific study of the various religions shows that they are not the same.  All faiths are not the same in their doctrines and in their goals.  He declared,

To hold all religions the same is to practice mental abdication.  This is not mental liberality; it is nonsense-and unscientific.  Science does not wave its hand over all theories and say they are equally good and equally valid.  That attitude would paralyze science and stop its progress.[60]

However Jones’ respect for others was notable.  He accepted the truth and morals of their religions.  He looked at other faith with sympathy and very good understanding.

First of all I had to acknowledge that there were beautiful and good and true things in the non-Christian faiths and cultures; and secondly, I saw that Jesus came not to destroy any of this, but to fulfil it.  We could then look with sympathy and understanding upon any truth found anywhere.[61]

He considered the truths in other religions as starting points to present Christ and not Christianity.  He said that the final issue is not between the systems of Christianity and Hinduism or Buddhism or Mohammedanism, but between Christ-likeness and unchrist-likeness, whether that unchrist-likeness be within the non-Christian systems or within Christianity.  The final issue is between Christ and other ways of life.[62]  He asserted the superiority only of Christ and he understood India’s religions to be fulfilled rather than abolished by Him. 

In all these Jones’ attitude was that of a servant.  He said, “If the missionaries of the Gospel are to have a real hearing in the East in the future, they must come disassociated from imperialism of every type and kind and come in the form of servants.[63]  According to him, the deep necessity in inter-faith dialogue is of the servant type.  This fits in with what Jesus presented as the Christian attitude.  Humbleness of mind toward a person of another faith is necessary in dialogue.  He said that one conquers not by haughtiness and pride, but by humility and self-sacrifice.  He demanded that one should eliminate every thing that does not fit in with the mind of Christ as he sits at the Round Table.[64] 

Results of Dialogue

The outgrowth of Jones’ Round Table Conferences was enormous.  Paranjoti Violet who had close association with Jones, stated that Jones’ meetings had a great boon to those who were not being in communion with God.[65]  Jones himself was very much impressed by them because of the fact that where men came into vital contact with Christ the God consciousness became real and living.  God has become reality in the life of many who attended the Conferences.[66]  These Conferences were not only helpful to the non-Christians but also valuable to the Christians in their approach.  In Jones’ view,

The valuable thing for us as Christians in the Round Table Conferences with non-Christians lay in the fact that we were compelled to rethink our problems in the light of the non-Christian faiths and in the light of the religious experiences of non-Christians.  So while these Conferences have been valuable in our approach to the Christian faiths, they have proved of even greater value to us in facing our own problems, spiritual and intellectual.[67]

Jones said in 1968, “In these Thirty years of Round Table Conferences I cannot remember that a single person either said he had previously found God, or impressed us that he had.”[68]  According to him, it was because the non-Christians were seeking the impossible.  They were seeking not communion with God, but union with God, which means they were seeking the realization that they are God.  Jones affirmed, “Life doesn’t back the idea that man is God.  When the Hindu meditates, he doesn’t meditate on God, but meditates on himself as God. “Aham Brahm” – “I am Brahman”[69] – is the inner refrain.  It is a refrain, but not a realization.  Life doesn’t back it.”[70]  At the same time he could find those in contact with Jesus Christ who could tell of finding God.  God was real to them all and they were in communion with Him.  Jones enunciated the fact that “That is the uniqueness of the Christian approach.”[71] 

Through scores of Round Table Conferences Jones understood the wideness of the redemption Jesus Brought.  He realized how big a Savior Jesus was to become.  He affirmed,

As I have sat in these Round Table Conferences and have listened to what men were saying about life and destiny and God, I have watched my Savior grow before me… He is a Savior from sin, first and foremost, but that is not all – he saves my universe.  He saves everything that he touches and he touches everything.[72]

Jones wanted India to retain those fine touches in her life so attractive and worthwhile; her love for simplicity, her sensitiveness to the spiritual, and her deep belief in its reality. It was because “Jesus the Simple, the Spiritual, the Sadhu, the Bramachari, holds steady these ideals of the past and preserves them in himself.”[73] He further sated, “How grateful we are that he preserved all that was fine in the past of the Greeks, and we shall be grateful and enriched because he saves all that is good, beautiful, and true in the past of the Indian.”[74] This is the same with every nation.  As he sat in the Conferences and listened he knew that he was not a lurking enemy of India’s heritage when presented the Gospel, but a fried presenting a Savior of all that was fine in that past.  Men in contact with Christ in these Conferences seemed sure because they seemed to have hold of reality.  Others seemed tentative and uncertain.  They also felt that, outside of Christ, men had no anchorage for their thinking.[75]

Many who believed that all religions are basically alike and that all roads lead to the same God reported to Jones that ‘Jesus is the Way’ after his Conferences.  He said, “If I didn’t know that Jesus is the Way from the New Testament, I would know it from my Round Table Conferences.”[76]  That was the great impact of his Conferences.  In them he heard no authentic note of divine self-sacrifice come out of the non-Christian faiths.  The Cross stands out in absolute uniqueness, he said.  He further clarified it stating,

As we sat in our Round Tables we felt again and again as in a flash that the Cross is the key of Life, that here at the Cross we saw into the depths of things; we felt that here the Heart of the Universe showed itself, and that if we could catch the passion that beats here we would catch the meaning of life itself.[77]

Jones again affirmed,

At the Cosmic Round Table all things – all teachers, Paul, Apollos, Cephas; all facts, the world; all realities, life; all changes, death; all time, the present and the future – all things rise and witness to the Lordship of Christ and of their submission to those who submit to him.  At the Round Table of Life all life submits to him who is Life.[78]

“If the Round Table Conferences have left anything with us,” Jones said, “It has been the secret that we belong to Christ.”[79]  He knew that this conviction made him sound dogmatic and exclusive; but he said, ‘I am interpreting the facts, not imposing beliefs.  Those who come through Christ find; those who do not come through Christ are not finding.”[80] 

In Jones’ Conferences a few conversions were reported.  Regarding them Jones said, “In our Round Tables those in fellowship with Christ spoke again and again of conversion having occurred in their lives.  It was always spoken of with gratitude and usually with a sense of wonder.”[81]  A new insight he received regarding this was that the Christian way of conversion is the natural way.  He added,

Conversion to Christ means a return from an unnatural, foreign way of life to the truly natural way of life.  The change called conversion, by dethroning the false unnatural life of sin and by giving us an infusion of the life of Christ, makes us supernaturally natural.[82] 

Jones could see through his Round Table Conferences that gradually Jesus Christ was gathering more and more power and authority over the mind of India by the sheer force of what He is.  Many criticized this gradual putting of Christ deeper and deeper into the soul of India.  They wanted to see immediate individual conversions.  But Jones said, “Individual conversions often take place suddenly in Christian countries because there Christ lies back in the race consciousness.  But this will take place in India only when the conditions are the same.  Now conversions are more gradual.”[83]

Jones saw that those in contact with Jesus Christ had hold of something, or someone, who was doing something redemptively in their lives.  Saving them from sin and from themselves, giving them hope and power to face whatever comes, converting them from what they were to what they ought to be, impelling them to serve, and giving them a deep joy.  That is, the joy of being on the Way.[84]  He pointed out that this contact with Jesus gave no sense of personal superiority over those not in contact with him.  It had the opposite effect.  It produced humility, a sense of wonder at how it happened, and a sense of obligation to share their experience to others.[85]  Jones stated,

The Round Table Conferences left us exultant as to the adequacy of Christ, but humbled as to the inadequacy of our witness to him.  But even in our humiliation there was gratitude that he was redeeming our inadequacies and giving us other chances… Our Round Tables have proved it.[86]

As far as the final result of these Conferences was concerned, Jones himself agreed that it might lead to information, but seldom to transformation.[87]  One of his converts, Evangelist Vijayakar, also said that more conversions occurred in his preaching than in his Conferences.[88]  Former Acharya of Sat Tal Ashram, Rev. D.P. Titus said that Jones’ Round Table Conferences were more effective in getting to know other faiths.[89]  Through his Conferences Jones was able to convey the uniqueness of Christ and the salvation that He offers to the adherents of other living faiths, whatever the result might be.  This unique Christ was the center of his dialogue.  Jones affirmed, “No one could sit through these Conferences and not feel that Christ was Master of every situation, not by loud assertion, or through the pleading of clever advocates, but by what he is and does.”[90]

Summary

Jones’ Round Table dialogue, though intellectually oriented, became an avenue for evangelism.  He said that missions were at the Round Table.  Christ was the center of all his Conferences.  Even though he appreciated everything good and fine in other religions and respected those who are adherent to other faiths he never compromised on the person, Jesus Christ.  This unique Christ was the irreducible minimum for his inter-faith dialogue! His attitude and methods have wider implications for the inter-religious dialogue of today.  He remained very much rooted in the Indian context, so also with the other parts of the world.  This may have contributed to the longer-lasting relevance of his Round Table Conferences. In the words of Tracey K. Jones Jr.,

With the end of Western domination of Asia, Africa and Latin America and the rise of religious pluralism on a global scale, it is my conviction that the most effective way to bring people to Jesus Christ will come in religious dialogue that is gentle and reverent in method and style[91]

In Conclusion, many Stanley Jones are needed today.  Men and women who will grapple with the issues facing the nation in the countryside and the great urban centers and communicate Christ to all in powerful, clear and relevant ways.  A study of Jones and his approach could well set Christians off on the path of a fresh break through for the Church worldwide. Dialogue is a difficult task and yet absolutely necessary.  Prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit must antecede every dialogue.  Christians need to live out the gospel and proclaim it and Dialogue is a part of that proclamation.  Hence it is a way of life.



[1] E. Stanley Jones,  Christ At the Round Table. (new York: Grosset and Dunlap Publishers, 1928), p. 17.

[2] Ibid, p.15.

[3] E. Stanley Jones, A Song of Ascents: A Spiritual Autobiography (Nashville and New York: Abingdon Press, 1968),

p. 236

[4] Ibid.

[5] E.M. Jackson (ed.), God’s Apprentice: The Autobiography of Stephen Neill (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1991),

p. 100.

[6] Jones, Round Table, p. 19.

[7] Ibid, pp. 20,21

[8] Paul Martin, “The Missionary on the Indian Road: The ministry of E. Stanley Jones in India 1915-1948” (Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Trinity Hall, Cambridge, 1988), p. 60.

[9] Stanley Wolpert, A new History of India, Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 316, 318, 322.

[10] It is very clear in Taylor’s words.  See, Richard W. Taylor, “The legacy of E. Stanley Jones,” International bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 6, July 1982, p. 102.

[11] Martin, “Missionary on the Indian Road,” p. 60.

[12] Jones, Round Table, p. 52.

[13] Ibid, p. 128.

[14] Sat Tal Ashram was established by Jones in 1930 in a place called Sat Tal (situated in between seven lakes) in the Nainital District of State of Uttar Pradesh in India.  People from all walks of life come to this place for meditation and personal reflection.

