Thursday, September 25, 2014

Overcoming religious divisiveness: Robert Hunt on Grace Upon Grace: A World Transformed by Grace

Today's post is the latest in a series of posts that are re-examining the mission document of The United Methodist Church, Grace Upon Grace (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990). Various United Methodist mission professors and practitioners are re-examining this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today. This piece is written by Dr. Robert Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education, Professor of Christian Mission and Interreligious Relations, and Director, Center for Evangelism and Missional Church Studies at Perkins School of Theology. Dr. Hunt is commenting on the tenth section of the document, "A World Transformed By Grace." Use the "Grace Upon Grace" tag to identify other posts in this series.

Grace upon Grace draws upon a central concept, “Grace received is motive of mission.” (Para 61) to address two issues that remain as relevant today as when it was written: the ways in which humans are divided by "nation, color, clan, creed, or culture,” (para 62) and the reality of plurality of religions and ideologies. (para 63)

What is interesting at a distance of decades is that nation, color, clan, creed, and culture are seen as almost intrinsically divisive so that mission is “resisting principalities and powers to love across boundaries,” while religions and ideologies are characterized as part of the “broader community” in which God’s grace is preveniently present. Thus grace received motivates resistance on one hand and "listening sensitively" on the other.

Reading these paragraphs in 2014 I am struck by the naiveté with regard to religious differences, as if they could be dealt with in the framework of a universal prevenient grace in tension with the universal claims of the gospel rather than the divisiveness of the principalities and powers.

The fact is that we find across the Muslim world Islamist zealots engaged in the systematic killing of all non-Muslims and even Muslim sectarians as well as the complete destruction of non-Muslim culture. In Europe we have rising anti-Jewish acts and vitriol from across Europe’s religious and political spectrum. And in Jewish Israel there is the specter of rising violence toward Arab Muslims. In India a Hindu nationalist party has taken power, shaking further the tenuous ground on which non-Hindus, and particularly Christians already stand in a nation where thousands have died in recent years in Hindu attacks on Muslims and Christians. In Burma the UN has confirmed Buddhist attacks on Muslim minorities, leading to both death and widespread destruction. Nor are American Christians free of guilt in this regard. If not yet expressed so violently, Pew Foundation surveys show that Christian attitudes toward many non-Christian religions range from negative to virulently hateful.

But let us assume, for a moment, that those reading this document are, or want to be, free from that kind of bigotry. Is it enough to listen sensitively and with equal sensitivity present the claims of Christ?

I fear not. Religions and ideologies are every bit as much a creation of and tool of human sin as nation, color, clan, creed, and culture. We must recognize that they are, all of them including our own, a realm in which evil is actively at work in the world today even as we recognize that God’s prevenient grace is present also.

And this calls for a missionary analysis of the religions that goes much further that Grace Upon Grace.

A beginning would be to recognize that none of the so-called “world religions” has actually realized its claims to transcend human divisions based on ethnicity, culture, tribe, and clan. They are not what Grace Upon Grace imagines them to be. On the contrary they are, practically speaking, partners in divisiveness with these other forms of exclusive identity. All, including our own, are in thrall to the principalities and powers.

Put less abstractly, within none of them has there emerged a popular consensus regarding the actual social and political mechanisms necessary for fruitful living in a peaceful, multi-religious, nation and world. Christians are largely stuck in Enlightenment concepts of nationhood and civil religion. The great majority of Muslims continue to harken back to essentially medieval concepts of religiously plural states. Hindus have come no further, or at best are divided between pre-modern and modern views. Israel, supposedly a secular state for Jews, continues in an internal crisis of identity related to religion that is partially to blame for its failures with its neighbors. And where Buddhists control government (Thailand, Burma) they likewise cannot imagine a truly religiously plural society and are thus beset by sectarian conflict.

This is not to deny the existence of vigorous “public theologians” in the midst of these religions. It is simply to note that they are a tiny, largely unheard and unaccepted voice.

Seeing this requires that perhaps we view religions, including our own, differently. Religious traditions never interact. Only religious people and religious communities interact. Faiths never interact, only faithful people and communities. Religion never appears to us except in the guise of its gathered followers, just as Christ never appears to others except in the guise of churches.

