Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Dialogue and Hand Grenades: Observations from the Majority World

I recently picked up a couple of books by Majority World theologians in order to compliment my theological studies from a Western perspective. One of the books is Vinay Samuel & Chris Sugden (eds), Sharing Jesus In the Two Thirds World (Eerdmans, 1983). This book came out of a meeting of twenty-five theologians from Africa, Asia, and Latin America who met in Bangkok in 1982 to discuss emerging Christologies from the Two Thirds World. Although the book is over twenty years old, it contains a number of gems for Western theologians and missiologists.

One interesting chapter by Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden provides an Indian evangelical perspective on religious dialogue. This chapter laments that in the 1980s "evangelicals are still in the same place as mission thinking was fifty years ago" in terms of dialogue with other religions as an important part of the evangelical agena. This blogger wonders whether we have come much further since that time, at least with respect to new religions in America and the West.

The authors discuss the attitude of disinterest and non-participation in dialogue, and suggest a number of reasons for it. One of the major reasons they cite is fear of syncretism. They write:
The evangelical approach to other religions has been to view them as systems which are pagan, heathen, and closed to the activity of God in history. They are anti-Christian systems which have no signs of redemption in them. Only the people in them are redeemable. The system iteself is not redeemable. Therefore the approach is to confront the systems by hurling gospel grenades over the boundary walls in a process designed to raze the religious system to the ground. While this siege is in progress, the attacking forces rescue what inmates they can, clean them up, baptize them, and then use them as front line troops in the siege operations.
Although these theologians are writing from their Two Thirds World perspective, the same types things could be said about evangelical approaches to other religions in the so-called First World. I have been criticized in certain circles for referring to certain evangelical approaches to new religions as a form of worldview annihilation, but it's difficult to read comments like these without recognizing the legitimacy of such statements. We lob our apologetic and doctrinal hand grenades over worldview boundary walls and wait for the explosion and hope will bring down the system, at least for the individual adherent. We then take the occasional convert, plop them into our evangelical subculture, create new warriors for the faith and place them on the frontlines of apologetic warfare. If Two Thirds World theologians recognize the inappropriateness of this in their contexts, can we recognize it in ours? Perhaps it's time to reassess the lobbing of hand grenades, and to reconsider the appropriateness of dialogue and other missional strategies.

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