Roundtable: Evangelicals in Conversation with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Timothy C. Tennent. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002. Pp. 270. No price given. (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. Robert Decker.]
To his credit Dr. Tennent rejects the notion that, “The Christian gospel is … one among many different paths to God. Christianity is ranked side by side with religions such as Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism…” (p. 9). The author believes that Christianity is the only true religion. He is an “Exclusivist.”
Tennent does, however, believe that there must be honest, open dialogue with the adherents of the world’s religions. This honest, open dialogue is characterized as follows: 1) It must be done without compromising the Christian faith in any way. 2) In this dialogue, we must listen and respond to the objections to the Christian faith brought by Muslims, et. al. 3) The aim or purpose of inter-religious dialogue must be to bend every effort too convince the adherents of the world’s religions of the truth of Christianity. In other words, our aim is that God will use the dialogue to convert them to faith in Jesus Christ.
Included in this opening section is a summary of the views regarding the relationship of Christianity to the non-Christian religions. Summed and evaluated are the views of: Exclusivism, In-clusivism, and Pluralism. In his evaluation of Inclusivism and Pluralism, the author is sharply critical of the views of John Hick, and rightly so.
In the main section of the book, Tennent presents “dialogues at the roundtable” with adherents of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. These dialogues are all based on Tennent’s missionary experiences and encounters with adherents to these religions. This is followed by a section on Case Studies and Tennent’s conclusion.
There are four basic “ground rules” for these dialogues. 1) “All differences of opinion or perspective should be shared honestly without being pejorative.” 2) “No one is permitted to exploit abuses present in a religion that are at odds with widely accepted beliefs and practices.” 3) The questions, responses, clarifications, and rejoinders must all pertain to the central theme being discussed. 4) There must be no compulsion. For example, when the dialogue is complete, a Buddhist is free to remain a committed Buddhist.
It is precisely at this point that the author comes far short of where he and we should be. The trouble lies in the methodology and approach. The word “dialogue” denotes a conversation in which two or more persons reason together on a given subject, in this case the objections Christianity has towards the world religions and the latter’s objections to Christianity.
The Bible dictates how we relate to the non-Christian religions and how we do mission work among them. We can do no better than to follow the model of the Apostle Paul, who was made all things to all men that he might by all means save some (I Cor. 9:19-22)! Neither Jesus nor Peter dialogued with the Jews at “the roundtable!” Paul did not dialogue at “the roundtable with the Gentiles” who worshiped a multitude of idols in the pagan world of the Roman Empire in the first century AD.
To illustrate our point we take just one example, viz., Paul’s farewell meeting with the elders of Ephesus as recorded in Acts 20. In verse 18 Paul speaks of “…after what manner I have been with you at all times or seasons.” How was Paul with these formerly unconverted Ephesians? He tells us how in the verses that follow.
In verse 20 Paul says, “I have shown you….” The verb translated “shown” means in the Greek, “to announce.” It refers to a formal proclamation of the gospel! In that same verse Paul continues, “…and have taught you….” The verb “taught” means, in the Greek, “didactic (teaching) discourse.” Paul did not dialogue, but he went preaching and teaching publicly and from house to house.
That this is true is plain from verse 21, where Paul says he went about “testifying both to the Jews and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” The verb “testifying” means, in the Greek, “earnestly to charge, to witness.” This, according to verse 24, is “the ministry” which Paul had “…received of the Lord Jesus, to testify (the same verb as used in verse 21) the gospel of the grace of God.” It is interesting to note that our English word “martyr” is derived from this verb. Missionary preachers are often made to suffer persecution and martyrdom for their earnest testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ!
The apostle goes on to say, “And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more” (v. 25).
“Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men” (v. 26).
“For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (v. 27).
The verb translated “preaching” (v. 25) means “to officiate as a herald.” The herald was the official of the king who was charged with proclaiming the message of the king throughout the kingdom. The kingdom is God’s kingdom. The citizens of the kingdom of God are the elect, redeemed in Christ’s cross and resurrection. The Herald is Christ, whose voice is heard by those men lawfully called through the church to herald (preach) the Word of God. The essence of the message brought by the heralds is Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
The verb translated “declare” (v. 27) is the same as the verb translated “shown” (v. 20; cf. above).
Finally, the apostle told the Ephesian elders that he “…ceased not to warn everyone…” (v. 27). “To warn” means “to admonish, warn, exhort.”
It ought to be obvious that the apostle did not sit down with the Ephesians and have friendly dialogue concerning their objections to the Christian faith! Publicly and privately he faithfully proclaimed the imperative of the gospel call, “repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!” After this manner he labored among them. After this manner must the church through her missionary preachers labor among the adherents of the world’s religions. No “roundtable dialogue,” just good, solid exposition of the Word of King Jesus is what is needed!