A recent interview in Christianity Today, which concerned the subject of Jewish and Christian interfaith dialogue, has spawned some interesting commentary from a Jewish woman's blog and an article by John Spalding at the Revealer web site.
The interview subjects were co-authors, one Jewish and one conservative Christian, of a book titled The Christian and the Pharisee. The conservative Christian author, R. T. Kendall, expresses a set of disturbing (but not surprising) attitudes towards the Judaism of his dialogue partner, Rabbi David Rosen. Kendall, for example, saw the interfaith dialogue not as a forum for a mutually respectful interchange of perspectives, but as an opportunity for proselytizing his "dialogue" partner. I put the word "dialogue" in scare quotes here because this to me not the basis for a true dialogue. Kendall said such things as
I don't see this as only dialogue. I had one sincere desire, and that was to present the gospel to David with the love I feel for him so that the Holy Spirit would arrest him like Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus.and
If I'm right, you will go to hell when you die.When you have an ulterior motive of proselytizing, then in my view that is not being respectful towards one's dialogue partner. That is especially not the case if you think the other person is going to hell on account of their beliefs. Unfortunately, Jews have been subjected to this kind of attitude from Christians for the last two millennia. They know the score quite well.
To me, though, another interesting thing about this "dialogue" was the cluelessness on Kendall's part as he insisted on characterizing Rosen's faith in terms of his own faith paradigm; he never really seemed to recognize that Rosen had a different set of working assumptions about his faith that did not revolve around Kendall's own concepts of justification and salvation--and he blithely spoke to Rosen as if Rosen himself had these assumptions. I think that this is a byproduct of his dogmatism--where he seems unable to step outside of himself and understand and appreciate that his paradigm isn't the only one out there. This is especially a problem among some conservative Christians when they discuss Judaism, because it is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that since Christianity emerged out of the historical Jewish faith, both religions are just different ways of solving the same theological "problem" that Christianity identifies with respect to personal salvation and justification before God. But that isn't necessarily so.
Spalding's comments on this aspect of the "dialogue" were quite accurate:
Clearly, Rosen’s grasp of Christianity far exceeds Kendall’s understanding of Judaism, and whereas Kendall is hell-bent on getting Rosen, who is the president of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, to heed the Holy Spirit and accept Christ, Rosen tries patiently to get Kendall to understand the paradigmatic differences between their beliefs.What you get is a simple repetition of standard conservative Christian talking points. But talking at people isn't the same as talking with them.
But there is more to this whole problem of interfaith dialogue, I think. I would argue that many conservative Christians make the mistake of equating their own paradigm with the Christian framework as a whole. I'm just inventing terminology here--maybe there is a better way of putting this--but by that I mean that the conservative Christian paradigm (heaven, hell, justification, sin, atonement, and so on) is not the same as the overall Christian framework that consists of a broadly interrelated and intertwined family of theologies that have their origin in the life and teachings of a man named Jesus. Each of the world's major faiths--such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism--has its own overall framework, but within each framework there exists a broad spectrum of theological paradigms. There are, to be sure, tolerant and respectful paradigms, and there are also intolerant ones. Inter-religious dialogue is not really possible as long as one adheres to an intolerant paradigm. But what I call the paradigm is not the same as what I am calling the framework. The frameworks can hold dialogues with one another, even if some of their individual paradigms cannot.
I do believe that the hope for inter-religious dialogue can be found among those who are open and tolerant within their respective faith frameworks. (This is true of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others--it doesn't matter what framework you start from.) It cannot happen between those who are stuck in their own dogmatism, who think that their way is the only right one, or who disrespectfully use dialogue as a tool of proselytizing rather than as a means of mutual respect and understanding.