[15] Interview with Rev. R.S. Verma, Sat Tal Christian Ashram, Bhowali, Uttar predesh, India, 19 May 1994.

[16] Jones, Ascents, p. 236.

[17] Jones, Round Table, p. 26.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Jones, Ascents, p. 237.

[20] Ibid.

[21] John Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World (Bombay: Gospel Literature Service, 1975.), p.74.

[22] Jones, Ascents, p. 237.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Sherwood Eddy, Pathfinders of the World Missionary Crusade (Nashville: Abingdon cockesbury press, 1945), p.274.

[25] Jones, Round Table, pp. 9,10.

[26] Ibid, p. 21.

[27] Ibid, p. 22.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid, p. 10

[30] Ibid, p. 47.

[31] Ibid, p. 27.

[32] Ibid, p. 56.

[33] Ibid, p. 57.

[34] Jones, Ascents, p. 236.

[35] Jones, Round Table, p. 10.

[36] Ibid, p. 11.

[37] Ibid, p. 15.

[38] Jackson, God’s Apprentice, p. 101.

[39] Jones, Ascents, p. 239.

[40] Jones, Round Table, p. 50.

[41] Jones, Ascents, p. 239.

[42] Ibid, p. 240.

[43] Interview With Evangelist P. Francis Viyajakar, Sat Tal Christian Ashram, Bhowali, Uttar Pradesh, India, 21 May 1994.

[44] Stott, Christian Mission, p. 75.

[45] Jones, Round Table, p. 48.

[46] Ibid, p. 15.

[47] Jones, E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Indian Road (New York: The abingdon Press, 1925), p. 103.

[48] Jones, Ascents, pp. 96,97.

[49] Jones, Indian Road, p. 104.

[50] Jones, Round Table, p. 48.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid, p. 49.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid, pp. 49,50.

[55] Ibid, p. 109

[56] Ibid.

[57] Martin, “Missionary on the Indian Road”, p. 80.

[58] Jones, Ascents, p. 98

[59] E. Stanley Jones, Is the Kingdom of God Realism? (New York, Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1940), p. 17.

[60] Jones, Indian Road, p. 124.

[61] n.a., The Christian Message For the World Today (New York: Round Table Press, Inc., 1934), pp. 187, 188.

[62] Jones, Round Table, p.11

[63] Ibid, p. 189.

[64] Ibid, p. 200

[65] Paranjoti Violet, As Evangelist on the Indian Scene: Dr. E. Stanley Jones (Bombay: The Bombay Tract and Book Society, 1970), p. 90.

[66] Jones, Round Table, p. 54.

[67] Ibid, p.16

[68] Jones, Ascents, p. 238.

[69] Sanskrit. It means, “I am God.”

[70] Jones, Ascents, p. 238

[71] Ibid.

[72] Jones, Round Table, pp. 108, 109.

[73] Ibid, p. 110.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Ibid, p. 160.

[76] Jones, Ascents, p. 242.

[77] Jones, Round Table, p. 235.

[78] Ibid, p. 327.

[79] Ibid, p. 328.

[80] Jones, Ascents, p. 239.

[81] Jones, Round Table, p. 70.

[82] Jones, Ascents, p. 243.

[83] Jones, Round Table, pp. 323, 324.

[84] Jones, Ascents, p. 244.

[85] Ibid, pp. 244, 245,

[86] Ibid, p. 247.

[87] Ibid, p. 236.

[88] Interview with Vijayakar.

[89] Interview with Rev. D.P. Titus.

[90] Jones, Round Table, p. 56.

[91]  “What Is “Mission” Today? Two Views” by Arthur F. Glasser and Tracey K. Jones Jr., Mission Trends No.I., (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.1974), p. 10

 

Trinitarian Paradigm

 Toward A More Authentic Dialogue:

                       A Christocentric Trinitarian Paradigm

 

Mathew Philip

Published in the Journal of Asian Evangelical Theology (JART), Vol. 13, No. 1, June 2005. pp. 85-101.

 

Introduction

Non-Christian faiths have been keeping alive in the soul of India a thirst for God and reality far deeper than that found in any other people in the world. These faiths are characterized by a wonderful capacity for self-renunciation, the love of simplicity and sensitiveness to the spiritual.  Many religions exhibit an inner tendency to claim to be the true religion, to offer the true salvation as the true way of moksha or release.  One of the things that characterizes today is religious pluralism.

 

Christians rub shoulders with the people of other living faiths in every place in India. Christians are becoming more and more aware of the need for dialogue with the adherents of other faiths and ideologies.  Dialogue is becoming part of the living relationship between people of different religions as they share in the life of community.  As interest in dialogue has grown, so has its actual practice, enabling various religious communities to understand one another better and to work more closely together.

It is interesting to note that much of the attention has been given to dialogue by Christians.  Non-Christians seem to have less interest in this regard.[1] However the writer believes that inter-religious dialogue is one of the authentic elements of the church’s evangelizing mission. Dialogue is legitimate and necessary. True inter-faith dialogue on the part of the Christian supposes the desire to understand others and equally to make Jesus Christ better known, recognized and loved. It includes both witness and the exploration of respective religious convictions.[2] In the Bible, dialogue is used as a part of proclamation of the gospel.[3]  

 

 In the context of dialogue with the people of other living faiths, the concern of the writer here is whether Christ can be compromised for the sake of dialogue.  In this situation, the writer makes an attempt to explore a more authentic approach in dialogue with the people of other religions. The basic presupposition underlying this article is that in a religiously plural world a Christology that is biblically sound, theologically credible, and missiologically viable is both necessary and possible without being aggressive, destructive and distinctive in the society. It is hoped that this article will help all those who work in theological as well as missiological field, present-day dialogians and ordinary Christians alike to re-evaluate their commitment to Christ and the whole system of their approach to the people of other living faiths in their daily dialogue of life.

 

The Need of a More Authentic Dialogue

In the theology of religious pluralism one can notice that a more open Exclusivism leads to Inclusivism and an open Inclusivism paves the way for Pluralism.  It is a shift from Ecclesiocentricism to Christocentrisism and then to Theocentricism or Realitycentricism in order to find a common denominator for all religions that tolerate no privileged position for any one.  According to S.J. Samartha, Exclusiveness regards universality as the extension of its own particularity and seeks to conquer other faiths.  Inclusiveness, though seeming generous, actually co-opts other faiths.  To him, both exclusiveness and inclusiveness may even be forms of theological violence against neighbors of other faiths and become dangerous to communal harmony and world peace.[4]   It is true that an extreme Exclusivism that reflects intolerance, arrogance and imperialistic attitude will not help Christians to dialogue with non-Christians.  It can lead to a Spirit of fanaticism in which absolutes ideologically immunized against the changes of time and history.  A liberal Inclusivism that includes every religion and still considers Christianity as the fulfillment of all others is in the same level.  The Pluralist paradigm which is put in juxtaposition and opposition to the conservative exclusivist paradigm and the liberal inclusivist paradigm seems to be a new paradigm and seems to promise a lot. But, in fact, as Kim-Sai Tan pointed out, it is only the old ghost of universalism in new dressing, armed with more sophisticated weaponry.[5]   This is a movement that specializes on God and bypasses Jesus, and thus looses both God and Jesus and is becoming humanism.  There is also a notion of exclusivism in the pluralist position.  As Peter C. Phan pointed out, the pluralists are as intellectually imperialistic as the exclusivists and inclusivists they castigated because they impose their notions of religion, dialogue, social justice and so on other religionists.[6]  In the words of Braaten,

For theocentrists, Christ is a liability in the Christian dialogue with other religions.  Christ divides, God unites!  So Christians are urged to speak more of God, less of Christ, in order to travel more freely along the superhighways of inter-religious dialogue.[7]

 

Theologies of Religious Pluralism generally conclude that people who possess knowledge of God apart from biblical revelation have no need of Christ.

 

History unfolds a critical attitude and approach of many early missionaries to the people of other religions.  Graham Houghton rightly shows that this approach was not only a tendency among Indian preachers, but the worst offenders seemed to be the missionaries themselves.[8]   While this kind of extreme exclusivism was the attitude of many early missionaries, few others attempted to relate to the non-Christian faiths sympathetically.  According to Ken Gnanakan, it is the imperialistic Christianity of the West that was challenged by the new perception of pluralism and not the biblical faith in Jesus Christ.  He said, “Unfortunately the powerful truths of the Bible got concealed behind the colonial phenomenon, and with this Christianity itself was attacked.”[9]  Stanley Jones rightly pointed out why many Indians did not accept Christ as their Lord.  It was because many missionaries have held out a Christ completely covered by their Christianity and the systems that they built around him.[10] 

 

For this reason, Christians today need to have a biblically sound and contextually relevant approach.  Gnanakan said, “We need to take a fresh look at the Bible itself, to restore the kind of faith in Christ that will respond sensitively to the pluralistic context today.”[11]  It is time of opportunity (kairos) for Christians to have a fresh reading of the Scripture and thereby take a biblical stand, and not a traditional, doctrinal or denominational one.  As Gnanakan rightly said,

Our theologies have been constructed on a very limited selection of biblical texts, and these have been colored by presuppositions that have been handed down to us which is some cases are perhaps more traditional and denominational rather than biblical.[12]

 

Any authentic approach in dialogue with the adherents of other faiths should be biblical.  Biblical Christians must be motivated for dialogue by a commitment to the mission of the Gospel to the nations.  According to Braaten, “Christian theology cannot surrender the claim of eschatological finality in connection with the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Any attempt to compromise this claim ... will yield a different Gospel.”[13]  In Christian theology of religious pluralism biblical Christians must be able to affirm a commitment to the uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ, while accepting the integrity of other faiths and those who profess them.

 

The Centrality of Jesus Christ is at Stake!

For Biblical Christians, Jesus Christ is at the center of divine salvific work.  To them dialogue begins from their experience and knowledge of Christ rather than from any theistic consideration.  Jones pointed out,

As we center in him we find we are at the center of the moral and spiritual universe - a place where liberty and law do not conflict, but coincide ... Life depends upon finding its center.  All life that is not centered in Jesus is ec-centric.[14]

 

The pluralist theologians reject the centrality of Jesus Christ. They consider Christocentricism as the cause of Christian exclusivism and reject the doctrine of incarnation as a hindrance to dialogue.  At the same time some of them want to affirm the uniqueness of Christ only to Christianity and not to other religions.  According to Alan Race, Jesus would remain central for Christian faith.[15]  Raimundo Panikkar says that Christ is central to Christianity just like Vishnu to Vaishnavism and Ram or Krishna is to Hindus.[16]  Samartha, accepting the validity of other experience of salvation,[17] says that those who make open or hidden claims of exclusiveness find it impossible to live together with neighbors of other faiths except on very superficial social levels.[18]  According to Gorden D. Kaufman the tendencies toward absoluteness and exclusivity in traditional Christian faith easily lead to a kind of idolatry that makes it difficult to take other faiths seriously in their own terms.[19]  Glyn Richards also supports the rejection of the claims to exclusiveness and finality in favour of dialogue.[20]  For Knitter, in order to avoid pre-established absolutist positions that prevent a genuinely pluralistic dialogue, Christians must revamp or even reject their traditional understanding of Jesus Christ as God’s final, definitive, normative voice.[21]  It is primarily the mythic Christ and not the historical Jesus who is the savior.[22]  Thus Jesus’ claim to be exclusively the way, the truth and the life is increasingly unacceptable to the modern world.[23] 

 

Jesus Christ, The Irreducible Minimum!

