The problem is that the needed reformation within evangelicalism won’t occur at all if false ideas that undermine our core theological convictions cannot be openly attacked and excluded. When peaceful coexistence “with our deepest differences” becomes priority one and conflict per se is demonized as inherently sub-Christian, any and every false religious belief can and will demand an equal voice in the “conversation.”
That has actually been happening for some time already. Listen, for example, to what some of the leading voices in and around the Emergent movement have said. Tony Campolo is a popular speaker and author who has a major influence in evangelical circles. He believes evangelicals should be in dialogue with Islam, seeking common ground. In an interview conducted by Shane Claiborne,Campolo said:
I think that the last election aggravated a significant minority of the evangelical community, believing that they did not want to come across as anti-gay, anti-women, anti-environment, pro war, pro capital punishment, and anti-Islam. There is going to be one segment of evangelicalism, just like there is one segment in Islam that is not going to be interested in dialogue. But there are other evangelicals who will want to talk and establish a common commitment to a goodness with Islamic people and Jewish people particularly.
Brian McLaren is perhaps the best-known figure in the Emergent conversation. He thinks the future of the planet—not to mention the salvation of religion itself (including Christianity)—depends on a cooperative search for the real meaning of Jesus’ message. In McLaren’s assessment, this means an ongoing dialogue between Christians and followers of all other religions. This, he is convinced, is of the utmost urgency:
In an age of global terrorism and rising religious conflict, it’s significant to note that all Muslims regard Jesus as a great prophet, that many Hindus are willing to consider Jesus as a legitimate manifestation of the divine, that many Buddhists see Jesus as one of humanity’s most enlightened people, and that Jesus himself was a Jew, and without understanding his Jewishness, one doesn’t understand Jesus. A shared reappraisal of Jesus’ message could provide a unique space or common ground for urgently needed religious dialogue—and it doesn’t seem an exaggeration to say that the future of our planet may depend on such dialogue. This reappraisal of Jesus’ message may be the only project capable of saving a number of religions, including Christianity.
Indiscriminate congeniality, the quest for spiritual common ground, and peace at any price all naturally have great appeal, especially in an intellectual climate where practically the worst gaffe any thoughtful person could make is claiming to know what’s true when so many other people think something else is true. Besides, dialogue does sound nicer than debate. Who but a fool wouldn’t prefer a calm conversation instead of conflict and confrontation?
In fact, let’s state this plainly once more: Generally speaking, avoiding conflicts is a good idea. Warmth and congeniality are normally preferable to cold harshness. Civility, compassion, and good manners are in short supply these days, and we ought to have more of them. Gentleness, a soft answer, and a kind word usually go farther than an argument or a rebuke. That which edifies is more helpful and more fruitful in the long run than criticism. Cultivating friends is more pleasant and more profitable than crusading against enemies. And it’s ordinarily better to be tender and mild rather than curt or combative—especially to the victims of false teaching.
But those qualifying words are vital: usually, ordinarily, generally. Avoiding conflict is not always the right thing. Sometimes it is downright sinful. Particularly in times like these, when almost no error is deemed too serious to be excluded from the evangelical conversation, and while the Lord’s flock is being infiltrated by wolves dressed like prophets, declaring visions of peace when there is no peace (cf. Ezekiel 13:16). Even the kindest, gentlest shepherd sometimes needs to throw rocks at the wolves who come in sheep’s clothing. (The Jesus You Can’t Ignore: What You Must Learn from the Bold Confrontations of Christ, 17-19)