Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church


Editor’s note: In his doctoral dissertation, Pastor Pat Bailey of Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church is claiming the need for a re-visioning of the Christian church’s theology and its understanding of mission, the need for a more natural, integrative theology and for an earth-focused, contextual approach to mission. This blog is part of a long-running weekly series.

Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church

Pastor Pat Bailey

The interdwelling model of mission I am proposing is carried out in engagement with other religious and late-modern worldviews. One’s spiritual journey can be greatly enriched by exposure to other religious traditions and practices. Theologian Paul Knitter proposes that to the two general sources of theology, the Christian sources and general human experience, it is now necessary to add a third ingredient, that is, other religions:

“In other words, following the examples and the instructions of theological mentors such as Raimon Panikkar, Aloysius Pieris, S.J., Bede Griffiths, and Thomas Merton, I’ve come to be convinced that I have to do my theology—and live my Christian life—dialogically. Or in current theological jargon: I have to be religious interreligiously.”

Engaging other religious expressions also reminds one that their own perspectives are intersubjective constructs within their own context rather than a realist rendering of the thing itself. Considering both the content and context of another’s perspective enriches one’s imaginative discourse and expands one’s interpretive circle.The exploration of another’s perspectives does not require, however, that one accept their underlying metaphysics, cosmologies, or foundationalisms.

Another temptation that an interdwelling perspective helps to avoid regarding inter-religious engagement is the tendency to theorize about the uniformity of religious traditions around essential truths, values, or goals. My studies in world religions have convinced me that not only do the various religious expressions have different concepts of the divine and reality, different mythologies, different traditions, practices, and imperatives, but that they also have different goals and different means of achieving those goals. This is not to say that religions do not share similarities in worldview and practice that may have emerged from common experiences in Nature and Spirit.

An example of both difference and similarity is the Charter for Compassion developed by Karen Armstrong and an interfaith council, which calls upon “all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion.”  While I recognize the exaggeration of claiming that compassion is at the center of all morality and religion, I also recognize the evidence that many of the world’s and history’s religious traditions have seen compassion as vital to their spiritual experience and religious imperatives. Rather than uniting diverse religions under a single umbrella of ultimate truth, however, an interdwelling approach values the perspectives operating in each tradition as they add to the conversation of the whole.

An interdwelling spirituality in conversation with other religious views or with late-modern views expressed in culture, philosophy, and science must retain its perspectival self-awareness if it is to provide honest and fruitful dialogue. The late-modern dialogue between science and religion has often involved either a complete clash of equally entrenched metaphysical claims or an exercise of one view trying to prove or bolster its own metaphysical claims by some alignment with the metaphysical claims of the other, strategies that fail to overcome the myth of the given. When both sides recognize the intersubjective nature of their perspectives, then, and only then, can they make legitimate claims about what exists, that is, what is available to human experiencing and interpretation, rather than arguing about what exists metaphysically, and so, the imaginative discourse is expanded.

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