From Bubble to Bridge, Marion H. Larson and Sara L.H. Shady. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.
Summary: Explores how to equip Christians for engagement in our religiously diverse multifaith environment, moving out of our Christian “bubbles” and building bridges of understanding without compromising the convictions of one’s own faith.
Many of us don’t have to go beyond our own neighborhood to realize how religiously diverse our world has become. When my son was young, it was not at all uncommon for him to be playing basketball in our driveway with a friend who was Jewish and another wearing a turban who was a Sikh. Meanwhile, we watched an Indian couple, likely from a Hindu background walk down the street and a Muslim family arrive home just up the street.
The authors of this book are professors at a Christian college, Bethel University, in Minnesota and they became aware that it was not enough for them to prepare their students to connect their faith with their particular field of academic preparation. In our multifaith world, they realized that it was crucial to equip their students to be able to engage well with those who believe differently. As reflected in their title, they wanted to use the experience of students in this Christian “bubble” to prepare them to build bridges of understanding with those of other faiths. They write in their Introduction,
“A common goal of education, from a Christian perspective, is to cultivate a mature intellect and faith, one that enables us to lead lives of meaningful service as we actively engage and seek to transform the world. Over the years much has been written by Christian academics about the integration of faith and learning, and this scholarship continues to discuss the importance of helping students learn to weave together the academic, social, and spiritual aspects of their lives. Many recent works on Christian higher education have considered what faith-learning integration might look like in the twenty-first century; however, little attention is given to preparing Christian students to navigate a religiously diverse world. Christians need to be more intentional about preparing to love their neighbors, even (perhaps especially) when those neighbors have different religious beliefs. For those on evangelical Christian college campuses, such preparation needs to include interfaith service and dialogue on and off campus as an important aspect of education and spiritual development.”
This book describes how they have gone about that work. It begins in the first two chapters with an apologetic for the civic and religious imperative addressing how we engage religious pluralism. Failure to do so may lead to prejudice or even violence. More than this, the religious call is to love our neighbor, and to practice what Amy Oden has called the four movements of hospitality: prepare, welcome and restore, dwell, and send.
They then deal in the next two chapters with barriers to multifaith engagement and the question of how one does this without hopelessly compromising one’s own faith. One barrier is the seeming “conflicted Christian identity” that is unsure that one can be simultaneously hospitable and yet true to one’s faith. There are also tensions between Christian “privilege” and our own perception of being an embattled minority. Sometimes we are just fearful. The authors invite us into a model, drawing on the thinking of Martin Buber and Miroslav Volf, that avoids either mere tolerance or complete acceptance, but strives for inclusion that pursues genuine dialogue and relationship without jettisoning our own beliefs.
Chapters five, six, and seven explore how, practically, students on the Christian college campus can be educated for this kind of engagement. Chapter five focuses on cultivating three virtues: humility, commitment and empathy. Chapter six explores how these can be developed on the Christian college campus and chapter seven provides a number of practical resources, exercises, and experiential learning opportunities that develop the skills needed. Then chapter eight provides practical steps that can be taken in going into another’s religious “home”–attending a feast or observing a religious service, engaging in service together, and learning from partners from another faith.
Each chapter ends with one or two stories of students engaged in various interfaith experiences, emphasizing both the increased understanding of other faiths, and the greater confidence in and appreciation for one’s own. Surprisingly, even though such dialogue is not “proselytizing,” many of the Christian students speak of how profound it was for them to speak honestly of their own beliefs as well as understanding those of others. The end of each chapter also provides questions and “Give it a try” ideas for groups working through the book.
This book struck me as a very helpful resource, whether for an educator in a Christian college, or a ministry leader working with a collegiate group in a public setting. It is striking, as Eboo Patel, a leader in interfaith work on university campuses has observed, that evangelical Christians have often been the most reluctant to engage in these efforts. Yet many students have been alienated by instances of religious prejudice, and long for an expression of their faith that doesn’t confine them to a bubble and wall them off from their religious neighbors. Instead, they want to build bridges of understanding and find ways across differences to pursue common goods. This book is a helpful guide.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.