From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
[PCUSANEWS] Religious diversity is God s plan, Cascades
Deeanna Alford <dalford@CTR.PCUSA.ORG>
Tue, 3 Aug 2004 11:27:47 -0400
July 28, 2004
Religious diversity is God's plan, Cascades conferees told
Mutual respect is key to interfaith dialogue, says McCormick's Campbell
by Jerry L. Van Marter
MCMINNVILLE, OR * Christians and people of other faiths are living more
closely together today than ever before. This raises a critical question,
says McCormick Theological Seminary President Cynthia Campbell: "How are
going to negotiate this proximity?"
There are three options, Campbell told more than 200 Presbyterians
gathered for the 55th annual Cascades Presbytery Summer Conference on the
campus of Linfield College here July 11-16. In a series of five lectures that
will become a book sometime next year, Campbell posed the choices:
* Conflict and competition * "We can wage a fight to the death among
* Resignation * "We can give up religion entirely as doing more harm
* Mutual religious respect * "We can enter into the search for common
ground by acknowledging all others as God's beloved children."
Engaging her listeners in a Bible-page-turning frenzy, Campbell
outlined two scriptural approaches to those she termed "the others." For
some, she said, "there is a scripture core * John 14:6, Acts 4:12, Phil.
2:10, Matt. 28:18 * that leads to the conclusion that Jesus is the only way
to salvation, so others are excluded and/or condemned and our job is to
convert them." Campbell called this the "exclusivist" or "particularist"
The "inclusivist" view, on the other hand, holds that "the fullness
of God is revealed in Jesus Christ, but God's love is extended to all whether
they believe it or not." Citing John 10:16, Col. 1:20 and Phil. 2 ("read
eschatologically"), Campbell said, "We believe that it's not our faith that
saves us, but God's grace, and God decides, not us."
In the struggle between those competing views, Campbell said, the
fundamental question becomes: Is it possible to understand diversity of
religions as part of God's plan?
Going back to the earliest Old Testament accounts, Campbell said,
"The tradition is that God destroyed Babel for the sin of pride (in thinking
they could become one with God by building a tower to heaven), so diversity
is punishment and a sign of human sinfulness."
But recalling the covenant command to "be fruitful and multiply,"
Campbell continued, "The problem was not the tower, but the people's desire
to settle down in one place*.Their problem was their desire for uniformity.
God is more broad-minded than the interpreters have let on*.The Bible is
never unclear that God is the creator of all, whether they know it or not.
God is the God of all peoples and not knowing does not alter the fact."
Such a view gives fuller meaning to Pentecost, Campbell said.
"Pentecost is better understood as a gift, the gift of multi-culturalism, the
gift of communication across linguistic differences and different cultures."
Christians are far more threatened by religious diversity than by
racial, cultural or linguistic diversity, Campbell said. "The Christian claim
has always been that Jesus is the one way to salvation, the savior not just
of Christians but of the world," she said. But in the New Testament accounts
of Jesus' relationships with "the others," Campbell insisted, "the others are
consistently shown in a positive light, contrary to popular opinion, so what
are the implications for us?"
In Luke 4, she said, Jesus evokes Elijah and Elisha while teaching in
the synagogue, pointing out that they were sent to Gentiles, not Jews. "They
ran him out of town," she said, because Jesus had the audacity to say that
'the others' are part of the promise." In Matthew, the most Jewish of the
gospels, the most stirring confession is spoken by a Roman centurion. "Jesus
responds that many of 'the others' will come to the table," Campbell said,
"while insiders will be cast out."
Theologians have offered three approaches to the question of who will
be saved, Campbell said:
* Objectivist * "Salvation is God's work, not ours; God's act of
redemption through Christ was present before creation, so Jesus is not 'plan
B' because redemption was intended all along."
* Participationist * "We are justified by faith through grace, but
our faith makes God's grace effective in the world; we turn towards God's
grace through baptism, though faith itself is part of God's grace."
* Subjectivist * "The effect of God's grace, salvation, is available
only to those who accept it; God is giving a choice and salvation is
dependent on our response."
Campbell asserted that pure Calvinism argues for the objectivist
position. "This answer
embraces Calvin's concept of 'irresistable grace,'" she said, "which says
that God is going to get us sooner or later * we only think we can say 'no.'"
The book of Acts "makes it clear that God is at work among all
people," Campbell said, "drawing them into a fuller understanding of the God
they have known in other places and other ways." The stories of Philip and
the Ethiopian eunuch in chapter eight, Peter and Cornelius in chapter 10 and
Paul in Athens in chapter 17 all point to an all-inclusive God, she said.
When the Ethiopian eunuch asks what is to prevent him from being
baptized, Philip "has to make a huge leap and is able because he sees the
Holy Spirit in this man's life," Campbell said. Prior to his encounter with
the Roman centurion Cornelius, Peter is instructed by the Spirit to eat
"unclean" food and then is compelled to declare that "God shows no
partiality" and that "all who love God and do what is right are acceptable."
And Paul's encounter with the Athenians elucidates what has become
Presbyterian missiology: "Rather than taking Christ 'there' he pointed out
Christ's presence already there."
"This doesn't relativize truth," Campbell said. "It relativizes
responses to the truth*.God is everywhere the creator and giver of life * to
say otherwise is to put our limits on God's activity."
The call to Christians living in a multi-faith world therefore, "is
to look more deeply at our own faith, what it means to be a Christian and how
to live it out," Campbell said. "Openness to others can only happen when
we're clear about our own."
Christian practice begins with worship * "the community gathered to
praise God and acknowledge and celebrate Jesus Christ" * and is then lived
out in life in community, Campbell said, quoting Kathleen Norris: "As the
faith cannot be practiced alone, I joined a church."
Campbell cited three "calls to relate to 'the others'":
* "We are called to bear witness, to continue to nurture the
vocabulary of our faith and to tell others what God in Jesus Christ has done
for us and can do for all, pointing to the work of God that is operative
everywhere and that pushes beyond boundaries to include 'the other.'"
* "We are called to work with others for justice, freedom and peace,
with no qualifiers or foreclosures on others * as Christians we begin with
the belief in the integrity and value of all human life."
* "We are called to engage in interreligious dialogue; we cannot
escape it and we ignore it at our own peril. Religious people will either be
the solution or the cause of the destruction of creation. We've got a
The Cascades Presbytery Summer Conference * co-sponsored by the presbyteries
Olympia and Eastern Oregon and the Presbyterian Association of Musicians *
provides an intergenerational time of rest and relaxation, continuing
education for pastors and practical workshops for congregational leaders.
This year's theme was "A Wideness in God's Mercy: Christian Faith in a
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