I have recently discovered and read with much interest and a great deal of enjoyment several of your books. I was taken in particular with Lion of Babylon.
It seems to me that your key message here, or at least the message that I took home, was the desirability of all of us—Christian, Jew, Muslim, whatever—to concentrate on our “friendship” with Jesus, a spirit common to many religions, rather than on our belonging to any particular church or specific religion. This concept resonated deeply with me—BUT, and there is always a but, how do I put this into practice? Here and now? In my own community, parish, diocese, city, before even thinking about the state, the nation, the world?
At present my starting upon such a task seems stymied by one major factor. Today, at least here in Australia, the notion of “finding Jesus,” or any other such equivalent, is always greeted with scorn and derision. I need first to break that mould, but so far I have no idea as to how. Might I be so bold as to ask if you have encountered the same problem? Have you any thoughts as to how to overcome that stifling psychological block? The rewards would be immense and far-reaching.
Thank you very much for your thoughtful and challenging note. I will attempt to respond in the spirit with which you have written.
First, the moral of the book, Lion of Babylon: There is a growing controversy within the evangelical community over what form ‘coming to Jesus’ must take, especially as it applies to communities of other belief systems. This formed the crux of my story. I wanted to show a world where Christians are in the minority, and our confrontational missionary system—whereby the penitents are required to ‘give up’ or ‘renounce’ before they can know Jesus, has resulted in relatively small numbers of people coming to life-affirming faith, and doing so mostly from the margins. This means that the vast majority of people who fervently follow another faith are simply discounted, or considered lost, or however you want to say it, basically they are not touched. I, and a growing number of younger evangelicals, find this simply unacceptable.
There is a second system, which the hardliners reject outright. In this, Jesus is introduced without any connection to the earthly religious system. It is simply Jesus. No denomination, no church, no organization, nothing. Jesus. It is NOT Jesus as a friend.
This note of yours was on this point in error. But how do you approach a concept that is wrapped in two thousand years of hostility with a person who is devoutly following a different faith? By introducing the points where there is harmony. And this lies at the crux, the very vortex, of why so many hardliners simply cannot accept what is happening. Because to speak to the issue of harmony, you must first accept that the other belief system has merit. You cannot denounce them as followers of some dark path and then turn around and say, ‘But really, you have some merit to your concept of divine truth.’
Do you see? You must first accept that the divine truth is to some degree present in their faith system. And this means, you must understand enough of their system to actually speak from knowing.
The basic concept of Jesus at this point is very simple, and equally controversial. You are in effect saying that all systems of faith have some truth. But—and here is the very big but—all other systems hold one trait in common. It is man who does the work. Man strives to lift himself up.
With Jesus, God has reached down, and is doing the heavy lifting.
This one truth, this one concept of eternal salvation, is open to all people, so long as you begin from the point of respect, harmony, friendship, peace, and an open hand.
It is NOT Jesus as friend.
But to arrive at a point where the concept of salvation is acceptable, you must approach this first as the friend. Do you see the difference? You are the open hand. Not Jesus. The transition comes when two things happen. First, they accept that you hold a difference because of what Jesus has done in your life. And second, when they move from reading about Jesus to experiencing the Holy Spirit’s gift. When the breath of God moves over their heart, then it is time for you to move forward.
Whether you are dealing with a different faith system, or New Age practitioners, or simply a community dominated by post-modern attitudes towards faith in general, the attitude must be the same. Unless you begin with an attitude of respect and understanding, in other words, unless you accept that there is a genuine fragment of truth and resonating significance to their interpretation of life, you will always face the barrier of scorn. Why should they respond to you any differently than how you in your heart see them? They are not lost. They are not scorned by God. They reject this outright.
And unless you begin by first accepting the validity of their viewpoint, you might as well be talking Arabic. The only people who will listen to what you have to say are those who have already rejected their former system. And this means, reducing your contact with the world to the margins.
As for what you can do in your own corner of the globe, let me share two things. First, we have found ourselves increasingly engaged in dialogue with fervent Muslims over what this book signifies. Most of it begins as an argument, and why not, since it’s all we as a faith have been doing for fifteen centuries. But it doesn’t have to end there.
Second, groups of readers have begun reaching out to the immigrant populations in their respective cities. The most remarkable success has been seen with the Somali population in Minnesota. I am amazed to even be writing this, but it is indeed happening.