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A Pentecostal Perspective on Evangelism and Religious Pluralism: The Right Moment for an Important and Unprecedented Document, by Tony Richie

Norton notes that Lon Allison, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, said the document doesn’t include everything Evangelicals would have liked to see, either. He states that more emphasis on evangelism as verbal proclamation would have been beneficial. He seems to think that too much emphasis on deeds takes away from the importance of words. I just think they both go together. Naturally those who favor one over the other will feel like insufficient emphasis has been given to their preference.7 And I disagree with Allison that our work operated from an assumption that Christians “do witness, but do it badly or incompletely.” However, I wonder would he deny that some Christians have sometimes done witness in ways that don’t glorify God or don’t result in saving souls? If so, these kinds of recommendations might be helpful in such cases. Jerry Root of Wheaton College has concerns similar to Allison but agrees that Christians should not be offensive in their evangelism and admits that he likes the “spirit of the document”.

Admitting Some Problems

I personally have more problems with what Norton reports from Craig Ott, professor of mission and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He objects to the document’s emphasis on interreligious relations and dialogue as leaning toward the Catholic and Mainline Protestant view that the God of other religions is the same as the God of Christianity. He argues that Evangelicals cannot accept that idea. That totally misses the point. I’m neither Catholic nor Mainline Protestant; I’m an Evangelical and a Pentecostal. Yet I believe that righteous relations with religious others is required of Christians. In a way, it has little to nothing to do with what I think of the other religions’ god or gods.8 For me, it’s about being a good Christian through loving my neighbor. Of course, there is an appropriate time and place for addressing that topic; but, I suggest that it isn’t determinative for Christian ethics. Christians should act as Christians should act regardless.

In Norton’s article, Hunter, and also Dana Robert, co-director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University, rightly point out that the word “evangelism” is not even in the document, and that it stresses “changing one’s religion” rather than “converting”. I agree that “evangelism” and “evangelize” are good, strong biblical words that it would have been well to include. That is something that stands out to us Evangelicals but doesn’t so much to other Christians. I’d like to have seen it in there, but I understand that this is a broad consensus statement that includes other Christians. The word “witness” is also a good, strong biblical word; and, perhaps it doesn’t carry as much emotive baggage for some. Further, this document does address conversion, but argues that conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit and not a human act. I’d also suggest that Robert’s suggestion that the lack of “activist” language flowing out of the Great Commission assumes that the Great Commission itself is very narrowly interpreted to mean only evangelism.9 Most biblical scholars, including Evangelicals, don’t go that far. However, I readily admit that finding the right language is one of the greatest challenges, and I’m sure it can be improved upon. Further, Robert is, along with Douglas McConnell, dean of Fuller Theological Seminary, certainly right that interpretation and perception will play a huge role in how “Recommendations for Conduct” gets applied in varied contexts. But then, I see it as a strong point of this document that its general statements can be effectively adapted to specific contexts. In fact, that’s part of its purpose.

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Winter 2012

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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