Let's get biblical

Let's get biblical, biblical
I want to get biblical
Let's get into biblical
Let me hear your scripture talk, your scripture talk
Let me hear your scripture talk

I wanted to begin this post with a little levity as I discuss a serious subject. I begin by offering my apologies to Olivia Newton John for altering the chorus of her hit Eighties song.

After my last email that raised concerns about a Super Bowl video in relation to its depiction of human psychological development on the sense of difference and equality, I received an email from someone who I respect sharing his concerns. The feeling was that I am not being biblical enough in my working and that this is paramount because evangelicals and other Christians will get involved in religious diplomacy because of scripture. It was also felt that I am emphasizing science too much, perhaps at the expense of scripture. The end result may be that I might be painting myself into a corner, and may find a dwindling audience. I'd like to share some feedback in response to these concerns.

I'm open to criticism. First, I appreciate that someone cared enough to share disagreements. I'm always open to critique. No one has these issues all figured out. One of the elements of a religious diplomacy approach is not to ignore differences, but to share them with respect. My hope is that my readers are also open to reconsideration of their own perspectives as well in light of my research. I also appreciate the call for more inclusion of a biblical emphasis in addition to the science. Evangelicals are indeed a people of the book, and this must be a facet of any approach that seeks to win the hearts and minds of our tribe.

Scriptural citations alone haven't been persuasive. Having said that, I'd like to offer some thoughts that push back a little on the criticism. Let's begin with the idea that if we want evangelicals to be involved in religious diplomacy that we have to be more biblical. I've acknowledged that more of a biblical emphasis is needed on my part. But we need more than that. Evangelicals have been publishing books, writing journal articles, putting together websites, and producing podcasts for years on how to relate to those in other religions. Some of that has attempted to present an alternative way of engagement that resonates with my own. And yet in spite of this there has been very little by way of an impact in changing negative evangelical mindsets in large scale fashion. According to the Pew Research Center, evangelicals tend to have "cool feelings" toward those in other religions, and a LifeWay survey of pastors showed that most Protestants see Islam as dangerous and responsible for the promotion of violence. If our past citations of biblical texts hasn't altered such evangelical perceptions, will continued citation of them, with no other change of approach, make a fresh impact?

Psychology of biblical interpretation. Then there's the issue of conflicting interpretations. Progressive evangelicals cite particular biblical texts to emphasize concerns for fairness in regards to Muslim immigrants, whereas many conservative evangelicals cite particular biblical texts to warn against them since they are seen as threats to safety and purity. Why the differing emphases and biblical texts used for justification? The matter is more complex than simply citing the Bible as an authority. A part of what my research is trying to understand is the differing psychologies that are underneath the scriptures we appeal to in defense our our methodologies of multi-faith engagement. Our hermeneutical approaches are complex and multifaceted, and if we don't understand this and incorporate biblical references as a part of an informed strategy for change we won't be able to persuade those in our tribe of another way.  

Strategic approaches with scripture. So perhaps what is needed then is a strategic understanding and use of scripture. Just as theologians have helped the church unpack the meaning of the biblical text using various scholarly tools, and missiologists have helped contextualize and communicate the biblical message for different cultural contexts, those involved in multi-faith engagement must be strategic in the way they handle scripture. It must be an important part of making the case for positive multi-faith engagement for evangelicals, but it has to be utilized in a way that moves beyond mere citation that ignores other factors in the mix. 

Christian faithfulness aided by scripture and science. One of the other concerns was that my emphasis on the essence might come at the expense of Christian faithfulness. I agree that Christians are called to faithfulness in many areas of life, including multi-faith engagement. As I see it, biblical teaching and examples are clear with the call to love our God, neighbors, and enemy, and the example of Jesus in his ministry in reaching out to Gentiles and Samaritans. This biblical aspect is illuminated further by consideration of scientific studies on intergroup conflict and prejudice. If we are called to love our neighbors, why in many social contexts do we not do this, and instead seek to protect the Christian ingroup? Disciplines like social psychology and social neuroscience can help us understand our thinking and behavior in relation to our theology and praxis of multi-faith engagement. They compliment one another, in my view. 

What concerns do you have, 'cause it seems biblical to me. Finally, let me end where I started, with a stated openness to feedback and criticism. Some of what my research has discovered might make us uncomfortable, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Much of the biblical tradition makes us uncomfortable. The question is how we modify our lives to accommodate it. But if research and conclusions seem problematic at places as part of an approach to improve evangelical responses to the world's religions, then I'm all ears. Let the conversation begin. Your feedback can help me learn how to frame the issues for a more receptive audience.  

John Morehead