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Toward a Liberation Theology of Religions



From: John HICK – Paul F. KNITTER, The Myth of Christian Uniqueness. Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, Maryknoll, New York, seventh Printing February 1998, p. 178-218



Among the many “signs of the times” that challenge the churches today, there are two that place particularly pressing demands on Christians: the experience of the many poor and the experience of the many religions. It is not surprising, therefore, that two of the most creative and revitalizing expressions of Christian life and thought today are the theology of religions, responding to the problem of religious pluralism and the theology of liberation, responding to the greater and more urgent problem of suffering and injustice.

Advocates of these theologies, however, have grown up and continue to live in two neighborhoods of the Christian church. Not that there are any natural barriers between them; it is just that, given their active lives and many concerns, they have not had the time or occasion to get to know each other. In recent years, however, there have been signs that the old neighborhoods are changing-or expanding. Today, members of these two theological camps can and must get to know each other, learn from each other, and work together in their different projects. If they can do this, they will, I believe, be able to contribute all the more creatively and effectively to the life of the church and the world.

In this chapter, I shall try to show why such a dialogue between theologians of liberation and of the religions is necessary and what it promises. Given my own identity as a theologian of religions and, especially, given the theme of this book, my focus will be on what the theology of religions has to learn from the theology of liberation. In particular, I hope to show how principles and guidelines from liberation theology can help us navigate the move toward what in the subtitle of this book is called a “pluralistic theology of religions.” As John Hick and I discovered in trying to enlist contributors to the book, there is an imposing phalanx of uncertainties, hesitations, and objections that one must face in endorsing or merely exploring the claim that other religious traditions and religious figures may be as valid as Christ and Christianity. Some of the questions that kept writers from joining our project were: “Is this move really necessary? “ “Is it opportune?” “Will it promote or debilitate interreligious dialogue?” And especially, “Can one make this move without abandoning or diluting what is essential to Christian life and witness?”

I should like to suggest how insights and procedures from the theology of liberation can help us grapple with, if not answer, many of those questions. But first, let me offer some background as to why the theological neighborhoods of liberation and of religious pluralism are spilling into each other.



1. It is becoming clear how urgently the theology of liberation and the theology of religions need each other. First, from the perspective of those concerned with liberation, the past decade has indicated what an important and powerful role religion can play, for better or for worse, in bringing about socio-political transformation. (Across the spectrum, witness Shi ah Islam in the Iranian revolution, the Moral Majority in installing and defending the Reagan administration, basic Christian communities in implementing the revolution in Nicaragua and struggling for it in El Salvador.) Some would even endorse the broad philosophic-anthropological claims of historians Arnold Toynbee and Wilfred Cantwell Smith that only through the vision, the motivation, the empowerment coming from religious symbols and experience will humankind be able to overcome its innate, warring selfishness; only through the hope and self-sacrificing love born of religious experience will humans be able to “muster the energy, devotion, vision, resolution, capacity to survive disappointment that will be necessary-that are necessary-for the challenge” of building a better and more just world[1].

What this implies, and what especially Latin American liberation theologians need to see more clearly, is that the liberation movement needs not just religion but religions! Economic, political, and especially nuclear liberation is too big a job for any one nation, or culture, or religion. A cross-cultural, interreligious cooperation in liberative praxis and a sharing of liberative theory is called for. This is argued persuasively by Harvey Cox in his book Religion in the Secular City; after spending most of his book showing that the highest hopes for the relevance of Christianity in the secular city lie not in fundamentalism but in liberation theology, he urges in a final chapter that liberation theology will be able to do its job only if it “breaks out of . . . [its] regional confines” of Western Christianity and learns to take “more seriously not only the religious experience of its own indigenous populations but also the experience of the world religions.”[2]

In fact, if liberation theology is to take root in Asia, and not just in Latin America, it has no choice but to open itself to dialogue with Eastern religions. As Sri Lankan Aloysius Pieris reminds his Latin colleagues:

