January 6, 2024

On the Path to Fruitful Interfaith Interactions

Fostering positive relationships

Boubakar Sanou

In a world where diverse faith traditions coexist, the importance of constructive interactions with believers of other faiths cannot be overstated. The Bible records remarkable stories of interactions between the children of Israel and adherents of other faiths, offering insights for effective interfaith communication. Here are some examples: Abraham and Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20), Abraham and Abimelech (Gen. 20:1-17), Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-24), Elisha and Naaman (2 Kings 5), Jesus and the woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:1-42), and Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10). Below are 10 tips for fruitful interfaith interactions drawn from these passages.

1. Pray for Understanding and Guidance: Start by praying for God to remove any stereotypes and prejudices you might have toward people from other faiths. Seek God’s wisdom and align with His mission.

2. Educate Yourself: Take the initiative to learn about the basic tenets and practices of other faiths. This will reduce your ignorance and foster cross-cultural understanding and communication skills in personal interactions and professional settings.

3. Avoid Assumptions: Do not assume that followers of other faiths have no knowledge of the true God. Abraham made this mistake in his encounter with Abimelech by assuming that the fear of God was absent from Abimelech and his people (Gen. 20:11). God’s witnesses can be found in unlikely places on earth. This is highlighted in Jesus’ commendation of the Roman centurion’s faith: “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Matt. 8:10). In your interactions with people of other faiths, prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you where and how He is already at work in their lives and ask Him for the courage, wisdom, and humility to join Him on His terms. Such an approach recognizes that the power of Christian witness emanates only from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. It took Peter courage, wisdom, and humility to confess before Cornelius’ household that “in truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34, 35). It also took humility to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit that descended on him and other disciples at Pentecost was the same Holy Spirit that descended on Cornelius and his household, although they were not yet baptized (verses 44-48). We need to recognize and accept the fact that our conventional approaches may not align with God’s missionary ways and also that “we know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete” (1 Cor. 13:9, Message).1

4. Show Respect: Approach people of different faiths with respect, love, and a positive attitude, recognizing their worth as individuals created in the image of God, cherished by Him, and endowed with a certain understanding of who God is. Attentively listen to them, thoughtfully consider their viewpoints, and acknowledge any genuine insights they offer. Active listening involves suspending judgment and preconceived opinions so that one can really hear another’s perspective. Although deep theological differences between faiths can make dialogue challenging, particularly on topics where beliefs strongly diverge, remain calm and respectful even if the conversation becomes challenging or emotionally charged. Avoid responding defensively or confrontationally. Winning an argument should not come at the cost of losing the heart of the person you are conversing with. The overall goal of a respectful, loving, and positive attitude toward those who have different beliefs is to eliminate prevalent misconceptions and establish bridges of mutual understanding. People’s appreciation for your scriptural knowledge will emerge only once they have a clear sense of your genuine care. Never forget that “the strongest argument in favor of the gospel is a loving and lovable Christian.”2

5. Acknowledge Shared Beliefs and Values:  Finding common spiritual values and principles with someone from a different faith tradition can be a good foundation for fruitful dialogue. This can create a bridge of understanding and help dispel misconceptions and stereotypes.

6. Ask Engaging Questions: Encourage deeper conversation by asking questions that invite the person you are conversing with to share more about their beliefs and experiences. On one hand, asking engaging questions helps reveal the underlying assumptions of the person you are conversing with. It also relieves you from constantly being in a defensive position. For example, if a Muslim asks you, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” avoid immediately answering “Yes.” Instead, simply ask him or her, “What do you mean by that?” In doing so, you will avoid confirming some misguided notions that person might have about Jesus. On the other hand, asking questions will also help you avoid making assumptions about what the other person believes or practices based on stereotypes or preconceived notions. Just as you appreciate others giving you an opportunity to define your own beliefs and practices, do the same for them (see Matt. 7:12). It is important that when asking engaging questions, you avoid turning the conversation into a debate or divisive argument.

7. Speak Truth With Love: Speak about your faith and its uniqueness without belittling the faith tradition of the person you are conversing with. Arrogance damages your role as a witness for Christ.

8. Acknowledge Enrichment: Recognize that God can plan your interactions with individuals from other faiths to contribute to your spiritual growth, as seen in Abraham’s interaction with Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20) and Peter’s encounter with Cornelius (Acts 10). The encounter between Abraham and Melchizedek benefited both of them spiritually and materially, and (very likely) deepened their understanding of God’s universal sovereignty. In his encounter with Cornelius, Peter’s preconceived beliefs about who could be part of the Christian community were challenged. As a result, Peter’s and other early Christians’ understanding of God’s inclusive redemptive plan was broadened. This encounter was also a foundational moment in the history of the early church relative to the inclusion of Gentiles in the Christian fellowship.

