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WRF Member Dr. Thomas Johnson Writes to the WRF re His Recent Speech at the Vatican

WRF Member Dr. Thomas Johnson Writes to the WRF re His Recent Speech at the Vatican June 29, 2016 Sam Logan

Dear friends in WRF,

I would like to thank the many who prayed and sent notes of encouragement regarding my recent speech at the Vatican. I will not repeat the info that is in the press release or my speech, but I wanted to also give a more personal account.

My speech is attached to this letter and is available at the link below: 

http://www.bucer.de/fileadmin/dateien/Dokumente/BQs/BQ400ff/BQ420/Johnson_for_WEA_at_PCID_2016.pdf.

A press release describing this event is available at the link below:

http://www.bucer.de/ressource/details/bonner-querschnitte-252016-ausgabe-420.html.

If I counted properly there were about 30 representatives, of whom 15 came from non-Christian religions, 11 from different offices and departments of the Catholic Church, 2 from the World Council of Churches, while Thomas Schirrmacher and I represented the World Evangelical Alliance. I would suppose there was a significant self-selection process occurring among representatives of non-Christian religions, such that no one from ISIS, Boko Haram, or the radical, violent Hindu movement would accept such an invitation, but even among religious leaders who would never recommend violence there is significant value in discussion of morally convincing reasons why one should not associate faith with coercion or force. Most of the people who participated live in Europe or the UK, though many had family origins in Asia. I may have been the only American present; one of the Hindu leaders was from Canada.

Over meals I had fascinating interactions with Sikh, Hindu, and Jain leaders. What caught my attention was the manner and extent to which the focus of their lives is the attempt to become holy and pure, whether by meditation, yoga, discipline, or food rules. A Sikh guru was able to talk at length about how to recognize holiness in another person, which caused me to reflect that I am not interested in other people recognizing me as particularly holy in myself because our Christian holiness comes as a gift from God by faith in Christ. We believe that both justification and sanctification are free gifts, not something we have to spend a life time learning.[1] I would really prefer to be filled with gratitude to God and to be preoccupied with learning kindness to other people, not to be preoccupied with my own holiness.

I had several intentions in mind for my speech and participation in these meetings. One intention was to give a brief and appropriate description of the Christian gospel because we Christians are called to be ambassadors of Christ wherever we are. I also think that, in light of the extreme levels of religiously motivated violence in our time, there is value in publicizing the fact that leaders from different religions can have a peaceful, thoughtful discussion. This reason alone would be worth the cost of travel and a few days of my time. Obviously this meeting, and the efforts over the last decade leading up to the document discussed at the meeting, are part of the growing Evangelical/Roman Catholic cooperation in response to the persecution and discrimination of Christians. This cooperation is worth nurturing; I suspect it may be even more important in the coming years. And as a professor of theology and ethics, it is my job to teach in whatever situation the Lord provides, which I tried to do in this distinctive setting.

I am not so naïve as to think that a global ethics of religious persuasion, which I would like to see developed and adopted, would end the problems of religious persecution and violence. After all, the Ten Commandments, though published over 3,000 years ago, did not yet end all ethical problems among Jews and Christians, and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) did not yet stop human rights violations. But both God and thoughtful people have concluded that there is value in public statements of the principles we should follow.

Thomas K. Johnson, Ph.D.WRF Individual Member and Minister of the Presbyterian Church in America

Additional note from Sam Logan -

Dr. Johnson lives and ministers in Prague and his credentials also include the following:

Religious Freedom Ambassador to the Vatican from the World Evangelical Alliance (www.worldea.org)

Global Scholars Professor (www.global-scholars.org)

Research Vice President, Martin Bucer Seminary and Research Institutes (www.bucer.eu)

[1] I especially like no. 69 in the Westminster Larger Catechism: “Q. 69. What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ? A. The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.”

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