The inter-faith conversations I have been engaging in recently have presented some interesting relational, evangelical and theological challenges as I have sought to establish a strong foundation of relationship, while giving witness to the faith I have in Jesus Christ. Evangelically, I need to trust the work of Holy Spirit to guide these conversations towards truth (John 16:13). Theologically, I need to be faithful with the truth that has been revealed (2 Timothy 3:14-15). Relationally, I need to hold these two in tension as I spend more time listening than convincing, as we seek common ground between our faith perspectives (Acts 17:22-23).
I received an email today from one of the Muslim men that I am building a friendship with through our inter-faith dialogue. He wrote the following in his correspondence with me:
"Religion, if it is to have its natural and proper place in the spiritual life, must be founded upon fact, and the search for and the assimilation of fact is one of the aims of Islam. Let we, together strive to search for the FACTS, after all only true faith leads to true path which can earn pleasure of God, which is ultimate goal of one’s life here on earth."
On the one hand this statement affirms our common search for truth and relationship with "God" yet, on the other hand, it exposes a fundamental difference in our searching, in that, God's pleasure cannot be earned.
"The search for and the assimilation of fact (truth)" is most certainly one of the aims of Christianity also, as we study and apply the Word of God to our lives. From Moses call to the Hebrews to observe and apply the law of God (Deuteronomy 11:18) to Paul's exhortation to continue to live according the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:14), the search for and application of truth is central to being 'people of the Book.'
"True faith" is indeed the pathway towards knowing God, but cannot "earn [the] pleasure of God." While I would affirm with my Muslim friend that the pleasure of God is the "ultimate goal of one's life here on earth," it is not my faith that earns His pleasure but acceptance of His grace that enables me to bring Him pleasure through a life that is lived for His glory. Paul clearly defines the relationship between our faith and God's grace in Ephesians 2:8 - "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."
The more we dialogue with each other the more I see how close we are, yet how distant we are in our faith experiences. I continue to pray that our mutual search for truth will keep leading this inter-faith conversation back to the saving grace of Jesus Christ!