This link to Adam Cleaveland's blog, written while he is attending the Emerging Church Convention in Nashville, prompted this, but I have thought about this before. There is a big emphasis, virtually in every area of our lives, on dialogue. "We need to dialogue with [insert group]" or "we need to dialogue about [insert topic/subject]", which I think in general, is all well and good. Talking about the political ramifications of the war on terrorism with someone who holds different opinions could lead to some significant new insights for you, just as talking to a group of Muslims on the same topic could lead to new understandings about the thoughts & feelings of a minority group here in the US. Both of these developments would be good things and could lead to better decisions, relationships & results.
But what about "dialoguing" about our faith in the sense that Adam describes?
"Our story is the story that embraces all other stories – the Christian story is the one that welcomes, embraces, redeems all other stories. So, in the name of Jesus, we can say that we need to embrace the story of Buddhism – to look for what is Good, True, Beautiful and Right about Buddhism. In doing so, we are truly showing respect (not disregard, rudeness, or a false imperialistic confidence) for the other stories that God may in fact have the power to work through."
The main problem I have with this set of ideas is not only that it presupposes that Buddhism holds some measure of Truth, but it completely negates the possibility that Buddhism (and other religious faiths) might actually contain evil. I have no problem assenting to the fact that someone who faithfully practices Buddhism will be a more moral person, one who is guided by some moral precepts that will help them in making better decisions about their actions & behaviors. However, historic Christianity fully believes in the existence and activity of personal Evil, ie, Satan, and it is precisely the existence of such a malignant, destructive force that "dialoguing" fails to account for. Dialogue necessarily results in the change of both parties - how are we to be sure that in dialoguing with other faiths in such a way as to look to "welcome" and "embrace" parts of them, that we do not accept Evil? Especially when there seems to be little understanding of the possible presence of that Evil in other faiths? Now, does God have the power to work through Buddhism? Of course He has that power, but that is not the question we should be asking. The real question is does He work through Buddhism (or other faiths) in the same way He works through Christianity? If the answer is yes, then there is no need for dialogue in any missional sense. Jesus=Buddha=Allah=Gaia=Zoroaster, etc, etc and there is no salvific reason to talk about anything since clearly everyone is getting into heaven. If the answer is no, then one has to wonder why anyone would seek to alter the Gospel with some lesser material.
"7. The “old, old story” may not have been the “true, true story,” and so we must continually rediscover the gospel."
This, too, is very troubling. As a person with certain affinities for traditional Chrsitianity, specifically Orthodoxy, I am becoming more and more aware of the struggles that past Christians have had to endure in order to secure the proper boundaries of the faith. This kind of emphasis on rediscovery completely undermines those who, in the past, died for the very thing which is being discarded. And no, this is not "rediscovery", since there is no turning back to what the Gospel previously was. It is, instead, a consistent reinvention of the Gospel, shaped by the present moment and its needs. But at what point does that stop being the Gospel? If the present moment, with its emphasis on pluralism, requires we abandon the exclusivity of the claims of Christ, do we do so? From the contents of Adam's posts, it would seem so. How much can we dilute/shift/reinvent the Gospel before it becomes meaningless? Personally, I think very little. This is not to say that we may not need to find ways to present the Gospel in culturally significant ways to successive generations. But in my mind, this is in no way entails abandoning any part of the Gospel message. To do so would be a move away from God and away from the Church which He founded.