Original Research

Nudged by Nathan Following a Lessing line in interfaith theology?

Petrus P. Kruger
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 55, No 1 | a2685 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v55i1.2685 | © 2021 Petrus P. Kruger | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 September 2020 | Published: 22 April 2021

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Petrus P. Kruger, Department of Dogmatics, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa

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Whereas a widespread malaise about the truth quality of much written and spoken communication had in our times apparently also infected the sensitive area of theological interfaith discourse, an injunction like the following of the apostle Paul receives renewed urgency: ‘the ‘kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power’ – against the background of the apostle’s own display of kingdom power ‘as if in a theatre’ (see 1 Cor 4:9, 20). The objective of this research study was to probe whether the recent leaning towards a more ‘dramatic mode of theologizing’ might be conducive to preventing the Christian interfaith discourse from descending into powerless talk about the kingdom of God. It, moreover, hypothesised that a ‘doing of the truth’ (in the Johannine sense of the phrase) – analogous to the faithful improvisation of an original theatrical script (in this instance: Holy Scripture) – could add value to the truth - claiming of Christianity in its encounter with Jews and Muslims. The method was followed for analysing the famous Enlightenment literary drama of Lessing, Nathan the Wise, to find a possible cue for proceeding in such a direction, and if found – to heuristically build thereon for such a real-life, contemporary interfaith discourse. The result was that Lessing’s ‘Parable of the Three Rings’ yielded some cue, which, however, was found to be deficient. Only filtered through Barth’s razor-sharp evaluation of the beautiful Lessing drama and then fitted into a Barthian view of the ‘Light and the lights’, which was, for its part, adapted to Calvin’s grand vision of the world as theatrum Dei gloriae, the cue could be moulded to be acceptable for our purpose. A notion of historical-dramatic interfaith encounter thus emerged, where truth is not precluded in undecided tolerance but preluded in expectation of its full eschatological uncovering. Employing this – reframed – ‘Nathan nudge’, a conclusionary sketch could be given of a theological interfaith contest, conducted as if biblical truth resounded through the Christian’s whole body in an interactive ‘inter-play’ with Jews and Muslims. This conclusion was highlighted by some improvisatory, preludial, hospitable and Christocentric accents inherent in such a rendering.

Contribution: This article showed one way out of the impasse that threatens a form of interfaith truth claiming constructed around ‘mere words’ – which, moreover, are deemed to be ‘final’. By proposing a preluding – and yet not precluding – of Christian truth, it hopes to add value to interfaith kingdom theology that really matters.


interfaith theology; dramatic improvisation; Lessing; Nathan the Wise; Barth; Calvin; pilgrims’ prelude.


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