What We Share and How We Differ

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : December 12, 2005

Next month (Jan 4), our Pub Gathering topic will be: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism–What We Share, and How We Differ.  I think this issue holds increasing fascination for me, and I know I’m not alone.

I read on Doug Pagitt’s blog that Emergent is going to be meeting with their Jewish counterparts. He writes:

In January I am part of a very exciting meeting. There is a counter
part to Emergent in the Jewish community - young rabbi practitioners
who are pursuing new ways of worship and faith in the world. We are
joining together in a meeting that the Synagogue 3000 folks are putting
together. It is not an open meeting but one by invitation, but it
should be a start to a really great conversation.

He includes part of a press release that was sent out (I’ve edited it down to keep it short):

LOS ANGELES, MINNEAPOLIS — Synagogue 3000 (S3K) and Emergent
have announced a ground-breaking meeting to connect Jewish and
Christian leaders who are experimenting with innovative congregations
and trying to push beyond the traditional categories of "left" and
"right." This will be the first conversation that brings them together
to focus on the enterprise of building next-generation institutions. Prominent Emergent Christian theologian Brian McLaren (_A New
Kind of Christian_) has met with Synagogue 3000’s leadership three
times in recent months to discuss shared concerns, particularly
surrounding attempts by younger Christians and Jews to express their
spiritual commitments through social justice. "We have so much common
ground on so many levels," he notes. "We face similar problems in the
present, we have common hopes for the future, and we draw from shared
resources in our heritage. I’m thrilled with the possibility of
developing friendship and collaboration in ways that help God’s dreams
come true for our synagogues, churches, and world."

…According to Emergent-U.S. National Coordinator Tony Jones,
this meeting has historic possibilities. "As emerging Christian leaders
have been pushing through the polarities of left and right in an effort
to find a new, third way, we’ve been desperate to find partners for
that quest," he said. "It’s with great joy and promise that we partner
with the leaders of S3K to talk about the future and God’s Kingdom."

I’m all for inter-faith dialogue.  In fact, for the next Pub Gathering, I’ve invited representatives from local Jewish and Muslim organizations to come to our next gathering.  My problem is with language like "It’s with great joy and promise that we partner with the leaders of S3K to talk about the future and God’s Kingdom."

I really don’t like drawing boundaries, but it seems that "Kingdom of God" language needs to be centered around Jesus Christ.  I don’t want to build bridges with anyone if it means I have to soften my Christ-centeredness.  I’m not sure if Tony speaks for Doug and Brian McLaren, but I’d like to believe that there are many within Emergent that don’t like this sort of unreflective bridge-building.

for further reading . . .

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4 Responses to “What We Share and How We Differ”

  1. Van S on December 12th, 2005 11:53 am

    Let me just add something…I’m glad this conversation is happening. And I’d like to give Tony the benefit of the doubt. But language is indeed important and I think we need to make sure we hold our distinctives while we talk about commonality. I’ll assume that Tony intends to do just that, but I’m a bit concerned about how he is defining “kingdom of God.”

  2. toddh on December 15th, 2005 2:09 pm

    Perhaps the commitment to “innovative congregations” supercedes that of Christianity for Emergent?

    I’m sure they have honorable motives for dialogue but I find it odd that the foundation for shared dialogue begins with ideas like style and technique.

  3. Tony Jones on December 17th, 2005 1:18 pm

    How is talking to Jews about the future and the Kingdom of God somehow watering down the uniqueness of Jesus Christ? I simply don’t get your connection, nor your rejection of “bridge building,” as you call it.

  4. Van S on December 17th, 2005 1:59 pm

    Tony, I think my language isn’t as precise as I would have liked. First of all, I think bridge building is good. But, we should bridge-build as Christians, as I’m sure you’d agree. My concern centers around the use of the phrase “kingdom of God.” I think that there are inherent difficulties in talking with other faith groups about our shared commitment to the Kingdom of God when our very definition of what the Kingdom of God is tied up in Jesus Christ. I don’t believe it is really possible for Christians to talk about the Kingdom of God in a way that isn’t centered on Jesus Christ. So then, I think it is fair to challenge the assumption that one can effectively center cross-faith dialogue on a shared commitment to the Kingdom of God.

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