Paul L. Caron

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Inazu: How Can Christian Faculty Be Interfaith Leaders?

John Inazu (Washington University; Google Scholar), How Can Christian Faculty Be Interfaith Leaders?:

Proper 2In an earlier post, I discussed the importance of pursuing interfaith engagement without compromising core religious values. In contrast to some interfaith efforts that ignore or downplay differences, I suggested that meaningful interfaith relationships acknowledge and work across deep differences. This commitment grounds my friendship with Eboo Patel, the founder and president of Interfaith America.

Last month, Interfaith America (where I serve as a Senior Fellow) announced a new initiative with The Carver Project (an organization I founded five years ago). The initiative, which we’re calling the Newbigin Fellows, brings together cohorts of Christian faculty working at non-Christian institutions. These cohorts meet monthly over Zoom and then convene in person with the goal of cultivating relationships with one another, reflecting on the theory and practice of interfaith engagement, and developing interfaith activities on their respective campuses. ...

We’ve named the Newbigin Fellows after Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998), who developed a theology of interfaith engagement as a missionary in South India and later in life working in a largely dechurched London. His life and work form a useful lens through which to consider the role of the fellows.

As we note on the Newbigin Fellows website:

Christian faculty working at non-Christian universities are uniquely positioned to lead and engage across deep differences, having two feet planted in the worlds of both church and university. Drawing upon the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, Christian faculty can model dialogue and relationships with colleagues, staff, and students of other faiths and of no faith. Learning and understanding how to partner effectively and discover common ground in the pluralistic environment of the university is an essential prerequisite to implementing these skills and practices in a broader society where the stakes are much higher.

One of the most influential books I have ever read is Newbigin’s Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship. As I noted in a 2019 review of the book, I gave copies of it to the groomsmen at my wedding. ... Relying on insights from the philosopher Michael Polanyi, Newbigin distinguishes confidence from post-Cartesian understandings of certainty. Faith depends on confidence, not epistemic certainty, which means that faith is always a commitment based in trust.

Newbigin’s critiques of both liberalism and fundamentalism made him too conservative for liberals and too liberal for conservatives. That is, I think, where many Christian faculty find themselves today.

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