Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Theological Reflections 2 on Priest Boot-Camp


“No world peace without peace between religions, no peace among religions without dialogue between religions and no dialogue between religions without accurate knowledge of one another.” (Hans Kung)

Seems as good a starting point as any.

The question is, to what extent can Christians enter such dialogue without compromising the traditional belief in the absoluteness and uniqueness of Christ? Similarly, can Muslims enter it without compromising their belief in the uniqueness of the Quran?

We also need to see the dark hand of history in our unenlightened dealings with one another, which has led on the part of Christianity and its political manifestations to imperialism and superiority and on the part of others to resentment and suspicion. These are not good foundations for dialogue. One side’s war of liberation is another side’s realisation that the Crusaders are out to do us down again.

Nevertheless, I side with Max Warren of the Church Missionary Society: “Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves trading on men’s dreams. More serious still, we may forget that God was here before our arrival.”

Similarly, I like this World Council of Churches statement (1975): “As Christians enter dialogue with their commitment to Jesus Christ, time and again the relationship of dialogue gives opportunity for authentic witness; at the same time we feel able with integrity to assure our partners in dialogue that we come not as manipulators but as fellow pilgrims, to speak to them of what we believe God has done in Jesus Christ who has gone before us but who we seek to meet anew in dialogue.”

Let us remember too, that in Vatican 2, the Roman Catholic Church had renounced its interpretation of extra ecclesia nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation) and affirmed other faiths as genuine though imperfect ways to salvation.

So, Christian approaches to mission have often been categorised under one of three paradigms:

1) Exclusivism:
• This encompasses the beliefs that all non Christians are damned eternally;
• The traditional interpretation, taken literally, of extra ecclesia nun salus;
• The belief that “European” Christian culture is superior;
• All religion is unbelief without the self-revelation of God in Christ;
• The urgent missionary claim of the unique Christ.

Biblical support for these stances can be found in John 14.6 and Acts 4.12. (What you want me to do everything for you? I’m afraid not: look them up for yourselves.) Similarly Leslie Newbigin comments “It is not true that all roads lead to the top of the same mountain. There are roads that lead over the precipice. In Christ we have been shown the road.”

2) Inclusivism:• This encompasses the ancient sense that Christ Fulfils or recapitulates but does not destroy what is good in other religions, cultures and philosophies;
• The long standing belief that outside the church the Jewish people are God’s chosen;
• The insistence that Christ is not exhausted by Jesus of Nazareth but fills all things as “cosmic presence” (Col 1);
• Belief in the universality of God’s grace as the source of salvation;
• The sense of common experience amongst mystics, so that Christians find Christ in other forms.

Biblical support for these stances include: Acts 17.23, Col 1.20 and I Tim 2.4. (Yes we have the Bible supporting opposing positions which is why I have a problem with those who insist on bashing me with the concept of the inerrancy of Scripture.) In addition the concept of Anonymous Christians was affirmed in the works of Karl Rahner. Also “It is our belief that those who strive to do the good which is enjoined on us have a share in God. Christ is the divine word in whom the whole human race shares and those who live according to the light of their knowledge are Christians, even if they are considered as being godless.” (Justin Martyr, 2nd century).

3: Pluralism:
• This more recent development encompasses the idea that there is a philosophical or experiential essence to all religion, taking different forms and histories;
• The post-modern belief in a radical pluralism, so that while understanding may be possible, synthesis is not;
• The eschatological belief that, while full agreement is not possible now, unity of faith will be revealed at the end of time;
• The attempt to construct a universal religion out of elements of all;
• The move away from Christocentrism to Theocentrism.

There is no Biblical support for these positions but John Hick has opposed the traditional Christian Incarnational doctrine, and in seeing all religions as having their heart In the move from self-centredness to centering in God.

So, where do you fit in to these paradigms?