And this means we need, now more than ever, a dialogue grounded in the political and social realities of a religiously plural world and not in airy conversations about theological abstractions. We need dialogue that leads directly to reconciliation and common action to build communities, not intellectual assent (or dissent) regarding irreconcilable dogmas. And we need a dialogue not among scholars and theologians, but among the real leaders of our religious communities and their real followers.

Above all we need a dialogue focused on the nature of a modern multi-religious state. Anything else is whistling in the rising hurricane of religious bigotry and violence that increasingly makes use of state powers.

Without this, dialogue itself becomes a tool of the very principalities and powers that we must resist.

At the center of paragraph 63 are two statements about what faith requires. Both should earn easy affirmation. “Our faith requires that we present our commitment with integrity; our faith requires that we respect the integrity of others.” Too easy.

In today’s world what Christian faith requires is a vigorous apologetic in the face of vicious intellectual attacks from both non-Christians  and anti-Christian ideologues. What faith requires is that we respect others enough to hold them accountable for their words and actions, and to hold ourselves accountable for our own undertaken in the name of Christ. What faith requires is that the innocent, the widow, the orphan, the weak, the poor, be protected regardless of their religion and often in spite of it.

What faith requires is an open eyed recognition that religion is at least as much a problem as a solution to the violent divisiveness in our world, and that unless all religious people find a way together to imagine otherwise, it will rightly be rejected by coming generations. There was a time before Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Unless religious people begin to engage in real dialogue there will come a time when they are no more.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Trip promotes global awareness by UMC leaders

A group of United Methodist denominational leaders recently made a trip to the East Congo Episcopal Area.  The trip, organized by the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) and the Mission Engagement leadership team of the Council of Bishops, took them on a tour through the episcopal area, the newest in the UMC connection.  Participating in the trip were Thomas Kemper, general secretary of GBGM; Barbara Boigegrain, general secretary of the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits (GBOPHB); Erin Hawkins, general secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR); Yvette Richards, president of the United Methodist Women (UMW) in the United States; Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Philadelphia Area; Bishop William McAlilly of the Nashville Area; and Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda of the North Katanga Area.  This was the first such trip organized by GBGM and the Council of Bishops, and more are planned in future years.

The participants in the trip were invited to see some of the exciting work that's going on in the East Congo Episcopal Area.  While that is good work blessed by the Spirit, the real story is about the trip itself.  The trip represents a significant step in helping denomination-level leaders in the UMC understand through experiences what is going on in the connection outside of their own country.  While Bishop Ntanda may have had some sense of what was going on in East Congo already, the trip was especially important for the American church leaders.  In the United States, it's fairly easy to get word about what's going on in other conference in the US.  Traditional and social media, personal connections, and a series of conferences and other events facilitate a fast flow of information.  What's significantly harder for American United Methodists is getting good and regular information about other areas of the connection.  (I know, since I have to do that on a regular basis for this blog.)  Personal exposure to the work of the church elsewhere provides information and knowledge in a way nothing else can.

It is, I believe, particularly significant that the general secretaries of GBOPHB and GCORR were part of this trip.  One of the challenges of and questions in rethinking the UMC as a global denomination is the relation of the general boards and agencies to annual conferences outside the United States.  GBGM and UMW have long, long histories of connections to all parts of the denomination around the world.  GBOPHB and GCORR, however, were developed in the United States to address issues specific to the American context.  While GBOPHB has been doing good work over the past decade or so with the Central Conference Pension Initiative, there is more than can be done to make it a resource for all areas of the church around the world.  GCORR currently does not do any work outside the United States (to my knowledge), but its skills in intercultural competency make it a natural resource for helping the church come to terms with itself as a global, culturally diverse entity.  I hope this trip will spark new ideas and new initiatives by GCORR and GBOPHB on a global scale.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Servants among the Nations: John Nuessle on Grace Upon Grace: A World Transformed by Grace

Today's post is the latest in a series of posts that are re-examining the mission document of The United Methodist Church, Grace Upon Grace (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990). Various United Methodist mission professors and practitioners are re-examining this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today. This piece is written by Rev. Dr. John Nuessle, retired from the leadership staff at the General Board of Global Ministries. Dr. Nuessle is commenting on the tenth section of the document, "A World Transformed By Grace." Use the "Grace Upon Grace" tag to identify other posts in this series.

