Monday, 12 December 2011

Rowan Williams on 'The Future of Interfaith Dialogue'

At a conference organised by the the Anglican Network for Inter Faith Concerns, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivered an interesting lecture on 'The Future of Interfaith Dialogue' the lecture is available in text and audio from the Archbishops website (follow the link above) - well worth engaging with. Here is a snippet from the conclusion.

The Christian enters the dialogue relation ready to receive whatever of Christ the other’s relation with the Word makes possible; but s/he also enters the dialogue in order, in some sense, to speak and act for Christ, to be available for the enrichment of the other’s relation (acknowledged or not) with the Word.  And that immediately lays upon the Christian participant in dialogue the imperative to Christlike action in the pursuance of the dialogue.  The action of Christ can be thought about from two interrelated perspectives.  First, it is the transmission of a gift, the gift of ‘life in its fulness’, as the Fourth Gospel has it; just as the Source, the Father, pours out the divine life and bliss into the eternal Word or Son, so the Word gives life to the universe, and, more specifically, gives the life of a son or daughter to human beings who are made for this destiny.  If, then, we are to act in Christlike manner, we act so as to open up the possibility of receiving such a gift: life in its fullness, the dignity of the adult child of God. 

And following on from that, the mode of the gift becomes all-important.  That gift of filial life cannot be given by an act that compels or constrains: freedom in filial relation to God as Source cannot be generated or nourished by denying the ordinary freedom of the human agent.  The gift is given in Christ in a way that refuses to compel and is therefore vulnerable to human violence.  For it to be what it claims to be, it cannot rest its authority upon anything less than itself – it can’t therefore be associated with constraint or compulsion. 

This theological framework... allows us, I believe, to think of the vocation to become sons and daughters of God in and through Jesus Christ as a universal possibility that has to be sought for and worked for in an uncompromisingly Christlike (Jesus-like) fashion, yet without expecting the specific reference to Jesus of Nazareth to be always brought to consciousness as the conversation unfolds with those of different families of faith.  As I noted earlier, the degree to which a turning to the Word in the context of another faith corresponds to what the Christian associates with the gift of baptism is not susceptible to abstract analysis.  But our engagement in dialogue, rooted in the uniqueness of the Word made flesh, may, by its fidelity to the mode of incarnation and self-emptying, invite responses and movements that neither we nor our partners can easily chart, but in which God may move – just as God may move in us as we receive what the partner has to share of the Word with us.

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