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To Sit at the Table or Not: How to Respond in Australia’s Multi-Religious Context

Friday, 5 March 2010  | David Turnbull - Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Studies, Tabor Adelaide

The challenge of this multi-religious environment for the Christian community requires a response. Should Christians sit at the table with people from other religions and engage them, or stay away and still attempt to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ? These two options were evident as I walked into the Convention Centre each day as an evangelical participant at Parliament, passing banners organised by the Acts 4: 12 Committee advocating that Jesus is the only way.

Numerous times Christians asked why I wanted to attend such an event. My inspiration came from the examples of Jesus’ desire to engage religious leaders and Paul’s willingness to dialogue in the marketplace of Athens and engage religious thinkers and spiritual seekers in discussion, exploring the fundamentals of life (Acts 17) and gaining contextual knowledge to use in his communication of the good news. This forum provided a valuable learning opportunity to achieve this by identifying the key contemporary questions about life that were being asked and generating ideas for possible responses.

So in attending was I compromising my own faith? I don’t believe so. There was no expectation in dialogue that one needed to forsake one’s own faith. It was more about learning from others which provided opportunities to present one’s own faith. The extent to which learning impacts on one’s own faith was where debate can occur. The challenge is in presenting the Christian distinctive of the uniqueness of Christ and the question of how to express this truth in such a way as to overcome historical and contemporary perceptions of Christians being arrogant, exclusive and culturally insensitive. Romans 15: 7 is an important Scriptural passage to consider in regards to acceptance. So being at the table assists this and allows relationships to develop where God, through the Holy Spirit, sows seeds of the good news that can take root and grow. The role of prayer is vital during this process. In light of this what are the consequences if God’s people do not come to the table and engage?

With globalisation and the resultant rise of secularization there are some wonderful opportunities to speak on religious issues. The challenge before Christian communities is to participate and seize opportunities to engage by sitting at the table.


Tom Mayne
March 5, 2010, 8:41PM
I agree. When Paul encountered the debaters at the Areopagus, he didn't whistle in the F111s to 'take them olut'. He continued to debate and they actually wanted to hear more. Too many Christians want to demonise Muslims and others rather than befriend them. While they adopt such attitudes they remain ignorant of what their opponents actually believe which minimises their capacity to egage with them

Glenda Weldon
March 5, 2010, 8:48PM
I applaude you, David. As we choose the live in obedience to the "greatest commandment". we will find ourselves in genuine friendship with all our "neighbours" in this multicultural society that is 21st Century Australia. In treating those from different faiths with love and respect flowing from God's heart of love for them, we will be the salt and light Jesus called us to be. I believe that it is God who has brought these people to our country so that they can experience first hand the gracious love of God through you and me, his blood-bought Spirit-filled disciples. We have been saved for the sake of the world and it is God who has brought the world to our neighbourhoods across Australia. Let us reach out to them in genuine friendship, love and respect, asking God to give us his eyes to see them as he does, his ears to hear their longings and his extravagant love to open our hearts and our homes to these precious people for whom Christ died. As we do this, God will draw them to himself and reveal Jesus to them. If we do not show them what Jesus is like by our words and deeds, who will? God has given to us the ministry of reconciliation. We are his Ambassadors to a lost and hurting world, to the aliens in the land, to those without hope, to those who are like us and those who are not, to those who do not know who Jesus is and what he has done for them. May we choose to be true followers of Jesus. 1 Cor 13: 13 "Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly and love extravagantly" (The Messgae)
Nathan Willis
March 8, 2010, 12:38PM
Well done David.
Linda Bartlett
March 9, 2010, 1:46AM
I read with interest your article David.
I too agree with you on your reresentation. Why as Christians should we exclude ourselves from these things, arent we being a representation to our Lord in this? Did Jesus choose who He would and wouldnt mix with? Did the religous leaders of the day condone those He did mix with?
How will our faith be heared if we just hang out together?
and shouldnt we at least have some respect for a fellow human being even of a different faith? we are called to love one another, and respect shows our willingness to love.
I thank God for your willingness to stand up and go forth into this situation.
Bob Rogers
March 23, 2010, 10:54AM
I recently heard a radio segment from the United States where a "Christian" woman vehemently berated a minority group, declaring god's judgement on them. I was ashamed at not only what I herad but how it was delivered. I believe it is only when those who call themselves "Christian" (is it time to change the title to 'followers of Jesus'?) decide to actually sit and converse with others, with no further agenda, that we will ever have the right to be heard. There is no excuse for bad manners.
We must engage with other faiths even though we may not be pursuaded by their debate. It is as we do so that our lives, our words and our actions will compbine to declare the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ.
Let's leave any judgement to God...
Siu Fung
April 6, 2010, 3:58PM
Good on you, David. Well said. I came to faith in Christ in an environment where Christians were the minority. I never had problems in relating to people of non-Christian faith. In Athens Paul presented the uniqueness of the gospel (especially the resurrection). He did not compromise the message. But he related the message to his audience in a culturally appropriate manner.

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