Saturday, November 8, 2008

Part 3: A Tapestry of Faiths

Below is the third and final part of an interview I conducted with Winfried Corduan regarding his book A Tapestry of Faiths (InterVarsity, 2002). View part one and part two.

RV. Your chapter on "Eschatology and Hope for the Future" discusses different views of time. Could you give a few examples? Why is this apologetically relevant?

CORDUAN. Let me simplify things a little bit and just focus on three different views of time, of which we should be aware in doing apologetics: a secular one, a Christian one, and an Eastern one. Within a Christian worldview, time moves along a line with a beginning (creation), an end (the consummation), and a middle (the cross), which gives the whole line meaning.

Thus, for Christianity history is crucial because the entire extent of time is structured around God's acts in history. In a truly secular worldview, time is also linear, but there is neither a true beginning nor a culmination, let alone a central reference point. Thus, within the area of apologetics, when we refer to historical events, such as the incarnation and the resurrection, we need to understand that for a wholly secular person, whatever happened in history just happens to have happened, and so we need to clarify to the person that events in history can and do bear profound significance.

The Eastern views of time, on the other hand, are usually cyclical. History on the largest scale will always repeat itself. The universe will be born, it will eventually run down, and then it will be destroyed and another universe will be created. Thus, in this view, the events of history are also not ultimately significant since nothing within history can change the cycle of history. In this case, then, the Christian apologist needs to show the person that God's acts in history are unique and unrepeatable.

RV. On the issue of salvation in reference to other religions, what are your conclusions?

CORDUAN. Let me begin to answer this question by making sure we're even talking about something real and not a scholar's invention. It is a very common assumption these days that all religions have the same goal, but vary in their recommended method of achieving that goal. Christians who hold to an exclusive view of salvation can then be accused of arrogance by thinking that their method alone is the correct one, and that everyone else's way of reaching salvation is false.

The problem with this position is that it begins by falsely stipulating a common goal for all religions, which can simply not be substantiated so long as one looks at what the religions themselves are teaching. Just as Christianity does not promote a way in which people can liberate themselves from the cycle of reincarnations by finding a way of eliminating karma, so Hinduism does not provide a means of reconciling fallen human beings to the God who has created them. Is there salvation (in a sense compatible with the Christian doctrine) found in other religions? Of course not!

As inane as this point may sound, it has profound implications for where it leaves us, for otherwise it has us ascribing a view of salvation to other religions that is foreign to the religions themselves. In other words, the person who might say that a Yogi who is earnestly involved in his spiritual pursuit is receiving salvation from God as a reward for his efforts, is not only misconstruing Christian theology, but is also inserting something into Hinduism that does not belong there, namely Christian salvation.

And bad Christian theology it is! The problem is that the New Testament simply does not recognize salvation by anything other than faith in Christ.

RV. In some segments of the church many of a postmodern orientation believe that rather than contending for the truth of Christianity in relation to the conflicting truth claims of other religions, we should instead simply tell the Christian story and not be concerned about defending "hard" propositional statements. What is your take on this approach and what do you see as its implications for Christian apologetics?

CORDUAN. Please keep in mind that evangelism is not apologetics and vice versa. Apologetics is a tool for evangelism, but when we are called to evangelize, our first objective must be to display the gospel so that people can respond to Christ in faith, not to pick intellectual fights with others.

Having said that, I need to add quickly that to sidestep the difficult issues of apologetics is not only lazy and irresponsible, it is also not really possible. Despite proclamations by post-modern folk that the question of truth is passé, I deal with hundreds of people every year who want to know whether Christianity or one of its core beliefs is true. Most people have not read Derrida, and are not aware of the injunction that they are not supposed to be concerned about truth and facts any longer.

The vast majority of people still want to know what is true and only want to believe what is true. Not only unbelievers, but even believers are looking for confirmation of Christian beliefs. So, it's not really a question of whether to provide answers or not, but whether our answers are good or sloppy. I can't bring myself to think that we are serving the Lord to the greatest extent of our ability by deriding the serious questions people have as not fitting in with our supposed post-modern culture.

RV. What advice would you give to Christians who would like to undertake studies of other religions for apologetic purposes?

CORDUAN. Please study hard! You can't learn all about Christianity by reading a chapter in a book summarizing it, and the same thing applies to all other religions. Frequently, non-Christians make statements involving other religions that we may not be able to challenge competently because we simply do not know enough about the religions.

But worse yet, more often than not (and I am not speaking in hyperbole here), when evangelicals -- even well-known evangelical apologists -- start to talk about other religions my toes curl in embarrassment and I want to crawl into a hole. We have erected certain stereotypes of other religions so that they are maximally susceptible to our apologetic arguments, making it easy for ourselves to demonstrate that they are false. They are false, to be sure, but demolishing their caricatures has not proven that fact.

Over the last fifty years, there has been a strong movement by evangelicals to take up philosophy in the service of Christian apologetics. What I would love to see is a parallel movement by evangelicals to become immersed in world religions so that they can speak authoritatively on behalf of Christian truth in that context.

It is possible to become an expert on Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, or whatever without compromising Christian truth one bit. A new generation of evangelical scholars of world religions can not only train missionaries and evangelists better, they can also speak with a more credible voice in our increasingly pluralistic culture. But this is not going to happen apart from evangelicals committing themselves to much deeper levels of study than we are currently seeing on the average.

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