Evangelicals explore interfaith encounter at St Ethelburga's



Kerry Coke (Salvation Army) and Hannah Wallace (Tony Blair Faith Foundation)

Sixty evangelical Christians met on 8 July at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in a ground-breaking private consultation to explore the issues raised in building relationships with people of other faiths. The event took place in connection with Edinburgh 2010 which is a multi-denominational and international project set up to commemorate the 1910 World Missionary Conference. 

Dr Paul Hedges (Winchester University), a self-confessed pluralist, stimulated a vigorous and far-ranging debate by mapping the broad spectrum of possible Christian orientations towards other faiths. Dr Daniel Strange (Oak Hill Theological College), Dr Nicholas Wood (Regents Park College) and Dr R. David Muir (Former Executive Director at the Evangelical Alliance responsible for Public Policy and Public Theology) responded by setting out the scriptural basis on which relationships could be built. 

Workshop sessions explored inter-religious conflict (Dr Jane Clements – Forum for Discussion of Israel Palestine), “who’s saved?” (Dr David HilbornNorth Thames Ministerial Training College and former Head of Theology at the Evangelical Alliance) and the relationship between evangelism and interfaith dialogue (Sarah Snyder – Cambridge Interfaith Programme). The consultation also heard powerful contribution from Dr Andrew Smith (Scripture Union) about his work bringing young Christians and Muslims together and from Nick and Kerry Coke (Salvation Army) about living out the gospel amongst the Muslim community of Stepney. 

Dr Andrew Smith (Director of Youth Encounter for Scripture Union) said: “This was a timely and useful event that enabled evangelicals to consider seriously Biblical approaches to interfaith encounters. By including both theoretical and practical ideas the day encouraged participants to consider how theology and practice inform each other. I’m sure that initiatives such as this will equip evangelicals to take seriously their engagement with people from different faith traditions” 

Sarah Hulme (Three Faiths Forum) affirmed: “This day was a resounding success, it was extremely exciting to see so many evangelicals gathered together committed to taking part in interfaith activities and prepared to wrestle with some tough questions to achieve that. My hope and prayer is that they take that message back to the wider evangelical community!” 

Julian Bond (Christian Muslim Forum) comments: “For those struggling to decide whether they are Exclusivists, Inclusivists, Pluralists or Particularists one of the speakers, Dr Nicholas Wood, offered this Biblical verse full of generosity to other religious expressions – ‘Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.’ (Malachi 1. 10,11)” 

St Ethelburga’s Director Simon Keyes said: “I think we succeeded in creating a safe space for evangelicals to talk frankly about the issues that arise in relation to other faiths. It was a very good natured and illuminating day which mapped out the ground on which evangelicals can relate to non-Christians. We’re certainly going to encourage further exploration of this fascinating territory which is crucial to the future of multi-religious Britain.”

Audio recordings and more information about the event can be found here.

St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, an independent, Christian-led charity, arose from the ruins of the mediaeval church of St Ethelburga destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993. Since 2004 it has served as a unique Centre for Reconciliation and Peace which aims “to inspire and equip people to practice reconciliation and peace-making in their communities and lives”. Through a range or public education, youth work, cultural and private dialogue activities it seeks to offer practical help to people in building relationships across divisions of conflict, culture and religion.

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