This is my humble response:
Thirteen years ago I walked into a banquet hall with a 12-foot suspended ceiling (the kind you see in hospitals and grade schools) and completely bare walls. It was once a roller-skating rink, but this night it had been transformed into a worship space. I mean, I guess it was a worship space, but it looked more like a rock concert. Huge guitar amps and a 9-foot high wall of speakers told me that this wasn’t like the non-instrumental Church of Christ that I attended as a young boy. When the room filled with more than 500 teenagers jumping to the lyrics “I believe, I believe!” I knew something was about to change in my life.
Within about three weeks, I realized that this was a radical group of Christian disciples. And my life was never going to be the same. It hasn’t been the same.
About seven years ago, I had another life-changing experience. This time it was a small chapel with a couple dozen college students. There were incense and statues and brightly colored robes with a priest who spoke in a slow and monotone voice. He spent the next hour or so explaining each element of the Roman Catholic Mass. He told us about how the multiple readings of Scripture pointed to the importance of the whole Bible. He explained about how the Eucharistic prayer recounted a summary of the whole of salvation history. And then he handed out little wafers and a quick drink of wine and told the group gathered that Jesus was present in those humble gifts: and he meant it.
But I had long thought that Roman Catholics had hidden the truth of Jesus Christ among their stylized rituals. Suddenly I realized that the faith I held so dear was at the center of those rituals. After talking with a few Roman Catholic friends, it became clear to me that life was never going to be the same again. It hasn’t been the same.
Not only did I discover that I had been sorely wrong about the faith of my Roman Catholic friends, but I began to realize that I may very well be wrong about a great deal of other things. But you simply can’t live that way. You can’t walk through daily life without some idea of how the world works and what your place in it is.
So I made a pledge. I cannot dismiss the religion of another as foolish. And I must not give up the faith I hold so dear as I explore life and faith and truth with those who see things quite differently than I. Those notions were formed in the context of a Pentecostal Christian learning from Roman Catholic Christians. But the tension between these two commitments doesn’t stop at the border of confession of Jesus.
The tension between learning from the Other and holding on to the faith which gives you life and hope can never be resolved easily. And the generation who I serve as a University Chaplain at UIndy is ready to fully explore a world that is marked by shades of gray. I think that the future of interfaith relationships is going to be marked by these two realizations.
People in the emerging generation have eaten at table with Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, and Wiccan. Some of the beliefs and commitments of these folks strike them as dead wrong. On the other hand, I don’t know very many Christians, even those who count themselves among the radical Christian disciples, who have a prayer life which equals the prayer lives of their faithful Muslim friends. We have some things to learn from each other, but some of our differences go down to the core of who we are and will never be reconciled.
Dismissing the Other without questioning your own beliefs and practices is too simplistic. The problem is, you might be dead wrong: just as I was about my Roman Catholic friends.
But giving up the good gift that God has given me as a Pentecostal Christian denies the gift that I have to offer the world as I pray for healing and I live for Jesus. If I give up my commitment that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” to pretend that we all worship the same God, then it seems that I have little to bring to the conversation and little hope for my life or theirs.
There must be another option: one that is filled with ambiguity. But the ambiguity encourages a life where faith is the “evidence of things not seen.” It takes a mature and faithful person to raise their hands to God in worship and be fully aware that another faithfully religious person thinks you are deeply mistaken in that act of worship. These are things that you discover when you refuse to let these difficult questions at the intersection of faiths be resolved with bumper-sticker theology.
This generation of faithful leaders will not be so easily charmed by images of a black and white world. And I think their commitment to God will be better for it.