Friday, March 02, 2012

Evangelicals and the Challenge of Relationships and Civility in Religious Engagement

Recently an essay in The Orange County Register by Jim Hinch titled "Rick Warren builds bridge to Muslims" discussed Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, and his efforts to develop relationships with Muslims in southern California. An important part of the essay was the mention of criticism that Warren has received from evangelicals, some accusing him of fostering "Chrislam," a heretical syncretism of the two religions. The article notes that Warren has stated publicly that this is not the case.

The pastor in the video clip above likewise received criticism from evangelicals for his actions. These events indicate that evangelicals face a challenge when they move beyond proclamation of their message, and a defensive posture in regards to other religions, particularly Islam. And it's not only a challenge for adults. It's also impacting our youth. Consider the 2011 Barna survey on why young adults are leading the church. Here was issue number 1:
Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
A few of the defining characteristics of today's teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).
Connected to this idea is the possibility that church's are too protective when it comes to exposing evangelical young adults to an understanding of and engagement with those in other religions.

We must recognize that evangelicals are not only called as Jesus followers to value the missio Dei, the evangelistic sharing of their message, but also to be peacemakers, and that it is possible to share the Christian message with conviction and without compromise, while also doing so in respectful and civil ways that value persons of other religious traditions.