Hospitality, Service and Proclamation: interfaith engagement as Christian discipleship
SCM Press, 2019, £19.99. ISBN 978-0334057994
Review by Liz Shercliff, Resources and Reviews Editor
It can be no coincidence, I believe, that three books dealing with Christian treatment of other people and other faiths have come along within months of each other. Perhaps there is in them a message the Church needs to hear. In issue 174 of this journal I reviewed The Table, by Bishop Paul Bayes, then in issue 175 Barbara Brown Taylor’s Holy Env,y and now I turn to another contribution to the debate in this book from Tom Wilson. Where Taylor’s book appreciates what we can learn from other faiths, Wilson considers interfaith and intercultural dialogue in a more focused way. The book is overtly written for those preparing to minister in multi-faith neighbourhoods. Unfortunately, it does fall into the trap of focusing on ordained ministry, although much of what is said would be of equal interest to lay ministers.
The book’s underlying values are clear: ‘The central argument of this book is that interfaith activity is not simply a good thing to do, but more importantly, a Christian course of action.’ It is essentially a practical book, addressing questions such as – Why engage with interfaith relations? Who engages in interfaith relations? What does the Bible say? When and where does interfaith engagement take place? How can interfaith engagement take place? Opportunities to pause and reflect are peppered throughout. The chapter on what the Bible says is of particular value to preachers. It contains twelve reflections on passages from both Old and New Testaments and invites us to have our traditional views challenged. ‘[A]ny self-reflexive interpreter must be aware of the tension between looking for confirmation of ideas already held and being open to having those ideas challenged and changed by the biblical text,’ writes Wilson. It is certainly a worthwhile message for preachers.
Chapter Two helpfully identifies three approaches to interfaith engagement, exclusivist, inclusivist and pluralist, and explores both their nuances and emotional responses to them before discussing various adherents of each. The purpose of the literature review is to introduce contemporary Christian approaches.
In the final chapter, Wilson summarises his discussion with four reasons for good interfaith engagement. Firstly, he says, it ‘forces Christians to think through their approach to active outreach,’ reminding us that nobody we speak to is without their own worldview. Secondly, it encourages discernment, for if the Holy Spirit is at work in all faiths, we should work at understanding how. Thirdly, interfaith engagement forces us to look beyond ourselves. Fourthly, the way people of other faiths live out their beliefs can be a helpful challenge to Christians.
The Appendix provides a helpful and fairly comprehensive compendium of resources for engagement with other faiths, including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Paganism. The bibliography offered seems exhaustive.
This book offers a helpful contribution to an important area of life both for the community and the Church. For preachers it is a source of up-to-date thinking and important questions about how we might speak of other faiths.
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