Servants defined as agents of God’s liberating and reconciling grace among the nations.  What a fantastic statement of Christian calling!  I could say quite a bit about what it means to be agents of liberation and reconciliation. I think, however, that the real essential genius of this passage, if not of the whole of Grace Upon Grace, is the recognition that transformed people in a transformed world are not simply a collection of nicely converted individuals, but rather our goal is to transform whole “people groups,” or in the Biblical term, “the nations.”  We are called to serve as agents of God’s liberating and reconciling grace among the nations, meaning that our call is to whole ethnic communities and affinity groups of God’s people.  All our efforts and focus as Christians should be toward offering grace to both whole people and whole nations – to all the persons in a self-identified cultural context, who thus see themselves as a unique whole.

So often our well intentioned efforts and strategies in mission and evangelism are focused on the old…and very theologically incorrect…idea of “winning them one by one.”  This style of Christian mission results either in total failure (very often), or in the creation of a strange type of Christian church in which everyone is out to get to heaven on their own good behavior, a perverse style of faith expression that is all too common in the United States.  Heaven help us if we continue to promote individualistic believers who only worship a God who is like themselves.

The call of this section of Grace Upon Grace is the same call to our mission and evangelism work that is found throughout the Scriptures.  That is, to call groups of humans into Christian community this is interconnected with all other Christian communities.  This is the New Creation Paul preaches.  This is how we relate people to their contexts and with interconnected contexts globally, a real witness to the whole Body of Christ, not a collection of body parts.

The work of the General Board of Global Ministries, in cooperation and collaboration with mission-supporting annual conferences and congregations globally, is toward development of  new faith communities – church growth if you will – and is always an effort to establish the church in a whole nation or among an entire ethnic-based contextual setting.  We have not gone forth seeking “individual converts” that would make “individualistic Christians,” a clearly un-Biblical notion.  We sought to call groups – families, villages, affinity groups, etc – into gathered Christian worshipping and serving communities of faith.  These localized communities would always be quickly interconnected with other similar bodies in nearly areas, as much as possible.  As the call of Christ in Acts 1:8, witnessing to the whole Word of God for the whole people of God, in Jerusalem (local), Judea and Samaria (nation), and to the ends of the Earth.

In all this we are servants of the community of God, known to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whose grace is unreservedly shared with all who would be open to receive this new life.  Transformed; reconciled; leaving behind the old ways and old life of personal gain, individual seeking, and privatized faith.  We move into a bright new world of servants seeking to serve God and one another with justice, mercy, and forgiveness.

Is this an easy process?  Not on your life, new or otherwise!  It is likely the most difficult series of tasks and responsibilities we can encounter.  And this is partly because the cultural ground – the contexts of living – for all of us keeps moving and changing.  Just when we think we are on solid footing with our church plans and programs, with our strategies and methodologies, we discover that none of these any longer work.  We live in a dynamic world which requires our constant reassessment and evaluation of our life of faith and engagement in God’s Mission.

That’s why we have grace.  God loves us unconditionally, and then calls us to keep at it.  What a Mighty God We Serve!  What powerful Grace is ours, heaped Upon Grace.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Two tech lessons from Apple, ICT4D & theological e-readers

Apple made technology headlines recently with two significant stories.  First, the widely-anticipated iPhone 6, the latest model in Apple's hugely popular series of smartphones, goes on sale this week. Pre-sales are at record-setting levels. Second, Apple announced a new product, the Apple Watch, which will extend their suit of integrated mobile computing devices into a new form - the wristwatch.  Apple's not the first to develop such a product, but it was still met with great excitement.

Two significant technology stories also happened in the UMC recently.  The first of these was the Game Changers Summit, an ICT4D (information and communication technology for development) conference sponsored by The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection and Episcopal Relief and Development.  The conference was a showcase for ways in which technology is transforming lives in developing countries, and the coverage of the event at the above link is well worth reading.

The second story was the announcement of the continuation and expansion of GBHEM and GBOD's e-readers for theological education program.  As this blog previously reported, the program pilot provided theology students at United Methodist-affiliated Gbarnga School of Theology in Liberia with the opportunity to read class materials on solar-charged e-readers.  The program renewal will also extend to sixteen United Methodist theology schools in Africa and four United Methodist theology schools in the Philippines.

