Review: Connecting Christ

July 12th, 2012

Before offering my review of Paul Louis Metzger’s Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths (Thomas Nelson, 2012), I want to begin with a disclosure. I served as a Director of the United Methodist General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns from 1988-1996. That experience was formative in shaping my understanding of interreligious dialogue. One purpose of the commission has been to advocate and work for the establishment and strengthening of relationship with other living faith communities, and to further dialogue with persons of other faiths, cultures, and ideologies.

I certainly acknowledge a range of viewpoints within the United Methodist family and the larger Christian community regarding the purpose of interfaith work. The perspective I embrace is that of understanding, respect, and humility as dialogue partners share authentically from the depths of their respective faith understanding. The goal of such dialogue is not conversion, though dialogue partners must be willing to mutually acknowledge the possibility of conversion as deeply held convictions are shared as authentically and persuasively as possible in order for the dialogue and understanding to be truly rich and deep.

Paul Louis Metzger starts from a very different premise and convincingly argues a different point of view in Connecting Christ. For Metzger, as for many evangelical Christians, all people are created by God and wired for relationship with Christ. The goal of interfaith work is therefore to witness to Christ in ways that are so compelling, convincing, and winsome as to facilitate the work of the Holy Spirit in revealing the truth of Christ Jesus. For readers starting from this same premise, I have no doubt that Metzger’s work will be both challenging and instructive.

Metzger’s approach eschews marketing and sloganeering. He argues instead for what he calls relational-incarnational apologetics, that is, interpersonal and life-on-life encounters involving the investment of the whole of one’s person and community. Only through such authenticity and vulnerability, Metzger maintains, can others be drawn into the reality of God’s saving love for them through Jesus Christ. He develops this approach as an overall framework, then in discussion of particular faith groups, and lastly in relation to several hot-button topics.

Metzger’s chapters on Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism, Mormonism, and what he calls “Nietzschean Atheism,” and “Paganism,” present something of a portrait of the basic beliefs of each group as experienced through the lives of individuals and relationships with each. This holds true with his “relational-incarnational” apologetic—it is much more about people’s lives, feelings and experiences than abstract faith constructs. He is both clear about his convictions and frank about his questions of the other’s faith. And he is consistent in longing for each to come to know the fullness of Christ’s love and all that that might mean for their lives.

His chapters on hot-button issues—consumerism, homosexuality, evolution, and fascism represent his attempt to approach people of other worldviews from the same sort of relational-incarnational base. This part of the book is uneven, though still thought-provoking and helpful in exploring how most persuasively to present the fullness of life in Christ.

John Wesley cautioned about the pride that comes from thinking that others have nothing to teach us, most especially those with whom we strongly disagree. Point well taken. Connecting Christ will challenge your views on the goal and purpose of interfaith work. Whether or not you agree with Metzger’s main premise, you will be prodded to reflect on how and what you share, in good faith, with others whose beliefs differ from your own. What is salvific? What is condescending? What is essential? What is truth? Who and where and how and why is God in all of it? And as the multitudes as Jesus, so still we ask: “what then shall we do?”

comments powered by Disqus