Thursday, December 15, 2011

What a Christian Can Learn in Dialogue with Others

The corresponding video can be viewed at:

12/15/2011 12:45 pm (et) Moderator: logs in on 12/15/2011 12:45 pm (et).
12/15/2011 12:52 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: logs in on 12/15/2011 12:52 pm (et).
12/15/2011 12:58 pm (et) kierkegaard: private message to Moderator: logs in on 12/15/2011 12:58 pm (et).
12/15/2011 1:01 pm (et) kristi.dale: private message to Moderator: logs in on 12/15/2011 1:01 pm (et).
12/15/2011 1:01 pm (et) Moderator: Welcome! This is Rebecca from the InterFaith Conference (IFC) and I will be your moderator. Let me explain how this will work. On the right, you will see a video playing of our current topic to get the conversation going. If you have a comment and/or question send it along to me, the moderator. As long as I deem it appropriate, the comment will be posted to everyone and the speaker will have the opportunity to answer your question.
12/15/2011 1:01 pm (et) Moderator: Today, our topic is ‘What a Christian can Learn in Dialogue with Others,’ with Rev. Dr. Phil Wogaman, former Chair of IFC’s Board, longtime professor and one time Dean of Wesley Seminary, former President of Interfaith Alliance, and author.
12/15/2011 1:02 pm (et) Moderator: As always, I would like to remind you of the rules of our engagement. This is a respectful place where we come together to learn more about the religions of the world. Whether you agree or disagree, we welcome your comments and questions that are posed in a respectful manner. Please no profane or offensive remarks, they will not be posted. Also, this is a place of learning, so please refrain from ‘soapboxing.’ If there are any issues or questions about this, they can be submitted along with the comments pertaining to our topic. I am here to make this a pleasant and educational experience for all, so enjoy and remember there are no stupid questions, just hostile ones!
12/15/2011 1:02 pm (et) Moderator: You can now view the beginning comments on the right. As you listen, please feel free to start sending questions or comments (YES, we want your comments). Also, the video will remain within the sidebar, so feel free to return to it as you wish. Our chat window automatically refreshes to keep the flow going, but if you wish to view the whole of the conversation, just hit the archive button. And lastly, PLEASE do not use double quotes as it leads to some issues.
12/15/2011 1:05 pm (et) Susan: private message to Moderator: logs in on 12/15/2011 1:05 pm (et).
12/15/2011 1:06 pm (et) Vikings1: private message to Moderator: logs in on 12/15/2011 1:06 pm (et).
12/15/2011 1:10 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: How do you feel speaking about other traditions from your own? I mean that do you feel you can really get at what other traditions say since you are somewhat of an outsider?
12/15/2011 1:12 pm (et) kristi.dale: private message to Moderator: logs off on 12/15/2011 1:12 pm (et).
12/15/2011 1:13 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: A very good question, Susan. I've dealt with this in passing, noting that unless we can understand much within other religions, there's no way we can continue in dialogue. Of course, I'm not seeking to understand everything about any of the other religions--but, as I ve said, I'm attempting to "mine" a number of points at which the other religions contribute to me as a Christian.
12/15/2011 1:14 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: I figure some people may even be offended by such an attempt though, I mean does it imply that there is something lacking in Christianity, something that can't be answered?
12/15/2011 1:15 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: I'll add another point: since all of these religions think of themselves as universal, that means they are all, to some extent at least, accessible to all of us--if we do our homework! Thanks again for a good question.
12/15/2011 1:17 pm (et) Laura S: private message to Moderator: logs in on 12/15/2011 1:17 pm (et).
12/15/2011 1:17 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: Is there anything lacking in Christianity? I'd rather put it this way, Christianity does not give us complete knowledge of everything. Moreover, individual Christians (such as me) can overlook important points and need correction. You'll note my comments regarding the Trinity as an example. Some insights may come to us as quite new while, at other points, an emphasis in another religion may help clarify points in our own.
12/15/2011 1:20 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Do you feel like doing something like this may down play or water down Christian tradition? You were speaking about atheism and having to somewhat play into and answer their concerns, but does that distract from anything?
12/15/2011 1:24 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: Actually, my hope is that struggling to find points in other religions that enhance our own can be a way of deepening our own faith. In respect to atheism (which, as you note, I've treated as a religion, the current crop of atheists--such as Richard Dawkins--won't let us overlook points in the Bible that are alien to the deeper faith in God's love and grace. As you will note, I'm not a fundamentalist, so I'm not offended by the idea that parts of the Bible have to be re-interpreted, or in some cases even abandoned--and, far from being a threat to faith, it enhances faith.