What can we learn from juxtaposing Apple's tech stories with the UMC's?  The comparison can teach us two important things about the use of technology globally in comparison to how the United States uses technology.

1. It's about having the right technology, not the newest technology.

Part of what made Apple aficionados so excited about the release of the iPhone 6 is that it's new.  Yes, it has improvements and better features, but newness in technology is a fetish for Americans.  Technology is like fashion for Americans - nobody wants to be caught with last year's model; it makes you look behind the times.

Yet in many parts of the world, having the newest technology is just not possible, for reasons of cost, distribution, and lack of infrastructure to support it.  That doesn't mean, however, that technology can't change people's lives and in much more significant ways than upgrading from the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 6.  Several of the stories from ICT4D talked about ways in which regular mobile phones and text messages were being used to implement public health projects.  No 4G or mobile streaming were necessary; indeed, that infrastructure is not widespread in Africa.  Text messaging is, though, and that made it the right solution for communicating to large numbers of people.  The same is true of the e-reader project.  While e-readers are newer than mobile phones, they're not as new or flashy as tablets, but they are cheaper and get better battery life, which is important for the project.  These solutions to problems relied on technologies that have been around for years, but they were the right technologies.  It didn't matter whether or not they were the newest technology.

2. High tech and low tech can coexist.

Traditional watches have fallen in popularity in the US with the rise of cell phones, especially smart phones.  Who wants to have such an old-fashioned, single-use piece of equipment when one can use a high-tech, multi-function device instead?  The Apple Watch aims to change how people think about watches by upgrading the traditional watch to also be high-tech and multi-function.  Moreover, the Apple Watch will undoubtedly integrate with all other Apple products, as that is one of Apple's prime selling points - all your various Apple technology devices will all work seamlessly together.

The ICT4D stories from the Game Changers Summit and the e-readers project, though, happen in settings where seamless integration of various technology devices is not a concern, since many of these settings don't have multiple high-tech devices to integrate.  Some settings don't even have things Americans would consider basic to technology, like a reliable power supply or internet access.  That doesn't mean, however, that technology can't be used in such settings.  Low tech in some regards does not imply low tech in all regards, and high tech in some regards does not require high tech in all regards.  Electric supply may be an issue in parts of Africa, but solar chargers allow e-readers and some ICT4D technology to function just fine without a power grid.

Technology is revolutionizing how people live all around the world.  Nevertheless, how technology does that and what technologies are doing that differ.  Apple announcements may set Westerners all astir, but it doesn't take an Apple confab to change lives elsewhere.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The church as witnessing community: Joon-Sik Park on Grace Upon Grace: A World Transformed by Grace

Today's post is the latest in a series of posts that are re-examining the mission document of The United Methodist Church, Grace Upon Grace (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990). Various United Methodist mission professors and practitioners are re-examining this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today. This piece is written by Dr. Joon-Sik Park, E. Stanley Jones Chair of World Evangelism at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. Dr. Park is commenting on the tenth section of the document, "A World Transformed By Grace." Use the "Grace Upon Grace" tag to identify other posts in this series.

Paragraph 59 “Incorporation” is a part of the section titled “A World Transformed by Grace.” Central to Christian mission is our witness to the transforming grace of Jesus. We proclaim the gospel and invite persons to decision for and commitment to Jesus and his reign. This paragraph calls attention, first, to the fact that the invitation is also to the fellowship, which is not only with God but also with one another. Second, those who are incorporated into the Body of Christ have different functions and diverse gifts, yet they above all share in the mission of Christ.

When the gospel is shared, the lives of the witness and the one invited to Christian faith are also to be shared. Important questions in Christian witness then are whether we are willing to share our lives with others and to share in the lives of others, and whether our community of faith is willing to be a home for all even with a place for strangers. Churches unwilling to extend community to people of differences would end up practicing what Charles Van Engen calls “a separation between church and mission.” Do United Methodist congregations, engaging in mission, seek to build relationships across racial, cultural, and socioeconomic differences? Or do they pursue exclusive forms of Christian witness and church formation?