The irruption of the Third World [with its demands for liberation] is also the irruption of the non-Christian world. The vast majority of God´s poor perceive their ultimate concern and symbolize their struggle for liberation in the idiom of non-Christian religions and cultures. Therefore, a theology that does not speak to or speak through this nonChristian people hood [and its religions] is a luxury of a Christian minority.[3]

A purely Christian theology of liberation, in other words, suffers the dangerous limitation of inbreeding, of drawing on only one vision of the kingdom. An encounter with the liberating potential of Buddhism and Hinduism will reveal to Latin American theologians, for example, that they have perhaps been over influenced by the negative views of religion advanced by the two “mighty Karls” of the West-Barth who denied the capacity of religion to channel revelation, and Marx who failed to see how religion can be a vehicle of revolution. Too many Latin American theologians of liberation (e.g., Segundo and Sobrino) are closed to the “liberative and revolutionary potentials of nonChristian religions.”[4] A worldwide liberation movement needs a worldwide interreligious dialogue.


2. On the other side, even more clearly and uncomfortably, theologians of religions have in recent years begun to recognize how much they not only can but must learn from the theology of liberation. A growing number of First World theologians, in academe and in the churches, feel themselves shaken and challenged by the liberationist preferential option for the poor and the nonperson. The First World theologians are well aware that their interreligious dialogues have often taken place on mountaintops overlooking favelas and death squads. Thanks to the admonitions and example of liberationist neighbors, theologians engaged in dialogue are realizing that religion that does not address, as a primary concern, the poverty and oppression that infest our world is not authentic religion. Dialogue between inauthentic religions easily becomes a purely mystical pursuit or an interesting pastime affordable only by First World mystics or scholars. Something essential is missing in such otherworldly or ultra-academic dialogue.

Theologians involved in religious dialogue are also recognizing the limits and dangers of an overenthusiastic affirmation of pluralism. Open-minded tolerance of others and eager acceptance of diversity can all too easily lead one to tolerate, perhaps unknowingly, what Langdon Gilkey in his essay has called “the intolerable.”[5] Dialogue and pluralism should not be ones first concern; nor should they be ends in themselves. Dorothee Sólle points out the limits of pluralism and tolerance: “The limits of tolerance are manifest by the victims of society. Wherever human beings are crippled, deprived of their dignity, destroyed, raped, that is where tolerance ends.”[6] We go out to meet others, liberation theologians would urge, we encounter other religions, not primarily to enjoy diversity and dialogue but to eliminate suffering and oppression-not only to practice charity but, first of all, to work for justice. Justice, we are told, takes precedence over pluralism, dialogue, and even charity.

In light of the present state of our world, therefore, both basic humanitarian concerns as well as the soteriologies of most religions would seem to dictate that a preferential option for the poor and the nonperson constitutes both the necessity and the primary purpose of interreligious dialogue.[7] Religions must speak and act together because only so can they make their crucially important contribution to removing the oppression that contaminates our globe. Dialogue, therefore, is not a luxury for the leisure classes of religion; nor is it a “top priority” after we take care of the essentials. Interreligious dialogue is essential to international liberation.

Granting that theologians of liberation and of interreligious dialogue have much to say to each other, I should now like to focus on how liberation theology can help us explore the new terrain of a pluralist theology of religions. More specifically, I shall try to show (1) how the methodology of liberation thought provides a context and starting point for a dialogue that avoids absolutist positions, respects the genuine difference and validity of others, and yet does not fall down the “slippery slopes of relativism,” and (2) how ingredients of liberation theology enable us to move “appropriately” toward a pluralist (i.e., beyond both an exclusivist and inclusivist) christology without abandoning the content and power of Christian tradition or witness.

I will be offering the “bare bones” of what a liberation theology of religions might look like. In doing so, I am illustrating, I suppose, what liberation theologians have long been saying: that their method of theology is not meant just for Latin America or the Third World, but that it can and should affect the way theology, in its different disciplines, is practiced in the First World. In its approach and method, liberation theology is for the universal church.



