I remember the first time I attended an interfaith gathering. I was attending a conference on interfaith youth work in Chicago that was hosted by the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC). The conference began on an inspiring note as Dr. Eboo Patel, founder and president of the IFYC, articulated the need for interfaith cooperation in a post-9/11 world. His vision was to build a world where people of different faith communities served together and built bridges of understanding instead of bombs of destruction.
However, as the morning progressed, a problem arose. When discussing the challenges of interfaith work, a Christian participant shared that the biggest problem he faced was including the conservative members of his own tradition in the interfaith movement. The other participants quickly echoed this frustration, with words like “evangelicals” and “fundamentalists” punctuating their statements of exasperation and disdain. Eventually it was my turn to share, and I made the confession that brought the earlier concerns a little closer to home: “My name is Nick Price, and I am an evangelical Christian.”
That little admission changed the tenor of the conversation for the rest of the week. Soon the question was no longer, “Why don’t religious conservatives participate in interfaith dialogue?” but rather, “How can we set a place at the table for religious conservatives?” And over the years I have been delighted to discover that other evangelical Christians are becoming more and more engaged in interfaith work around the world. What began as a small cohort of evangelicals committed to interfaith engagement has grown to encompass writers and theologians, young activists and pastors.
As our world becomes increasingly diverse, we can no longer ignore the reality that our neighbors are, more and more, those who belong to other faith traditions and worldviews. As such, I believe that evangelical Christians must be willing to join the interfaith conversation and lend their voice to this growing movement, and I’m excited to see more and more members of the evangelical community getting involved in the discussion.
However, something I’ve noticed as more evangelicals get involved in interfaith work is that many evangelicals end up sacrificing their personal evangelism for the sake of interfaith dialogue. My experience has shown that this is especially true of younger evangelicals, specifically those falling in the 20s and 30s age range. I find this surprising because … well … that’s where I land. That’s my own demographic.
So, something I am wrestling with now is how to have a heart for reaching those of other faith traditions with the Gospel while also building bridges of understanding and partnership with these communities.
My hope is that evangelicals would have both a well-rounded understanding of interfaith work and its merits as well as a strong passion for evangelism and spreading the Gospel. These two values are not mutually exclusive, nor should they counteract each other as we engage in conversations with our neighbors of other faith traditions.
My aim is to provide a space here in this bi-weekly column to address issues of both evangelism and interfaith work, specifically highlighting where they intersect and where they pull against each other in tension. Over the coming months, this column will be dedicated to articulating how to navigate this tension, and we will explore some of the reasons the evangelical community errs either on the side of sacrificing witness for interfaith dialogue or withdrawing from interfaith work for the sake of evangelism.
I cannot promise that there won’t be disagreement, but in the end I hope that the framework I provide will be respectful of others while faithful to evangelical convictions. From time to time, I plan to share interviews with people I know from other faith traditions, too, so that we can learn from their perspective.
In closing, I want to say thank you in advance for taking this journey with me. My prayer is that what follows will be faithful to Jesus’ commandments to love our neighbors as ourselves and to make disciples of all nations. It is in Christ’s name that I offer up this prayer. Amen.