When persons are incorporated into the Body of Christ, the demands, as well as the promise, of the gospel are to be made clear. The church in every generation has to grapple with a question about the ethical content of conversion. Authentic conversion involves a fundamental reorientation of life based on a radical commitment to the teachings of Jesus; there cannot be a separation between faith and obedience or between belief and practice. The gospel-sharing in the New Testament is always a call to repentance, belief in Jesus as God’s Son, and commitment to follow Jesus and his way. Do United Methodist congregations seek to be concrete in their communication about the meaning of Jesus’ teachings for the life-context of those hearing and responding to the gospel? Or are they content to live with abstract and vague Christian discipleship?

Paragraph 59 rightly says that “all who are ‘in Christ’ share in the mission of Christ.” As the International Missionary Council at Willingen well put it, “There is no participation in Christ without participation in his mission to the world.” When persons are incorporated into Christian fellowship, they are also called to participate in Jesus’ mission, embracing God’s purposes and priorities for which Jesus was sent. Yet, we often fall into the error of separating “personal salvation (one’s receiving the benefits of salvation) from the missional purpose for which we are called and saved” (Darrell Guder, The Incarnation and the Church’s Witness, 16-7). Our experience of the transforming grace of Jesus should, however, lead to our becoming witnesses to that grace.

For the genuine recovery of the church’s mission, there has to be a radical transformation in ecclesiology. Mission should no longer be understood as a program of the church, but as integral to its identity and calling. The church is a missionary community by its very nature and vocation; mission is intrinsic to the very life and calling of the church. The church is called to participate in mission not for institutional survival, but for the kind of community it has been created to be. Only when members of a Christian community understand mission in relation to their basic identity, can the biblical sense of mission be recovered. Do United Methodist congregations view mission as central to who they are? Or are they occupied only with the benefits of salvation?

When the church understands itself as a witnessing community, mission cannot be disconnected from the corporate life of the church. This is so because the concrete life of a believing community is an essential expression of the credibility of the gospel to which it bears witness. Mission is thus practicable and feasible only when there is a community whose life reflects authentic differences from the rest of the world. A future United Methodist mission statement should help the church be aware of and overcome reductionisms: separation between church and mission, separation between faith and obedience, and separation between personal salvation and the missional call.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Talking about a global denomination

This blog has been dedicated to fostering conversations about the global nature of the UMC, but fortunately, we're not the only show in town doing that.  Various other groups within The United Methodist Church also recognize the pressing importance of issues related to how we structure our common life as a global denomination.  I've reported in the past about the Worldwide Nature of the Church's survey (now closed) which seeks input where to locate decision-making for American issues within a global denomination.  I'd like to highlight two other forms these conversations are taking and how you can be involved.

The first of these is a series of consultations that are happening to help develop a set of global Social Principles for the denomination.  This previous post describes the genesis of the idea of developing a less US-centric and more globally applicable set of Social Principles for the denomination.  That process is being facilitated by seven consultations about the Social Principles in various locations around the denomination: one in the Philippines, three in Africa, one in Europe, and two in the United States.  Each consultation will include about 20 United Methodists meeting for 2-3 days to address three questions:
1. What role do the current Social Principles play in enhancing the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church?
2. How much or how well have the current Social Principles served to empower mission and ministry in your geographical area?
3. What might globally relevant Social Principles look like?

The exciting part about this process is that there's a chance for you to be involved.  The consultation in the Philippines has already happened, and applications for the consultations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique are already closed.  Nevertheless, the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) is still taking applications for consultations in Nigeria, the Czech Republic, and the US.  The deadline for the Nigeria consultation is soon - Sept. 15.  The deadline for the Czech Republic is Oct. 15, and the deadline for both US consultations is Dec. 15.

The other conversation about the global structure of the church was a panel discussion during the recent meeting of the Board of Ordained Ministry (BOM) of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM).  The panel discussed what a global Book of Discipline would mean for ordained ministry, the concern being that some of the current requirements for ordained ministry presume an American context.  Video of the discussion is on YouTube, and the first eight minutes provides an excellent overview of the denomination's plans for a global Book of Discipline.  While it's obviously too late to participate in this conversation, the entire thing is well worth a watch and then a conversation with other United Methodists.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Humble, receptive evangelism - Jack Jackson on Grace Upon Grace: A World Transformed by Grace

Today's post is the latest in a series of posts that are re-examining the mission document of The United Methodist Church, Grace Upon Grace (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990). Various United Methodist mission professors and practitioners are re-examining this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today. This piece is written by Dr. Jack Jackson, E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism, Mission, and Global Methodism at Claremont School of Theology. Dr. Jackson is commenting on the tenth section of the document, "A World Transformed By Grace." Use the "Grace Upon Grace" tag to identify other posts in this series.

