Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Engaging the Whole Person

The biblical mandate for Christians to evangelize requires two things: clear, bold proclamation of the gospel and thoughtful, compassionate, relational engagement of the unbeliever. Our evangelical subculture often promotes the first without the second or practices the second while ignoring the first. What does entering into a gospel-focused relationship which balances both look like? Denis Haack points us to the wisdom he recently received in this regard from a surprising source: a Muslim named Eboo Patel.

"Patel, a Muslim, argued [in a recent lecture at Mayo Clinic] that we are in a dangerous period of history where religious rivalry often ends in violence. He pointed out that the media tends to portray religion in terms of conflict, often ending in sectarian violence. This need not be, Patel said, the only narrative that is told. The Mayo Clinic, he said, in contrast demonstrates how people of multiple faiths or no faith can respect one another and can work together for the common good. This story needs to be told more widely since religious faith, globally, is not diminishing but is increasing.

During the Q&A following his lecture, Dr Patel was asked about evangelism and whether his vision of “proactive cooperation” among believers of various faiths conflicted with their mandate to proselytize. His answer was, I think, both personal and very wise.

Patel said he respected his friend’s faith commitment that included the mandate to pray for his salvation and to evangelize him. That conversation should occur, he said, but it shouldn’t be the only conversation that occurs. We also need, Patel said, to get to know one another; to listen and ask questions; to learn each other’s traditions, ideas, and beliefs; to respect one another; to learn from one another; and to work out how we can live and work together for the common good.

I like that way of putting it: evangelistic conversations should occur but they shouldn’t be the only conversations that occur."

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