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Understanding and Engaging People of Different Faiths. Dr. John H. Ewart Associate Vice President of Project Development Fletcher Professor of Missions Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Foundations. Being evangelistic involves two key relationships:

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understanding and engaging people of different faiths

Understanding and Engaging People of Different Faiths

Dr. John H. Ewart

Associate Vice President of Project Development

Fletcher Professor of Missions

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

  • Being evangelistic involves two key relationships:
  • An intentional relationship with God and His people
  • An intentional relationship with the world and its people.
the bible describes these 2
The Bible describes these 2:
  • Matthew 4:19 “…Follow Me” (relationship 1) “and I will make you fishers of men.” (relationship 2)

Matthew 22:37,39 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (relationship 1) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (relationship 2)


John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit (relationship 2), for apart from Me you can do nothing (relationship 1)


I Peter 3:15 “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts (relationship 1), always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (relationship 2)


Matthew 28:18-20 “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth. (relationship 1) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe (relationship 2) all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (relationship 1)

our authority
Our Authority
  • Our authority to go and the content with which we go, come from relationship 1.
  • Evangelism is simply the overflow of relationship 1 in our lives.
two relationships
Two Relationships
  • The more engaged we are in relationship 1 the more engaged we will be in relationship 2
  • We should have a very intentional relationship with the world based upon our relationship with God and the Church
building intentional bridges of relationship to the world and its people
Building Intentional Bridges of Relationship to the World and Its People
  • People must trust the testimony.
  • 80% of all converts come to Christ through the influence of a Christian friend or relative.
  • Christians should befriend lost persons.
how do we get there
How do we get there?
  • Intentionally seek out relationships and encounters with lost people.
  • Pray evangelistically
  • Build an expectant relationship
  • Show when possible
  • Share as soon as possible

Bust through your barriers (fear, busyness, apathy, lack of knowledge, etc.)

  • Pray for opportunity
  • Take the initiative and lead the conversation to Christ
  • Invite them to join you in Christian gatherings and experiences.
religion and culture are difficult to separate
Religion and Culture are Difficult to Separate
  • God is the creator of culture which is neither positive nor negative
  • Acts 10:34-35
  • We cannot decide in which context we carry out the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations
  • We cannot choose the worldview of the people we seek to reach.
  • We can choose how we react to these contexts
  • We must be ready to meet them where they are
  • Our ministry is not to change culture but to present the Word of God in a way that it is understood in the culture.
  • The Gospel belongs to no culture; it is supracultural
  • But it is expressed through human patterns and forms
  • Even God revealed Himself this way
  • Therefore, incarnational ministry is vital

Paul modeled this approach: “….I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.”

I Corinthians 9: 19-23

  • Christianity is above culture: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God , that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” I Peter 2:9-12

What happens when our worldview collides with another?

  • We must work within culture: Ours and Theirs
  • Communication = Commonness
  • The process of adjusting message to culture is called contextualization
  • A person from one culture may need to change the way the message is communicated so as to make the truth more accessible to the people of another culture.

Culture defines filters

    • Filters of perspectives and values
  • Listeners always decode
  • Senders always encode
  • We must learn their language and culture
  • The church’s message is not understood by many and it is our fault to a large degree

The missionary/evangelist is a witness, but he is also a persuader of religion

  • We are attempting to tell others that they must believe as we do
  • We must know our audience and context
communication within culture
Communication within Culture

I. Know God

  • Communication is involvement.

- Relational importance with God and man

- Without involvement it is simply transmission

  • Communication is a process.
  • Communication is what is heard, not only what is said.
  • Spiritual perception and response is the work of God’s Spirit.

II. Know the Message

  • Mastery of content is the necessary foundation for effective communication

- Be immersed in the Scriptures (alone and in community)


III. Know Yourself

  • The communicator’s personality and experiences modify the form of the message

- To a certain extent all of our communication will be subjective

- We have a multi-layered job

Biblical Culture – Our home culture – Our host culture


IV. Know the Audience and Context

  • The communicator’s image of the audience and understanding of the context are primary factors in shaping the form of the message
  • The cultural patterns and beliefs of a society influence the form of effective communication.
  • Perception precedes comprehension, interpretation and effect of a message.

- Perception of both you and the message


“Why do you Mzungu not try to understand the minds of Africans more… You do not understand; your words do not belong to our minds.”

