Theology Thursday: Open Interfaith Dialogue With Opposing Views

Michael Gleghorn, faculty

Outdoor Orthodox Easter service with interfaith dialogue

How should we have open dialogue with those who hold opposing views? If you’re like most people, this is probably a very challenging question. Of course, from a Christian perspective, it goes without saying that we should treat others “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).

We should strive to communicate in such a way that we avoid unnecessary offense, remembering that those with whom we speak have intrinsic value, being made in the likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). But beyond this, are there any other practical principles from Scripture that might help us employ more effective dialogue with our ideological “opponents”?

The Gospels offer several examples of Jesus’ aptitude for dialoguing with some of the religious and political opponents that he encountered. Matthew records how, on a single day, Jesus was engaged in interfaith dialogue by the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees (Matthew 22:15-40). We can learn much by observing Jesus in action!

Get Prepared

Matthew records Jesus’ opponents questioning him about such things as paying taxes to Caesar, the nature of the Resurrection and the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:15-40). He then records Jesus asking the Pharisees a question about the identity and nature of the promised Messiah or Christ (Matthew 22:41-46). In each case, Jesus reveals himself to be fully prepared to hold open interfaith dialogue about anything his opponents might throw at him.

Although some may attribute this ability to Jesus’ deity (e.g. omniscience), we must not forget his genuine humanity. In his pre-mortem incarnate state (i.e. state of humiliation), Jesus freely confessed that there were some things he did not know (Mark 13:32). Luke tells us that the boy Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

If Jesus grew not only physically, but also intellectually, then there is nothing strange about suggesting a period of informal preparation prior to beginning his public ministry. Peter tells us to always be prepared “to make a defense to anyone” who asks a reason for our hope in Christ, and yet to do this “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). If we want to use dialogue effectively with those who hold opposing views, we must first take some time to get prepared.

Listen Carefully, Respond Wisely

Not only was Jesus prepared, but he also listened carefully to what his opponents said and asked before he offered a response. And Jesus’ responses inevitably got right to the heart of the matter. Proverbs tells us, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13). When we have an open interfaith dialogue with those who hold opposing views, we need to learn to listen before we speak. Listening carefully to what our opponents have to say shows respect for them. It can also aid us in responding wisely to what they have said.

Ask Questions With a Purpose

Isn’t it great when we can help others see an important truth (particularly truths of the Christian faith), simply by asking a well-timed question? Jesus was a master at asking questions with purpose. After responding to the questions asked of him by the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees, Jesus asked the Pharisees some questions of his own:

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

 – Matthew 22:42-45, ESV

Did you notice what Jesus did? He asked four questions, each designed to help the Pharisees see something special about Christ, or Messiah; namely, that he is not only David’s son but also David’s Lord! If we want to help our ideological “opponents” see some important truth for themselves, then asking well-crafted questions is a must.

The Takeaway in a Nutshell

So how should we conduct an open dialogue with those who hold opposing views?

  1. Get spiritually and intellectually prepared.
  2. Listen carefully and respond wisely.
  3. Ask questions with a purpose.
  4. Treat people with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Practicing these principles will make us better “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20), as we seek to make Him known to those with opposing views.

Grand Canyon University has been training Christians in ministry since its inception. If you are interested in pursuing a career in ministry, GCU's College of Theology has many degree programs, including Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry and Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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