As Strangers and Pilgrims: Hermeneutical Hospitality as Theological Paradigm for Christian Mission and Ecumenical Dialogue

by Daniel Jara Jhayya

Date added: 28/10/2016

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As Strangers and Pilgrims: Hermeneutical Hospitality as Theological Paradigm for Christian Mission and Ecumenical Dialogue[1]


Daniel Jara Jhayya[2]



This paper proposes a new theological paradigm for mission and ecumenical dialogue, in order to deal with the tension between the “religious identity” of the person involved in mission or dialogue and the openness that the other demands in order to be recognized. First, it analyzes the exclusivist and inclusivist attitudes to ecumenical dialogue and mission that characterize three different Christian traditions: the Church of England, the charismatic and evangelical movement (Vineyard movement) and the Orthodox Church (Russian Orthodox). Second, it analyzes the suitability and limits of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of hospitality as a new paradigm for relevant and faithful ecumenical dialogue and Christian mission, considering that it involves both: the practice of receiving the other, the stranger; and the hermeneutical openness that makes possible a fruitful dialogue. It also considers the principle of incarnation as a possibility for opening spaces where participants do not only recognize the other, but also become the other. Finally, it mentions the notion of the eschatological Feast as a space for hermeneutical openness and encounter where people can find recognition, develop trust in the other, embrace their own strangeness and fragility, and as an anteroom where the eschatological reconciliation with those whose differences seem insurmountable can be opened.


Two Approaches to Mission and Dialogue

In the development of their own identity, different Christian movements, traditions and churches develop mission and dialogue with those outside their congregations by using different missionary approaches. For instance, a well-established church such as the Church of England applies an inclusivist model that opens spaces for salvation outside the Christian church but only through the person of Christ. On the other hand, modern Christian charismatic movements, such as the Vineyard movement, are clear examples of an exclusivist missiological paradigm that claims faithfulness to Christian identity as the starting point for any kind of dialogue with other religious traditions or non-believers. Likewise, we can consider national Orthodox traditions such as the Russian Orthodox Church which practices dialogue and mission as two different and separate issues but always with an exclusivist understanding of its tradition and doctrine.

In charismatic churches where the exclusivist model is practiced, the idea of “universal salvation” is rejected because in their opinion it lacks a biblical basis. Thus, passages in the Bible like the one in which Jesus affirms that he is “the way, the truth and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through [him]” (John 14:6) are normative for their faith. According to Moyaert, this faithfulness to the written word claimed by these congregations “means a very literal interpretation of the Bible” (Moyaert 2011: 17).

This exclusivist paradigm is based on a pessimistic anthropology that highlights the sinful nature of human beings and a high Christology that emphasizes the divine nature of Jesus Christ as the uniquely valid option for salvation. Only the personal confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior as an epistemological requirement makes salvation possible. Furthermore, culture is understood in negative terms and the main reason why it must be studied is because it will facilitate the development of new tools for proclaiming the gospel.

This theological approach is commonly recognized in evangelical churches and ecclesial supra-organizations like the Lausanne Movement. In his opening address “Why Lausanne?” the evangelist Billy Graham summarizes well the main points of practical mission from an exclusivist perspective:

a) Commitment to the authority of Scripture,

b) Lostness of human beings apart from Christ,

c) Salvation in Jesus Christ alone,

d) Christian witness,

e) The necessity of evangelism for the salvation of the souls (Stott 1994, 14).

In this way, a clear distinction is created between those who are justified by God’s grace through Christ and those who “don’t believe and live in sin”. For the former, in any kind of encounter with a religious or non-religious other, their Christian identity must prevail. In their understanding, Christian identity is an “impermeable” boundary that separates the justified and the sinner and is characterized by “certainty, conviction, perseverance, trust and agreement. It excludes ambiguity, otherness and interpretation” (Moyaert 2011: 81).

For most of the exclusivists, dialogue is a word that at the least arouses suspicion and provokes a defensive attitude. Subsequently, they consider themselves to be those who take more seriously their Christian identity and their faithfulness to the gospel compared with other Christian partners. Among exclusivists, faithfulness to Christian identity and openness to dialogue are two opposite sides of one single scale. Gay explains this wonderfully: “‘where your heart is’ Jesus might have said in the contemporary context, there you will prefer certainty to ambiguity and truth to dialogue” (Gay 1993: 225). Thus, Christian identity becomes a boundary between Christians and non-Christians.