In a day like this, few questions are very important. Are all religions same? Is it some anonymous Christ principles that save people or the concrete, historical person Jesus Christ?  Can Christians dialogue with the people of other living faiths without relativising Christ and the Gospel?  Is the uniqueness of Christ a hindrance to dialogue today?  Can Christ be compromised in dialogue for the sake of communal harmony and peace?

There needs to be an acceptance that there is certainly some good in all religions.  It is mainly because of the fact that God has invested this goodness in humanity at creation.[24]  Christians still are to learn so much from other faiths.  According to Stephen Neill, the Christian faith may learn much from other faith; but it is universal in its claims; in the end Christ must be acknowledged as Lord of all.[25] As Braaten pointed out, personal experience of God’s revelation is happening in the religions everywhere.  God is active through the structures of common human experience, and God is universally experienced in all the religions as a pressure that drives people to seek what is right and just and good and true.[26]  Braaten concludes, on the basis of religio-historical findings, that there are preparations for the Christian gospel in certain historical forms of religion even though they might fall short of the full revelation of God in the personal sacrifice and cross of Jesus Christ.[27] One should rejoice and praise God for every manifestation of goodness. The Bible says that God has not left himself without witness in any place.[28]

 

All religions are not the same.  According to stanley Jones, the common assumption that all religions ultimately are teaching the same things in their own culturally conditioned ways is prima facie untenable.[29]  Not only are they not all saying the same things, but also the particular issues addressed in the various religions are not necessarily the same.  According to Lesslie Newbigin, the Christians’ claim that the truth is revealed in Jesus does not close the door to further einquiry but opens it.  It implies that acceptance of it will lead to further insight into the truth.[30] 

 

According to Andrew Kirk, dialogue has become an emotive word in Christian circles, a slogan and a means of accusing those who hold to a different view of other religions than one’s own. To him, dialogue is the meeting of people who are willing to share themselves and their convictions and to receive from the other whatever he or she wants to bring.[31]  Pinnock proposed a Christian understanding of world religions with two basic axioms, such as, the universality of God’s saving grace and the particularity of salvation through Christ alone.[32]  According to him, one can promote inter-religious dialogue while maintaining the New Testament dictum that salvation is through Christ alone. Pickard suggested,

Holding firmly to our absolutes in the context of genuine openness and willingness to listen to others’ absolutes in mutual dialogue is the way we should go rather than adopting the starting point of relativism and trying to reduce all of our religious heritage and theology to a kind of least common denominator in what we would call a ‘universal theology of religion.”[33]

 

Is this type of Christocentric from of exclusivism dogmatic?  Foremost among the unique features of Christianity is that whereas other religions were man’s search for God, Christianity was God’s search for man.  Religions are man’s search for God hence there are many religions. The gospel is God’s search for man, hence there is but one gospel.[34]  Though man’s search for God had yielded to man certain valuable achievements in the religious field, they could in no way compare with what man can gain from God’s coming down to man’s level to reveal Himself.[35]  Jones further said, “For I do not conceive of the gospel of Christ as a religion at all.  He came to set the gospel over against human need, whether that need be in the Jewish faith, the gentile religions, or among Jesus’ own followers.”[36] 

 

A Biblical Christian affirms the uniqueness of Christianity not because it is intrinsically better than any other religion but only because of the unique Christ to whom Christianity points.  Christ makes the difference.  According to Braaten, the only unique thing that Christianity has to offer the world is its witness to Christ; and by Christ Christians do not mean some anonymous Christ principle but the concrete reality and historical person of Jesus as the Christ.[37]  Paul Griffiths suggested that a certain kind of uniqueness, a uniqueness that includes both universalism and exclusivism, is integral to both the syntax and the semantics of the Christian life.[38]  The argument put forward by Wolfhart Pannenberg is that the claims to uniqueness in Christianity rest not on later claims by Christians imposed on the person of Jesus but issue from the eschatological finality claimed by Jesus himself.[39]  He further said, “The Christian has the promise of God in Christ.  The other religious traditions do not provide that particular promise.”[40]

 

In a genuine and authentic dialogue, all the participants have an equally valid voice and each participant can really hear, as much as possible, what the other is saying.  But the writer does not find any reason to agree with Knitter to say that it is possible only in a dialogue that will be genuinely pluralistic.[41]  As a biblical Christian one cannot enter into dialogue with other religions with empty hearts and vacant minds.  David Bosch called for both dialogue and mission manifest themselves in a meeting of hearts rather than of minds.  He suggested that the partners in dialogue must accept the coexistence of different faiths and to do so, not grudgingly, but willingly.[42]  True dialogue takes place where a deep faith commitment goes hand-in-hand with respect for the other.  Bosch said, “Without my commitment to the gospel, dialogue becomes a mere chatter…”[43] According to Braaten, inter-religious dialogue becomes interesting only when people meet, converse, and try to understand and accept each other as persons committed to the core convictions of their respective faiths, without translating the symbols of that core into some supra confessional philosophy of religion to which no believing community adheres.[44]  Terry C. Muck asserted,

To be Christian, dialogue must avoid relativism, a dialectic search for truth, a nonpropositional search for truth, and an antimissions bias, and dialogue must model Jesus example of encounter/proclamation, respect other human beings, be reconcilable with evangelistic efforts, and be marked by humility, sensitivity and courtesy.[45] 

 

According to Rowan Williams, the Christian goal in engaging with other traditions is the formation of children of God after the likeness of Christ.[46] Both Christians and people of other faiths should therefore never, out of a false sense of modesty or embarrassment, bracket their convictions and enter into dialogue with a so-called “completely open mind.”[47]  Christians are called only to communicate the gospel.  Convincing of the message to the hearer is the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore there should not be a tactics for converting but to be faithful in communicating the gospel in an authentic way as far as possible.[48]  How, then, can Christians be accused of converting people? When Christians meet non-Christian friends, they do not accomplish anything if they search for the anonymous Christian in non-Christians.[49]  Christians have to see whether the non-Christians will accept the concrete Christ. Jesus represents a unique event in human history is often called the “Scandal of particularity,” that is, in the Christ event God has offered a way to salvation which really is not found anywhere else.[50]  The best reason for openness to others is Chrsitocentricism.  It is with Jesus Christ as the center that Christianity can be opened to transforming through what it learns from others and that in that way it can develop a truly global theology.  M.M. Thomas has said that the image of the historical Jesus must be the starting point of the Christian dialogue in India, because it contains the power to motivate people to meet the needs of the poor and the oppressed.[51]  That is why the writer affirms that Jesus Christ alone must be the center of every dialogue and not the systems or doctrines or the traditions of the Church.  Anything else can be reducible, but Jesus alone can not be reducible.  He is the irreducible minimum in interfaith dialogue!

 

A Kind of Christomonism?

David Samuel pointed out the danger of a purely Christocentric theology of religions.  It is the separation of Christology from the doctrine of the Trinity and it can easily lead to the resultant danger of Christomonism.[52]  For a Christian the Christological approach does not exclude the importance of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Whenever he or she speaks of God he or she means a Trinitarian God. Christomonism does not do full justice to the total evidence of the New Testament, nor does it give sufficient emphasis to the Trinitarian dimension of the Christian faith.  It tends to minimize the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others.  It prompts this article to search for a Christocentric Trinitarian paradigm in the theology of religion.

 

Christocentric Trinitarian Paradigm

A Christology that is grounded in the doctrine of the Trinity is important.  The radical theocentric pluralists want to speak of a God without Christ.  They seem to operate with the rule that the lower the Christology, the better the dialogue.[53]  Newbigin has expressed alarm that the Trinitarian and Christological foundations of the universal mission of the gospel are crumbling in the newer pluralistic theologies of religion.[54] 

The Trinity affirms, by means of the two other persons, that God is constantly revealing himself in Jesus Christ through history by the help of the Holy Spirit.  The real model for mission, whether it is dialogue or monologue, is in the relationships between the three persons of the Trinity and not in the person of Christ alone.  Robert S. Anderson affirms, “We must proclaim the Trinity as our model for mission and not apologize for it as a theological obscurity.”[55]  Newbigin in his excellent book, The Open Secret, looks at the Christian mission in three ways, namely, as the proclaiming of the Kingdom of the Father, as sharing the life of the son, and as bearing the witness of the Spirit.[56] 

 

 By Christ at the center, the writer believes that a Trinitarian God is at the center.  It seems to the writer to be impossible, within the framework of the New Testament, to be theocentric without being Christocentric.  This is because the idea of worshipping God as a loving personality and the Savior of the world arises from Christology.  The significance here is that it is only through Christ that one knows the Father and the Holy Spirit. According to Richard Viladesau, Trinity is knowable only through a supernatural revelation.[57]  That revelation is Jesus Christ.  Jones said it is through Christ that one encounters a Trinitarian God.

He (Jesus) has brought me God.  The more I know of Jesus, the more I know of God … Jesus brings me the Holy Spirit as experience, the Holy Spirit as the applied edge of redemption.  Moreover, he illuminates the Redeemer … Jesus thus brings me a trinity in unity; not a bare, monolithic God, but a God who is a society in himself, teaching me how to live not merely as a person, but as a person in society.[58]

 

Jones further affirmed his approach in his Round Table Conferences that have so much to speak to the present dialogians:

Jesus is the starting point: you cannot say God until you have first said Jesus.  You can’t say Christ until you have first said Jesus, … You cannot say the Holy Spirit until you have first said Jesus, for apart from Jesus divine power has always bordered on the strange or weird.[59]

 

 

As Bishop Anastusios pointed out,

When one speak of the Trinity, it is not to speak of one person’s work here, another there.  But when we speak of one we speak of all.  It is difficult for the human mind to grasp.  We don’t see the Trinitarian perspective in the sense of one, two, three, but in the sense that wherever one is, we see the others.[60]

 

The Trinitarian confession is the Christian way to speak of God. Braaten said,

The doctrine of Trinity has its base of origin in Christology and nothing else!  Only Christology makes the confession of the triune God imperative.  The doctrine of the Trinity is the theological framework for Christology and ecclesiology, for the event of salvation and the gospel mission.[61]

The Trinitarian paradigm for the inter-religious dialogues emphasizes that Christocentrism is simply the Christian way of being theocentric.  According to Clark H. Pinnok, “Focusing on Christ is not different from being God-centered.  It is a way of being God-centered.”[62]  Christ is not a substitute for God, and apart from Christ one is not sure of what he or she knows.[63]

 

The Guidelines on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies of the World Council of Churches affirmed the Trinitarian approach.