12/15/2011 1:25 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Why do you think this is such an important task to undertake (I mean you must sinceyou've devoted the time to a book)?
12/15/2011 1:27 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: I mean deepening faith always is, but why vis a vis others?
12/15/2011 1:28 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: It's a step beyond simply understanding other faiths. I believe God's presence is not exclusively experienced by Christians. In my book, I've cited John Wesley's concept of prevenient grace, which he defines as the grace of God that is present prior to an experiencing of Christ. And also noting the Vatican II document on other religions indicating that the Catholic church does not reject anything that is true and good in other faiths. I believe my book takes a step even beyond this.
12/15/2011 1:29 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: How did you go about gleaning what was of significance? Was it based on what struck you or was it more complicated?
12/15/2011 1:31 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Given the idea of universality of Truth found in other religions, how do you manage to maintain your primary religious identify as Christian? (when I discovered this idea of the universality of Truth, I could no longer make this same sort of exclusive personal identity)
12/15/2011 1:31 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: I guess we can deepen our faith vis a vis others because there is truth and goodness to be found in others. One point has become clear to me as I've wrestled with the theme of this book: in the process of seeking what is to be learned from other religions, I am also engaged in interpreting my own! As to the question of going about gleaning what is significant, that's partly subjective, of course, but it's based (in my case) on a lifetime of theological study and practice.
12/15/2011 1:32 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: That is a good question, Laura S, I mean staying as a Christian does imply a superiority in your eyes (as it does my own)
12/15/2011 1:34 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: So, maybe you can conclude your book with a chapter as to why, after all this learning from different religions, you personally remain a Christian
12/15/2011 1:34 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: And I mean as a Catholic, I've always seen that teaching somewhat opposite as you do. I see it as interpreting other religions in light of my own, so the inverse is interesting.
12/15/2011 1:35 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: Thanks, Laura S. for another good question. I haven't found it difficult to maintain my primary identity as a Christian, but one can be broader in one's understanding of what identity means. Another illustration: my national identity is as an American, but I also identify with the world community and its political expression through the United Nations. And I find great values in the cultures and practices of a number of other nations. For instance, I'm not Swedish or Norwegian, but we sure could learn something from their commitment to universal health care! (there, I've gotten a bit political!)
12/15/2011 1:37 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: Actually, Laura, I'm contemplating a final chapter about what other religions can learn from Christianity. But, of course, that's not the main point of the book. I hope this will inspire thoughtful adherents of other faiths to write about what they can learn from religions other than their own. I think of this book more as a conversation opener than closer.
12/15/2011 1:38 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: But I do think that is something to address, Laura S made a good point, many people are afraid to ask those questions and go deeper because they are afraid to lose their own identity, it may be helpful to address
12/15/2011 1:39 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Historically, from the very beginning of Christianity, it seems, the Christian faith and doctrine has been influenced by taking things from other religions - Judaism, of course, but also Greek and Roman pagan practice and mythology - putting a uniquely Christian spin on it, adopting and adapting...
12/15/2011 1:39 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Maybe you can work that historical precidence into the book
12/15/2011 1:39 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: Regarding your last comment, Susan, you may be right about the Vatican II understanding of its document o other religions. But I'd suppose the many bishops had various understandings. Anyway, it was a step beyond saying that other religions are simply wrong.
12/15/2011 1:39 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Yes, a very helpful step, I must agree
12/15/2011 1:40 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: I guess I just see it more in the 'Anonymous Christianity' tradition
12/15/2011 1:40 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: unfortunately, that Vatican II message does not seem to have gotten down to the masses
12/15/2011 1:40 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: ... at least to some of them
12/15/2011 1:41 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: Yes, Laura. Perhaps some more comment about our history of taking some things from other religions would contribute. I think, for example, of the great Alexandrian thinkers, Clement and Origen, who borrowed heavily from Stoicism, along with other aspects of Greco-Roman thought.
12/15/2011 1:41 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Yes, truly unfortunate, the Church never has been good at communicating, but they're working on it
12/15/2011 1:42 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: We still come across many exclusivist Christians ('Christianity is the only right religion, all others are wrong' type thinking). Your book should be especially important for those types but how could we get those types to be interested enough to read it?