Because of these characteristics, congregations that hold an exclusivist understanding of mission are not enthusiastic about dialogical openness. The other person needs to convert before he can be considered a suitable partner for dialogue. Nevertheless, this does not prevent some of these congregations from being involved in dialogue with non-Christians, but it is a special dialogue that has conversion as its main goal. As Netland asserts: “Properly defined, dialogue is not incompatible with a commitment to evangelism… informed dialogue is essential if the proclamation of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ is to be carried out effectively” (Netland 1991, 301). Thus, in an exclusivist understanding of mission, dialogue mainly relates to the conversion of the other. It is because of this consideration of dialogue as a practice aimed at conversion that for authors like Moyaert, it is very difficult to develop dialogue from an exclusivist perspective (which doesn’t mean that inter-denominational cooperation is impossible for them).

A Christian tradition that, by its own logic, agrees with some exclusivist statements is the Orthodox Church. The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate for example, separates dialogue and mission as part of its ministry. The attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church regarding dialogue and mission is ambiguous: inside its “canonical territories” the Orthodox Church maintains an exclusivist attitude towards any other kind of religious tradition, including other Christian denominations. This makes it very difficult for this church to identify God’s revelation inside the “canonical territory” to people outside its Christian tradition.

Outside its canonical territory, this Church engages in dialogue but affirms that its primary task in relation to any non-Orthodox confession is “to bear continuous and persistent witness which will lead to the truth expressed in this Tradition becoming understandable and acceptable” (The Russian Orthodox Church 2015a). This church develops dialogue from “[…] the firm confession of the truth of our Universal Church as a sole guardian of Christ’s heritage and a sole saving ark of divine grace” (The Russian Orthodox Church 2015b) and its objective is “to show [others] in fact what they should consider and decide upon if they really believe that salvation is bound up with life in the Church and sincerely wish to be united with her…”(The Russian Orthodox Church 2015b).

Thus, dialogue in the Russian Orthodox tradition is mainly geared to witnessing and conversion of the religious other. In dialogue, the Russian Orthodox Church looks for “faithfulness to the apostolic and patristic Tradition of the Orthodox Church and the teaching of the Ecumenical and Local Councils.” (The Russian Orthodox Church 2015a).  This will unequivocally promote a dichotomy between “our faith” which is “the sole one” and their faith “that is unfaithful to apostolic and patristic Tradition”. Because of the imbalance between their beliefs and the other’s belief, in dialogue “any dogmatic concessions or compromises in the faith are excluded” (The Russian Orthodox Church 2015a). In this sense, any attempt at reunification or even dialogue for the non-Orthodox is conditional on changes in the belief of the interlocutor. The Russian Orthodox Church affirms that “the transformation and healing of their dogmatic consciousness and experience” (The Russian Orthodox Church 2015a) is a precondition for any attempt at reunification.

On the other hand, there are Christian churches like the Church of England that use a different paradigm for mission and dialogue. According to this Church, an exclusivist perspective of mission does not do justice to the presence of God in human history and his revelation in different cultures. These churches consider that “an all loving God could not have consigned the majority of humankind to perdition” (D’Costa 1986, 83).  These churches developed an inclusivist model of mission in which salvation is possible outside of Christian faith but only because of God’s redemption through Jesus Christ. For this reason, Christ is still the center of the salvific act of God, but this Christological salvation is not epistemological as in the exclusivist model, but ontological: an epistemological declaration is not necessary because the sacrifice and redemption of Christ is so complete that it reaches people who had never heard about him.

