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Christianity and World Religions: Disputed Questions in the Theology of Religions.

CHRISTIANITY AND WORLD RELIGIONS: DISPUTED QUESTIONS IN THE THEOLOGY OF RELIGIONS. By Gavin D'Costa. Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Pp. xiv + 233. $74.95: $29.95.

Gavin D'Costa has contributed numerous books and essays to ongoing discussions in the theology of religions. Here, he articulates positions on three loosely related sets of issues central to that discipline.

The first quarter of the book takes up the exclusivist-inclusivist-pluralist "maps" of theologies of religious diversity and some more recent accounts in comparative theology, ethical deconstructivism, and radical orthodoxy. After weighing the merits and demerits of various positions, D. argues for what he calls "universal-access exclusivism" (a position similar to that of U.S. evangelicals Clark Pinnock and Harold Netland): salvation is exclusively through Jesus but open to all. D. claims that this position is more in tune with the truths of Christian orthodoxy than the other views and is thus preferable.

Here, however, D. is caught in the problem that the threefold map focuses on who can be saved and how they are saved, not on the truth of what they believe. Yet D. argues for exclusivism on the basis that Christians have to assert the truth of the traditional claims about the necessity and sufficiency of salvation through Jesus. This unargued shift of the meaning of the categories makes it unclear why this position is not inclusivist based on the classic mapping. D. has changed the subject without telling us that he has done so or why. The "exclusivism" he defends is nothing more than a commitment to the principle that if one asserts "p," one is committed to not asserting "not-p."

The book's middle is devoted to understanding the place of faith traditions in the modern European world. First, D. tells two stories. One is a familiar secularization story of the progressive disestablishment of religion in the wake of and as a component of the Enlightenment. The second story is that of the radically orthodox (drawn from John Milbank and William Cavanaugh) who maintain that modernity has established a counterreligion of secularity in place of that ol' time religion, a maneuver that has hidden the real anti-Christian commitments of modernity. D., sympathetic to the latter story, rues the privatization of religion and seeks an account for its exclusion from the public square, particularly in Europe. He then constructs two theories that possibly can support religious voices in their endorsement of the common good of a democracy, even when nonetheless the democracy privileges procedure over substance--a symptom of atheistic ideologies. His Christian account is inspired by Alasdair Macintyre and Benedict XVI, and he gives the Islamic Republic of Iran a more sympathetic account than seems plausible.

This section is ali ideas, with no empirical investigation. Neither of D.'s stories offers a plausible genealogy of the various secularities in Eastern and Western worlds; they both simply rehearse theories of the meaning of the Enlightenment. One story makes the politicos heroes, the other makes them villains. Both ignore the fact that politics is "the art of the possible" in a particular situation and that the political importance of these ideas has far more to do with their acceptance by a populace than with the beauty or beastliness of their ideological proponents.

Moreover, in D.'s telling, neither a Christian nor a Muslim account of religion and religions seems to have a chance of success in forming a real public square. Rather than using political, economic, and social analyses of the openings in the current political economy for religious voices (and they are strong in the United States, even though D. finds U.S. theorists unconvincing), he simply plays with imaginary histories and politically impossible ideologies that have little or no possibility of having sufficient appeal to become a popular Weltanschaung.

The final quarter of the book resurrects the doctrines of Purgatory and Limbo to articulate D.'s exclusivist theory of an open-access salvation that does not violate "Augustinian" orthodoxy. His purpose seems to be to offer a coherent theory that is not offensive to non-Catholic others, but includes ali the elements of contemporary magisterial orthodoxy. He takes as an absolute criterion that theologians cannot hold positions "deemed inadmissible" (211), ignoring that the agency involved in this holding is obscured by the passive voice and that even regnant authorities do change their views. Evidently theologians are to treat the positions of the Roman magisterium as axioms to be defended and built on, not issues for discussion.

D., as always, identifies important issues and offers suggestive insights on many of them. He has proffered many provocative and challenging ideas to "liberal" theological positions, but I find that the present text lacks integration and the approach is methodologically suspect.


Fordham University, Bronx, N.Y.
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Author:Tilley, Terrence W.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2010
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