12/15/2011 1:44 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: Your comments about getting down to the masses is a reminder that theological perceptions are often at different levels. Moreover--a point I've made in the book--every religion has multiple schools of thought and practice within it. That certainly is true of Christianity. As a United Methodist I sometimes find myself more in agreement with some adherents of other denominations and even other religions than with some fellow United Methodists. God must have a sense of humor!
12/15/2011 1:45 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Haha, I find myself in the most ardent arguments with other Catholics, so I get what you mean!
12/15/2011 1:45 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: What have you learned from from dialogue with OTHER Christians who may understanding Christian doctrine in different ways?
12/15/2011 1:45 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Is that addressed in your book at all?
12/15/2011 1:46 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: Every author aspires to universal readership, especially among those who might initially disagree with much of its contents! Practically speaking, my guess is that the reach toward fundamentalists will likely be through some who are not fundamentalists but who find insights in the book that they can appropriate in conversation with fundamentalists. 12/15/2011 1:46 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: 'that' what, Susan - a Christian learning from other Christians (as well as from other religions)?
12/15/2011 1:47 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Yes, I just meant if he addressed your previous question in his book at all, it may make an interesting point.
12/15/2011 1:47 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Phil, how familar are you with the work of Diana Eck?
12/15/2011 1:48 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: Yes, Susan, I have touched upon that. But maybe I should say more. As for your comment, Laura, I've not attempted in the book to interact in the same way with other Christians.
12/15/2011 1:49 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: How about a preface on your early life as a Christian and what brought you to learn from other religions? When, at what age, did you begin this task of learning from what others believe? And then, when and how did you come to realize that understanding that can actually benefit you to deepen your own understanding of your own faith?
12/15/2011 1:49 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Maybe the 'What a Christian can learn from other Christians' can be a second book!
12/15/2011 1:51 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Hey! Your book might make for required reading amongst my own Christian students who take my classes on the world's religions
12/15/2011 1:51 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: Diana Eck is one of several noteworthy contemporary writers on other religions--along with, say, Huston Smith and Karen Armstrong. Without reading all of their works, I've gotten considerable insight from them. However, in my book, I've primarily relied upon primary sources (such as the Qur'an, Bagavadgita, and Dhamapada). I'm improcess of consulting with leading proponents of the various faiths dealt with in the book.
12/15/2011 1:53 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: To both of you, this process is designed to preserve your privacy, but I'd be happy to acknowledge both of you--Laura S and Susan--in my acknowledgements, if you're willing. (I expect I'll need to acknowledge help from a wide variety of sources!)
12/15/2011 1:53 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Has this project developed over a long period of time? Perhaps you can give us some insight on what brought all this about
12/15/2011 1:55 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: I've been working on it specifically for more than a year. I've been involved in interfaith dialogue and cooperative ventures for several years, but the idea for this particular book occurred to me last fall when I was serving as interim dean of the Claremont School of Theology. You may have noted that that school has embarked on a new venture in interreligious theological education with the development of the Claremont Lincoln University.
12/15/2011 1:56 pm (et) Moderator: Susan said: Do you find you are offering a new venture in your book? I mean I don't know of anyone attempting a project like this, but did you come across any?
12/15/2011 1:57 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: A couple months ago I saw a piece on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly about an interfaith theological school (don't recall which school it was but can research it)
12/15/2011 1:57 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: I'll add that my various interreligious involvements, along with the Claremont stint, have provided concrete evidence of insights to be gained from other religions. And also helped me overcome any number of misconceptions.
12/15/2011 1:58 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: I didn't seem that particular Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, but I'd guess it was about the Claremont school.
12/15/2011 1:58 pm (et) Moderator: We have just a couple of minutes, are there any more questions? Rev. Wogaman, would you like to add any concluding comments/
12/15/2011 1:59 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: As to your last question, Susan, there are aspects of this kind of venture that appear in dialogues and in books about world religions. But I don't know of others that aim directly at this target.
12/15/2011 2:00 pm (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Ah, that piece at R&E WAS on Claremont! (
12/15/2011 2:00 pm (et) Phil Wogaman: My thanks. I hope this will contribute to a broader, deeper sense of our human commonalities.
12/15/2011 2:00 pm (et) Moderator: Thank you for your participation today. Next week our topic will be ‘Women in Islam’ with Ms. Farhanahz Ellis, Outreach Direcotr at All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) and Chaplain at George Mason University, hope to see you there! If you would like to contact or guest, please contact me at
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