IN THIS short and accessible introduction to engaging with people of different faiths, Andrew Smith provides an exciting vision for how this calling is for all Christians rather than a specialist ministry for a few interfaith experts and cross-cultural mission partners.
As the Director of Interfaith Relations for the Bishop of Birmingham, Smith himself has become one such expert. But it is the practical wisdom and personal insights gained over the years of living and working with different faith communities in Birmingham which gives his argument authority and credibility.
Experience has taught Smith that interfaith engagement does not rely on the acquisition of academic knowledge about other faiths. Instead, Christians need a confidence and joy in unapologetically communicating their own faith, combined with a desire for genuine encounter and open dialogue, a willingness to listen and to learn, and an enthusiasm for peacemaking and friendship.
For this, Smith provides plenty of training — from his exploration of both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as his biblical underpinning for this ministry, to his practical guidelines for dialogue and ethical evangelism, his exploration of basic cultural issues, and his invitation to be peacemakers.
In setting out his vision, Smith does not shy away from some of the more challenging issues: questions of salvation, evangelism, and conversion are faced head on with confidence, and tempered with generous amounts of humility and compassion. So, too, is the necessity of learning how to disagree well through dialogue (before a crisis forces the issue), and the paralysis caused by fear of the unknown.
What we don’t find here is a historical perspective on how Britain came to be the multi-religious society it is today, or an analysis of the extent to which Christianity is present and engaged in our cities and large towns. Neither does it explore the various theological paradigms that might have been brought into play, nor some of the ecclesiological questions that we would do well to be asking.
But what we do find is inspiration for how we can be biblical Christians, who are faithful to the distinctiveness of the gospel and committed to graciously loving our neighbours from different faith communities and affirming all that is good within them.
This book should be on the essential reading list of every ordinand and re-written as a Lent course for their congregations. The relational model at the heart of it will give them the confidence not simply to tolerate or live alongside people from other religious backgrounds, but to discover the joy of true encounter and transforming friendships with all our neighbours in this increasingly dynamic and complex multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. Smith is one expert from whom we should look forward to hearing more in the years ahead.
The Revd Dr Anna Poulson is Vicar of St John’s, Southall Green, in London.
Vibrant Christianity in Multifaith Britain
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