It is Christian faith in the Triune God- Creator of all humankind, Redeemer in Jesus Christ, revealing and renewing Spirit- which calls us Christians to human relationship with our many neighbors.  Such relationship includes dialogue: witnessing to our deepest convictions and listening to those of our neighbors.  It is Christian faith, which sets us free to be open to the faiths of others, to risk, to trust and to be vulnerable.  In dialogue, conviction and openness are held in balance.[64]

 

The Federation of Asian Bishops Conference called the community of God, one and triune, to make dialogue an integral dimension of the mission of the Church.

Inter-religious dialogue is a demand of our Christian faith in the Trinity, which is a mystery of communion in interpersonal dialogue … As a response to this mystery, dialogue is a process of growing into the fullness of divine life. It is a participation in the quest of all peoples for the full realization of the Truth.  It is LOVE for people which seeks communion in the Trinity.[65]

David Samuel argues that a contemporary Christian theology of religions can maintain Christian uniqueness and universality only by following the doctrine of Trinity as the fundamental Christian doctrine of God.[66]  According to him, the work of the Spirit is to relate people to the Father through Christ.  While God’s fatherly love is universally made available to all in Jesus Christ the Spirit enables them to submit to God as his children.  This adoption comes by the help of the Spirit who relates us to the Father through union with Christ.[67]

John 16:12-15 clearly shows the work of the Holy Spirit in this world as the glorification of Christ.  The Spirit will make known only what belongs to the Son, because all that belong to the Father belong to the Son.  So one can see that there is no independent revelation of God by the Spirit apart form Christ.  Thus the Father is known in and through Jesus Christ by the help of the Holy Spirit.  According to David Samuel, the Spirit in this activity serves to deepen and universalize one’s understanding of God in Christ.  Only through the incarnate Son does the Spirit lead humanity into communion with God.  The Spirit who made possible the union of human and God in the particular person, Jesus Christ, enables people to have the participatory union with Christ in particular situation or persons.  This is a personal union and not an identical union.  God’s relation to human is universal in Jesus Christ, but human’s relation to God is particular in and through Jesus Christ by the Spirit.[68]  Thus, the Holy Spirit particularizes the universal salvific work of Christ. The universal work of the Holy Spirit is to relate particular persons to Jesus Christ and enables him or her to acknowledge Him as Lord.

 

Gavin D’Costa claimed that the Trinity safeguards against an exclusivist particularity, that is, Christomonism and a pluralist particularity, that is, theocentrism.[69]  According to him the Father is known through Christ and the Spirit, and it is only on the basis of this particularity that one is able to affirm the universal agency of God’s redeeming activity, for the God who redeems is always and everywhere the triune God revealed in Christ.[70]  In the first place he agreed that one could not speak of the Father without the story of Jesus.[71] He further said that the mystery of God is not exhaustively known through the Son. It is understood from the statement that, “Jesus is called totus Deus, never totum Dei; wholly God, but never the whole of God.”[72] So he argues that “Christ is normative, not exclusive or absolute in revealing God … for the Spirit constantly and in surprising ways calls us into a deeper understanding of God in Christ.”[73]  In an attempt to reconcile both the exclusivist emphasis in the particularity of Christ and the pluralist emphasis on God’s universal activity in history D’Costa’s Trinitarian paradigm becomes Pneumatocentric and not Christocentric.  David Samuel commented

Instead of maintaining the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God the Son, his Christological trinitarianism considers Christ as normative in revealing God.  His christological trinitarianism seems to come close to pneumatocentric trinitarianism[74].

Such a Spirit Christology tends to minimize the mediator role of Jesus Christ. 

In the divine salvific work the Trinitarian God works.  The Father alone does not function as God.  So also the Son and the Holy Spirit. They three work together as one God. They are not divided among themselves though there has been attempts to divide them.

 

The divine salvific movement is:

       

                Father

      Spirit

                                                 à                 Son                       à 

It simply means, the Father sent his Son for the salvation of mankind and the Spirit is at work with everyone convincing people of their sin and leading them to truth.

     Father

  

Son

  

    Spirit

It is applied in human life through the forwarding movement:

                      

                                           à                                      à  Father

 

It simply means, the Holy Spirit who is at work in the life of persons in any religion helps them, in their response to God, to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord through which they are in communion with the Father.[75]  As John Stott asserted, ‘Indeed, the Christian faith is essentially trinitarian.  We come to the Father through the Son and by the Spirit, and the Father comes to us through the Son by the Spirit.[76]  Braaten emphasized that the Church’s mission to all the nations is a participation in the works of the triune God.  The Trinity as ground and motive for ecumenism and mission has its clear center in Christ.[77]  According to him, the Christocentric Trinitarian paradigm is the way of orthodox Christianity to protect itself from the incursion of gnostic and new-age forms of speculation about salvation.  It also offers a much more promising resource for thinking about the relation between the gospel, Christianity and other world religions.[78]  Braaten argued, ‘if one can speak of God who is really God apart from Christ, here is indeed no reason for the doctrine of Trinity.  Some kind of Unitarianism will do the job.”[79] 

 

God Himself as the Father, Son and Spirit is the eternal origin and eternal goal of all unity and diversity.  For this very reason it is the deepest expression of Christian understanding of God to confess him as triune.[80]  It is Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, reveals to us a divine paradigm which confronts all religions.  It is by these down to earth clues to the divine paradigm disclosed in the ministry of Christ that all religions are challenged and invited to make an equally concrete response, in faith, repentance and obedience.[81] Craig L. Nessan points out,

One may engage with genuine sincerity in interfaith dialogue, ready to listen, learn, and be changed by the truth one encounters in the witness of those from other religions.  At the same time one many remain deeply convinced that the mission of the triune God in the sending of Jesus Christ is ultimately true for all people.[82]

 

The dialogue with followers of non-Christian religions demands that Christians have a clear understanding of the identity of God as triune.[83] The unique identity of the biblical God as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit enables Christians to enter into dialogue with people of other faiths knowing that this God is the God of the whole world including the dialogue partners.[84] This unity in Trinity is the best example that teaches every one how to live in harmony with individuals, in the family, in the society, in each one’s country, and in the whole world.  Such a paradigm promotes ecumenics in all levels of life.

 

Conclusion

A genuine dialogue often takes place in actual life situations.  The ordinary Christians should undertake dialogue not as an intellectual exercise but a way of life.  It is imperative for Christians to practice what they share in their daily dialogue with the people of other living faiths.  In the multi-faith local and global societies, neighbors will include people from all faiths.  They can be people working in the offices, factories, schools, shops or even working in one’s own garden.  They can also be travelers in the bus or train or even refugees of wars supported by the government.  As love is the supreme ethics of Christians they are called to love their neighbor.  Hence, inter-religious dialogue is an imperative for all Christians not only to witness but also to live harmoniously. The motive behind Jesus’ mission and Paul’s dialogues was the transformation of people. An inner change is needed for every one. The underlying purpose of dialogue is the transformation of individuals and communities.  The religions of people whatever they are, including Christians, must be replaced by the true revelation of the will of God in Jesus Christ as a result of dialogue.

 

The mission of God must be understood in Trinitarian terms as the Bible shows the three Persons as acting in unity.  But in Christian mission the focus falls on the Second Person because it is here that human comprehension can come face to face with incarnated Deity. What the Holy Spirit does is witnessing to one’s spirit that he or she should call God the Father and know himself or herself as a son or daughter and heir through Christ.  In our confrontation with other faiths in mission, we can make no easy bargain on a basis of Father and Spirit.  We cannot eliminate the confrontation with the Son.

 

The historical Jesus must be the starting point of Christian dialogue.  It is only through Christ that one knows the triune God of the Bible.  The Christocentric Trinitarian approach to inter-faith dialogue presents Jesus Christ as a person who encounters people of all religions and cultures.  The Trinitarian understanding of God provides the theological basis for Christian mission and dialogue with the adherents of other faiths.

 



[1] E.M.S. Namboodiripad, “Religionless Christianity and Liberation Theology,” Frontline, Vol. 10, No. 19, September 24, 1993, p. 101.

[2] n.a. “Dialogue and Proclamation (Excerpts),” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol.16, No.2, April 1992, p.83.

[3] Acts 17:16-32; 1 Pet 3: 15.

[4] John Hick and Paul F. Knitter, The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1987), p. 79.

[5] Kim-Sai Tan, “The Unique Christ in the midst of Plurality of Religions,” Paper presented at the W.E.F. Theological Commission, Manila, Philippines, June 16-20, 1992, p.1.

[6] Peter C. Phan, “The Claim of Uniqueness and Universality in Interreligious Dialogue,”  Indian Theological Studies, Vol.31, No.1, March 1994, p.51.

[7] Carl E Braaten, No Other Gospel!  Christianity Among the World’s Religions (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1922), p.21.

[8] Graham Houghton, The Impoverishment of Dependency: The History of the Protestant Church in Madras 1870-1920 (Madras: The Christian Literature Society, 1983), p. 69.

[9] Ken Gnanakan, The Pluralisitc Predicament (Bangalore: Theological Book Trust, 1992), p.7.

[10] E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Indian Road, (New York: The Abingdon Press, 1925), p. 27

[11] Gnanakan, Predicament, p.7.

[12] Ibid, p.13.

[13] Braaten, No Other Gospel! , p. 12.

[14] E. Stanley Jones, Christ At The Round Table (New York: Grosset and Dunlap Publishers, 1928),  pp. 304, 305.

[15] Alan Race, Christians and Religious Pluralism (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1983),  p. 136

[16] Raimundo Panikkar, The Unknown Christ of Hinduism (Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 1982), pp. 25-27; Also see, Glyn Richards, Towards a Theology of Religions (London: Routledge, 1989),  p. 91.

[17] Hick and Knitter, Myth,  p. 77

[18] Ibid, p. 78.

[19] Ibid, p. 5.

[20] Richards, Theology of Religion, p. 156.

[21] Hick and Knitter, Myth, p. 191.

[22] Paul F. Knitter, “Jesus-Buddha-Krishna: Still Present?”  Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol.16, No.4, Fall 1979,          p. 659.

[23] John Benton, One World One Way (England: Evangelical Press, 1992), p. 17.

[24] Ken Gnanakan (ed.), Salvation: Some Asian Perspective (Bangalore: Asia Theological Association, 1992), p. 7.

[25] Stephen Neill, Christian Faith and Other Faith (London: Oxford University Press, 19610, p. 61.

[26] Braaten, No other Gospel!, p.68.

[27] Ibid, p. 73.

[28] Acts 14: 16-17.

[29] Harold Netland, Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing Company), p. 111.

[30] Gavin D’Costa, Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered: The Myth of a pluralistic Theology of Religion (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1990), p. 140.

[31] Andrew Kirk, Loosing the Chains: Religion as Opium and Liberation (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1992), p. 95. 

