Lessons Learned


James Fleming is an Irish, Roman Catholic priest with extensive experience in Muslim-Christian dialogue. Listed below are some of the learnings he has aquired in his more than 20 years of interfaith work:

  • Relate to others as equal partners in the search for truth
  • Recognize that listening as well as speaking is necessary for a genuine conversation. Remember the words of St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words."
  • Treasure the sense of wonder that comes with encountering the new, the unusual and the surprising. Record such experiences in a journal if possible
  • Be hungry for knowledge about the other person's culture and religion. Learn to understand what others actually believe and value. And allow them to express their beliefs and values in their own terms. This does mean that we cannot, with experience and knowledge, challenge other people's cultural values
  • Be honest in sharing your beliefs and do not try to water them down to accommodate. Other people see through this and lose respect for you
  • Do not mispresent or disparage other peoples' beliefs and practices
  • Be aware of your own need for ongoing conversion to your own professed beliefs. Remember, it is not our job to convert others to our beliefs, but to be faithful to our own
  • Respond to others as a gift, not as a threat
  • Be sensitive to vulnerable people and do not try to exploit them
  • Remember that it's our differences that can make a difference, so rejoice in the richness of our diversities

The Language of Interfaith Conversation

In this article, Canadian multifaith educator, JW Windland, argues that a sensitive use of interfaith language expresses our common humanity, builds relationships of respect and trust, and pursues peace. Click here to read article…

Rights, Responsibilities and Skills of Dialogue

In this chart, American interfaith educator, Patrice Brodeur, demonstrates that for true dialogue to occur, it needs to take place within a protective environment of mutually accepted rights and responsibilities, rooted in two fundamantal values: respect for the human person and trust in the process of dialogue. Click here to view the chart.

Toward A Christian Biblical Understanding Of World Religions

From the beginning the disciple community was surrounded by different cultures and faiths. This community made its way in that multicultural world and grew through its life and witness. The life of Christ, who lived and died and was raised, was present in the power of the Spirit in the life and deeds of the early church. From that life, the early Christians were empowered to serve God's world and to love their neighbour as they had been loved by Jesus Christ.

With the acceptance of Christianity by the reigning powers, there came the temptation to allow those powers to reshape the gospel. As a result, Christians have a sadly chequered history in their attitudes towards their non-Christian neighbours. It was fitting that in 1986 the General Council of the United Church offered an apology to its Native members for the suffering that resulted from confusing European culture with the gospel. In November 1996, at the World Council of Churches' Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, the Conference affirmed, "the gospel is always expressed through culture." In other words, culture (where we live, language, customs, traditions, etc.) affects the way we experience and express the gospel. The way we experience and express the gospel also has its affect on culture.

How are we to understand the saving significance of Jesus Christ in a pluralistic world in which we are called to love our neighbour? It would seem that we have two obligations in this matter: first, to affirm that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Godself; second, to love our neighbour as Christ loved us.

As we come in contact with neighbours, co-workers, or casual acquaintances who embrace other faiths, we see that the same capacity for good and ill that shapes us, shapes them. We are often struck by the "Christian" quality of their lives. How are we to understand our own convictions and commitment to Jesus Christ in relation to them? Can we proclaim God's salvation in Jesus Christ in a way that respects the convictions of those whose faith is different? Can we understand Christ in a way that values other religions and God's work in them? When we say, "Jesus is Saviour," does it mean a clear line is drawn between who is saved and who is not?

There are many ways to describe the relationship of Christianity to other faiths. Here are four approaches (listed alphabetically). You may find that no one approach fits your own understanding.

Exclusivist Approach

  • the only path to God and salvation is an explicit confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord
  • Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God and humanity
  • God's revelation and saving work in the incarnate Christ possesses finality in determining the destiny of all creatures
  • this approach proclaims the importance of membership in the Christian community
  • this approach believes that evangelistic mission is vital
  • those who do not make an explicit confession of faith in Jesus Christ may be excluded from the love and ultimate purposes of God
  • texts such as John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 are cited in support of this position.

Inclusivist Approach

  • the reconciliation of the world takes place uniquely through Jesus Christ
  • the saving work of Christ is essential for peace with God
  • there is room for the salvation of those who make no explicit profession of faith in Christ
  • grace is experienced and Christ is present wherever people experience the goodness of God’s creative love and redemptive mercy
  • Jesus Christ is the Wisdom/Word through which all things were made and through whom all things will be restored and perfected
  • the purpose of evangelistic mission is not so much to save as to enlighten
  • John 1:1-5 and Colossians 1:15-20 are cited in support of this position.

Pluralist Approach

  • there are many paths to God
  • there is no absolute "court of appeal" by which to evaluate the different paths
  • Jesus is the way for Christians, but not necessarily the path for all
  • no single religious tradition can speak with finality about God/spiritual truth/ultimate truth
  • our relationship with other faiths is to be one of respectful dialogue
  • co-operation with other faiths is for the sake of the common global good
  • Isaiah 55:8 and I Corinthians 13:12 are cited in support of this position.

Transformationist Approach

  • no single religion has a monopoly on truth
  • from its beginning, Christianity has been a constantly evolving expression of faith
  • respectful dialogue and mutual learning may lead to transformation for all participants
  • Christian faith may be transformed by such encounters in ways that we cannot imagine
  • Christians can expect to experience Christ in their encounter with people of other faiths
  • Mark 7: 24-30 and Acts 10:1-16 are cited in support of this position.

The four approaches above are not exhaustive. Participants may find themselves in agreement with some aspects of several of the approaches. You are encouraged not to be limited by these approaches, but to identify those aspects that fit with your understanding of Christian faith. To offer an example, the 1989 San Antonio Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (sponsored by the World Council of Churches) took a position that might be characterized as mid-way between the "Exclusivist" and "lnclusivist" approaches and which avoids final definition. The Conference said:

We cannot point to any other way to salvation than Jesus Christ; at the same time we cannot set limits to the saving power of God… We are well aware that these convictions and the ministry of witness stand in tension with what we have affirmed about God being present in and at work in people of other faiths; we appreciate this tension; we do not attempt to resolve it.

The above is excerpted from Reconciling And Making New – Who Is Jesus Today? – published by the Committee on Theology and Faith, United Church of Canada, 1997 (The above section was originally entitled Working In Us And Others; it was changed by Paul McKenna for purposes of clarity).