This morning Miroslav Volf presented the first of two lectures for Fuller Theological Seminary's Payton Lectureship. His topic, a Christian focus on world religions, is being addressed in two parts: on Wednesday, “What are they and why do they matter?” and on Thursday, "How does globalization effect them?”
Volf notes that there have been two basic options for Christians when talking about world religions.
- Relegate any discussion to a technical summary, objectively delineating the peculiarities of each faith, remaining unattached (though, he says this unbiased approach is not really possible calling it a “view from nowhere").
- Provide a robust view from one's own faith perspective in an attempt to proselytize, or at least help non-Christians understand one's perspective.
Of course, Volf is concerned with each of these approaches and offers a third, sometimes controversial option. Volf proposes that we must examine our own religion in relation to other religions because all faiths, especially in the increasing globalization of society, are inextricably intertwined. The goal is to find commonalities as well as distinctions so that genuine conversation can take place.
Volf has taken on his own challenge, and identified six common features of all world religions. Defining these qualities is not an attempt to syncretize religions, but to find points of dialogue.
All major religions, reports Volf, have grown in the last 35 years. Followers of Christianity have risen in number from 1.2 to 2.1 billion. The world is becoming a more religious place, partly carried on the wings of globalism, and this growth is happening both in absolute and relative numbers. Desecularization is happening on a global scale. (Isn’t it interesting that American Christians are overwhelmingly preoccupied with the apparent “secularization” of our country, the exact opposite of what is happening globally.)
The character of world faiths: six common features (Volf)
Religions come about through axial transformation of ages/events/people and they...
- Offer a two-worlds account of reality (Nietzsche), in which primacy goes to the transcendent over the mundane;
- Address individuals as human beings, but also in larger transcultural communities;
- Offer claims and frameworks for dealing with tough human problems;
- Have goods beyond human flourishing - human beings can attain the good even through failure;
- Create a distinct cultural system, transcending political and ethnic boarders;
- Focus on the transformation of mundane realities.
- This results in kind of a quarrel with life: things aren't the way they are supposed to be. Religion provides a way to align the transcendent with the mundane. The transcendent shapes mundane. Ascetic and prophetic activity in biblical and Christian history function this way.
Volf concluded by pointing to his second lecture in which the focus would be on the “how to” of globalized faith, and then interacted with respondant Dr. Mark Labberton (Fuller’s president) and the audience.
Labberton asked, “How do we remain true to ourselves and yet be non-hostile to other faiths?” and, “What would be required of self-conscious aware Christians to engage with other faiths?"
I love Labberton’s pastoral nature. He is keenly aware that any discussion like this must result in practical advice and engagement of the church.
One outstanding point that I heard again and again this morning was that we—Christians and non-Christians alike—must understand the processes and effects of globalization better if we are ever to understand the followers of other world religions. In this new global community, it is impossible to remain theological/ideological isolationists.
As an extension of that thought, it occurs to me that one of the most helpful pieces of curriculum for American high school students might just be religious education. As students learn more about all of the major world religions, they would surely become better conversation partners, more globally aware and ready to engage those different than themselves.
The best witness Christians will have in the future church is not found through apologetics, but will likely come through compassionate dialogue, standing ready to share about the beauty of Christ and his work of the kingdom.
Pursuit of political power and the world's goods is the biggest contributor to the bigotry of world religions (including Christianity). -Volf