9. Consider Timing: Be mindful of when and where you share information. Choose the right moment for meaningful conversations. According to Ellen White: “Many efforts, though made at great expense, have been in a large measure unsuccessful because they did not meet the wants of the time or the place.”3 Therefore, she advises that “while the teacher of truth should be faithful in presenting the gospel, let him never pour out a mass of matter which the people cannot comprehend because it is new to them and hard to understand.”4

In John 16:12 Jesus Himself refrained from instructing His disciples beyond what they could bear at that time. If such was Jesus’ approach with those He was with day and night for three and a half years, it would be unwise for us to do otherwise with people we encounter in our Christian witness.

Another good example of considering good timing for what we say is the case of Naaman, the top military officer in Syria, who was afflicted with a severe case of leprosy. Heeding the counsel of a young Israelite servant girl, he embarked on a journey to Israel in search of a remedy. Following Elisha’s directive, he immersed himself seven times in the Jordan River and experienced a miraculous cure. Upon his recovery, Naaman confessed, “There is no God in all the earth, except in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15), and proclaimed his firm commitment to worship only Yahweh from then on (verse 17). He approached Elisha with an unusual request for special consideration, however.  He wanted two muleloads of earth from Elisha’s property and pleaded for forgiveness when he was required to escort the king of Syria to the temple of Rimmon (verses 17, 18). Surprisingly, Elisha told him only, “Go in peace” (verse 19). Jon Paulien explains that “for the primal religions of Naaman’s day, all gods were associated with one land or another. That meant that Naaman could not worship Yahweh, the God of Israel, in Syria unless he brought with him Israelite dirt to spread in his garden. When he wanted to worship Yahweh, he would kneel on the Israelite soil. When he entered the temple of Rimmon with the king, he would bow his head but not his heart.”5

When Elisha sent Naaman off in peace, he was neither condoning nor encouraging his actions. As in John 16:12, Elisha might have felt that this was not the right moment to give counsel to Naaman on these matters. Instead, he chose just to acknowledge his faith and commit him to God’s care, trusting that in His providence God would continue to reveal Himself to him. Several centuries later Jesus commended Naaman’s faith in contrast to that of His contemporaries (Luke 4:27). Ellen White adds, “God passed over the many lepers in Israel because their unbelief closed the door of good to them. A heathen nobleman who had been true to his convictions of right, and who felt his need of help, was in the sight of God more worthy of His blessing than were the afflicted in Israel, who had slighted and despised their God-given privileges. God works for those who appreciate His favors and respond to the light given them from heaven.”6

10. Practice Hospitality: Offering, accepting, or asking for hospitality has the potential of counteracting negative stereotypes, breaking down barriers, building trust, and fostering relationships, as seen in the exchanges between Abraham and Melchizedek and between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. The act of hospitality displayed by Melchizedek (offering his bread, wine, and blessing to Abraham) and Abraham’s humble response to it paved the way for meaningful conversations between them. In John 4:7 Jesus took the initiative to ask for hospitality from the woman at the well: “Give me a drink.” This simple request set the stage for a life-changing conversation and led to a remarkable turn of events. Jesus and His disciples were invited to stay in the Samaritan town for two days—a surprising and uncommon occurrence in their time. Many Samaritans came to confess their faith in Jesus as the Savior of the world (verse 42).


Fostering positive relationships with people of all nations, cultures, and beliefs is an integral part of the Great Commission. A rephrased version of Matthew 28:19, 20, could say, “As you go about your daily lives, be intentional about making disciples of the people you interact with.” Given that the gospel represents the most extraordinary news that we could ever have the opportunity to proclaim, Christ invites each of us to let our faith in Him influence all aspects of our lives—family, school, professional, and social interactions. If people reject the gospel, it should not be because we misrepresented its essence in our interactions with them.

1 Texts credited to Message are from The Message, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress, represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

2 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 470.

3 Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1892), p. 297.

4 Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), p. 202.

5 Jon Paulien, “The Unpredictable God: Creative Mission and the Biblical Testimony,” in A Man of Passionate Reflection, ed. Bruce L. Bauer (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Department of World Mission, Andrews University, 2011), pp. 87, 88.

6 Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1917), p. 253.