The world is shrinking. With the invention of the internet, advances in technology, and the movement of people around the world culture has changed. One of the benefits of this has been the ability of Christianity to engage with religious others without having to go to another country (although this is still necessary and good) but across the street. This is a great advantage to the church, but the downside has been that the exclusivity of the Gospel and Christ have come under attack. For the sake of “getting along” or “working across religious lines,” many have felt the need to water down the exclusive claims of Christianity. However, on the other side, the religious arrogant refuse to engage at all with those of other faiths. The former group opts for proximity to the point that they are almost indistinguishable from the groups they are trying to “reach” (Since it is precisely the gospel of Christ that distinguishes them). This usually culminates in inter-religious action against social concerns only. The latter opts for purity and “lovingly” lobs Jesus grenades over the walls of the church while never engaging in any type of meaningful relationships or dialogue.
The church is wrestling with the issue. How do we engage religious others while at the same time not compromising the exclusive claims of Christ? Many say that it cannot be done. This simply is not true. The question is not “can” or “if” it should be done, but “how.” To this end Claremont School of Theology (CST) has given their answer. Although a seminary affiliated with the United Methodist Church, they are opening up their school to train Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and other religious leaders. Should Christian institutions take such a drastic step? The backlash has been prompt from many within the church. Initially the UM Church withheld almost one-million dollars from the institution, but has recently lifted the ban and reinstated the money. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary, offers his own warning about the choice to enter such a endeavor. Ironically, the President of CST, Dr. Jerry Cambell, claims that the school will remain distinctively Methodist, but will simply use the addition of other religious ideas to better help train their clergy.
I personally see the move as ill-conceived for three reasons. First, the exclusive claims of the gospel and of Christ can never be married to the theological worldview of other religions. Jesus alone is Lord and Savior and the only true and living hope of the world. Other religions that do not submit to the authority of Christ as Lord are simply man-centered, demon-driven, perversions of worship that have no power to save from sin or death and continue to offend the God of Creation and spurn the life, death, resurrection, love, and Lordship of Christ. Although Christianity should be engaging genuinely and wholeheartedly with those of other religious faiths, the simple fact remains: if men do not repent of their sin and trust in the sacrificial atoning death and resurrection of Christ alone for salvation they will go to hell. As Christians this message may be offensive, but if we truly love others we will not pat them on the back all the way to hell, but be loving, honest, genuine, and sincere about what the God of the Universe declares in the gospel of Christ. This will entail establishing genuine and sacrificial relationships with others who do not know Christ.
Secondly, such a move distorts the exclusive claims of Christianity. Seeing as how anti-Christ worldviews can never be reconciled to Christ the decision made by CST sends another message. Such a move by a Christian Institution, for the sake of inter-religious peace and harmony, assumes that we are all heading in the same direction but are just a little confused about some of the minor details. President Jerry Cambpell said, “We want to be able to facilitate love among our different traditions in order that we can begin to solve the big problems” (he never says what the “big problems” are specifically). He also says that, “Methodism has reached out to other denominations to promote justice in the world.” Since when did Christianity and Buddhism become simply different traditions? When did Christianity and Islam simply become different denominations? It seems that the underlying reasoning for such a move by CST is that we are all really not that different after all. Something the Bible, and the Quran for that matter, would both disagree with. In a day when Christians and others are struggling to define their faith in relation to religious others, such a move is a stumbling block.
Lastly, the the decision by CST appears to be motivated by social concerns and not the gospel of Christ. President Jerry Campbell is also quoted as saying, “We need leaders who understand other cultures and religions and can reach across boundaries to work for the common good.” This common good is defined as the promotion of “justice in the world” later in the article. Should Christians work for social justice? Absolutely. Should Christians work for social justice with those of other religious faiths? Possibly. As long as open and honest dialogue about Christ and the exclusivity of the gospel are not banned, and there is no danger of seeing the cooperation as some type of synergistic approval of the validity of the truthfulness of other religions it may be useful to consider such work. Although the CST may claim to comply with the first point, they cannot with the second.
I have to say that I applaud the CST’s attempt to engage with religious others in meaningful dialogue. My only question would be, does a Christian Seminary have to go to the lengths that CST has in order to accomplish such dialogue? No.