-An elderly Zambian village women

  • Focus on the supra-cultural
  • Recognize the obstacles your culture may bring to communication
  • Recognize the obstacles their culture may bring
  • Remove as any obstacle as possible
key cultural issues
Key Cultural Issues
  • View of authority and ambiguity
  • View of individuality and community: I vs we
  • View of time
  • View of tasks and relationships
  • View of direct vs indirect communication
  • In Latin the word for religion means “to bind”
  • The Oxford English Dictionary offers these definitions:
    • “A particular system of faith and worship.”
    • “Recognition on the part of humans of some higher unseen power as having control of one’s destiny, and as being entitled to obedience, reverence, and worship; the general mental and moral attitude resulting from this belief, with reference to its effect upon the individual or the community.”
  • Corduan – “A religion is a system of beliefs and practices that provides values to give life meaning and coherence by directing a person toward transcendence.”
  • Value – relationship to culture
  • From magic to monotheism = meaning

“Religion is humanity’s response to what it experiences as holy.”


“Man makes religion, religion does not make man…”

-Karl Marx

  • Religions are made up of functional, substantive and formal components.
    • Functional: emotional, social and intellectual
    • Substantive: content (the holy, the order the holy brings, the quest for the holy)
    • Formal: forms of expression, rites, rituals, sacred stories and writings, symbols

We can build missional bridges by examining any similarities between religions and not just the differences.

Think about the functional especially. Some forms also

(idea of prayer, for example).

7 roles a missionary can play in relating to those of other religions
7 Roles a missionary can play in relating to those of other religions
  • Adherent or insider - adopt
  • Seeker or inquirer – pursue truth
  • Explorer – honest dialogue
  • Reporter - describe
  • Specialist- just more specific
  • Advocate of a new religion – respect but challenge
  • Apologist or antagonist – challenge and oppose


sharing with those of other religions
Sharing with those of other religions
  • Build relationships – find common bridges
  • Pray evangelistically
  • Know your faith and theirs. Know what you believe and why. Know as much as possible about what they believe and why. Do research.
  • Do not attack, find common ground
  • Lead the conversation to Christ when possible
sharing with those of other religions1
Sharing with those of other religions
  • Share your personal testimony
  • Live your personal testimony. Show your personal testimony. The more “real” you are, the more others will listen.
  • Explain the Gospel and deal with works righteousness vs grace while focusing on assurance and certainty
  • Do not burn your bridge
  • Invite them to join you to Christian fellowship and experiences if possible
some common theological objections
Some Common Theological Objections
  • Authority
  • Works righteousness
  • Exclusivism
  • Assurance and certainty of salvation
  • Specific hang ups based on faith system – nature of God, judgment, virgin birth, incarnation, trinity, church….
  • Others?
dealing with objections
Dealing with Objections
  • Do not be afraid to state and quote your source of authority, but do not assume they share your belief. Understand your belief about the Bible.
  • Listen with yours eyes and ears
  • Do not become defensive, you have the truth whether they believe it or not
  • Do not attack, and do not avoid or ignore. Instead, show respect, respond with confidence and seek to find common ground.
dealing with objections1
Dealing with Objections
  • “We may not be able to tell people all they want to know but we can tell them what they must know.”
  • Recognize the objections but stay focused
  • Trust in the Holy Spirit
  • Many objections will not even occur if you have the right attitude
  • Remember most people have not been confronted with the truth of the gospel in a personal encounter with a loving witness
dealing with objections2
Dealing with Objections
  • Many objections are smoke screens
  • Dealing with questions we cannot answer – who says we have to?
  • The barrier of omni-competence
  • Discuss, do not argue; avoid emotional confrontations
  • Respect the other person
  • Exercise gentleness
  • Check your motivation – ultimate mission?
dealing with objections3
Dealing with Objections
  • Explain the Gospel emphasizing works righteousness vs grace while focusing on assurance and certainty.
  • Close the communication loop.
  • Do not burn your bridge. The relationship is the bridge. This may not be the day of harvest. Take the initiative, share; leave the results up to God. He is at work.
dealing with objections4
Dealing with Objections
  • Invite them to join you in Christian fellowship and experiences.
  • Recognize where you fit into the network of evangelism
  • Other?
i peter 3 15
I Peter 3:15

“But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence”

challenge how are we doing
Challenge! How are we doing?

Yosef Abramowitz, a Jew in response to Southern Baptists about sharing the gospel with Jews… “Any religion that does not consider itself valuable enough to share with non-believers is fated to crumble from within.”