E. Stanley Jones tells how he gathered people from various religions and viewpoints into a series of round table conferences. These persons were brought together not to discuss creeds or to argue positions but to share what they have learned of God through personal experience. This is an important book for our time because our world has become a small community. We must learn to listen to one another in mutual respect but at the same time be prepared to be open about what God means to us personally. In these Roundtable settings, Jones found that the person of Jesus easily stood out as the only One in whom we find Reality. In our time when persons are longing for ultimate truth, Jones makes it clear: “We never become more universal by being less Christian. Truth, by its very nature is narrow and God has only once revealed Himself in a person. Jesus in the ultimate truth available to every age.”
JONES’ PARTICIPATION IN A “CLINIC OF SOULS”
MY GRANDFATHER HAD a unique approach to presenting Jesus. He nurtured this approach by listening to others carefully, in order to understand their stories and their needs. Jones strongly felt he had no right to teach (or preach) to others if he was not learning from them in turn. He writes, “I came to India with everything to teach and nothing to learn. I now learn as well, and I am a better man for having come into contact with the gentle heart of the East.” One of the ways Jones listened and learned about the gentle heart of the East was through his Round Table Conferences. Up to forty leading representatives of different faiths—including agnostics and atheists—were invited to share what their faith or lack of faith meant to them. Jones would ask, “Tell us what you have found through your faith—What does it do for you in your everyday life?”
Present day dialogues with non-Christian faiths have been heralded as something new, and they are surely important. E. Stanley Jones held these conversations 90 years ago. In this Round Table context Jones asked himself whether the gospel of Christ had any certainty to offer. “Will it show itself capable of bringing to confused minds and distressed souls everywhere a new sense of reality and certainty under this awful scrutiny. If the gospel of Christ is founded upon Life will it, therefore, stand the shocks of life? Or is it a great and heroic guess at the solution to the riddle of life? Would the Round Table Conferences shed any light on these problems?” Jones continues his reflections, The more I think of it, the more I realize that the most dangerous thing the Christian Church ever did was to send us to India. Not dangerous to us. It matters little whether we live or die. But to start a moral and spiritual offensive in the heart of the most religious and philosophical people of the world, and that at a time when the weapons of modern criticism and modern knowledge are available for counter-attack, is too dangerous for words. For suppose it should be revealed amid that struggle that Christianity is only one among the many ways, that its claim to finality is untenable, that its sharp alternatives are not valid, that it is only a stage in the evolution of religion and it will be passed by, the final stage being a sifted amalgam from the whole. What would be the result of this? In looking back at the Round Table approach, I see now how daring and decisive this approach was: Here we were putting our cards on the table and asking the non-Christian world to do the same. Suppose our “hands” with which we were playing the game of life should turn out to be inadequate; and suppose other ways of life should prove more adequate. This was a showdown, and the stakes were high. In every situation the trump card was Jesus Christ. He made the difference. The people who followed him might be spotty and inadequate, but they had hold of the spotless and adequate or better Christ had hold of them! (A Song of Ascents, 239-40).
Jones presciently speaks of the potential for the Round Table approach to address current, internal controversies in the church. The fact cannot be disguised that we as Christians have our internal controversy. It has largely partaken of the method of long-distance dueling. We have shelled each other’s positions, or what we thought were the positions, but there has been much smoke and confusion and not a little un-Christian feeling. Why not sit down at Round Tables as Christian men and women and see what religion is meaning to us in experience? We would listen reverently to what the other man and woman would say it was bringing to them, and we would share what it was meaning to us. At the close we might not be agreed, but we would be mutually enriched, and certainly we would be closer to the real issues. And we would be on the right lines of approach in facing these issues and in finding their solutions. Church and lay leaders could prayerfully give the Round Table dialogue the occasion to let the Holy Spirit guide us in listening reverently to our brothers and sisters, and allow us to be enriched by that experience. I am grateful to Dr. Mark Teasdale, Associate Professor of Evangelism at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary for his outstanding introduction to this book. His is the perspective of a 21st century professor, pastor and evangelist. He writes that E. Stanley Jones faced in twentieth-century India very similar challenges to those we face in the United States today, and how his evangelistic approach via the Round Table can be a powerful example for us. Dr. Teasdale affirms: In a world beset by acrimony and divisions, often exacerbated by religious beliefs, Christ is already sitting at the Round Table. He beckons Christians to join him there and to welcome all others who are willing to enter into dialogue. There, as we speak and listen to each other, He will make himself known, allow us to know each other more fully, and lead us all into his grace. This book could not have been reprinted without the assistance of the Rev. Shivraj Mahendra, whose publishing, editing, and theological skills were essential to this project’s success. I don’t know how Shivraj finds the time to move these E. Stanley Jones reprinting projects forward with his customary speed, expertise, and precision. I am deeply grateful to him. Nicholas Younes contributed his considerable editing expertise to ensure that the text is clear and doggedly pursued the needed annotations. Barbara Hubbard brought her years of experience as an English teacher to double and triple check the grammar and punctuation. I am surrounded by gifted people and am truly blessed because of them. I trust that in turn you will be blessed by this book.
ANNE MATHEWS-YOUNES, ED.D., D. MIN.
President, The E. Stanley Jones Foundation