This theological posture is commonly called “Catholic” because it is associated with the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. On this subject, the reflections of the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner about the existence of “anonymous Christians” stand out. He recognizes an “anonymous Christian” as a “person [who] lives in the grace of God and attains salvation outside of explicitly constituted Christianity - let us say, a Buddhist monk - who, because he follows his conscience, attains salvation and lives in the grace of God” (Rahner 1986, 135). Thus, God uses very divergent ways in order to offer salvation. This approach is not so much interested in the sinfulness of human beings, but in the origin of human beings as God’s creation and image. Churches who support an inclusivist way of performing mission believe that, unlike the exclusivist model, this model keeps a balance between Christian identity and openness to the religious or non-religious others at the same time. Thus, for some inclusivists, “exclusivism is problematic with respect to interreligious dialogue” (Moyaert, 2011, 6). Because of this alleged “balance” some authors characterize this model as one that accepts and rejects religious plurality at the same time.

An inclusivist approach to mission or dialogue moves the center of discussion from sin and human brokenness, as in the exclusivist approach, to connectedness with religious and non-religious others. According to Dupuis, this connectedness “forms the basis of interreligious dialogue and the turn to the religious other” (Dupuis, 1997, 346a). In this manner, instead of focusing on what the other lacks (regeneration through Christ), as in the exclusivist approach, inclusivists focus on what connects them with the other, which is the universal redemption through Christ. Inclusivists argue that, contrary to the exclusivist model, faithfulness to their religious identity is not a boundary between them and the religious other. Instead of being a boundary, commitment to their faith convictions is the basis for a sincere dialogue: “After all, at the basis of an authentic religious life is a faith that endows that life with its specific character and proper identity” (Dupuis 2001, 228b).

Most of the criticism of this approach is directed at the consideration of one’s own perspective as normative for judging those who do not belong to one’s Christian tradition. Authors like Moyaert affirm that “Soteriologically, there is an asymmetry between Christianity and the other’s religion” (Moyaert 2011, 23). Thus, God can use other religious traditions in order to save people, but this doesn’t suppose any kind of parity between those traditions and Christianity; it is because of the person of the Christian Messiah that salvation is an ultimate option in any other belief. This is a confessional perspective that is used as a basis for judging any other tradition and non-believers and also creates a kind of hierarchical relationship. The asymmetry that this relationship supposes can easily relate to a false sense of superiority of one religious tradition over all the others, which will condition any dialogue.

The inclusivist model produces discomfort among exclusivists because it does not establish clear boundaries between who is saved and who is not. The inclusivist approach produces a sense of ambiguity that differs markedly from the sense of certainty that the exclusivist model creates. Besides, exclusivists argue that the inclusivist approach relativizes mission and evangelization as two redundant activities: “If we all will be saved at the end, why should we develop mission?” In my opinion, the answer to this question resides in the lack of seriousness that some authors believe the inclusivist approach has regarding the specific otherness of every religion. First, it is a mistake to think that every religion and all religious practices are almost the same and have the same intrinsic value. There are religious practices in the world that clearly oppress people and have institutionalized several kinds of violence, and the Church must denounce these practices. Second, this approach uses Christian categorizations and doctrines in order to understand the religious other, which again does not do justice to the otherness of the religious other. In this sense, theologians like George Lindbeck reject an inclusivist approach to mission because of the “artificial” connection it creates between “Christian experiences” of salvation and totally different religious traditions. According to Lindbeck it is necessary to appropriate first the Christian language and Christian skills in order to experience reality in a Christian manner. As he affirms: “the notion of anonymous Christianity […] is from this perspective nonsense, and a theory of the salvation of non-Christians built upon it seems thoroughly unreal” (Lindbeck 1984: 62).

In addition, some theologians criticize precisely what many people consider to be the strong point of the inclusivist approach; that is, the claim of a supposed balance between faithfulness to Christian identity and openness to the religious other (implying that both are in a certain manner opposed). Critics of this model agree that inclusivism “reaches its limit precisely in the tension between the universality of God’s salvific will on the one hand and the particularity of the divine incarnation on the other” (Moyaert 2011: 33). For theologians like Hick, this is an “unstable and untenable middle position” (Hick 1988, 7).

Finally, one of the greatest weaknesses of an inclusivist missiological or dialogical approach is precisely the little importance that this approach attaches to the strangeness and singularity of other religious traditions. Inclusivism glosses over all kinds of particularities in other religions in order to value one single salvific element that is Christ’s universal offer for redemption, while almost all the practices and features of these religious traditions are dispensable. Because many of these elements have no relation with Christian faith, inclusivism “runs the risk of remaining blind to that which cannot be ‘integrated’” (Moyaert 2011: 33).

