More Than Just Neighbours in a Multi-Faith World

This weekend I will be co-leading a workshop at “From Peices to Peace: More Than Just Neighbours in a Multi-Faith World“, a conference being run in Sydney by the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand.

I am basing the workshop around the seven dimensions of religion as a way of opening up conversations about different religions, how they differ, and how this necessitates different ways of dialoging. In particular I want to move beyond the stereotype of interfaith dialogue as doctrinal discussion (given doctrine / theology / philosophy is just one of the seven dimensions of religion, and not even a particularly important one for some religions).

I viewed with interest therefore, John Morehead’s musings on whether Jews, Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? In particular his critique of writers claiming that “Interfaith dialogue is made possible by monotheism … Polytheism defines dialogue out of existence”. Like John, I strongly disagree, especially from my own experience. Indeed, I have heard polytheists argue the opposite, that polytheism is more suited than monotheism to dialogue. I strongly disagree with that as well of course, but I think it illustrates my point well, the we need to be able to approach interfaith dialogue from a multiplicity of angles.

In particular, I think we need a broad enough definition of religion (and religious experience, religious community, religious teaching, etc) to ensure we don’t exclude different religions from interfaith discussions (unintentionally or otherwise) before we even get started. If the definition is too narrow to encompass eastern traditions (like Buddhism, Hinduism and Daoism) and esoteric traditions (like Wicca, Astrology and Alchemy) then we’ve proscribed the answer before we’ve even asked the question.

Personally I consider the question, “Do Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” to be a bit of a furphy. It presumes a binary answer, a simple yes or no, when I think an … err, yes and no … answer would be far more authentic. After all, while you may get a rousing agreement by asking them, “Is God one?” I doubt you’d get so unified a response by asking, “Is the Father and the Son then one?” What then can we say together about prayer to that one God? It’s complicated. Even more so if you welcome polytheists to the conversation. So lets not superimpose simplicity so prematurely or artificially. Let’s ask “open” rather than “closed” questions of one another.

How should Neo-Anabaptists engage the world as the church?

I always appreciate a critique that gets me to think deeper about my own path. That’s what I found in James Hunter, Neo-Anabaptists, and the Ekklesia Project. After correctly differentiating Neo-Anabaptists from both the Evangelical Left and Evangelical Right, the auther sums up James Hunter’s critique as follows:

I now turn to the way in which Hunters’ treatment of power focuses his engagement with the Neo-Anabaptists. It is here we can appreciate his skills as sociologist. He asserts that Neo-Anabaptists have a robust theology that successfully resists co-option into liberalism or American nationalism. However, in Hunter’s view, Neo-Anabaptists fail to extend this theology into a vision of Christian life within the worldly institutions that claim much of our time and energy as well as accounting for many of our neighborly relations. ‘Why do they reduce the life of Imitatio Dei to the parameters of the church?’ he asks. His critique, then, focuses on Neo-Anabaptist ecclesiology.

Hunter claims that because they fail to understand power and its pervasiveness, Neo-Anabaptists try to keep their hands clean. A focus on the church, in other words, is a way of avoiding the theological task of describing Christian involvement in such institutions as family, corporation, schools, etc., where power must be confronted.

I take this as a spur to continue my explorations into life beyond the church and beauty in the world from a Neo-Anabapist perspective.

Re-monking the Church After Christendom

For those interested in new monasticism, check out Stewart Murray Williams’s engaging summary of the Anabaptist tradition over at Sustainable Traditions which explores the ways ‘new monasticism’ is drawing on both Celtic Christianity and the Anabaptist tradition.

“In the 16th century the Protestant Reformers rejected the two-tier Christianity that had developed during the Christendom era – dissolving the monasteries to remove the top tier. Anabaptists also rejected two-tier Christianity but abolished the lower tier, calling all Christians to radical discipleship – a lay monastic movement.” – Stuart Murray Williams

How is Calvinist Christianity and Anabaptist Christianity different?

What follows is my hesitant attempt at distilling some of the core differences between Calvinist Christianity and Anabaptist Christianity, at least as I see it, into a simple to digest form.

Take this as a conversation starter, not a comprehensive statement. You’ll note that I have divided this up into four areas of message, teaching, practice and experience. It could be said that this is a very Anabaptist way of seeing things, given we emphasize orthopraxy as much as orthodoxy. For this I make no apologies. But I am open to dialoguing about it.

The differences I am highlighting here are more a matter of emphasis than fundamental difference, but it’s the nuances that give the different paths their different flavours. In essence, I see Calvinism as more abstract and objectivist and Anabaptism as more concrete and subjectivist. Does any of this ring true for you?