Theologians who argue that Christianity needs a new way of relating to other religions are trying to promote an interreligious dialogue that will be genuinely pluralistic-one that will avoid preestablished absolutist or definitive positions in order to allow that all the participants have an equally valid voice and that each participant can really hear, as much as possible, what the other is saying. Yet promoters of such a pluralistic dialogue are well aware of the danger that this kind of conversation can easily boil down to a relativistic pap in which “many” means “any” and no one can make any evaluative judgments. There are three ways in which a liberation theology of religions can help theologians of dialogue maintain the richness of pluralism without allowing it to disintegrate into the pap of relativism.


1. Liberation theologians enter the hermeneutical circle-the process of trying to interpret and listen to the word of God-with a “hermeneutics of suspicion.” They suspiciously remind themselves how easily-yes, how unavoidably-interpretations of scripture and formulations of doctrine become ideology-ameans of promoting ones own interests at the expense of someone else’s. All too often the truth that we propose as “Gods will” or as divinely revealed is really our own disguised, subconscious will to maintain the status quo or to protect our own control of the situation or our own cultural economic superiority. Such subtle abuse of the living tradition, liberationists tell us, is always a lurking danger, if not a camouflaged fact, in all doctrine. So their first step, as they take up the task of interpreting Gods word, is to be suspicious of and to sniff out, on the basis of their liberative praxis, the ideologies that may be operative in a given Christian context. Ideologized doctrines and practices have first to be detected and revised before God’s voice, in both the tradition and in the world, can really be heard.[8]

Theologians of religions have much to gain from adopting such a hermeneutics of suspicion. It would require of them, as the first step in elaborating a Christian theology of other religions or in approaching other believers, to be hermeneutically suspicious of their given Christian positions concerning outsiders. How much has traditional theology of religions, especially its christological basis, served to cloak or condone an unconscious, ideological desire to maintain superiority, or to dominate and control, or lo devalue other traditions culturally or religiously. Why, really, have Christians been so insistent on maintaining the doctrine of extra ecclesiam nulla salus (“outside the church, no salvation”), or the claim that Christ has to be thefinal norm for all other religions? Certainly it cannot be denied that in the past such doctrines and such christology have been used lo justify the subordination and exploitation of other cultures and religions.

Even if it is not the conscious or subconscious intent of Christians to use particular doctrines to subordinate other cultures or violate their religious sensitivities, still, if such are the effects of these teachings, then these doctrines fall under the liberationists[9] hermeneutical suspicion. “Orthodox” doctrines that bear unethical fruits are, to say the least, highly suspicious. It is, for the most part, only in dialogue, in the voices of other cultures and religions, that Western Christians can begin to feel such suspicions. Third World Asian theologians, for instance, tell us in no uncertain terms that the harvest of missionary expansion in non-European cultures bears an abundance of unethical fruits. They point out how traditional models for a Christian understanding of other religions-even the more inclusivist (Rahner’s “anonymous Christianity”) and liberal (Küng´s “critical catalyst”) models-promote a “crypto-colonialist theology of religions,” and “cultural imperialism of the West.”[10]

Such liberal, inclusivist models for dialogue with other religions are very much like the First World development model for promoting the economic welfare of the Third World. As liberation theologians have pointed out, such “development” subtly but effectively leads to further economic dependence and subordination, rather than to true liberation. This, indeed, is a form of neocolonialism. And as Tissa Balasuriya puts it bluntly, it causes one to be suspicious: “Can the self-understanding of churches that legitimized sexist, racist, classist, and religious oppression be theologically true?”[11]

It is precisely such “hermeneutical suspicion” about traditional Christian theology of religions, particularly its christological basis, that has impelled many Christian theologians to begin their search for a pluralist theology of religions.


