Stendahl’s rules

Krister Stendahl was a Swedish Lutheran theologian, New Testament scholar, and ultimately a bishop of the Church of Sweden. He’s probably best known for arguing that St. Paul’s letters were responding to a specific context–namely the relationship between Jews and Gentiles and his mission to the latter. According to Stendahl, much Western theology (Lutheran in particular) has misunderstood Paul by projecting onto him later conflicts, such as Luther’s with the Catholic Church, resulting in an overly “psychological” understanding of Paul’s teaching on faith and justification (the “introspective conscience of the West” as he puts it). Stendahl’s argument was an important impetus for the so-called new perspective on Paul. His book Paul Among Jews and Gentiles, which coincidentally I just started reading, collects some of his best known essays on this general topic.

But I didn’t know–until Christopher noted it in a comment–that Stendahl is also known for three “rules” for interreligious dialogue:

(1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.

(2) Don’t compare your best to their worst.

(3) Leave room for “holy envy.” (By this, Stendahl seems to have meant that we should be open to finidng attractive or truthful elements in other religions that aren’t necessarily present in our own.)

According to Wikipedia, Stendahl articulated these rules during a press conference in which he was responding to opponents of building a Mormon temple in Stockholm. Stendahl’s rules call for just the kind of approach to other religions that I was commending here.


3 thoughts on “Stendahl’s rules

  1. “When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.”

    So much for Adversus Haereses as a key to understanding Gnosticism. Heh.

  2. Pingback: An experiment in apologetics | A Thinking Reed

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