Let’s start out with defining terms. An IFD is what we call an Interfaith Dialogue. There’s another term called Intrafaith Dialogue. They each have a specific definition. While people who are trying to defend their friends’ participate in IFDs are attempting to redefine what they mean, it’s important that we define terms and look at the situation based on fact and truth.
I’m going to take you back to elementary school. What’s the difference between INTER and INTRA? Inter is referring to “between two separate groups.” Intra refers to “within a particular group.” So when we talk about INTERfaith dialogues we are referring to a dialogue between two different religions' leaders. INTRAfaith dialogues are referring to dialogues occurring between a single religion’s leaders.
Now, an important note to point out: When discussing INTRAfaith dialogues, this would typically be between two religious leaders among different factions of that religion. So, for example, INTRAfaith Dialogue is often encouraged between the Sunni Muslim leaders and the Shia Muslim leaders in an attempt to resolve their differences. Because even though each side has a different set of beliefs, it’s still all under the blanket of Islam.
INTERfaith Dialogue, on the other hand, is like what happened with James White and Yasir Qadhi. In those dialogues, we had a religious leader from the Christian perspective conversing with a religious leader from the Muslim perspective discussing their similarities and differences for the purpose of getting along. Historically, this is the goal of Interfaith Dialogue. The goal of the dialogues are not to “win the lost” or proselytize, but to understand for the purposes of bridging the gap. While, depending on the leaders involved in the dialogue, they don’t have to accept the opposing view’s beliefs as valid or true, the goal is to at least create understanding and community.
What is NOT an INTERfaith Dialogue?
Having a conversation with a non-Christian is NOT an INTERfaith Dialogue.
Sharing the Gospel with the lost is not an INTERfaith Dialogue.
Participating in a debate is not an INTERfaith Dialogue.
Being interviewed by a non-Christian is not an INTERfaith Dialogue.
An INTERfaith Dialogue is two religious leaders in a public setting discussing their differences and similarities for the purposes of understanding and community.
Now that we’ve defined terms, the question is: Did Jesus participate in INTERfaith Dialogues?
Now, let me back up a little bit and give you some context. Months ago when the debate was raging in regards to Dr White’s IFD w/ the Muslim Imama Yasir Qadhi, Phil Johnson, who is the Executive Director of Grace To You and an elder at Grace Community Church, made the claim that Jesus participated in Interfaith Dialogues, both with the Pharisees and with the Samaritan woman. I wrote an article about Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman that you can read here.
However, now that this issue has been brought back up again, Phil is trying to dig his heels in with his position that Jesus participated in INTERfaith Dialogues with the Pharisees. So, because Jesus had a meal with one of the Pharisees, that means that Jesus participated in INTERfaith Dialogue with these religious leaders?
This is, at the very least, a redefinition, if not completely misleading and intellectually dishonest. However, there are three main points to rebut this horrible understanding of Jesus’ interactions with the religious leaders of his time.
1. Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees were never INTERfaith, but INTRAfaith. 2. Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees were always hostile and condemning. It was not for the purpose of understanding each other and creating community. 3. Jesus having a meal with the Pharisees in Luke 7 was not a public event used to teach their followers about each other’s religion. It was a meal amongst the religious leaders of Israel at that time.
Now, I will deal with each of these specific issues over my next few posts, so come back for those definitions. However, I just wanted to close with this: Truth matters. Actual definitions of words matter.
Phil Johnson has chosen to go down the route of redefining terms in order to justify his defense of James White. Several months ago, Phil Johnson flat-out said that Jesus participated in Interfaith Dialogues.
Then, when he was confronted on that, he walked back his claims. But now, here he is again taking an even more bold stance on his claim that Jesus participated in Interfaith Dialogues. However, in order to make that claim, he is having to redefine his terms in order to justify this unbiblical view of Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees.
I’d like to end with a question to ponder: If Jesus participated in Interfaith Dialogues, then why is it the policy of Grace Community Church to not participate in them? Either Jesus encouraged these types of dialogues and set the precedent that IFDs are biblical or He didn’t. It’s one or the other. I would argue that historically GCC has never believed that Jesus participated in IFDs or else they would have been participating in them all along. I mean, we are supposed to follow Christ’s example, right?