©2017-2020 Kathleene Card and Dianne Martin

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Session 1: Christianity and World Religions


Session 1: The Wise Men

Sessions Goals:

  • Articulate the value of studying other religions as a means of understanding our neighbors;

  • Define what a theology of religions is and the questions it seeks to answer

  • Identify three different perspectives on other religions: religious pluralism, Christian exclusivism; and Christian inclusivism and

  • Point to biblical resources for understanding other religions

Scriptural Foundation: (I will ask for a volunteer to read this after the video. Be thinking about these questions:

  • Who are the Magi?

  • Why might God have included them in this story of Jesus’ birth?

  • What do we learn about God from their inclusion in this story?

2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise me and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 1:1-11)

  • Why are there so many different religions?

  • What is the relationship between these religions?

  • How does God look at people of other religions?

  • What is the external fate of those who practice a religion other then the one I follow?

Getting Started

Opening Activity: Begin by exploring Traditions

In 60 seconds describe what it was like to have a meal at your home growing up. (Grace? Ritual? Atmosphere.)

In this study we are going to encounter a number of different traditions that may challenge and enrich us. Let us pray that we will grow to love our neighbors and God more through these sessions.

Beginning with Prayer:

God of many nations, we trust you and we believe that your desire is for all people to know your love.

As we seek to know our neighbor better, help us grow to love them more, and to see your intentions for all creation. Amen.

Learning Together

Video Study and Discussion

After we view the video, we will discuss some of the following questions:

  • What are the aims in putting together this study?

  • Why is it important to understand two thirds of the world’s people who are not Christian?

  • How often if ever have you thought of these questions?

  • How can they help us to love our neighbors better?

  • In the interview with Matt and Sangeeta what did you learn about how they practiced their faiths together as a couple?

  • Has a conversation or sharing a meal with someone ever helped you to understand someone with whom you felt you had little in common?

Book and Bible Study Discussion

In the course of your week

  • How many of the people you meet are followers of a faith other than Christians?

  • How often is faith a subject that you have talked about with people of another faith?

  • What things about their faith make you curious to know more?

  • What are your hopes for this study?

How has your understanding of different theologies developed?

  • Hamilton describes the difference between his grandfather’s theology and that of another man in his congregation. What was it like for you growing up? (If the class is large we will do this in pairs as suggested—if not we will stay as a group. I will ask for a consensus.)

  • How has your understanding of other religions changed through your life?

During these classes please feel free to place any questions that you have on the sheets of paper I have around the room, or email them to me—and I will transfer them into a file and send them to everyone by email and/or print them out if you do not have email.

A Theology of Religions Answers:

(Which of these questions seems most intriguing to you? Why? What other questions have you had about other religions?)

  • Why are there so many different religions?

  • What is the relationship between these religions?

  • How does God look at people of other religions?

  • What is the external fate of those who practice a religion other then the one I follow?

Putting Scripture to Work:

We need 4 brave volunteers. We need a TV journalist and 3 Magi. Using what we have learned in the discussion—ask the Kings some questions. (This is a time to relax and have fun with this.)

Afterward we will discuss

  • Did you learn anything new about the Magi?

  • Is there anything surprising about them?

Considering the Hidden God

Page 15-17 in our text:

  • In what ways have you experienced God as hidden?

  • What are some of the reasons why God chooses to be known indirectly?

Read aloud from the story about the physicist on pages 16-17.

  • How does Hamilton describe God as something similar to the fundamental forces of nature?

  • How does this help to explain the existence of multiple religions?

Are we brave enough to try this? (If we do the drawings . . .

  • How were the drawings similar?

  • How are they different?

  • How might this exercise help us to understand the relationship between different religions?

(I will come around with an object for you to feel for a few minutes and then draw.)

Or:

Whom do you see in this picture?

Come Find Me, (Pages 18-21.)

  • What is the incarnation?

  • How does God’s incarnation in Jesus help Christians understand who God is?

How do we understand the following? (Pages 25-29)

  • Pluralism (or universalism)

  • Exclusivism

  • Christian Inclusivism

C. S. Lewis Quote page 30

What perspective does Lewis present in this passage? How is it an expression of God’s mercy?

Wrapping up

Jonah

Jonah 3:10-4:11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Narrator: When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said,

Jonah: “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4

Narrator: And the Lord said,

The Lord: “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Narrator: Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so, Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. Jonah said,

Jonah: “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Narrator: But God said to Jonah,

The Lord: “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?”

Narrator: And Jonah said,

Jonah: “Yes, angry enough to die.”

Narrator: Then the Lord said,

The Lord: “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

  • How does this story reveal God’s Grace and Mercy?

  • What message might there be for us as we consider people of other religions?

Issues From Previous Class

Thanks very much for an informative and helpful first meeting on the World Religions book.

Because discussions often drift (quickly) beyond thoughts of mine...and because you invited email responses, here are my contributions - which I hope are constructive. Feel free to edit/discard/comment.

1) I was a little disappointed by the fact that Hamilton seemed to flirt with equating pluralism to universalism. Pluralism seems to be his grandfather's position that all religions are equally valid paths to God. Universalism - as I understand it - is a somewhat common belief of Christians that God's love "wins" because, at least after death, all persons accept a loving God's irresistible Grace. If I have this right, universalism is the Triune God redeeming all persons rather than an affirmation of all religions' validity.

2) To prevent any misunderstanding, C. S. Lewis was not a universalist. His book "The Great Divorce" even "argues" with his "master" George MacDonald who was a universalist.

3) An idea that helps me appreciate other religions is an idea explained nicely by Sir John Polkinghorne (world class physicist turned Anglican priest). Polkinghorne says that doing theology is like doing science: people take their experiences (spiritual, personal, social, etc) and build theologies about God. We then check those ideas against other experiences and notions like beauty or peace ... to refine them or scrap them. If this idea is right, it makes the existence of different religions - born of people with very different experiences - make more sense ... at least to me.

4) [not so much about world religions but really caught my eye] The Jonah scripture from class on the 16'th was intriguing. It includes an explicit statement that God changed his mind. That seems to go against a popular notion that God is immutable ... or maybe that something is more important to God than rigid consistency. (Mercy perhaps?)

Article on Pluralism from Boston College: https://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/centers/boisi/pdf/bc_papers/BCP-Pluralism.pdf

Article by David Jorgeson at Boston College on Universalism

This is a really good article.

https://www.bc.edu/bc-web/schools/stm/faculty/faculty-directory/david-w-jorgensen.html

Definitions:

Universalism is a theological and philosophical concept that some ideas have universal application or applicability. A community that calls itself universalist may emphasize the universal principles of most religions, and accept others in an inclusive manner.

Pluralism

Religious pluralism is not simply the existence of plural or multiple religions. It can be defined as pluralism that not only tolerates each other's religions, but also accepts them. It understands and accepts that every religion has something good to offer. It teaches us not only to coexist together, but also make an attempt to learn from other religions. Religious pluralism fosters tolerance, respect, and harmony between different religions. However, it does not mean giving up one's own religious faith to accept some other faith system.

Definition of Pluralism (Merriam-Webster Dictionary): A situation in which people of different social classes, religions, races, etc., are together in a society, but continue to have their different traditions and interests.

Religious exclusivism


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