YOUR NEIGHBOR’S WISDOM

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

wisdom traditionA number of posts in this series on the wisdom tradition have looked at ways in which our deepening reliance on wisdom helps foster cooperation and peace amid human diversity.  This is easy for some people to accept. It can be quite difficult for others, especially for some religious people.

Timothy Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, knows something about this. Since its humble launch in 1989 with fifteen people, Redeemer has grown to three locations that now see thousands of worshipers every Sunday. But it’s not the numbers I want to call attention to. It is the fact of Redeemer’s growth in Manhattan, which may be America’s most culturally diverse city. Tourists can even go on multicultural sightseeing tours to experience the diversity close-up. No joke.

You never know what to expect in Manhattan. Some years ago after meetings at the Council of Foreign Relations, I had to catch a cab to the airport. The driver was a young guy recently arrived from Pakistan, and I will tell you that not only was it hard to understand him, but we were suspicious of each other early on. But he was very chatty and we soon were talking about Pakistan’s politics, where we discovered during the half-hour drive a lot of common ground in that area. We also discovered how much about “politics and religion” that we agreed on. When I was paying the fare, we both quite naturally by then commented about how good it would be if we had more time to talk.

It is in that Manhattan where Tim Keller honed his diversity skills, for which he has become well known around town. Some unkind souls may say, well, what do you expect? He has compromised the faith. No, no. This is not that. The wisdom-based, peaceable possibilities of diversity that we have been considering can take place among Christians, Muslims, and Jews who know what they believe and what each other believes. They are fully aware of the irreconcilable differences between their faiths. They are open and honest with one another about that.

I remember a meeting where Muslim and Christian leaders in the room said: I wish you would convert to my faith, but that is not what we’re here for; this meeting has been convened to try to find a way to work together across boundaries to solve a problem. These leaders knew that their irreconcilable core differences need not prevent public collaboration on an initiatives of mutual good.

If you are a Christian who struggles with this, note what Keller has to say. I asked him about it a few years ago during a conference call. He locates this kind of pluralist engagement and “learning from the other” in the Bible’s teaching of common grace. Simply put, all human beings, whether they are Jewish, Muslim, or Christian, or whether they believe in God or not, share gifts of wisdom, insight, creativity, and beauty because these gifts come to everyone. Christians call this common grace, Keller said, because they consider these as gifts that come from God. “If that’s the case,” he concluded, “then I could expect that my neighbor who does not believe anything like I believe might still have wisdom from God that I have to listen to.”

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