Friday, March 11, 2016

Interfaith Series: Closing Thoughts

This semester, I'm working as a teaching assistant in a non-Western religions course. A couple of weeks ago, the professor asked me to write a series of devotionals for the students, relevant to the ideas they would be discussing each week. So my task was to write Bible-based devotions for students at a Christian university who are studying non-Christian religions. Fun, right? It was. So I thought I'd take a few days and share some of these devotionals in this space.

Today: Some final thoughts.

By this points, the students have been through seven weeks of discovering non-Western religions. They have studied religion in general, animism, Hinduism, Buddhism (2 weeks), Tao, Shinto, and Confucianism, and Islam (2 weeks). They have learned to listen to the voices of "religious others" that they may encounter throughout their lives, but these ideas have always been framed back into the heart of the Christian context.

And that's a valuable lesson for all of us. We're so tempted to either write other religions off completely, looking at them out of slanted eyes with judgment and dismissiveness in our hearts. These people...they just have it wrong. Right? They just don't know how ridiculous they sound. But this isn't the right attitude for us to have. We have to engage the religious others around us, for they have much to teach us - not only about themselves, but about ourselves, as well, and about our God.

Or maybe we encounter someone of a different religion, and we don't think much at all. All paths lead to the same God, right? One road is just as good as any other? Who are we to judge what someone thinks of their god? This, too, is the wrong attitude. There is a clear biblical truth about the reality of God, the nature of Him, the character of Him, and the path we must take to get there. This means that even as we respectfully listen to and engage those around us who have other concepts of God, we must always bring those ideas back and ground them in the truth that God has revealed to us through His Word. Throughout this series of devotionals, that is what I have encouraged the students to do - to see the places where God's Word speaks of the same ideas of these other religions, and to see where God's Truth says something different than what the world says. 

This is how we respectfully engage the world around us - by listening well, engaging authentically, and holding all things accountable to God's Truth. Paul was a master at this; we must be, as well.

For this final week, the students were asked to read in 1 Corinthians 8, where Paul is discussing the tricky situation of meat in the marketplace that may have been offered to other idols. 

The people of God have always had to think carefully about other gods. First, it was Israel and the gods of the nations they encountered in their various journeys of deliverance and exile, specifically the Baals and Asherah. Here, Paul is talking about the concern of the early Christians about other gods. The early church is concerned about how they should handle the meat in the marketplace that is sacrificed to other gods, whether this ought to be a problem for them or not. Today, the people of God must still think carefully about other gods.

Today's gods are the gods you have learned about in this course - the gods of animism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Confucianism, and Islam. But there are other gods in today's world, too. These are the gods of self-satisfaction, self-fulfillment, self-actualization, self, self, self and also the gods of culture - of sex, fame, money, power, and a whole host of other things that our culture tells us are important. Any or all of these things, whether we call them gods in the context of another religion or we don't call them gods at all, can turn our eyes away from the one God we profess to follow as Christians: the God we discover in the Bible.

This ought to be both a wake-up call and an encouragement to those of us who seek to follow Him. We ought to be aware of all of the other options this world will give us if we're not listening carefully to God's voice in our lives, but we also ought to be encouraged that so many generations of God's people have been confronted by all of the other options and still chosen to faithfully follow God. We can make the same choice. All we must do is realize that this world has many different gods to offer us, but only one God is true. Then, choose Him.

Like meat in the marketplace, we must be mindful of what other religions have to offer us. But we must also be mindful of what offerings they make and never confuse the two. It's a fine line to walk, but doing it well enables our faith to grow both wider into the world around us and deeper into our very hearts as we engage our world and our God well.

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