We often hear of interfaith events and organizations, but is it possible for three very different religions to hold on to their beliefs, maintaining their differences, and still learn about one another? Bob Roberts, Pastor of Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, thinks so, and worked with local Jewish and Muslim leadership to pull off a three day "trialogue."
The Dallas Morning News covered the story and explained,
Members of NorthWood and the mosque will attend the regular worship service tonight at Temple Shalom. On Saturday afternoon, the Christians and Jews will visit the mosque. Finally, on Sunday morning, the Jews and Muslims will attend NorthWood for worship.
After each gathering, the three clergymen will answer questions about the differences and similarities of their faiths
Since Bob is a friend, I contacted him for details. i preached at Northwood a couple of months ago during their church planting focus. I stayed over at Bob's house and we talked late until the night about his engagement with Muslims around the world. So, I know his passion for Muslims and evangelism.
When I saw his most recent idea (and Bob has them regularly!), I had questions and thought you might as well. So, I shot him some questions via email. Below is the interview. Feel free to discuss below and Bob will be dropping by the comments.
First, tell us about the weekend?
The largest mosque and synagogue in DFW along with our church came together not for an inter-faith service but a multi-faith education and relationship building event. On Friday - we all went to the synagogue - had refreshments and conversation for an hour, and then and observed their worship. When it concluded me, the rabbi, and the imam took Q & A for 45 minutes. Saturday we all went to the mosque - and then Sunday they all came to the church. I'll tell you, it was strange as a pastor looking out and seeing hundreds of head coverings of hijabs, skull caps, etc., Our members worshipped with passion, clapping, raising their hands - and to see other religions interspersed through us as we worshipped was undescribeable - all I could think of was Paul in the synagogues, Mars Hill - etc., I didn't know how it would affect our worship Sunday, but for whatever reason - our worship that day was powerful simply powerful - I heard that again and again.
What did you hope to accomplish?
First, I wanted to glorify God-- by Muslims and Jews being welcomed to an evangelical church and being told clearly who Jesus is and what we believe about him, then letting them ask their hardest questions - and share the Gospel in a loving and relational way - and we did. You can listen to my sermon at glocal.net or northwoodchurch.org. YES, the rabbi and the imam shared their faith as well-- the premise was we should be able to talk honestly and openly about it.
Second, I work with people of different religions all over the world-- I don't think we in the West know how to speak of faith and treat people with respect at the same time. We can come across as arrogant, superior, and sometimes condescending because we have the truth. If we have the truth - we should be the most humble of all and the most serving of all. Keeping our young people and children isolated from other religions in an attempt to keep them in our faith - is a dangerous move in the 21st century. They will hear and know, we can help with that process and help them understand why we follow Jesus above all else, and send them out equipped, or ignore or worse villify but never explain other religions and watch them turn from Jesus because we didn't live it or explain it.
Third, I want to build bridges between Christians and other religions. I do this all over the world - it was an opportunity for me to bring my congregation to the table with me to see what I'm doing and how I do it globally and give them a pattern for how to build relationships and share the Gospel. I've been swamped by our members calling and emailing things like "I get it now". I have also been overwhelmed by Muslims and Jews thanking us and thanking me for being honest about the differences. Several want to meet with me to clear me up on the Trinity and Jesus being the "only way" which I preached - but not in an arrogant or bully way.
Fourth, I want to bring down the tension between Christians and other religions - the East and the West. The only way you do that is by building relationships. I don't want to have to bury my children, my youth in our church, our grown men and women from war. I want to be able to look them in the eye and tell them, I did all I could with all I had to prevent that. The less we know each other, the more polarizing we become and the more fearful we live. This is a way to open the door.
How is this different from liberal Protestant approaches at interfaith cooperation?
I'm not a particular fan of interfaith events. It takes all religions and tries to merge them into a "all roads lead to the same place" kind of approach as well as mixing worship to multiple gods thereby denying the truth of most views of God. At the synagogue they did their worship and we observed, at the mosque the same and at the church the same. Interfaith is mirky, it's more about feel good. It doesn't allow us to be honest about our differences. It's build on the premise of the lowest common denominators of our belief of God so we can all sit down together. How can we build relationships if we don't speak honestly to each other. I'm tired of having to be religiously politically correct. I'm also tired of the arrogance of some evangelicals who don't know how to disagree and treat others with respect.
The conflict in the world today is between the fundamentalist and conservative Christians, Muslims, and other groups - not liberal and more moderate Muslim, Christian, or Jews. Those of us who are conservative are serious about our faith, our views of God, our views of our Holy Books and we are not going to compromise them for the sake of "getting along" because we have an eternal and truth paradigm view of God. THEREFORE, since we DO NEED TO GET ALONG together in this world we have to change the platform for meeting and shift the conversation. That's what multi-faith does - it moves the platform for conversation and engagement from the least common denominators of faith - to the most irreconcileable truths and says even so, we can treat one another with respects. At one point I told the group as the rabbi, the imam and myself were talking - "We are one another's worst heretics!" It says, I believe who I believe God is and am not willing to compromise truth but in my truth there is the teaching that I should respect others, get along with them.
