Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Christian Unity



I'm working on a research project creating an online archive of Anglican - Roman Catholic ecumenical work. I find ecumenical work fascinating, the goal of greater unity and building cooperative relationships between traditions is close to my heart as a person who likes to build relational bridges. Working on this project makes me think of my own tradition and evangelical identity. It is often a tricky thing working through relationships between traditions. I wonder sometimes if within the evangelical tradition our goals have become skewed, as we seem to think that unity means uniformity. A great book on this subject is Gerald McDermott's Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions?. What McDermott presents is key to Christians engaging with other traditions even within the family of Christianity. In true evangelical form he insists that when we engage in such conversations we bring our whole selves to those conversations. This is contrary to some ecumenical thinking that says we lay down our distinctives for the conversation. McDermott, instead, wants us to lay down our need to defend our distinctives by seeing what is distinctive about ourselves as a valuable and unique contribution to the conversation. And that in conversation we are mutually enriched and challenged. I often direct new students to this book as it is a much better way to navigate academic life as a person of faith.

The key here is how we understand boldness. In evangelical culture we've often associated boldness with the assertion of our distinct views. But boldness really has more to do with our confidence in our own views and the willingness to hear and learn from other people. Hence McDermott's central question - can we, as evangelicals, learn from world religions? His answer is yes. But it requires us to enter into conversation. A conversation requires contributions from both sides - and the evangelical in me rejoices at that prospect.

So how do you express boldness? How do you interact even with Christians of other traditions? Not all of us are in ecumenical environments, but I bet all of us have people around us we can engage with. In writing this I was thinking of a few stories of some great conversations I have had recently. In particular one with my muslim neighbour about how we instill moral values in our children and what help/hindrances come from our religious traditions. But I'd love to hear your stories, your encounters.

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