Gavin D'Costa, Paul Knitter, and Daniel Strange, Only One Way? Three Christian Responses to the Uniqueness of Christ in a Pluralistic World.
John P. Keenan and Linda K. Keenan, I Am/No Self: .4 Christian Commentary on the Heart Sutra. Louvain: Peeters; Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2011. Pp. 314. $27.00, paper.
Kristin Johnston Largen, Baby Krishna, Infant Christ: A Comparative Theology of Salvation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011. Pp. 246. $30.00, paper.
Only One Way? is a clarifying dialogue among three Christian theologians of religions. To an outside observer, the Catholic pluralism of Knitter emerges as the most plausible stance, while Strange's exclusivism (pp. 228 and 95), although logically possible, seems implausible, given that impressive exclusivist arguments can be presented for any religious tradition, each of which has the disabling flaw that it is likely to be persuasive only to those who are already inclined to be persuaded by it. D'Costa's inelusivist position, grounded in an impressive survey of Catholic thought on this topic, seems to be the weakest of the three stances, since it turns on ad hoc devices--or epicycles--such as the "limbo of the fathers" (limbo patrum).
I Am/No Self opens by tracing John Keenan's journey from that of a God-intoxicated Catholic seminarian, in the 1950's, to his current status as an eminent Buddhologist and Christian theological interpreter of Buddhism, who wants to remain as a "completely orthodox" (p. 8) believer within "'that old-time religion'" (p. 7). But, he wants to update the "archaic" Greek philosophy shaping classical Christian doctrine with "the assistance of some wisdom appropriated from Buddhist philosophy" (pp. 8 and 13), thereby showing bow the Heart Sutra can unlock for Christians their "own ancient mystery--which is the life in Christ" (p. 8). This book of Christian "apologetics" (pp. 10, 11, and 14) focuses more, therefore, on the interpretation of the Gospel of John than on the Heart Sutra, which serves here as a resource for attaining insight into an "identityless Jesus" (p. 8).
Baby Krishna, Infant Christ is an expression of the new comparative theology that surveys basic doctrine in Hindu and Christian traditions and representations of Krsna and Jesus as children. True to new comparative theology's disinclination to engage theology of religions, Largen dispenses with "grand unifying theories" (p. 11), yet her stance is inclusivist, since it allows that "something of God" may be found in encounters with "non-Christian religions" (p. 18) and presses material from religious traditions other than her own into "the formation of Christian theological doctrines" (p. 20).
The three books under review are evidence of the growing significance of syncretism for an understanding of religion in our globalized and intimately interconnected planet. When the Heart Sutra and Krsna-katha (conversations about Krishna) become grist not merely for comparative efforts by historians of religions but also for constructive theological reflection by Christian theologians, something more than merely dialogue is at play. It is not comparative theology, either in the old style of the fulfillment theologies of a century ago or in the more hesitant fusions produced by the current comparative theologians that is in play but, rather, the syncretistic processes of, first, religious hybridity, in which new religious forms and identities emerge out of older and formerly distinct religious forms; and, second, of departicularization, in which once apparently immutable religious forms and identities morph into or are replaced by new hybrid identities and forms. While the theologians at work in these books (except, of course for the pluralist Knitter), may not be fully aware of or may not positively acknowledge (see Largen, p. 10) these syncretistic processes, they clearly are at work in the production of these three books. For, not only do they systematically relate once-unrelated religious forms to each other, but new forms of religious consciousness and affirmation emerge in the activity of these comparative theologians and theologians of religions.
These syncretisms will be unsatisfactory to orthodox defenders of the once-unrelated systems, while pluralists, who see the diversity of religious forms as an inevitable consequence of the ultimate ineffability of whatever is finally real, will see these innovative fusions as a natural consequence of that ineffability. Although inclusivistic and exclusivistic strategies seem effective against syncretism to their defenders in the short term, over the long haul they inevitably will be surpassed and swept away by the successor religious forms that inevitably will arise to fulfill the ineradicable religious impulses of humanity, should it continue into the future. Clever nonpluralist arguments can go only so far as shields against the purifying force of syncretism; but, once their thinness is revealed, there can be no repairing or saving them. What seems clear in the now often-labored and repetitive discussions in theology of religion and in comparative theology's evasion of the foundational issues addressed in theology of religions is that inclusivists inevitably must choose between pluralism and exclusivism, since the inclusivist middle zone is unstable and tom in both directions. Pluralism, which is a function of the nonfinality of all bodies of religious language, opens out into a stance of foundational respect for religious Others, while exclusivism, when maintained at all costs, inevitably moves toward a priori rejections and misrepresentations of religious Others. At this point, one either goes forward into pluralism and continued cross-religious interaction, or one retreats behind closed frontiers and over-towering walls to self-reinforcing monologues disguised, at best, as dialogues.
Kenneth Rose, Christopher Newport University, Newport News, VA
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|Title Annotation:||'I Am/No Self: .4 Christian Commentary on the Heart Sutra' and 'Baby Krishna, Infant Christ: A Comparative Theology of Salvation'|
|Publication:||Journal of Ecumenical Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2012|
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