Christianity: inclusive or exclusive? (Synchroblog)
The theme for this month’s Synchroblog, Christianity — inclusive or exclusive? is rather vague, perhaps deliberately so. It allows people to blog about different things depending on how they understand those epithets.
From recent reading in the blogosphere I get the impression that “inclusive” means that one is in favour of the ordination of practising homosexuals, “exclusive” means that one is not.
But when I go back about 20 years, I encountered the terms mainly in the academic discipline known as Theology of Religion. The terms “inclusive” and “exclusive” were there applied to the views that different groups of Christians were alleged to hold on whether salvation was to be found in other religions or not. The inclusivists believed that salvation was to be found in other religions, and the exclusivists believed that it wasn’t. There was a third group, called “pluralists”. There is a pretty good summary of that debate and its various views here.
In 1990 I was asked to help with the teaching of the third-year course in Missiology at the University of South Africa (Unisa) which included a half-course in “Theology of Religions” (Course MSA301-B). I was asked to mark one of the assignments for the course, and in order to prepare myself for doing this, I read through the prescribed book (No other name? by Paul E. Knitter, SCM, London 1985) and the study guide issued to students (Kritzinger 1985). This raised a number of questions in my own mind, which I wrote down at the time in order to discuss them with others – especially those who were marking other assignments in the course. I found Knitter’s book frustrating, because it seemed to ask the wrong questions, and it seemed to beg too many questions. Other literature on the same topic seemed to have the same shortcomings.
Even though I was called upon to teach the course, I found the whole debate quite meaningless. Whatever it was, it was not a study of theology of religions, but rather a study of different Christian factions. It never got to grips with the content of other religions at all. There was much talk of interreligious dialogue but the dialogue never took place. It was all metatalk, talk about talk, talk about Christian attitudes to talking, and the talking never happened.
The main difficulty I had with Knitter may have sprung from my own failure to understand what “theology of religions” means. I had assumed that, in a Christian context, it meant the Christian understanding of other religions in the widest sense. I have always understood that it was to be distinguished from “Science of Religion”in that theology of religion was concerned with the Christian understanding of, and approach to, other religions, while science of religion was concerned with a phenomenon called “religion” (however defined) and took a more comparative approach. In other words, I understood science of religion to be concerned with questions like “How does a Buddhist regard the Buddha?” or “How does a Christian regard Christ?” and possibly a comparison between them, and I thought that a Christian theology of religions was concerned with questions like “How does a Christian interpret the Buddha and
Knitter did not seem to me to deal with theology of religions at all. Throughout his book, the non-Christian religions are somewhere “out there”. Knitter seems not to be concerned with a theology of religions, but with reshaping Christian theology to conform to the values he regards as most important, one of which is a “more authentic dialogue”. Except that the dialogue does not actually take place. It’s all about how to get to the bus stop, but it never gets on the bus, it never goes anywhere.
And I believe it never goes anywhere because it starts from the wrong place, by asking the wrong questions.
“Is there salvation in other religions?” is the wrong question.
First of all, it is the wrong question because Christians believe that there is no salvation in any religion, including Christianity. Salvation is in Christ, not in religion.
Secondly, if Christians can’t agree among themselves on what salvation is (see, for example, here, here and here), how can they expect to find it in other religions, especially if, like Knitter, they don’t even examine or discuss those religions?
Thirdly, do the “other” religions think salvation (in the Christian sense) is at all important? Should we not rather ask how those religions pereive their own goals, and only then consider whether and how they relate to Christian ideas of “salvation”?
To use a consumerist metaphor, it is like describing the different views of the customers and staff of a bakery about the quality of bread to be obtained from the builder’s merchant, selling cement, bricks and window frames. The icnlusivists would say yes, the bread you get from the builder’s merchant is just as good as the bread you get from the bakery, as they spread jam on a slice of cement loaf, while the exclusivists would say it isn’t as good. What neither group appears to consider is that it isn’t bread at all.
Other synchrobloggers this month
- It’s a family affair comes from Jenelle D’Alessandro
- John Smulo will be adding his thoughts.
- Erin Word shares some thoughts on The Politics of love
- Sam Norton the Elizaphanian writes about Inclusively fanatical.
- Julie Clawson of One hand clapping writes about The narrow door
- David Fisher asks <a href=”http://davidwmfisher.blogspot.com/2007/08/why-are-we-exclusive-synch
ro blog.html”>”Why are we exclusive?”
- Mike Bursell muses on Inclusive or exclusive: you mean there’s a choice?
- Sally of Eternal echoes shares her thoughts about Christianity – exclusive or inclusive
- Cobus van Wyngaard is contemplating Inclusivity within claims of heresy
- Tim Abbott joins the c onversation with Christianity – inclusive or exclusive?
- Sonja posts on Pack behaviour.
- And, as an extra, Nic Paton of Sounds and silence adds something on Incarnation, inclusion and hell