What do we think about “them”?

A fundamental topic in my course “Theology of World Religions” centers on Christianity’s relationship with other religions. It is an undisputable sociological reality that Western culture is a diverse array of differing worldviews and religions, constantly in contact with one another. This context contributes to where we get the sociological term ‘pluralistic’ as our world is full of diversity on many different levels, with the goal of maintaining this diversity in a tolerant and constructive manner

Ok, with this very brief contextual introduction I shift to the perspectives Christians often take in response to other religions. An excellent introduction to the various issues is a book edited by John G. Stackhouse, titled No Other God’s Before Me? In the “afterword” Stackhouse discusses a key issue as being how we understand the “means” for salvation (by salvation I mean far more than just an other-worldly, eternal heaven. In brief, salvation could be defined as participation with God purpose in the world of creating shalom in the lives of individuals, communities, and the whole of creation, which would inevitably include heaven however that is to be realized…) Basically, how is a person considered “saved” in the broader sense? Stackhouse presents the typical spectrum of options, ranging from restrictivism to pluralism, with the inclusivist view in between.

Here is a brief overview of each view:

-Restrictivism: This is the perspective that no person can encounter salvation in Jesus Christ without the “explicit preaching and reception of the gospel.”

-Inclusivism: While conceptually presented in a variety of options, the basic gist of this approach still holds to the belief that Jesus Christ is the one basis for a person’s salvation, but the manner in which a person responds varies. The implication here is that a person can encounter the salvific work of Jesus Christ without actually personally acknowledging the name of Jesus Christ in that encounter. Whether that is through the partial truths of other religions or the work of the Holy Spirit, the “gospel” as it is traditionally understood is not explicitly present. Hence, people of other religions are opened up to the possibility of encountering salvation and being considered “believers” without actually being “Christians.”

-Pluralism: Also present in a variety of different forms, this belief adheres to the idea that there are distinctly different and independent religious paths, where the question of validity in the various options becomes irrelevant. Stackhouse argues that this position is actually quite rare, and pluralism as espoused by the likes of John Hick are merely just a more radical form of inclusivism as they maintain that all paths still lead to the same end (“Ultimately Real”).

As we move forward in this class we are examining how each of these views play themselves out theologically and practically. Each perspective has direct implications for how Christians relate to people of other religions. At this point I will abstain from pegging myself in one camp over against the others, although the fact that I am usually a “middle-of-road” kind of guy may give you some insight towards where I lean. As I continue to study this subject I look forward to expanding on some of the issues, particularly in the area of religious dialogue in our multicultural society.

(For those who may be offended with my title referring to "them" I must admit my subtle sarcasm aimed towards what I deem as a possibly problematic "us versus them" presupposition inherent in much of religious dialogue.)

Stawamus Chief

If anyone is looking for a nice "leisurely" stroll through the woods that ends with a view of Howe Sound two thousand feet below, then the Stawamus Chief is for you! This past Saturday I hiked "The Chief" with a gang from church. Located in Squamish, about an hour North of Vancouver, this 1.5 hour ascent is well worth the effort! I think the pictures speak for themselves and thankfully aid in my forgetting how much sweat it took to actually get to the top!

Howe Sound

Me, pretending to not be tired! (the rock I am on isn't as steep as it looks)

A few too many people on this rock.

Anyone got a skateboard?

"The gang"
The crazy ones in the group

The "Sea-to-Sky" highway in the distance

The parking lot way down there...

More of the gang...

Squamish down below

Logs... (I couldn't think of a cool caption...)

Christianity and Culture

Well, after two weeks of classes and more reading than I know what to do with, the wondering has begun…

Both of the courses I am taking this semester (Christian Ethics & Theology of World Religions) deal specifically with topic of Christianity and Culture, constantly raising the question: how do Christians live faithfully while engaging the world around them?

Now, to be sure, this is not a new question Christians are asking. Throughout the history of God’s people, relation to culture has been central to what it means to live out the Christian faith. In the Old Testament, there is the land of Israel as the perennial stomping grounds for many different cultures as they fight over the strategic location of that gateway territory. How was Israel to relate to the ideas of these dominating empires? Or in the New Testament, there is the opening up of the church to include Gentiles (non-Jews) into the mix. While our tolerant minds may scoff at the conundrum that ensued, the fact is that there were definite challenge to opening Christianity up to the pressures of a “pagan” culture. Skip a few centuries and all of the sudden the lines are blurred as church and state meld into one under the reign of Constantine and subsequent rulers. Did the culture become Christianized? Or did Christianity become cultured? Even further along in the 2nd millennium there are countless examples, whether it be the intellectual advances of the Renaissance, the challenge of folk religion in the colonization of Europe, or even the impact of rationalism and enlightenment thought in more recent centuries, the question of Christianity and culture persists. Coming to today, the question remains as pertinent as ever, particularly in the complex diversity of a multicultural and multi-religious context that has probably never been resembled in history, at least in this extent.

Throughout history Christianity in its countless forms has understood itself to maintain the ‘right’ worldview, believing that it has something to offer to the surrounding culture. Now, this ‘something’ has varied from harsh judgment, to political dominance, to a sectarian safe haven from ‘evil’ influences. The point is Christians have historically believed that part of their mandate is to contribute to the surrounding culture. I would say that this remains the same, however diverse the opinions remain for what this ‘something’ should be.

