Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cory Willson on Interfaith Dialogue

Courtesy of Tim at LDS & Evangelical Conversations, I've found a fascinating brief article by Cory Willson titled "Learning Proper Manners for the Religious Roundtable: Kuyper and Convicted Civility", bringing some insights of Dutch Reformed thinker Abraham Kuyper to bear on today's Evangelical interfaith dialogue scene. While I do think there remains a robust place for a qualified form of what he (Willson, not Kuyper) designates a 'confrontational' approach, his points are otherwise well-made and well-taken. Here is what I take to be the most important (at least here) paragraph from the article:
Interfaith dialogue does not have to be a lazy form of pluralism that leads us to soften our theological convictions. Following theologians like Kuyper and Bavinck, we can learn to shift our basic assumptions concerning our neighbours and the nature of our witness to them. In short, our Muslim and Mormon neighbours should not be assumed to be an "agent of the devil," and Christians should not content themselves with vague second-hand caricatures of these religions. This will only feed our phobias, obscure our vision, and undermine our witness.
He's quite right. All too often, Evangelicals and others react to Islam and Mormonism, along with other religious/theological systems, based purely upon 'vague second-hand caricatures' - just as, to be fair, very many Latter-day Saints operate based upon 'vague second-hand caricatures' of orthodox Christian teaching. This is a serious problem, one raised often by LDS missionaries with the analogy of, e.g., not getting one's information about Fords at a Honda dealership. The solution, of course, is not to uncritically listen only to the Ford dealership, however. The solution is to consult both, as well as sources like Carfax, customer evaluations, relevant government reports, etc., not to mention inspection of the cars themselves. (The analogy does break down insofar as one evaluates cars in terms of, e.g., practical utility, whereas I do not think this to be a wise approach to religion.) Similarly, with respect to Mormonism, the solution is not to uncritically listen to its Evangelical critics only or to listen to LDS missionaries only, but rather to hear out both thoughtful defenders and thoughtful critics of Mormonism, to investigate primary sources and scholarly secondary literature, etc. This, of course, is unfortunately far more work than either the average Evangelical or the average Latter-day Saint is prepared to do. It behooves Evangelical authors to present Evangelicals with an accurate, carefully nuanced, well-rounded, sympathetic yet critical treatment of LDS teachings, practice, and history. It similarly behooves LDS authors to present Latter-day Saints with an equally accurate, carefully nuanced, well-rounded, sympathetic yet critical treatment of Evangelical/orthodox teachings, practice, and history.  And it behooves both audiences to listen to one another's writers and speakers.

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