What these perspectives have in common is the recognition of God’s will of salvation for all humanity and the fact that these three churches/traditions consider their own perspectives as normative for judging those who do not belong to their Christian traditions. This last point has provoked reactions from some theologians like Knitter, who has stated that dialogue or mission from any of these positions is a kind of “dialogue between the cat and the mouse” because “my final word either negates or subordinates your word”. Thus, any kind of dialogue will be previously conditioned. In this dialogue “the mouse ends up fulfilled when included in the cat” (Knitter 1996, 33).

The two missiological approaches previously analyzed, exclusivism and inclusivism, are, first of all, artificial subdivisions that cannot be found in a “pure state” in any Christian congregation. These approaches or models are used in order to pedagogically explain and group missiological and dialogical styles that coincide in most of their characteristics. In the case of the exclusivist approach, dialogue with the religious and non-religious other is almost completely aimed at the transformation and conversion of the other as a missiological goal; there is almost no room for any kind of conversion of the self as a result of the encounter. This perspective separates Christian identity and the other’s otherness as two irreconcilable extremes in dialogue. In practice, from this perspective a successful dialogue is one in which, at the end, the other becomes like me, embraces my faith, and this same faith remains unscathed, stronger and unchanged.

On the other hand, the inclusivist approach pretends to keep a balance between faithfulness to Christian identity and openness to dialogue, but the asymmetrical relationship this proposes creates an imbalance between the two sides; the otherness of the other is almost not taken into account, the other is understood in Christian terms and all kind of religious practices and beliefs are, in practice, secondary to the salvific act of the Christian redeemer.

The tension between openness to the other and faithfulness to Christian identity may be considered more evident in ecumenical efforts. In these efforts, the otherness of the others is not limited to one or two national, ethnic or socio-economic realities; on the contrary, a multicultural reality characterizes them. This will definitely challenge the way dialogue is achieved. In my opinion, in order to have a fruitful dialogue, it is necessary to develop a hermeneutical openness that allows the strange to become more familiar, and the familiar stranger, as Kearney affirms (Kearney 2003: 151). According to Moyaert, although Paul Ricoeur did not write about Christian dialogue, his hermeneutics of hospitality “offers new and challenging perspectives for exploring the openness for the other further” (Moyaert 2011: 236). Next, I will develop a theological paradigm for missiology and ecumenical dialogue, based on the hermeneutics of hospitality of the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur and some Christian theologians who have worked on this topic.


Hermeneutical Hospitality: A New Theological Paradigm.

Central to Christian mission and ecumenical dialogue is the tension between openness to the other, his context, culture and reality on the one hand and faithfulness to Christian identity characterized by its values and traditions on the other. This is a tension that marks the manner in which the Church performs mission, relates to intercultural efforts, ecumenical dialogue and understands itself in the world. Some Christian traditions like those already studied reflect this tension in different ways. For example, the Anglican Church states dialogue between its religious identity and the context as part of its mission, while the Vineyard movement practices an “instrumentalized dialogue” as part of its mission in order to be faithful to its religious convictions.

The communitarian or personal cultures involved in Christian mission or ecumenical dialogue and the personal religious identities of the participants will certainly play a major role and the tension between them should be taken into account. Thus, in the case of Christian mission, a tension will be experienced between the missiological culture of the Christian tradition that supports mission, the individual religious identity of those who take part in the missionary effort and the local culture where mission will be performed. In the case of Ecumenical dialogue, a similar situation could be experienced between the communitarian identity and ecumenical dispositions of those Christian traditions or denominations involved in dialogue and the individual religious identities of people from many different places, ages and religious cultures who participate. Regarding this tension, it is necessary to consider that neither the “religious identity” of those traditions or denominations involved in the effort, nor the “local culture” where mission or dialogue are performed, nor the “personal culture” of the participants are static elements, but they influence each other, they are dynamic and in constant transformation.