[32] Clark H. Pinnock, “Toward an Evangelical Theology of Religions,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol.33, No.3, September 1991, pp.360-364.

[33] William M. Pickard Jr., “A Universal Theology of Religion?”, Missiology, Vol. 19, No. 2. April 1991,  p. 150

[34] Stanley Jones, A Song of Ascents: A Spiritual Autobiography (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968), p.376.

[35] Violet, Paranjoti, An Evangelist On the Indian Scene: Dr. E. Stanley Jones (Bombay: The Bombay Tract and Book Society, 1970), p. 24.

[36] Stanley Jones, Mahatma Gandhi: An Interpretation (Luknow: Lucknow Publishing House, 1991), p. 79.

[37] Braaten, No Other gospel!, p. 78.

[38] D’Costa, Christian Uniqueness, p. 170.

[39] Ibid, pp. 102,103.

[40] Ibid, p.104.

[41] Hick and Knitter, Myth, p. 181.

[42] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, new York: Orbis Books, 1991),  p. 483.

[43] Ibid, p. 484.

[44] Braaten No Other Gospel!, pp. 9,10.

[45] Terry C. Muck, “Evangelicals and Inter-religious Dialogue,” Journal of the Evangelical theological Society, Vol. 36, No. 4, December 1993, p. 527.

[46] D’Costa,  Christian Uniqueness, p. 9.

[47] David J. Bosch, ‘The Church in Dialogue: From Self-delusion to Vulnerability,” Missiology, Vol.16, No.2, April 1988, p.141.

[48] H.S. Wilson, “One Faith and Several Theologies-a Plea for Contextualization,” Bangalore Theological Forum, Vol.26, no.2, June 1994, p. 64.

[49] Braaten, No Other Gospel!, p.10.

[50] Jane Smith, “Understanding and Witnessing to Christ in a Pluralistic World.” Current dialogue, June 1994, p. 34.

[51] Thomas quoted by Braaten, No Other Gospel!, p. 101.

[52] David Samuel, “Uniqueness and Universality: A Study of karl Rahner’s Trinitarian theology of religions” (Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, London, London University, 1992), p. 215.

[53] Braaten, No Other Gospel!, pp. 8,9.

[54] Lesslie Newbigin quoted by Braaten, No Other Gospel!, p. 108

[55] Robert S. Anderson, ‘Mission…In the Way of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” International Review of Mission, Vol. 77, No. 308, October 1988, p. 487.

[56] Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William. B. Eerdmans, 1978), pp. 32-72.

[57] Richard Viladesau, “The Trinity in Universal Revelation,” Philosophy and Theology, Vol. 4, 1990, p. 321.

[58] Jones, Ascents, p. 387.

[59] Ibid, p. 355.

[60] Jean Stromberg, “Christian Witness in a Pluralistic World: Report on a Mission/Dialogue Consultation,” International Review of Missions, Vol. 78, No. 307, July 1988, p. 426.

[61] Braaten, No Other Gospel!, p. 109.

[62] Clark H. Pinnok, A Wideness in God’s Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1992),  p. 45.

[63] Braaten, No Other Gospel!, p. 9.

[64] N.a., Guidelines on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1979), p.16.

[65] n.a., “Seven Theses on Interreligious Dialogue; An Essay in Pastoral Theological Reflection,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 13, No. 3, July 1989, p. 109.

[66] David Samuel, “Uniqueness and universality,” pp. 231, 258.

[67] David Samuel, Lecture at SAIACS, Bangalore on 9th August 1994, p. 17.

[68] Ibid.

[69] D’Costa, Christian Uniqueness,” p. 18.

[70] Ibid, p. 17.

[71] Ibid, p. 18.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid, pp. 18,19.

[74] Samuel, “Uniqueness and Universality,” p. 224.

[75] Ephesians 2:18; John 14:16-18.

[76] John Stott, The Contemporary Christian (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), p. 314.

[77] Braaten, No Other Gospel!, pp. 117,118.

[78] Ibid, p. 8.

[79] Carl E. Braaten, Christocentric Trinitarianism Vs. Unitarian Theocentrism: A Response to S. Mark Heim,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. 24, No. 1, Winter 1987,  p. 21.

[80] Rolf Hille, “The Uniqueness of Christ in Light of the Diversity and Unity of the Concept of the Church,” Paper presented at the WEF Theological Commission, Manila, Philippines, June 16-20, 1992,  p.2.

[81] Kame Bediako, “The Uniqueness of Christ in Light of the Diversity and Unity of the Concept of the Church,” Paper presented at the WEF Theological Commission, Manila, Philippines, June 16-20, 1992, p. 9.

[82] Craig L. Nessan, “Missionary God; Missionary Congregation,” Dialogue: A Journal of Theology, Vol. 40, No. 2, Summer 2001, p. 117.

[83] Samuel, “Uniqueness and Universality,” p. 251.

[84] Ibid, pp. 251,252

The Uniqueness and Universality

THE UNIQUENESS AND UNIVERSALITY OF JESUS CHRIST – A PASSION FOR MISSION

 

Mathew Philip[1]

 

(Excerpts from The Unique Christ-Dialogue in Missions, Bangalore: Center For Contemporary Christianity, 1995.

 

Introduction

The ideology of people in Asia differs according to each person’s religion, culture, and practices.  It is because Asia is the home of the great ethnic religions. These religions have their own founders, philosophers, teachers and reformers. The uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ is at stake in Asia in the context of religious pluralism. So Christians face a serious competition from these ancient and highly developed religious systems.

 

The purpose of this article is to see the understanding of biblical Christians about the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ in the midst of religious pluralism in Asia. The underlying presupposition of the article is that the salvation in the biblical sense is obtainable only through Jesus Christ and it is universally available to everyone. Such an understanding of Christ will always motivate Christians to have a passion for mission.

 

A. The Pluralist Paradigm

The Pluralist theologians state that all religions are equal though they have different emphasis.  According to them Christianity is not superior at all.  John Hick in his book, God Has Many Names, declares:

More importantly, the supreme being is referred to as God in a Christian Church, as Adonai in a Jewish Synagogue, as Allah in a Muslim Mosque, as Ek omkar in a Sikh gurudwara, as Rama or Krishna in a Hindu temple, And yet there is an important sense in which what is being done in the several forms of worship is essentially the same.[2]

 

Paul Knitter also in his book, No Other name? affirms that all religions are fundamentally the same.[3]  The pluralist model represents a paradigm shift from Christo-centric to a Theo-centric model for a theology of religions. As long as ‘God’ is at the centre of one religion, it will not offend other religions since it can be any god.  If ‘Christ’ is at the centre, He becomes the scandal of particularity. Theo-centric pluralists are unanimous in their rejection of the centrality of Jesus Christ. According to them the evangelistic task is to make a Buddhist to be a better Buddhist, a Muslim to be a better Muslim and a Hindu to be a better Hindu.

 

In the Pluralist paradigm, one will see the attempt to inflate Theo-centricity at the expense of Christo-centricity.  Carl Braaten exclaims, “Christ must decrease in order that God might increase-what a proposition for Christian theology!”[4]  The Christologies which see Jesus Christ as uniquely divine and thus normative for all persons are increasingly being criticised for being obscurantist and untenable in a pluralistic world.  The problem with this approach is its attempt to retain forms and expressions of biblical Christianity, even appealing to its fundamental document, the Bible, while at the same time denying its essence and core.  As Carl Braaten says, Theo-centric Pluralists lay their axe at the roots not only of the Christological dogma but of the apostolic kerygma as well.[5] Anyone who desires to uphold the Biblical claim of the uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ will see that the foundation of their faith is being challenged. At the same time the present situation reminds biblical Christians to re-evaluate the whole system of their approach, clarify their message and renew their commitment to Jesus Christ and to this world.

 

B. Jesus’ Approach to the Community of Other Faiths

Jesus was a Jew and in Him was a Jewish attitude to others (Matt. 10:5; 15:21).  Jews were not supposed to have any contact with gentiles.  Yet Jesus put an end to the exclusiveness and laid foundations of his single new humanity.  Jesus broke the taboos of Jewish society and went beyond the boundaries of Judaism.  He had a sympathetic approach to the people who were outside of Judaism.  His messianic signs of deeds and words would confirm that the Kingdom of God was in their midst too.  His own life style was to be their pattern.  His kingdom was not in words only, but in powerful action.  As He preached He served and reconciled.  His was always a holistic mission. In the words of Jey J. Kanagaraj,

Jesus had concern for the whole world and therefore his mission crossed the boundary of his own people and culture to embrace the people who were despised and marginalized.  He totally identified himself with them by being with them and offering them the salvation of God without partiality. Thus Jesus’ mission had universal significance.[6] 

 

Jesus’ mission was holistic and universal in its nature. Christian mission is always a witness from faith to faith.  In Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan women, He revealed himself as her awaited Messiah.[7]  The result of his dialogue was that many of the Samaritans believed in him and finally they said, “Now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”[8]  Jesus was quite often moved with compassion when he saw the pathetic condition and needs of multitudes during his earthly ministry.  Jesus Christ is the perfect example for us today in our mission and dialogue with the people of other religions.

 

Jesus’ mission was to meet every human need.  He was anointed with the Holy Spirit to proclaim liberation of mankind from sin and all its consequences.  His ministry was to preach good news to the poor; to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind; to release the oppressed; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, that is, the period when salvation would be proclaimed.[9]  The gospel is a proclamation of liberty.  Matthew Henry explained,

By the merit of Christ sinners may be loosed from the bonds of guilt, and by his Spirit and grace from the bondage of corruption… He came not only by the word of his gospel to bring light to them that sat in the dark, but by the power of his grace to give sight to them that were blind; not only the Gentile world, but every unregenerate soul… He came to let the world know that the God whom they had offended was willing to be reconciled to them, and to accept of them upon new terms; that there was yet a way of making their services acceptable to him; that there is now a time of good will toward men.[10]

 

Jesus came as a great redeemer and healer.  He did not come to be served, but to serve. He came to seek and save what was lost.[11]  Therefore our mission is one of proclaiming God’s redemption and healing.  It should be one of serving and seeking the lost.  Such mission needs a sympathetic attitude toward fellow beings.  

 

We have to be very cautious and reassess our whole system of approach today.  Adherents to other faith will always have questions and aspirations.  They bring many parallel things that are found in their religions.  We must be able to recognise their questions and aspirations.  As Amaladoss points out, we may discover some good and true elements in them and seek to integrate those.[12] We must make use of those so-called parallel and good things and the spark of truth in their religions as an airstrip where we can have a point of contact and an opening in their context. At the same time we must remember the fact that we are not communicating parallel things, but a person – Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  That person will not be found in their ideology. As biblical Christians we cannot compromise on the person of Christ. The distinctive Christian message is the living Christ, and all doctrinal formulations may be quite secondary.  So Christ is unique and He alone makes the difference. He is the irreducible minimum[13] in our dialogue with the people of other faith.