Does the world need to be transformed?  If so how, and to what end?  This is a central question for Christian churches in the 21st Century.  I find Grace Upon Grace both a compelling and frustrating document.  It is compelling in that its aim is to provide an overarching vision for mission from a United Methodist perspective.  In some ways it succeeds as it touches on many important elements of mission.  But it is a frustrating document in that it is at times repetitive, vague, and historically incomplete.  Many of my colleagues provided overviews of the document in previous posts so I will refrain.  I will only say that I share both Robert Hunt’s and Carlos-Cordoza-Orlandi’s observation that the document, in its effort to be inclusive, ends up ignoring significant individuals and communities that inform United Methodist understandings of mission.  Of course it is impossible to include everyone in a document of this length, but Grace Upon Grace would be stronger if it were more succinct.

But back to the question in the beginning, does the world need to be transformed?  Grace Upon Grace’s answer is an emphatic “Yes!”  This world is marred by “egoism, nationalism, racism, classism, militarism, and sexism” (par. 56) that will not prevail when the reign of God comes in its fullness.   Central to the church’s mission, according to Grace Upon Grace, is to witness to this reality.

For the remainder of this section Grace Upon Grace discusses the concept of “witness” in United Methodism, namely proclamation (par. 57 and 63), evangelism (par. 58), incorporation (par. 59), and servanthood (par. 60 and 64).  I found this section a bit cumbersome as it confuses the concept of evangelism (defining it only as inviting people to faith in Christ as opposed to the Biblical idea of proclamation) and because it addresses the idea of servanthood in a repetitive manner throughout the entire document.  But the main points do come through and can be affirmed.

United Methodists believe the gospel must be announced.  The world does not intuit either God’s love or the particular story of Jesus that we believe most clearly demonstrates God’s love.  God’s grace must be articulated if it is to be understood, believed, and claimed.  The reality of the beautifully diverse religious landscape in our world today demonstrates the need for the gospel to be announced.   While Christians share with many other religious and non-religious communities similar ethical and moral values, the motivations behind our ethical systems are quite different.  Grace Upon Grace affirms the need for United Methodists to articulate the motivations for what drives us in our plural world.

Grace Upon Grace rightly affirms the need to articulate our understanding of the story of Christ both humbly and receptively.  We do so humbly because even as Christians we are still a broken people who understand this story of Christ dimly, as through a cloudy vessel.   For example we United Methodists admit we made mistakes in the past in our understanding of what a transformed world looks like.  Perhaps this is no clearer than in the issues of slavery and women in Christian leadership, specifically the ordained ministry.  We repented.  We acknowledge we need to keep hearing the gospel story so that it continues to transform us.  And yet even as we repent, yearn to hear the gospel story again, and acknowledge that we see and understand Christ dimly, we also humbly offer Christ to the world for we know no greater good news. 

We articulate Jesus both humbly and receptively, for usually only if we truly listen to others articulate their own vision of transformation will others listen to our vision.  Par. 63 describes this need to listen to others even as we articulate, or present, Christ to the world.   Perhaps E. Stanley Jones’ model of the round table is an appropriate model for interfaith conversations in the 21st century.  Jones’ round table provided a venue where people of different faiths, or no faith at all, could sit as equals in voicing their deepest beliefs, motivations, and dreams for the world.  But Jones knew the round table was only effective if all people were both willing to evangelize and be evangelized.   He was ultimately a seeker of truth and he wanted to hear others’ understanding of truth and offer the most beautiful truth he had found in Jesus.  He believed the vision of life offered in Jesus was greater than any other vision and he was willing to test it.  If the world is to be transformed it will only be through a community that humbly admits its weaknesses, listens to other visions for the human community, and offers its own vision of a world in the image of our crucified and risen lord.