It is because of this tension between faithfulness to Christian identity and openness to the other that Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of hospitality is an appropriate paradigm for a relevant and faithful ecumenical dialogue and Christian mission. In this respect, hospitality involves both: a practice of receiving the other, the stranger; and it also involves a hermeneutical openness that makes possible a fruitful dialogue by considering the respective cultural backgrounds and Christian traditions of the participants.

In this sense, the Christian tradition of hospitality can serve as a source of inspiration. As Tulud Cruz mentions, “Hospitality is a way of life that is fundamental to the Christian identity” (Tulud 2010: 127). Hospitality, as a practice that includes respect and care for the other, not only provides a safe haven and support for the stranger, but also enriches the understanding of the local church about its responsibilities, its place in the world and its mission. A motivation for hospitality lies in the idea that God reveals himself in the stranger, the other. Thus, the stranger becomes a source of God’s revelation. As Jansen affirms: “God enters the picture as a God incognito, to whom we offer or we do not offer hospitality. […] and, without knowing whom we are dealing with, we discover with surprise the attitude with which we met God” (Jansen 2002, 299). Finding God in the other is an idea with a long history in the Christian Church. For example, in the tradition of story of the journey on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), Christ reveals himself in the foreigner, but only when he is invited to stay and share bread with them, when they are hospitable with him. Thus, the other acquires relevancy and becomes a bearer of God’s revelation for the Church. As in the parable of the Good Samaritan, it is the completely other, the strangest person on the road, who gives the opportunity for the coming of the Kingdom of God. In the words of Sacks: “The religious challenge is to find God’s image in someone who is not in our image, in someone whose color is different, whose culture is different, who speaks a different language, tells a different story, and worships God in a different way” (Sacks 2004). As in the story of the Magi from the East, to find God’s revelation requires a peregrination to the encounter with the other and attentiveness to God’s signals.

Ricoeur’s anthropology of oneself as another relates closely to hospitality hermeneutics and links up well with Jesus commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Besides, it can provide a good insight into the position from which ecumenical dialogue and Christian mission are performed. If we take seriously the words of Jesus: “Learn from me” (Matthew 11:29), then we can argue that learning about incarnation, i.e. taking the place of the other, becoming like the other, is a biblical and doctrinal basis for performing mission. In this sense, becoming a stranger is in the first place an ontological requirement for Christian mission. As Groody affirms: “God’s identification with humanity is so total that in Christ he not only reaches out to the stranger but becomes the stranger” (Groody 2009, 13). According to Barth, incarnation is a mystery that “offends”. It offends precisely because becoming a stranger and incarnating his vulnerability defies the values of a society that claims the affirmation of the self, his needs and interests. Incarnation is a challenging concept because it invites us to abandon a “self-serving” identity in order to embrace the identity of the “other”, the one who presents himself as needing attention, as needing recognition but as rich at the same time because he is the bearer of God’s revelation. Barth considers that “The mystery [incarnation] reveals to us that for God it is just as natural to be lowly as it is to be high, to be near as it is to be far, to be little as it is to be great, to be abroad as to be at home” (Barth 2004, 192). Being a stranger is part of the identity of God’s people (Ex 23:9, Deut 24:18) and God is interested in becoming a God for the stranger (Deut. 10:17-18, Ps 146:9).

The New Testament and the gospels contain plenty of exhortations about the hospitable character of the Church. Jesus calls himself a stranger: “I am not of this world” (John 8:23) and recognizes the labor of the Church for those who are strangers like him: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Matthew 25:35). Tulud Cruz summarizes this well: “Jesus himself by his incarnation and by being an itinerant preacher, took the conditions of a stranger. Moreover, Jesus advocated for the care of the stranger” (Tulud 2010, 125). By reaffirming the hospitable character of ecumenical dialogue and mission, we remember that the incarnation, life, ministry and death of Jesus were marked by strangeness and his entire ministry relied on the hospitality that was provided by people along the way. Hermeneutical Hospitality presents itself as a model of self-giving love and vocation in the incarnation of Christ, in which God actively decides to empty himself of everything but love. In order that he can be completely identified with the other, he immerses himself completely in a situation of vulnerability in a real act of human-human solidarity.