 

C. The Uniqueness of Christ

Many theologians, especially, the Pluralists, interpret uniqueness is terms of mythological language and consider that Christians can claim uniqueness of Christ as the incarnate Son of God in a mythical sense.  Thus, the uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ is at stake.  But the biblical incarnation is supremely the unique sign and demonstration of divine vulnerability in history.  The uniqueness of Christ is taken to mean that Jesus Christ is the unique revelation of God, the Father, that is, epistemological; He is the one and only Saviour of humanity, that is, soteriological; and He is the unique Son or Word of God incarnate, that is, ontological.

 

1. Epistemological Uniqueness

In the Christian faith Jesus Christ is described as the unique mediator to make known the Father.[14]  There may be a perception of God in other religions.  But one can know God as the biblical God, the Father, only through Jesus Christ.  According to Stanley Jones, “If you think of God in terms other than Jesus Christ, you do not think of God, you think of something other than God.”[15] He asserted,

Through Vedanta one may come to Brahma and get from it all that the Impersonal can reveal and give.  One may come to Allah through Mohammed and the Koran and get from it all that this conception can give and reveal.  One may come to Nirvana through Buddha and get from it all that Nirvana can give and reveal.  But if one comes to the Father who is the Ultimate Reality and the Truth, then one must come through Christ...He is unique.  Men and women in Christ do find God.[16]

 

Jesus Christ is the self-revelation of God.  God is a Jesus-like God.[17]  Apart from Jesus our ideas of God become strange and uncertain.  Karl Barth stated the fact that God is knowable for human beings only in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the second person of the Trinity.[18] 

 

According to Gavin D’ Costa, the Father is known through Christ and the Spirit, and it is only on the basis of this particularity that one is able to affirm the universal agency of God’s redeeming activity, for the God who redeems is always and everywhere the triune God revealed in Christ.[19] In the first place he agreed that one cannot speak of the Father without the story of Jesus, but he further said that the mystery of God is not exhaustively known through the Son.  To him, “Jesus is called totus Deus, never totum Dei; whole God, but never the whole of God.”[20]  So he argued that “Christ is normative, not exclusive or absolute in revealing God…for the Spirit constantly and in surprising ways calls us into a deeper understanding of God in Christ.”[21]  D’Costa’s paradigm becomes more Pneumato-centric than Christo-centric. Such a Spirit Christology tends to minimise the mediator role of Jesus Christ.

 

The so-called theo-centric theologians have some other God in mind than the God of the Bible.  By speaking of God apart from Christ so as not to scandalize people of other religions, none of these theo-centric theologians appears to have any use for the doctrine of the Trinity.[22]  The claim that God, the Father is not known independently of Jesus Christ as the Son has important consequences for the Christian claim to uniqueness.[23]   As Jones pointed out, one knows what God is like; He is a Christlike God.  And one knows what man can be like; he can be Christlike.  There is nothing higher for God or man than to be Christlike.[24]  Jesus Christ is unique as the ultimate and decisive source of the knowledge of God. In the words of Veli-Matti Karkkainen, “The way to know the Christian God – Father, Son, and Spirit – can only be possible through God’s self-revelation in the Son.”[25]  As Pinnok asserted, “God is not a generic deity, but is defined by Jesus and normatively grounded in the person and work of Christ.”[26] 

 

2. Soteriological Uniqueness

While Christians see the benevolence of God toward sincere folk of other religions, the Scriptures insist on only one way of salvation.  For Biblical Christians, Jesus Christ is at the centre of divine salvific work.[27] Thus, they confess Jesus Christ as the incarnation of the Word of God as salvifically unique, decisive, and universally significant.  Christian theology defines salvation on the model of what God has accomplished for the world and humanity in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God is a Christlike God.  Jones substantiated, ‘If God should give himself all out to some approach other than Christ, then it would fix in the mind of the recipient that God is other than Christlike.  That would fix an untruth about God.”[28]  Jesus alone saved mankind by self-giving.  He alone forgives, recovers and saves.  The forgiveness that God offers in Christ is not a cheap forgiveness.  The Cross is the price that God pays that the forgiveness may not be cheap.  The salvation offered by the triune God is inevitably related to the name of Jesus Christ.  Only through him human beings are saved from their sins and reconciled with the Father.[29]

 

The teaching that there is salvation in other religions is spreading in the churches.  Soteriology wise, the Catholic Church seems to have become too inclusive.[30] But one cannot see valid biblical justification for the broad Soteriological inclusiveness, which asserts, among other things, that all humans, without exception are reckoned already, in Christ. Paul Knitter proposes a soterio-centric or liberation-centred model of a theology of religion in his book, One Earth Many Religions.[31] Since all the major religions are concerned in some sense with the theme of salvation there is a move to base our preaching and dialogue on salvation.  That means our talk should not revolve around Christ or Buddha or Krishna or around God or Brahman or Nirvana, but around salvation, that is a shared concern about the effort to remove the sufferings that rack the human family today.  Lesslie Newbigin qualified this move as a move from the objective to the subjective. He affirmed that there is certainly a common search for salvation; it is that search that tears the world to pieces when it is directed to that which is not God. [32]

 

Today theologians are debating the question whether or not there is salvation in other religions. They take sides on the issue, without first making clear the model of salvation they have in mind.  According to Braaten, if one is told there is salvation in the other religions, there is no wonder, because it depends on what is meant by salvation.

If salvation is the experience of illumination, then Buddha can save.  If Salvation is the experience of union with God, then Hinduism can save.  If salvation is being true to the ancestors, then Shintoism can save.  If salvation is revolution against the overlords and equality for the people, then Maoism can save.  If salvation is liberation from poverty and oppression, then Marxism can save.  If salvation is psychological health, there is salvation not only outside the Church but outside the religions as well.  If salvation is striving for humanization, for development, for wholeness, for justice, for peace, for freedom, for the whole earth, there is salvation in other religions, in the quasi-religious and secular ideologies.[33]

 

Salvation in the New Testament is what God has done to death in the resurrection of Jesus.  Since death is what separates the person from God in the end, only that power which transcends death can liberate the person for eternal life with God.  As Ivan M. Satyavratha points out, “God’s offer of salvation became concrete in Jesus Christ, especially in His death, resurrection and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit.”[34]

 

Jacques Dupuis talks about a “constitutional” uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ.  According to him, this means that the person of Jesus Christ and the Christ-event of His death – resurrection opens access to God for all human beings, independently of their historical situation.  If we put it in another words, the humanity of Jesus Christ, God’s Son made flesh, is the sacrament of God’s universal will to save.  Such uniqueness must not, however, be constructed as absolute.  What is absolute is God’s saving will.  Neither absolute nor relative, Jesus’ uniqueness is “constructive;” in addition; we called it “relational.”[35]  He says,

“More divine truth and grace are found operative in the entire history of God’s dealing with humankind than are available simply in the Christian tradition.  As “human face” or ‘icon” of God, Jesus Christ gives to Christianity its specific and singular character.  But while he is constitutive of salvation for all, he neither excludes nor includes other saving figures or traditions.[36]

 

According to him, The Trinitarian Christology model, the universal enlightenment of the Word of God, and the enlivening by His Spirit makes it possible to discover, in other saving figures and traditions, truth and grace not brought out with the same vigour and clarity in God’s revelation and manifestation in Jesus Christ.[37]  He neither wants to be exclusive not inclusive, but relational in his approach to the uniqueness of Christ. 

 

The Soteriological uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only saviour implies that the so-called saviour figures in other religions are ineffective for human salvation in biblical sense.  It implies that there are no other saviours.  Outside of Christ apart from the preaching of the gospel there are no known historical alternatives that may be theologically accepted as divinely authorized means of salvation.  As Braaten pointed out, ‘Many ways of salvation are not needed, because the one way God has revealed in Jesus Christ is sufficient for all.”[38]

 

3. Ontological Uniqueness

This claim focuses the attention to the divinity of Jesus Christ.  The theological basis for the uniqueness of Christ is expressed in the confession of Him as the incarnation of God the Son.  The pluralist theologians say that the claims made about Jesus as Saviour are not ontological but confessional.  For this they abandon the once-for-allness of the incarnation.  Still they go on speaking of Jesus Christ as if he were God for Christians.  According to Samartha, “The ontological equation of Jesus Christ with God would scarcely allow any serious discussion with neighbours of other faiths or with secular humanists.”[39]  But the biblical Christians cannot abandon the ontological equation of Jesus Christ with God.  Jones said, “The touch of Jesus upon life was the touch of God...Jesus was doing things that only God could do.”[40]  He further pointed out that Jesus did not prove God or argue about Him, but he brought God.[41]

 

In the prologue of John’s gospel Jesus Christ is described as the logos that is equal to God, while having distinct personality.  He is also described as the fully incarnate and only begotten Son of God and possessor with the Father of the divine attribute of glory, grace and truth.  Jesus was Emmanuel, “God with us.”  “In him,” claims Paul, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” [42]  Michael Green Said, “If you want to see God, look at Jesus...For he is ‘God in us,’ and brings about in the community of believers the power and love and healing of God almighty.” [43]

 

D. Trinity, Uniqueness, and Universality

The Christian claim to the uniqueness of Christ rests on his divinity, which in turn rests on the doctrine of the Trinity.  The doctrine of the Trinity ontologically grounds his divinity and his uniqueness.   Therefore, only with the framework of the Trinity can the uniqueness of Christ be understood.  Christology brings out the identity of God as triune. At the same time, the doctrine of the Trinity points out the essential identification of Jesus Christ with God.[44]  The Christian conviction regarding the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the incarnation of the Son of God is inseparable from the claim to his universality.  According to Pinnok, the universality of God’s love is known through the particular event of the Incarnation.[45]  It is the ontological uniqueness of Christ that grounds His Soteriological universality [46] Christians need to affirm the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ.  As Braaten asserted, “In the strength of the Christian belief in the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ, it is imperative that Christians cheerfully enter into every arena of witness and dialogue with people of other faiths.” [47]  Siga Arles emphasises the need of articulating an evangelical theology of inter-faith dialogue for the coming decade.  Such a new beginning will prove viable, he says, only if it can join hands with the ecumenical attempts and provide an open forum without repeating old separatist trends.[48]  According to John Stott, “To deny the uniqueness of Christ is to cut the nerve of mission and make it superfluous.  To affirm his uniqueness, on the other hand, is to acknowledge the urgency of making him universally known.” [49]

 

Conclusion

Bible declares, “And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”[50]  The uniqueness of Jesus Christ is that people every where must call on His name for salvation.  The universality is that whoever in any religion, culture and any corner of this world calls shall be saved. A clear perception and acknowledgment of the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ will instil in us a passion for Christian mission which is holistic in its nature.



[1] Mathew Philip, M.Th., is a graduate of SAIACS.  He serves as the Dean of Students and teaches Christian Mission and Apologetics in the Gospel For Asia Biblical Seminary, Thiruvalla, Kerala, South India.

[2] John Hick, God Has Many Names (London: Macmillan Press Ltd. 1980), p. 45.

