God at the Margins: Making Theological Sense of Religious Plurality.
"Its attentiveness to the margins makes theology of religions an exciting place in which to see the latest interreligious work," writes Light in the concluding chapter of this volume (135). Theology of religions truly ought to be appreciated as the developing edge in theology since Vatican II, where the Christian understanding of God has been opened to ever-widening perspectives. L.'s contribution to this developing edge is principally descriptive and introductory. Her text features liberation theology and feminist theology as the initial wedges driven into the hegemony of doing theology from the privileged position of hierarchy, patriarchy, and the Western scholarly elite. Her descriptions of feminist and liberation theologies contextualize her principal discussion about the evolving approaches Christian theologians have taken to other religious faiths, subsuming interreligious dialogue and comparative theology under the aegis of "theology of religions." The book fulfills its promise to show "how doing theology 'from the margins' has propelled theologians to pay attention to the experiences of the poor and the experiences of women and has led to notable changes in the way interreligious scholars regard the religious other as a source for theology" (14). Theology at the margins, L. reports, listens to the voices of the poor, women, and non-Christians as privileged sources for a Christian understanding of who God is and how God acts in the world.
To make this point, L. offers succinct and thorough studies of three seemingly disparate theological movements. She defines basic concepts and terms for theological neophytes, such as "hermeneutics," the "canon of Scripture," "atonement theory," and "kenosis" and covers major movements and figures in the intellectual history of Christianity. She includes effective examples of the theological practices discussed, as when she describes Paul Knitter's "tradition-crossing" encounter with Buddhism through silent meditation (106). L. has an uncommon ability to summarize the salient aspects of these theological movements crisply, with attention to the leading figures and important texts.
Chapters 1 and 2 are roughly parallel in discussing the emergence of liberation and feminist theology respectively. These might well serve as introductions for beginning theology students to comprehend traditional theological method as one of many approaches to doing theology and to understand the importance of the emerging discipline of theologies of religion.
Chapters 3 and 4 provide considerably more detail on the variety of ways Christian scholars have approached other religious traditions. L. devotes more attention to the nuances of interreligious engagement because this is her principal field of interest. She suggests that theology of religions initially consisted of attempts to explain how Jesus Christ is the universal savior in a religiously plural world. She then describes newer and less triumphalist approaches to non-Christian traditions, including interreligious dialogue with the religious "other" and comparative theology. As with the chapters on feminism and liberation theology, those on theology of religions demonstrate an important trend in Christian theology that finds God in the experience and voices of those people whom Christian theologians have customarily ignored. As our culture becomes more pluralistic, engaging the insights of those at the margins of society, so Christian theology becomes more open to listening to the way God reveals Godself to people of all faiths and cultures.
Other valuable pedagogical features of the book are the discussion questions and the bibliographies at the end of the chapters. The questions, in particular, help novices explore the connections between liberation theology, feminist theology, and theology of religions. For example, in chapter 2, "Feminist Theology," question 2 asks, "Flow might an understanding of feminist theology help a Christian theologian reconcile Christian beliefs with the reality of multiple religions in the world?" (67). The bibliographies include the major works of theologians who shaped the trends.
As Christian theology moves away from the theological siloes arranged by discipline toward intercultural, interdisciplinary, and interreligious dialogue, this book can serve as a basic resource. The chapters function as a report on the theological disciplines, strung together with the cursory observation that systematic theology now means listening to multiple voices. L. never digs deeply into the significance of her observation. So, for example, just a few pages from the end of the text, she links the five chapters into a single idea: "As theology of religions draws on both liberation theology and feminist theology and incorporates insights from interreligious dialogue and comparative theology, which also call on liberation and feminist theology, it illumines what it means to do 'systematic theology'" (137). She follows this observation with the remark that systematics has shifted from doctrinal study to experiences of God's presence, providing several categories where this might be noted. While I accept this remark as true, I was left wanting to hear L.'s own insights into how systematic theology arrived at this point or what this widening perspective might mean for systematics, which has often functioned to defend Christianity's ideological certainty about the universality of its revelation and truth claims. L. perceives that Christian theology must engage a "post-Christian world." Yet the reader never benefits from her assessment of the "God at the margins" trajectory. I am hopeful that her next book will analyze and evaluate this trajectory, helping new and seasoned theologians realize that Christianity is entering a new phase in its development. She has much to share with all of us who do culturally contextualized theology, where voices once at the margins have now joined the conversation about who God is and how God loves humanity.
Alison M. Benders
Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University
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|Author:||Benders, Alison M.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||May 31, 2015|
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