I recently returned from a consultation at Calvin Theological Seminary and thought I'd share some summary reflections.
I've been to a number of conferences over the years, and some have been better than others, but this is one meeting that exceeded my expectations. The subject matter was "American Evangelicals and Islam," and it was made possible by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, as well as partnership with institutions like Fuller Seminary, the Lausanne Movement, Calvin Seminary where the meeting was held, and other institutions represented by their participants. We met over the course of three days, and this was a consultation rather than a conference. I appreciated the consultation approach in that while it had speakers like a conference does, the presentations were more limited in time, and followed by small working group discussions, followed in turn by discussions among the whole group which provided feedback and reflection on a given topic.
The participants included a mixture of practitioners, scholars, pastors, theologians, people who work for educational institutions, non-profits, churches, missions agencies, a broad mix. As the discussions took place over the course of the consultation it became clear that despite coming from different places across the country, a few from international contexts, and representing different approaches to the subject of our gathering, all were united in recognizing the need to extend hospitality and love of neighbor to Muslims in the North American context.
For my part, in addition to listening, reflecting, and sharing thoughts in conversations with these great colleagues, I was invited to be a part of a panel discussion that provided feedback on a document on theological education on multi-faith issues. I expressed my appreciation for the document as a whole, and its recognition of the need to address both the cognitive and the affective dimensions. I then suggested that the document could broaden the disciplines it interacts with to include the insights of social psychology. As I've stated in previous posts, moral foundations theory helps us understand the importance of things like purity to evangelicals, and that the term and approach of "interfaith," as well as other approaches that seem to close and friendly with those in other religions, leave evangelicals with fears of contamination. In our theological education on multi-faith, we need to recognize this dynamic and help students work through fears of contamination.
The night before the final day of the consultation involved a panel discussion open to the public and held in Calvin's chapel. The discussion brought out some important issues, and questions from the audience. One bonus for me that night was seeing the noted Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga in the audience, and being a theology and philosophy geek, I asked for a selfie with him. He was gracious and happy to agree.
During the consultation I was also asked to give an interview for the "Common Threads" program on WGVU Radio, an NPR affiliate. The program is hosted by Fred Stella. It was a great interview and should air in a couple of weeks.
At the conclusion of the consultation there was a lot of interest in seeing this continue. The organizers are working to see how this might take place. I'm encouraged and was privileged to be a part. i offer my thanks to the organizers, particularly Matthew Krabill and Cory Wilson who did the lion's share of work on this.