[3] Knitter, Paul F, No Other name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Towards the World Religions (London: SCM Press Ltd. 1985).

[4] Carl E. Braaten, “Christocentric Trinitarianism Vs. Unitarian Theocentrism: A Response to S. Mark Heim,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. 24, No.1, Winter 1987, pp. 17,18.

[5] Carl E. Bratten, “Who Do We Say That He Is? On the Uniqueness and Universality of Jesus Christ,” Occasional Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 4, No. 1, January 1980, p. 2.

[6] Siga Arles, Ashish Chrispal & Paul Mohan Raj (eds.), Biblical Theology and Missiological Education In Asia (Bangalore: ATA, TBT & CCC, 2005), p. 111.

[7] John 4:25, 26.

[8] John 4:39-42.

[9] Luke 4:18, 19.

[10] Text Commentaries - Matthew Henry on Luke, The Blue Letter Bible CD. 2003.

[11] Mark 10:45; Luke 19:10.

[12] Michael Amaladoss, Beyond Inculturation, Can the many be one (Delhi: ISPCK, 2005), p. 25.

[13] It is the idea that Jesus Christ alone must be the centre of every dialogue and not the systems or doctrines or the traditions of the Church.  Anything else can be reducible, but Jesus alone can not be reducible. See, Mathew Philip, “Toward a more authentic Dialogue: A Christocentric Trinitarian Paradigm,” Journal of Asian Evangelical Theology, Vol. 13, No. 1, June 2005, pp. 90-94.

 

[14] John 1:18; 16:26; 14:6.

[15] E. Stanley Jones, A Song of Ascents: A Spiritual Autobiography (Nashville and New York: Abingdon Press, 1968), p.377.

[16] E. Stanley Jones, Christ at the Round Table (New York: Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, 1928), p. 261.

[17] John 14: 7, 9, 11

[18] Barth quoted by David Samuel, “Uniqueness and Universality: A Study of Karl Rahner’s Trinitarian Theology of Religions” (Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, London, London University, 1992) pp. 231,232.

[19] Gavin D’ Costa, Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered: The Myth of a Pluralistic Theology of Religion (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1990), p. 140.

[20] Ibid, p. 18.

[21] Ibid, pp. 18-19.

[22] Carl E. Bratten, No Other Gospel! Christianity Among the World’s Religions (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), p. 21.

[23] Samuel, “Uniqueness and Universality,” p. 233.

[24] Jones, Ascents, p. 377

[25] Veli-Matti Karkkainen, “Trinity and Religions: On the Way to a Trinitarian Theology of Religion for Evangelicals,” Missiology An International Review, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, April 2005. p. 162.

[26] Clark H. Pinnok, A Wideness In God’s Mercy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), p. 156.

[27] Mathew Philip, “Toward A More Authentic Dialogue,” p. 88.

[28] Jones, Ascents, p. 242.

[29] Samuel, “Uniqueness and Universality,” p. 234.

[30] Kim-Sai Tan, “The Unique Christ in the Midst of the Plurality of Religions,” Paper presented at the W.E.F. Theological Commission, Manilla, Philippines, 16th – 20th June 1992, p. 3.

[31] Knitter, Paul G. One Earth Many Religions (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1995).

[32] Leslie Newbigin, “Religious Pluralism and the Uniqueness of Jesus Christ,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 13, No.2, April 1989, p. 51.

[33] Braaten, “Who Do We Say,” p. 6.

[34] Roger E. Hedlund and Bhakiaraj, Paul Joshua (eds.), Missiology For the 21st Century (Delhi/Chennai: ISPCK/MIIS, 2004), p. 345.

[35] Jacques Dupuis, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Anand, Gujarat: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 2001), pp. 387, 388.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Braaten, “Who Do We Say,” p. 91.

[39] Quoted in John Hick and Paul Knitter, The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions (NY: Orbis Books, 1987), p. 80.

[40] Jones, Ascents, p. 352.

[41] Jones, Round Table, p. 124.

[42] Col. 2:9. (R.S.V.).

[43] Michael Green, Evangelism Through the Local Church (London: Hodder & Stroughton, 1990), p. 49.

[44] Samuel, “Uniqueness and Universality,” p. 235.

[45] Pinnok, God’s Mercy, p. 45.

[46] Samuel, “Uniqueness and Universslity,” p. 239;  John 3:16

[47] Braaten, “Who Do We Say,” p.5.

[48] Siga Arles, Theological Education for the Mission of the Church in India: 1947-1987 (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1991), p. 153.

[49] John Stott, The Contemporary Christianity (Leicester: Inter Varsity Press, 1992), p. 320.

[50] Acts 2:21 (RSV)

Praxis Dialogue

DIALOGUE IN PRAXIS: AN EFFECTIVE TOOL FOR CHRISTIAN MISSION

 

Mathew Philip

Excerpts from The Unique Christ-Dialogue in Missions, Bangalore: cfcc, 2006.

 

Introduction

In the present world of religious pluralism, inter-religious dialogue is so common. In India the leaders of Vishua Hindu Parikshath (VHP)[1] and Christian leaders are dialoging over the issue of Christian faith and conversion in the context of present persecution against Christians in India. Today, dialogue has become more fashionable and confined within the four walls of some conference hall.  As Andrew Kirk says, dialogue has become an emotive word in Christian circles, a slogan and a means of accusing those who hold to a different view of other religions than one’s own[2]. It is also true that inter-religious dialogue is viewed as limited to intellectual and urban circles and Christ is often compromised in many of today’s dialogue.  So this article is an attempt to show that the purpose of dialogue is the transformation of individuals and societies and genuine dialogues often take place in actual life situations. 

 

The Context

Today, due to the increasing trend of religious pluralism in all parts of the globe many theologians see dialogue as an effective tool for mission everywhere.  What is new today in the West is the widespread awareness of religious pluralism resulting from unprecedented exposure to many different religious traditions.[3]  The consensus exists for a number of good reasons, including worldwide communications and large-scale immigration that have put the West into almost daily contact with people of other religions.  According to Martin Goldsmith, the reason more and more in the West are attracted to Eastern religions is, first, the failure of the Church and her mission.[4]   Much of the worship and life of the Church appears rigid and formal.  The life, worship and preaching of the Church appear to lack a living spirituality.[5]  Secondly, it is the emergence of a global village. Paul F. Knitter states that this age-old fact of religious pluralism becomes a newly experienced reality for many today in the West because they know more about other religions than ever before.[6]

 

Third world countries, especially, the Indian society has already been religiously highly pluralistic.  Indian Christians have the history of living with religious pluralism for many centuries, but they have preserved their unique faith.[7]  Although the plurality of religions and cultures is an ancient phenomenon, in the Asian context today the Christian response to this social reality has become an urgent and important concern.[8]  It is true that no other period in Church history has seen as much theological ferment regarding the attitude and approach of Christians to people of other faiths as all are experiencing today.[9]  This motivates Christians everywhere to involve in dialogue with the people of other living faiths on a daily basis.

 

Dialogue as Life Style

Genuine dialogue often takes place in grass root level.  The ordinary Christians should be able to undertake dialogue not as an intellectual exercise but a way of life if it has to become an effective tool for mission.[10]  Christians should not confine their missionary activities within certain Seminars or conferences on inter-faith dialogue; rather they must make this dialogue business a life style.  The WCC’s Guidelines on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies urged Christians everywhere to make dialogue a way of living out their Christian faith.

In a world in which Christians have many neighbors, dialogue is not only an activity of meetings and conferences, it is also a way of living out Christian faith in relationship and commitment to those neighbors with whom Christians share towns, cities, nations, and the earth as a whole.  Dialogue is a style of living in relationship with neighbors.  This is in no way replaces or limits our Christian obligation to witness, as partners enter into dialogue with their respective commitments.[11]

 

In the multi-faith local and global societies, neighbors will include people from all faiths.  They can be people working in the offices, factories, schools, shops or even working in one’s own garden.  They can also be travelers in the bus or train or airplanes or even refugees of wars supported by the government.  As love is the supreme ethics of Christians they are called to love their neighbor. Hence, inter-religious dialogue is an imperative for all Christians not only to witness but also to live harmoniously.  Apart from witnessing Bruce Nicholls sees it as vital as a community-identifying and community-building exercise.[12]  Dialogue is helpful to find things that are good and true in other religions.  Yet the ultimate truth for all people is Jesus Christ. As Craig L. Nessan points out,

One may engage with genuine sincerity in interfaith dialogue, ready to listen, learn, and be changed by the truth one encounters in the witness of those from other religions.  At the same time one many remain deeply convinced that the mission of the triune God in the sending of Jesus Christ is ultimately true for all people[13]

 

 Dialogue also helps people to seek for justice, peace and human development. By mission and dialogue W.C. Smith meant to “stand under the imperative to understand each other, to help each other, to contribute to our common life, and together to aim at co-operative and divinely acceptable world.[14]  Thrown together into the common struggles of life, dialogue between people of different religious convictions becomes an inevitable way of life.  According to Bruce Nicholls, “Dialogue is a way of life, an attitude of mind as well as a verbal defense and proclamation of the gospel.”[15]  If biblical Christians consider dialogue as a part of proclamation they must make it a way of life.  It is also imperative for Christians to practice what they share in their daily dialogue with their neighbors. The true spirituality lies in how they live their life with their neighbors.  

 

The Purpose of Dialogue

The purpose of dialogue is not a change of one’s religion, but a change of one’s heart. In their dialogue with the people of other faiths, Christians should see them as persons created in the image of God like them and not as Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists. Jesus’ dialogue was with persons in their uniqueness at the level of their hart needs, their spiritual quest and aspirations.

 

Why do Christians seek to convert people?  The question being commonly asked today is “why don’t you just preach Christ and help a man to be a better man where he is?”  As an answer to this question it is important to note here that we preach conversion because Christ preached it (Matthew 18:3). According to Stanley Jones, who was an American Methodist missionary in India for more than forty years, “Man is made for conversion.  As the duck is made for water, the bird is made for the air, the heart is made for love, the aesthetic nature is made for beauty.  When you are converted you find Christ, you find yourself, your Home land.[16]  If the Church loses this power to convert – to make bad men into good men, weak men into strong men, moral failures into moral victors – if it looses this power then, Jones said, it loses its right to be called Christian.[17]  A spiritual conversion is necessary for all people regardless of race, nationality or religion (Acts 17:30).  A spiritual conversion is necessary to all people – for rich and poor, educated and uneducated, high caste and low caste, European and Asian, nominal Christians and non-Christians.  So J.T. Seamonds says that we should not single out any body as the only candidates for conversion.  It is not Christians who say to all men: “you must be converted.”  It is Christ who says to all men: “ye must be converted; you must be born again.”[18]

 

According to Jones, there are two types of conversion, namely, the vertical conversion and the horizontal conversion.  Vertical conversion is that spiritual change wrought by Christ that lifts people from sin to goodness, from discord to harmony, from selfishness to sacrifice, from oneself to God, and gives them a new sphere of living, the Kingdom of God.[19]  Horizontal conversion may be a mere change from one religion to another, leaving the person on the same level of character and life.[20]  He said that in India many of the conversions have been and are horizontal conversions.[21]  Real conversion to Christ means a return from an unnatural foreign way of life to the truly natural way of life.[22] To Jones, the chief need in East and West was conversion.[23]  People and community every where need a vertical conversion, that is the true spirituality, and not a horizontal conversion, that is a matter of religion.