It does something else - most conversation between people of various religions is an intellectual debate about why my religion is right and yours is wrong. It starts from a head perspective - which is critical. But this starts from a relational perspective. If your mind is already made up about your religion and someone bashes it or disagrees with you - you're not listening. If you're my friend - you will listen. I wish you would have been with me for lunch after church Sunday. The imam, the rabbi, and myself got into heavy heavy theological discussions. We were asking the "unaskable" questions of each other. I will say, my wife did learn to cook Kosher/Halal food - and it wasn't bad!
What do you believe about Muslims and Jews who are without Christ?
I was asked several times about John 14:6 "I am the way the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father but by me." I was asked if I believed that - as a matter of fact a reporter asked me that, and it was the first question asked me at the synagogue - my answer. "Yes, I do believe that. I don't wish to offend you or seem arrogant or cocky or narrow. But I believe in the authority of the Bible and it says that - it's a quote from my Savior and I can't compromise on that. It's true for all religions - even Baptist! That doesn't mean I think I'm better than you - it means truth is absolute and not subjective - and wish you all believed that and I'd love to help you with that and then baptize all of you (with a big smile)." To which with a smile being returned I was told "no thankyou." I believe in Hell and Heaven and the only way to heaven is through Jesus. I was asked a lot of questions about other verses as well - what Christians believe about the second coming (one of the worst jobs we've done of helping non-Christians understand) I told them I did not have all the answers of everything God was going to do and exactly how everything would work out, that may be what you're referring to.
Why attend the worship service of other religions? Can you really worship with Muslims?
Missionaries around the world do this to understand the people they're trying to communicate with. It was an educational event. I don't view it as "satanic" or "demonic" these are people that are sincere and seeking God. Going into bars, movie theatres, and banks are probably a lot more "satanic" than anything else! I want to know how they think, etc., Paul did it in the synagogue and at Mars Hill. Those people who are seeking God the most, are the ones I want to relate to. I want to be like Paul in this regard.
Worshipping with Muslims? At first I would have said no - but worship isn't about the space it is "the hearts affection and the mind's attention" as Jordan Fowler says - so I can worship anywhere, anytime, anyplace - as long as I am right with God and my focus is directed toward God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In my car, in my study, in a mosque, in a catholic church, in a synagogue, on the side of a mountain, in an airplane - the Holy Spirit doesn't leave me when I walk in places he goes before me and guides me into those places as long as the primary focus is to glorify God.
The question is, do I focus my worship to the God of the Jew or Muslim or whatever? The answer to that is no. I believe as I stated several times the past weekend that I believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. I cannot worship if I deny who Jesus is. Jesus is greater than all religions, and all gods. If he's in my heart - I'm filled with the Holy Spirit - and "if I make my bed in hell - he is with me."
How have other Christians responded?
Lots of responses, curiosity, excitement, confusion, questions . . . . . . all of it. But overall, it has been an incredibly positive event. We are at a powerful point in history where we are connected like never before. All religions are all places and we are at a turning point in how to speak of faith globally - which is what my sermon is about at glocal.net on my blog yesterday. Our current way of communicating is not working let alone building bridges and relationships. I believe that Christianity started as a Jewish movement to Jesus - I'm convinced it will conclude as an Islamic movement to Isa (the Islamic word for Jesus).
I've had so many thank me after it was over. Some who were skeptical came up to me and said "I get it now." Others, "I can build relationships and do this." Roy Fish called and told me he was sick or he'd be there!
An interesting note Ed, the younger people in our church below 30, were so excited. Those over 40, several were nervous. We all got to the same place. I think the worldview has changed with the younger generation and its up to us that are older to build the tracks for the next generation to be able to run on. Isolation has never been a good strategy for the Gospel to spread.
How did the Muslims and Jews respond?
I never dreamed it would draw this much attention or open up the doors or relationships that have opened. I'm being introduced as "This is my evangelical friend," and after a moment of someone looking at me in horror the following, "but he is a good guy - he isn't mean to us." I was in Gaza last week - and I was taken around like a "trophy" by some, everytime being introduced, "he is an evangelical pastor - but he is ok." It has always left me with this question, "what have we done that they don't mind our view of Jesus - but they do mind us?" I'm getting lots of emails from Jews and Muslims this week asking if I would meet with them to discuss the Trinity - or to just get to know them. One Jewish lady, hearing of my wife learning to cook Kosher and Halal was very moved and has volunteered to teach all our women to cook in that way so we can eat meals at one another's homes.
You know Ed, I went into it facing criticism, and still do over it - but when I was 8 years old, I was taught as a Royal Ambassador in my Baptist Church where my dad pastored that we are all "ambassadors for Christ" and I grew up really believing that. I still believe that. I felt this weekend like God was incredibly pleased with us during the whole thing. I could have spent years trying to build a relationship with one person, but Sunday as I worshipped, I wept standing by the rabbi and the imam knowing, that I would have the privilege of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus to some people for the first time. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
What did you preach?
Colossians 1!!!! John 14:6
What do you think? Can this kind of "trialogue" be helpful in building bridges to share the gospel? Talk it out in the comments, but remember to be civil.