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Alan Berger: Trialogue and Terror

Of course, any book encompassing such far-reaching diversity both in contributors and content can be a bit uneven at times. Yet the overall effect of this work is a remarkably consistent and congruent depiction of the need for and nuances of trialogue in the Abrahamic traditions. True enough, at times one may feel one is in a no-holds-barred environment (as when David Patterson incorrectly claims Paul taught that Jews are ‘children of the devil’ and then blames subsequent anti-Semitism on that mistaken assumption). But even then surprising insights often surface (as in Patterson’s astute insistence that our perception of another’s part in the afterlife affects our treatment of them in this life). Moreover, this is one of those texts which frequently challenge many of our basic assumptions and presuppositions (see Mary Boys’ bold claim that Christian theology and spirituality cannot be complete without faithful interaction with an enduring Judaism). And there is at times an attractive integration of persuasive scholarship with personal touch (Akbar S. Ahmed’s spiritual and ideological journey in Islam is riveting reading). This text will likely be most appreciated by and helpful for scholars and clergy desiring to understand the complex dynamics which constitute the gargantuan task of bringing together for constructive conversation and cooperation three of the world’s oldest and largest religions which clearly have so much in common and yet exist in such stark contrast.

As for Berger, he has no qualms about labeling the perpetrators of 9/11 religious fanatics and murderers. However, the focus now must be on repairing and restoring a hurting, wounded world. While all the religions, and even the non-religious, have a role to play in this restoration, he argues that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam must be at its forefront. After the inexcusable carnage of 9/11 the abiding truth that emerges is that religion and religious beliefs, both good and evil, are very much a factor in human existence. Obviously, religious faith is certainly not fading away into oblivion. In fact, religion may hold a vital key to opening the door for peaceful coexistence among human beings co-inhabiting planet Earth.

Yet Berger appears equally concerned about religious absolutism as well as secularism run amok, both of which may lead to tyranny and fascism. Nevertheless, in a post-Holocaust world, such developments as the Roman Catholic Vatican II Council’s promulgation of Nostra Aetate (1965), with its brief but pungent exhortations on improving relations between Christians and other religions, are hopeful signs. Berger argues that increasing understanding between the religions is essential. Presently, a specific and primary challenge is gaining authentic understanding of Islam—and also its adherents gaining authentic understanding of Jews and Christians. Yet he readily admits that even between Jews and Christians the path to dialogue and understanding has been long, tortuous, and frequently tragic.

Berger suggests it is critically important to recognize that each of the major Abrahamic religions has great diversity within their own ranks. Islam in particular must struggle to face the challenge of separating mosque from state. Islam must learn to listen to moderate voices within its own tradition. Berger expresses concern that extremists within Islam may dictate behavior. But Berger seems convinced that meaningful trialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims of good will is the best way forward in offsetting the vicious agenda of extremists with their deadly intentions. For him, not only the dignity but the survival of humanity is at stake. Berger thus describes Trialogue and Terror as contributors respectfully listening and speaking to one another. I would add that our participation is just as worthwhile.

The basic thrust of Trialogue and Terror may be illustrated in the following. Recently I heard a Church of God (Cleveland, TN) pastor testify about being raised in a rural community in an isolated valley. There was no racial diversity. There was no real religious diversity either. It was only after coming out of that environment into a world that includes all kinds of diversity that my pastor friend became able to accept others unlike himself. Eventually, he came to see that ability as God’s blessing. Today he enjoys a powerful ministry among racially and religiously diverse people groups. So it is with interreligious dialogue. And it is vitally important for church leaders, pastors, and local congregations to catch an inclusive vision such as given by the Spirit of Christ to Apostle Peter (Acts 10:9-19). This is not mere sentimentality, it is reality. Jews, Christians, and Muslims in authentic conversation coupled with concrete cooperation may very well be an essential element in an antidote for the poisonous rationale of much of religious terrorism.

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Category: Living the Faith, Winter 2014

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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