Through incarnation, it is possible to understand that ecumenical dialogue requires us to open spaces where those who take part do not only recognize the other, but become like the other in what Küster calls the third space, that is, the space “into which one can only return as a changed person” (Küster 2003, 23). This is a space where those involved in dialogue are open to learning from the other and sharing who they are with the other, where each has something to offer and receive, both are guests and hosts; it is “the space in which human beings have become migrants” (Hoedemaker 2010, 23). This is closely related to the dialectic of appropriation and expropriation proposed by Ricoeur, in which he affirms that people must lose themselves as a precondition for finding themselves by receiving the other.

Practicing a truly ecumenical dialogue with the religious other also requires what Moyaert calls “hermeneutical openness”, which is “to receive the world of the religious other […] Hospitality is not absorbing the other” (Moyaert 2011, 262). Being hospitable also involves recognizing the “world of the religious [or non-religious] other”, i.e. acknowledging that the other has something to offer and that God’s revelation cannot be completed until that something is finally shared. Practicing a truly ecumenical dialogue and mission means abolishing an asymmetrical relationship in which one receives the other and helps him, in order to create a horizontal relationship between equals in which both are guests and each side recognizes himself as a stranger. Thus, hermeneutical openness involves a serious consideration of the distance between Christian identity and the strangeness of the other, not as a boundary that separates, but as making space for the richness of the other, as Thele affirms: “making room in one’s own abode to receive the other” (Thele 2003, 131).

This presupposes an acceptance that the identities of both sides are fragile, are in constant change, challenged by a multicultural context and formed by some strange elements that are unknown to the person. According to Ricoeur, keeping in mind the idea of being a stranger oneself encourages hospitality: “Because we ourselves are strangers, we must be hospitable to other strangers” (Ricoeur 2015). The Christian Church as a community marked by strangeness is also affirmed in the New Testament: “Dear friends, I urge you, as strangers and pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11), and when the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews talks about great figures of the Scriptures, he affirms that “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, […] and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). In ecumenical dialogue and Christian mission, it is only when one recognizes the fragility and strangeness of their own identity in the first place that a real hospitality can emerge. Following Moyaert’s reasoning: “The fragility of identity consists in the fact that personal identity always contains a strangeness” (Moyaert 2011, 263). This strangeness makes people in dialogue equal between each other, since both are looking for God and finding God’s revelation and themselves in the other.

By “receiving the world of the religious other”, we also state that there are differences in the manner Christianity is lived, experienced and developed in different parts of the world, and in ecumenical dialogue these differences can collide with each other or they can nurture each other. And this “act of receiving” has also a missional dimension, it is also a call for a hospitable welcome to those who do not recognize themselves as Christians but want to become part of the dialogue; they have value and not only because they are “potential Christians”. Of course, this hermeneutical openness cannot be based on pessimistic anthropologies but must rest “[on] a belief in the “readability” and thus comprehensibility of the creation, and the trust in faith that God also reveals himself in the other” (Moyaert 2011, 267).

Nonetheless, it is naïve to assume that all kinds of differences can be overcome by the appropriation of God’s revelation in the religious other and the rise of a “mixed faith” that incorporates all kinds of beliefs from different people. In fact, this is not the goal at all. Hospitality is not a unifying force; there are and will always be differences between the host and the guest or the two guests that participate in dialogue (and between Church involved in mission and those reached by it) and sometimes these differences can be irreconcilable. Ricoeur’s hospitality does not pretend to create “a harmonizing consensus of the familiar and the strange” (Moyaert 2011, 258). Ricoeur believes that his hermeneutic offers space for conflicts because they are part of life, and sometimes these conflicts can be due to the practical impossibility of understanding what the other says. Here, pneumatology can be relevant. Hospitality is primarily encouraged by the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit makes it possible to accept the strangeness of the other and to understand strange languages. The Spirit sets people in motion toward others, toward strangers” (Sundermeier 1996, 211). The Spirit is the one who guides Christ’s followers towards truth (John 16:13) and the one who surprises the Church according to his will: “The wind blows wherever it pleases” (John 3:8). The Spirit does not eliminate differences, but as in Pentecost “[he] makes them accessible” (Moyaert 2011, 267).

