Many of you are no doubt familiar with the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus gathers his disciples to him and says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
During the Christendom era Western Christians typically understood this “great commission” as a call to overseas mission and the support thereof. Now, however, many Christians live in cities where Christendom is a retreating memory and “the nations” have moved into the neighbourhood. What does faithfulness to the great commission look like in such circumstances? How do we equip disciples for engaging with the nations in the west?
It was recently suggested to me that, given it is difficulty of sharing our faith with our Hindus and Muslims simultaneously, that we should focus more broadly on equipping disciples for mission “in pluralism.” I can appreciate why this sounds sensible, especially for time impoverished churches, but I think this is a mistake and I’ll tell you why. Through experience I have found it is equivalent to suggesting that, in order to speak to our French and Chinese neighbours, we should just learn the universal language of Esperanto because its simpler and easier than learning both French and Chinese. Simpler maybe, but don’t be surprise if you just end up talking to yourself. My question is, how many “native” Esperanto speakers have you ever met? I bet you haven’t because they don’t exist. Esperanto is a constructed, rootless language. It is no path to understanding native languages rooted in living, messy community.
The truth is, different religions and different seekers must be understood in their particularity or not very well at all. Moreover, it needs to be recognize that pluralism is not as a thing in itself but as a juxtaposition of things. Pluralism can only be understood by wrestling with juxtapositions in all their particularity. In short, there are no shortcuts.