Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Approaching the Problem of Religious Truth in a Pluralistic World: A Pentecostal-Charismatic Contribution

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Approaching the Problem of Religious Truth in a Pluralistic World: A Pentecostal-Charismatic Contribution

Article excerpt


Pilate hurled the question "What is truth?" at Jesus in a hideous attempt to alleviate guilt over his complicity in the crucifixion of an innocent man (Jn. 18:38). Through the ages, both before and since, many philosophers and theologians have asked the same profound question with purer motives. In this essay I do not attempt to address all the elements of a thoroughgoing theory of truth. (1) Rather, I wish to approach Christian belief in truth as it intersects with what is clearly and quickly becoming an increasingly religiously pluralistic society. (2) In other words, how may I as a Christian committed to the absolute and ultimate truth of Christ as revealed in Scripture authentically engage a global culture containing competing and even contradictory truth claims? How may this be accomplished without my appearing arrogant or imperialistic toward religious others? How may my wish to be fair to other faiths' truth perceptions weld with my responsibility to my own faith's truth claims without my falling into either condescension or compromise?

My quest is in part motivated by my involvement in formal ecumenical-interreligious dialogues wherein I am called upon to maintain just this sort of delicate balance on truth. Here, I share two assumptions with Leslie Newbigin. First, "The question of truth must be faced." Ultimately, truth is inescapable. Second, though Christian dialogue participants are responsible for "the telling of the story," we also must "embody the truth of the story," (3) making it imminently personal. I am convinced that positive dialogue among interreligious partners is an important element in the resolution of problematic religious tensions that are so prevalent in contemporary society. It is also important in the full actualization of vital religious faith and life on the part of all involved. (4) This is the case for me, in spite of the fact that I belong to a movement not commonly categorized as "ecumenical" and that I am fairly classified as "conservative" by most ideological comparisons. (5)

In the process of exploring the issue of Christian truth in the context of interreligious conversation, I enlist the aid of three Christian thinkers of wide repute: John Wesley, Emil Brunner, and Wolfhart Pannenberg. I selected these particular theologians for a number of reasons. First, they have exerted an important influence on my own ideas. Second, they are respected across a broad spectrum of Christians. Third, and perhaps most germane to my described task, they all draw upon understandings of truth that affirm in clear, uncompromising ways Christian faith and values while still providing considerable space for Christians to interact respectfully with religious others. Also significant is the involvement of each in ecumenical or interreligious work of some kind.

As my subtitle shows, I write from the perspective of a Pentecostal-Charismatic Christian. (6) I accent this facet of my perspective mainly because I am devoted to demonstrating that a mature, moderate Pentecostalism can and should offer major contributions in the area of theology of religions and its accompanying dialogues. (7) I also will not be too unhappy if some of my Pentecostal peers do not neglect to notice that important truth may be drawn out into the open through dialogue with religious others. Those so fond of describing themselves as worshipers "in Spirit and in Truth" will well observe that Jesus uttered these words in the midst of intense interreligious dialogue (see Jn. 4:24). Furthermore, I wish to assist not only those involved directly in formal ecumenical or interreligious dialogue or those who are members of the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement but also all those who now informally interact with those of other faiths as committed and conscientious Christians living in a religiously pluralistic world.

A Practical Approach: Wesley on Truth in Agape

Wesley outlines in his famous sermon "A Catholic Spirit" an ecumenical approach to truth based on Christian agape (love). …

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