 

Christians’ responsibility is not to convert others.  It is the Holy Spirit who alone converts. If we try to convert people it will be mere proselytism. Christians are not required to save others.  It is Jesus alone who saves.  It is not even the mission of Christians to take people to heaven.  Their mission is to bring people to Christ.  Christ is the One who gives eternal life.  The responsibility of the Christian Church is to make Christ and His message known to the people of other living faiths.  The distinctive Christian message is the living Christ, and all doctrinal formulations are quite secondary.

The theme of the tenth International Association for Mission Studies (IAMS) Conference held from 21 to 28 January 2000 at Pretoria in South Africa was “Reflecting Jesus Christ: Crucified and Living in Broken World.”  Siga Arles reports from the Conference,

The person of Jesus Christ is what we reflect as the gospel of God.  In times like this when there is a lot of challenges of religious and ideological pluralism which call for a placement of Jesus Christ as one among the many and there is an increasing tendency to dilute the relevance of the personhood of Jesus Christ as ‘the Saviour from God, the second person of the trinity and as God Himself,’ and to relativise the gospel and the place of the Church as the New Israel or the Kingdom community, the theme clearly spelt out the task of Christian mission as that of reflecting the person of Jesus Christ.[24]

He further reports,

Jesus as a good moral teacher is not what we need to reflect as a priori gospel.  It is not the ethics he taught, but the justification, regeneration and sanctification that he wrought on the Cross as the crucified Saviour.  This forms the central message of our Christian mission.[25] 

The report further points out that Jesus Christ not only becomes a dharmic principle but offers eternal salvation in the act of believing and receiving him into the hearts and lives of human persons, whose lives are transformed by the power of his gospel and the in working of His Holy Spirit whom he promised to send from God the Father as the third person of godhead.[26]  It is not Christians, but Christ must meet people’s felt needs in their dialogue with the people of other faiths.  Such confrontation brings transformation and reconciliation. Yes, it is true that everybody everywhere needs reconciliation, restoration, and spiritual transformation.  This is possible through a dialogue of life.

 

Dialogue in Praxis

Praxis dialogue exists in the place where Christians practically carry out dialogue with their neighbors.  The following are some suggestions of the writer for a genuine practical dialogue with the people of other faiths.

First, Christians must have a sympathetic attitude toward non-Christians.  The Bible says, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”[27]  All human beings are the objects of God’s limitless and unfathomable love.  It is the love of God and the love for the neighbor that must motivate Christians to dialogue with others.  The more we know about them, the more we will be able to love them.  As Valson Thambu points out, “As a rule, the less we know about our neighbor’s faith the more assertive we grow in condemning it.  This stems from a pathetic incapacity to love our neighbors.”[28]  We must see them as people who are in need - the objects of God’s love and the need of a Savior.

Second, Christians must be able to appreciate the spiritual aspirations of non-Christians.   They must respect the integrity of the partners in dialogue.  The Christian confession of Jesus as Lord and Savior does not involve any attempt to deny the reality of the work of God in the lives and thoughts of men and women outside the Christian Church.  On the contrary, biblical Christians ought to rejoice in the evidence of that work.  One cannot and must not say that all non-Christian systems are demonic.  Although we may speak of God revealing himself to religious people even outside of Jesus Christ, this revelation does not directly bring salvation.  It points towards, even leads towards salvation.  It has pre-salvific significance, preparing people to accept the grace and truth of God.[29]  Christians must thank God in sincerity for all the good and true things in non-Christian cultures and thinking.  And we must find them as starting points to present Christ.

Third, Dialogue depends on mutual understanding and mutual trust.  Participants must be free to speak from their real experiences.  The main emphasis must be on what each person’s religion means to his or her own experience.  The nature of dialogue must be frank discussion.  Each partner must have the freedom to share his or her conviction.  It is the truth claims of different religions that pave the way for dialogue.  It is no longer possible for conscientious theologians and missiologists to ignore the existence of different religious traditions and their absolute claims.

Fourth, There must be an in-depth listening to, learning from and sharing of truth in a genuine and authentic dialogue of life.  A Christian’s position in inter-religious dialogue cannot be to regard the truth as a possible goal to be sought for, even though this may be the position of other religions, but to accept it as the God-given point of embarkation.  This is not to say that Christians cannot learn and grow in understanding and insight through inter-faith dialogue.  It means that any new insight gained in the course of the dialogue must be tested against the Bible’s witness to Christ who is the Truth. 

Fifth, Dialogue must become an opportunity for authentic Christian witness. Christians in dialogue must confess the truth that is given in Christ, and thereby challenge others to put their faith in Him.  It is possible for Christians to hold firmly to their convictions and have dialogue without arrogance or a superiority complex.  The more they know how the Lord saved them, the more they should be humble. They are making a claim not about themselves or their religion, but about a unique person, Jesus Christ. Christian witness is not to criticize non-Christian systems and beliefs, but to recognize the questions and aspirations of others and show that Christ is the answer to their thirst for God.  Christians’ witness must be to the living Christ and not to a dogma, tradition or denomination.  It is because one’s immediate experience is of Christ and it is only through Him, in the power of the Holy Spirit, that one knows the Father and has fellowship with Him. Such a Christocentric Trinitarian approach will be more effective in today’s dialogues.  Authentic witness and true spirituality is not only given in the words one speaks but in the manner and bearing of the life one lives.

Sixth, Mission and dialogue stay together.  Christians must carry their mission into dialogue as people who speak from faith to faith.  Mission in the context of dialogue, without imposition, but acknowledging fully the integrity of the other creates the context in which the Holy Spirit can work.  It is the Holy Spirit, the principal agent for mission, who alone can convict people of their sins and for the need of salvation.  The Holy Spirit brings not a change of one’s religion, but a change of one’s heart. Christian dialogians are only instruments of and co-workers with the Triune God. Dialogue must be an effective tool for Christian mission.

Seventh, People are created in the image of God and all are under God’s care and provisions.  In their dialogue with the people of other faiths, Christians should see them as persons created in the image of God as they are and not as Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists.  Christians should not single them out as the only candidates for conversion.  Jesus’ dialogue was with persons in their uniqueness at the level of their needs of hearts.  People everywhere need a spiritual transformation.  People and community need a vertical conversion and not a horizontal conversion as Jones believed. Christians’ responsibility is to preach Christ and through which people will be led to Christ who alone can save mankind and give eternal life.   

Eighth, Dialogue ought to be a lifestyle.  Dialogue should transcend the conference halls to the local churches and then to the neighborhood.  It is because the local church and neighborhood are in their real context. Dialogue can go on in a train, in a bus, in school, in the offices, in factories, market places and in the fields.  It is not only for witnessing but also for peaceful co-existence of people in the community.  Each one must take dialogue very personal. Christians must make dialogue a life style, a part of their existence and mission. Genuine dialogue is in word, deed, and life.   It is not a religious life the people look at, but a spiritual life that will bring peace, justice, and harmony in each one’s society. Where people of different faiths and ideologies share common activities, intellectual interests, and spiritual quest, dialogue can be related to the whole of life and can become a style of living-in-relationship. 

 

Conclusion

The purpose of Christian mission is to make the living Christ and His message known to the people of other living faiths.  So also the purpose of inter-faith dialogue is the transformation of individuals and societies and genuine dialogues often take place in actual life situations.  Christians must make mission and dialogue their lifestyle.  Only when people are transformed by Christ, then justice, peace, equality, liberation, harmony, human and ecological well-being, commitment to causes which must transcend caste, color, creeds, and confessions and all other things we want to make happen in the society, will really come to pass. Any attempt to demean Christ will end up only in an abortive mission and dialogue.

 

 

 



[1] A fanatic group of Hindus in India that are actively involved in persecuting Christian missionaries.

[2] Andrew Kirk, Loosing the Chains: Religion as Opium and Liberation (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1992), p. 95.

[3] Harold Netland A., Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing Company), p. 200.

[4] Martin Goldsmith, What About Other Faiths? (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1989), pp. 19-21

[5] Ibid.

[6] Paul F. Knitter, No other Name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Towards the World Religions (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1985), p. 2.

[7] Russel J. Chandran, “Mission In Today’s Pluralistic context,”  National Council of Churches Review, Vol. 94, No.5, May-June 1994, p. 348.

[8] Ivan Satyavrata, “Religious Pluralism in the Post Ayodhya Context,” Aim, Vol. 25, No.2, February 1994, p. 10.

[9] Gerald H. Anderson and Thomas F. Stransky, Mission Trend No. 5: Faith Meets Faith (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. ix.

[10] Oommen Abraham, “Dialogue At Crossroads,” National Council of Churches Review, Vol. 115, No. 3, March 1994, p. 152.

[11] n.a., “Seven Theses on Interreligious Dialogue; An Essay in Pastoral Theological Reflection,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 13, No. 3, July 1989, p. 16.

[12] Bruce J. Nicholls, “The Witnessing Church in Dialogue,” Evangelical Review of Theology, Vol. 16, No. 1, Januray 1992, p. 63.

[13] Craig L. Nessan, “Missionary God; Missionary Congregation,” Dialogue: A Journal of Theology, Vol. 40, No. 2, Summer 2001, p. 117.

[14] Wilfred Cantwell Smith, “Mission, Dialogue, And God’s Will for Us,” International Review of Missions, Vol. 78, No. 307, July 1988.

[15] Nicholls, “The Witnessing Church,” p. 62.

[16] Stanley Jones, A Song of Ascents (Nashville and New York: Abingdon Press, 1968), p. 32.

[17] n.a., Message for the World, p. 193.

[18] John. T. Seamands, Tell It Well: Communicating the Gospel Across Cultures (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1981), p. 100.

[19] Stanley Jones, Christ At the Round Table ( New York: Grosset and Dunlap Publishers, 1928),   p. 71.

[20] Ibid, p. 72.

[21] Ibid, p. 73.

[22] Jones, Ascents,  p.5.

[23] n.a., The Christian Message for the World Today (New York: Round Table Press, Inc., 1934),   p. 202.

[24] Siga Arles, “Reflecting Jesus Christ: Crucified and Living in a Broken World - A Report of the Tenth IAMS Conference,” Indian Journal of Theology, Vol. 42, No. 2, 2000, p. 214.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Psalm 24:1 (NIV).

[28] Valsan Thampu, “Building Communities of Peace for all,” The Ecumenical Review, Vol. 57, No. 2, April 2005, p. 157.

[29] Ken Gnanaka, Proclaiming Christ in a Pluralistic Context (Bangalore: TBT, 2002), p. 115.

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