Obviously this feeling of obligation to contribute to society can be evaluated positively or negatively, depending on the nature of the contribution. As a Christian I do not want to suggest that our diverse multicultural society is one in which Christianity no longer needs to contribute, as I believe do still have something, even something ‘right’ to be offered. However, as I study this issue and consider the contemporary application of applying a Christian ethic, or acting christianly towards folks of other religious perspectives, our cultural milieu leads me to wonder if an openly “Christian” worldview will not simply fall on deaf ears. The general sense of hostility towards Christianity in the prevailing culture is a reality (good or bad) that I can no longer ignore as I explore what it means to integrate my faith in the culture I inhabit.

All said I feel a certain tension when I consider an appropriate grid for responding to this issue. I guess I am realizing that the complexity of our world requires a level of complexity in Christian interaction, one which I am still wrestling with.

It is too this end that I continue my wondering…

My two cents...

Many of you know that I have a fairly high view (understatement?) of the church and its importance not only in my life personally, but as an integral part of our society as it strives to be faithful in its participation with God’s kingdom. However, this view is not without its practical challenges, particularly in our N.A. context where church more often than not mirrors our consumeristic culture in place of a faithful community of disciples. That said, my own church and the congregation I am a participant in is by no means immune from these challenges, perhaps even succumbing whole heartily to them at times. Thankfully I am not the only one left questioning as there has been a recent surge in critical discussion regarding the future of our so called “contemporary” service. Ranging from specific frustrations with programs to questioning the level of willingness to authentically encounter Jesus, the discussion has been lively. Recently, the discussion has been brought into the realm of cyberspace through the medium of (like it or hate!) Facebook. Here’s my own contribution to the forum (Let me know if you think I am crazy, overly-idealistic, or perhaps on the right track):

I have appreciated the dialogue in this forum regarding our contemporary service. There is something positive about moving the discussion outside of the backroom where church critique so often remains. My hope is that the openness will extend beyond cyberspace, leading to an environment of honest dialogue in all of our congregational gatherings.

As I consider my own opinion I don’t by any means claim to have all the answers. I am merely entering the discussion. At times I find the present situation in our contemporary service just as frustrating and “stuck” as the rest of you. Describing our congregation I have heard the analogy that our wheels are spinning, but we are not moving anywhere. My fear is that our wheels will stop spinning altogether. So regarding the present unrest from many different circles within the congregation I’m am actually encouraged if not for the simple fact that at least people still care. I’ll take honest frustration over apathy any day.
That said, I still wonder if much of the discussion or “venting” if you will, is not missing the key issue to some degree. The distinction I think we need to make in this discussion is between strategies (music, preaching, Sunday school, etc…) and core values. It seems to me that much of the dialogue to this point (not all!) has been directed towards strategies. While strategies are an important aspect of church life towards accomplishing the goals that we feel called as a church to fulfill, apart from a clear understanding of our core values as a congregation, we are left to wade through the countless personal opinions that people will continue to contribute to the discussion, and which the present survey will no doubt produce.

I guess what I am trying to say is that in order for the Bakerview church contemporary service to grasp how we want to progress in our “doing” of church, we need to take seriously the question of what it means for us to “be” the church. I appreciated Jacqueline’s recognition that first and foremost it’s not a question of personal preference, but God’s will for our church. However cliché it sounds, we can’t let “Jesus is Lord” fall to the wayside.

How does this process of finding our identity as a contemporary service look? Well, I’m really not sure… I think some steps are being taken in the right direction (emphasis on prayer, council discussion regarding surveys), but I also think more needs to be done. I’d be interested to hear from others as to what they think the core values of the contemporary service are. Perhaps Darren is right to assert the need for an open meeting to lay our feelings out on the table. I know I am not ready to give up! I hope everyone else feels the same way!

Here’s a prayer I’ve been praying recently for myself and for Bakerview:

“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me (us), a sinner. Grant me (us) the grace to participate with your kingdom in this world however that may look day to day.”

On the roof to under the roof

Well, after spending the past four months soaking up the sun pounding a hammer and providing folks with a roof over their head, this week has seen myself transition back under the roof of academia. While roofing can inspire certain thoughts relevant for discussion, the silence on this blog has probably reflected more my weariness from physical labor rather than a lack of intellectual stimulation. That said I am excited to once again enter a period of time where I have more energy to wonder about the various ideas that I am encountering in my studies and life in general. While I can’t promise a definite degree of regularity, I do plan on sharing more in the weeks and months ahead through my blog.

Here are a few of the things I have been considering over the summer and hope to elaborate on a little this fall:

-The issue of racism in our churches and how it effects our attitudes towards those around us in society.

-Is public transit really that important? (read my letter from earlier in the summer here)

-What are some issues regarding a healthy relationship between the wide variety of world religions we encounter in society (I am taking a class this fall titled “Theology of World Religions,” so I should have all the answers by Christmas!)

-Are values and how I live ethically really just up to my own personal preference? How does this relate to my understanding and involvement in the local church? (I am taking a course in ethics and probably writing my thesis in the area of responding to our culture of individualism)

Well, enough roadmapping, because before you know it I will have set unattainable goals for my blogging participation. I just thought I would break the silence with a little update on my activities.

I look forward to sharing more as the fall progresses.