In ecumenical dialogue and Christian mission an attitude of hospitality and hermeneutical openness to the strange is, in my opinion, a credible option for dealing with the tension between the “religious identity” of the participants, which is not static but in constant change, and the openness that the other demands in order to be welcomed. By keeping a “closed” identity that does not leave room for the strange, Christian congregations risk overlooking the revelation of God through the other, the strange. On the other hand, by opening up to any kind of religious practice without restriction, those in dialogue would lose those features and practices that make them unique in the first place. The biblical revelation tells us that the other, the stranger, is a place of God’s revelation and, as Moyaert asserts, is “a tradition on which hermeneutical hospitality rests” (Moyaert 2011, 313).

Does this mean that the tension between faithfulness to Christian identity and openness to the other is finally resolved by hospitality hermeneutics? The answer is no, this tension cannot be definitely resolved, especially because there is neither a correct proportion nor exact formulas. Each new situation, each new other will require a different interpretative effort, and for this reason looking for God will always require hermeneutics. Moyaert argues that believers “must live in the midst of tension” (Moyaert 2011, 278). Thus, believing will always be related to searching. In a certain sense, hermeneutical hospitality intends to create an attitude for dialogue instead of defining when identities should “be open” and when they should “remain closed” to the other.


Ecumenical Dialogue: Space for a Welcoming Feast

To finish, I would like to mention one notion that is linked to the Christian tradition of hospitality in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The notion of the Feast relates well to “the tradition of hospitality, a tradition in connection with hermeneutical openness” (Moyaert 2011, 300). Feast as a space for hermeneutical openness and encounter is a place where people can find recognition, trust in the other can be developed, one’s own strangeness and fragility can be embraced, an anteroom of the eschatological reconciliation with those whose differences seem insurmountable can be opened and the believer can find new motives for encounter with the religious or the non-religious other. Hermeneutical openness as a place for a feast means providing room in one’s abode to welcome the different.

The table as an opportunity for sharing and openness has a long history in Christian tradition. The table used to be one of Jesus’ preferred places for meeting the other and is an image in the book of Revelations for the eschatological reconciliation between the creation and God. Solidarity is one of the consequences of being part of the feast. The differences are not an obstacle for sharing the table in an attitude that is not focused on what makes us different but on what connects us: the necessity of finding the other and celebrating with him. By celebrating together, solidarity and community can be experienced, as Sundermeier affirms: “nowhere am I so present with others and at the same time myself as during a Feast” (Sundermeier 1996, 211).

Finally, hermeneutical hospitality reminds us that Christian pilgrimage is a journey characterized by the surprises of God, as on the road to Emmaus; the strange is where God is revealed and experienced. Since its beginnings, Christian faith has been lived in community, experienced in communion with the other, and mission is achieved in communion with the different.

“How should koinonia be realized now? What significance does it have? One must insist: theology may never isolate itself. It always seeks exchange; it seeks brothers and sisters, however differently they may think. Indeed, precisely because they think differently, we must come together and learn from the other.” (Sundermeier 1994: 307)



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    • The Russian Orthodox Church. Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. Basic Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Toward the Other Christian Confessions (2010) Web Site. Available on: (visit 2015, 22nd July).
    • The Russian Orthodox Church. Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. Dialogue with Non-Orthodox (2015) Web Site. Available on: (visit 2015, 22nd July).
    • Thele, N.  Interreligious Dialogue: Theory and Practice (Grand Rapids: 2003)
    • Tulud, G. Pilgrims in the Wilderness: Towards an Intercultural Theology of Migration (Leiden, Boston: 2010)


[1] A former version of this article was published in RELIGACION Revista de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades. N 1. Section Teología. P 91. 2016.

[2] Daniel Jara J. (Quito, 1989) Theologian and Psychologist. Bachelor in Pastoral Theology (Quito), Bachelor in Psychology (Loja), Bachelor of Theological Studies (Florida), Master in Cross-Cultural Theology (Amsterdam), Master in Extended Ecumenical Studies (Bonn). Lecturer of Intercultural Theology, Ecumenical Studies and Contextual Theology in Seminario Sudamericano SEMISUD (Quito-Ecuador).


Daniel Jara Jhayya

Daniel Jara Jhayya



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