Interfaith Interaction

Key ingredients in the journey to faith


“I really enjoyed this week’s interfaith dialogue group,” my colleague recently commented. “Everyone left feeling good about what our faiths share in common and about our time together. It was a ‘kumbaya moment.’”

His remark struck me as funny—not “ha-ha” funny but odd funny—because I had just been bemoaning internally that we hadn’t made much progress that night; no one had left the conversation that evening scratching his or her head.

To my colleague’s credit, our chat led me to an important realization: As we seek to proclaim the gospel, we must find a balance between those feel-good moments that make our friends and students feel comfortable and happy and those moments when we leave them with a deep sense of unease and apprehension.

I’m convinced that fostering a cognitive dissonance—an internal discomfort at realizing things don’t all add up in their religious perspective—is a key ingredient in the journey to faith. Os Guinness says one of the elements of persuasion involves helping people come to a point where they say, “I never thought about it that way before.”

But I’ve also realized that constant cognitive dissonance makes people uncomfortable and decreases their interest in coming. They want to feel good and have fun. So at our interfaith dialogue gatherings, we live in the tension between creating these two kinds of environments.

I wonder if this is the means for reaching unbelievers from all walks of life and from all different countries—to speak truth into the lives of those around us who do not know Jesus and to love them and allow them to feel that love and acceptance.

Grace and Truth

Jesus did not turn away or feel repulsed by the worst sinners of His day. Rather, they were drawn to Him, drawn to the holiest, most righteous Person who ever lived. It seems that Jesus, too, enjoyed some “kumbaya moments,” eating and dining with sinners but also calling them to come and follow Him.

This balance we are learning on the mission field is one with which all followers of Christ have to wrestle. How do we hold steady the grace of God with the truth? Do the unbelievers in our lives describe us more as “kumbaya” people or as constant creators of cognitive dissonance?

Have we become so grace-focused that the unbelievers around us don’t know we believe any differently from them? Or have we maybe become so truth-focused that everyone around us knows what we’re against, and because of that, no one different from us really wants to be with us?

The Gospel of John records that “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). As we more fully recognize that the whole world is a mission field, we learn that grace and truth are needed everywhere. Will you pray with us as we seek a healthy balance?

A good-sized group of people come regularly to our interfaith dialogue gatherings. Making disciples of them can seem like an insurmountable task. Without the miraculous, intervening work of the Spirit in our friends’ and students’ lives, leaving their former ways of life is unfathomable. But we revel in knowing that we serve the God who delights in doing what seems impossible. We rest in Jesus’ words about the rich young man: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).

Be Not Depressed

A. B. Simpson, founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, once said something about this very reality:

Let us not be surprised if multitudes refuse to come, but let us be content if we find His sheep, if we gather His people. Yes, if we even invite them. What an infinite encouragement this gives to missionary work! We are not depressed if the world refuses to accept its Lord. It has always done so; it will do so till He comes, and seed will still be scattered in every field and furrow, and much of it will be choked with thorns and plucked up by birds of the air or withered by the stony places. But some will bear fruit, and His expectation will not be disappointed.

Our prayer is that the Lord leads us to those who will bear fruit and that we will soon see this fruit multiply and grow into a mighty harvest. Your partnership with us in this task by giving and praying is an integral part of what God is doing here in the Middle East.

The author of this article has served with The Alliance since 2007. He and his wife have four children.

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