Religious Reconciliation: An Oxymoron?

This past weekend at PTS, the Metro Urban Institute held its annual Intensive Weekend. The theme this year was Race, Religion, and Reconciliation. I found a lot of what was said helpful, but I was also deeply disturbed by the theological inconsistency of what some people were saying.

When speaking about racial reconciliation, people (myself included) argued that reconciliation is achieved in Jesus Christ. People consistently quoted Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (NIV) and Ephesians 2:14 – “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” (NIV). To all of this I say “Amen.” Life in Christ leaves no room for racial division; we’re all one in Christ.

When speaking about religious reconciliation, however, most people it seemed were willing to forsake their theology. All of sudden, when speaking about reconciliation between Christians and Jews or Muslims or any other religious tradition, people were not willing to see reconciliation in Jesus Christ, since that might be found offensive. For example, one participant said, “When we’re trying to achieve reconciliation with Jews, we can’t say that Jesus is the only way, because that’s offensive.” Obviously there are all kinds of problems with this. For one, it’s theologically inconsistent with our arguments for racial reconciliation. If we don’t need Jesus (because evidently there’s some other way) then why even bother arguing for racial reconciliation on Christological grounds? Secondly, seeking religious reconciliation by forsaking Christology ignores Jesus. I’m sure I don’t even need to quote Jesus’ words in the gospel of John since most of you probably already know where I’m going with this. Suffice it to say, God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and that has implications for how we ought to speak of God and our relationship with God. To ignore the claims of Jesus Christ is to ignore who God is.

This leads me to wondering: Is religious reconciliation possible for Christians without forsaking the Truth revealed to us? One participant in the Intensive Weekend made reference to a Scripture passage that I think is helpful, although this person didn’t take the passage in this direction. The passage is the instructions, recorded in all three synoptics, given by Jesus to the disciples that should they be rejected by a village, they ought to shake the dust off of their feet and leave. The person sharing this text argued that we can’t deny the exclusivity of Jesus and that if we’re rejected, so be it. I appreciate this person’s commitment to Jesus, but I think they miss one important point: the disciples are still to enter the village.

Reconciliation is found only in Jesus Christ, this is just as true for religious reconciliation as it is for any other form. However, this does not mean that Christians are to reject the notion of reconciliation with our friends of other faiths. Rather, we’re to be the ones who, as it were, “enter the village.” The method of religious reconciliation, then, is evangelistic engagement. (By that, I don’t mean Christians are to be obnoxious, although our culture may perceive us as offensive.) Any rejection of religious reconciliation should not come from Christians, but rather from others who reject the gospel.