The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray

I’ve learned that Stuart Murray’s new book, The Naked Anabaptist, is scheduled for publication in July 2010. It’s about Anabaptist Christianity “stripped down to the bare essentials.” Here’s some extracts:

In many nations, then, not only in Britain and Ireland, there are growing numbers of ‘neo-Anabaptists’ and ‘hyphenated Anabaptists’. Neo-Anabaptists identify with the Anabaptist tradition and are happy to be known as Anabaptists, but have no historic or cultural links with any Anabaptist-related denomination. Hyphenated Anabaptists find inspiration and resources in the Anabaptist tradition, but do not identify themselves as Anabaptists. They might be Baptist-Anabaptists, Methodist-Anabaptists, Anglican-Anabaptists, Pentecostal-Anabaptists or various other combinations.

‘Post-Christendom’ celebrated the demise of imperial Christianity and welcomed the opportunity to rethink all kinds of issues as the church found itself back on the margins of society. It suggested that, as the mainline traditions associated with imperial Christianity struggled to adjust to this new situation, perhaps some of the necessary resources are to be found in the radical tradition associated with Anabaptism.

As a neo/hypenated Anabaptist I’ll be looking forward to it.

Missional Prayer


When you hear the phrase, missional prayer, what do you think it is?

What makes prayer missional or unmissional?

Here are a few thoughts I have. Firstly, as with David Augsburger and Richard Foster, I would say there are three dimensions to Christian spirituality: moving upwards in worship (God focus), moving inwards in confession (self focus), moving outwards in intercession (other focus). And I would say this three dimentional perspective necessarily leads to some related questions, which are: What is missional worship? What is missional confession? What is missional intercession? So to expand…

Prayers of worship. Prayer, when missional, begins with the recognition that our God is a missional God, a self sending God. Before we speak of God, we should listen to God, and the God who speaks through scripture is a sending (and sent) God. This is the God we worship. When our master taught us how to pray, he left no gap between "Our heavenly Father, holy is your name" and "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven". Neither should we. God is not passive, God is active.

Prayers of confession. Prayer, when missional, includes recognition that what is wrong with the world begins with us, with I. Changing the world begins with changing the self. Changing society begins with changing the church … and we are the church … so it begins with our own confession and inner transformation, as individuals and as a community. We cannot expect any missional success whilever the church, whilever we, remain introspective and arrogant.

Prayers of intercession. Prayer, when missional, includes recognition that God saved us whilst we were all enemies of God. Intercession should therefore include prayers for forgiveness of our enemies, that as we have come to know the ways of faith and love, so they would come to to know the ways of faith and love. Intercessory prayer, when missional, does not involve the demonization of enemies, whatever gods they worship. Demonization is of the devil.

So, what happens for you inside, reading this? Are you draw to it? Do you object violently? Are you left with questions or uneasy feelings? I would like to hear, even if you don't normally comment.

The Pacifist Teachings of the Early Christians

I’ve been collecting of some of the pacifist teachings of the early Christians. There are more, but there’s a lot to chew on just here don’t you think?

But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away? For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.

– Tertullian, On Idolatry

Christians could never slay their enemies. For the more that kings, rulers, and peoples have persecuted them everywhere, the more Christians have increased in number and grown in strength.

– Origen, Contra Celsius Book VII

For it is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained. War needs great preparation, and luxury craves profusion; but peace and love, simple and quiet sisters, require no arms nor excessive preparation. The Word is their sustenance.

– Clement of Alexandria, Chapter 12 of Book 1

In their wars, therefore, the Etruscans use the trumpet, the Arcadians the pipe, the Sicilians the pectides, the Cretans the lyre, the Lacedaemonians the flute, the Thracians the horn, the Egyptians the drum, and the Arabians the cymbal. The one instrument of peace, the Word alone by which we honor God, is what we employ.

– Clement of Alexandria, Chapter 4 of Book 2

Above all, Christians are not allowed to correct with violence.

– Clement of Alexandria, Fragments

We who formerly used to murder one another now refrain from even making war upon our enemies.

– Justin Martyr, First Apology

A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate must resign or be rejected. If a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God.

– Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 16:17-19

There is nothing better than peace, in which all warfare of things in heaven and things on earth is abolished.

– Ignatius of Antioch, To the Ephesians, Chapter 13

Wars are scattered all over the earth with the bloody horror of camps. The whole world is wet with mutual blood. And murder–which is admitted to be a crime in the case of an individual–is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked deeds, not because they are guiltless, but because the cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale!

Cyprian of Carthage

Those soldiers were filled with wonder and admiration at the grandeur of the man’s piety and generosity and were struck with amazement. They felt the force of this example of pity. As a result, many of them were added to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and threw off the belt of military service.

Disputation of Archelaus and Manes

If only God were worshiped, there would not be dissensions and wars. For men would know that they are the sons of one God.

– Lactantius, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, p. 143

Why would [the just man] carry on war and mix himself with the passions of others when his mind is engaged in perpetual peace with men? Would he be delighted with foreign merchandise or with human blood–he who does not know how to seek gain? For the Christian is satisfied with his standard of living. He considers it unlawful not only to commit slaughter himself, but also to be present with those who do it.

– Lactantius, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, p. 153

If only more Christians were known for this shallom lifestyle today. Prepared to join me in this recovery of the ancient teachings and practices of our way?