Many of us may remember attending our first school dances: perhaps in junior high school. Observing such events now is very humorous because of the obvious discomfort of 13 year olds figuring out how to navigate across that expansive dance floor in order to ask someone to dance. It was not so amusing when I was that 13 year old. Learning how to dance in that setting felt awkward at best. It may well be that engaging in dialogue with people of other religious faiths feels similarly awkward for many Christians.
Alister McGrath’s book, Christian Theology; An Introduction is quite comprehensive and is worthy of being the primary text for a semester-long class on an introduction to theology. Because of the wide range of topics covered it does not go into great depth in any one area, but this is understandable since the book is designed as a survey. I appreciated that he dedicated the first hundred pages to historical theology, which gives an overarching context for theological discussion.
I wish we could read and discuss every page and word of Christian Theology. But given the nature of our task I will focus this blog in Chapter 17 which considers “Christianity and the World Religions.” I have chosen this focus because it helps me further consider my D Min task of engaging international students in our community. Before adequate field research I can only speculate regarding the different world religions represented in the international student population at Oregon State, but my preliminary opinion is that virtually all major world religions are present.
In Chapter 17 Professor McGrath presents three viewpoints from which the relationship of Christianity to other world religions may be approached. These three are Exclusivism, Inclusivism, and Pluralism.  Exclusivism maintains that the Christian Gospel is the only means of salvation. Inclusivism wants to believe that while Christianity is the primary way God reveals Himself, it is still possible to find salvation through other religious faiths. Pluralism believes that all religious systems have equal validity.
As we who are exclusivists attempt to follow Christ, we realize that we must find a way to demonstrate that loyalty while finding a way to engage people of other faiths in life-changing conversations about Jesus: hence the awkward dance. Contributing to the complexity of the discussion is the sense that western culture today pressures the acceptance of pluralism.
As Christians “do” theology and anticipate cross-religious conversations, one of the most awkward aspects of the discussion pertains to whether or not any shred of truth may be found in other “competing” religious systems.
Dr. McGrath presents the work of Hendrik Kraemer, who unequivocally states that Jesus is THE way, truth, and life, and that “God…wills this to be known throughout the world.”  Through this section, the questions kept circulating through my mind, “In Exclusivism, is there room for the possibility that hints regarding general revelation might be found in other religions? If so, is it possible to find a recognition/acknowledgment of general revelation in other faith systems?”
I further wonder about what we might call the stealth work of the Holy Spirit: the possibility that God sneaks into other religions and world views in order to leave bread crumbs enabling people to find their way home. For instance, in speaking with a Muslim, is it possible to start a conversation with what the Qur’an says about Jesus?
But having said that, it’s important to emphasize that all truth is God’s truth, and any alleged truth that does not lead to Jesus does not qualify as truth. Make no mistake: we exclusivists WILL die on that hill. With this conviction, might we find some things in other systems that are such crumbs?
If we are to take the position that acknowledging general revelation in creation may be found in other beliefs, even this position does not leave Christ behind, because as pointed out in last week’s blog, creation (the very ‘stuff’ of general revelation in nature) came into being by the action of the whole of the Trinity (Genesis 1:2, Malachi 2:10, Colossians 1:16). General revelation in nature IS the work of the Divine Christ. In addition, McGrath keeps the Trinity at the center of these conversations when he sites the work of Raimundo Panikkar, who argued that “a trinitarian framework offered a means of making sense of the complex nature of human spirituality, including religious experience and expression.” 
I am absolutely convinced as to the exclusive claims of Jesus and His Gospel. This is the foundation of Christian faith. But, if we approach people of other religions wearing that strong conviction on our sleeves, it will be so off-putting to the other person we will lose all hearing. I have heard Christians express the genuine desire for Christians to be THE MOST loving people Muslims and people of other faiths will ever experience.
I must confess that even working through this progression of thought continues to have the uncomfortable feel of that awkward dance. The awkward dance takes place as we look for the right way to engage others in Jesus’ Name.
 McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology; An Introduction. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. p. 435
 McGrath. Christian Theology; An Introduction. p. 436
 McGrath. Christian Theology; An Introduction. p. 434