2. If the liberationists’ hermeneutics of suspicion can help theologians of the religions clear away ideological obstacles to more effective dialogue, another foundation stone of liberation theology-the preferential option for (or the hermeneutical privilege of) the poor-can help, I suggest, resolve the complex and controversies questions concerning the presuppositions and procedures for interreligious dialogue. Many a scholarly debate has spun its wheels over the “conditions of the possibility” of dialogue-that is, how should we understand religious pluralism and go about conversing so that everyone will have both the full right to speak and the genuine ability to hear The traditional view has been that fruitful interreligious dialogue requires the positing, at least hypothetically, of some kind of common ground shared by all religions-perhaps a “common essence” within all traditions ( A. Toynbee) or a “universal faith” ( W. C. Smith, B. Lonergan) or a common yet undefinable “mystical center “ ( W Stace, E Schuon, T. Merton).[12]

Contemporary critics, however, warn against positing a common anything within the religions as a basis for dialogue. Philosophers such as Jeremy Bernstein and Richard Rorty, as well as philosophical theologians such as Francis Fiorenza and George Lindbeck,[13] cast their warnings in terms of the dangers of “foundationalism” or “objectivism.” As Bernstein puts it:

By “objectivism” I mean the basic conviction that there is or must be some permanent historical matrix or framework to which we can ultimately appeal in determining the nature of rationality, knowledge, truth, reality, goodness, or rightness [and religious experience) . . . Objectivism is closely related to foundationalism and the search for an Archimedean point.The objectivist maintains that unless we can ground philosophy, knowledge, or language [interreligious dialogue] in a rigorous manner, we cannot avoid radical skepticism.[14]

We are urged by the philosophers to resist the siren lure of objectivism and bravely to give up our search for foundations or a “common ground” above or outside the plurality of views. Philosophical maturity demands that we accept that all knowledge is “theory-laden”; different societies have different plausibility structures; each religion is speaking within its own “language game”; the “protocol statements” of the positivists-which claim to report what anyone would observe-may not exist. So it seems that there is no common essence or ground, “no way from ‘outside’ a tradition to assess the meaning and truth of claims made within it. Different religious traditions and schemes of belief and nonbelief reflect frameworks which are ultimately incommensurable.[15]

From a more practical, experiential perspective, theologians such as John Cobb and Raimundo Panikkar echo the philosophers. lf we really want to take pluralism seriously, they admonish us, then we must cease our search for a universal theory” or a “common source” of religion-or even for “one God” within all religions. In his essay in this volume, Panikkar pulls no punches: “Pluralism does not allow for a universal system. A pluralist system would be a contradiction in terms. The incommensurability of ultimate systems is unbridgeable.[16] Cobb chides John Hick, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, and me: “The problem is the quest for what is common. Truly to accept pluralism is to abandon that quest. If our liberal theists really wish to be open, they should simply be open. The openness is inhibited by the need to state in advance what we have in common.”[17]

The danger, according to these critics, is that in our desire to establish or distill a common essence or center, we all too easily miss what is genuinely different, and therefore what is genuinely challenging or frightening, in other religions. As Cobb has suggested, maybe there is no one “Ultimate” within or behind all the world religions; maybe there are two-and we are afraid to face that fact.[18] Cobb has also leveled some hard-hitting criticisms against John Hick’s and my theocentric model for a Christian approach to other faiths showing, quite convincingly must admit, that by proposing God, instead of the church or Christ, as the common basis for dialogue, we are implicitly, unconsciously, but still imperialistically imposing our notions of Deity or the Ultimate on other believers who, like many Buddhists, may not even wish to speak about God or who experience the Ultimate as Sunyata, which has nothing or little to do with what Christians experience and call God.[19]

The critics’ point is clear. And yet, when they make this point, when they warn against the pitfalls of foundationalism and common essences, they also warn against the equally menacing pitfall of “radical skepticism” or of a relativism that would so lock religions or cultures in their own language games or plausibility structures as to cut off all communication between them. The philosophers and theologians mentioned above are all, paradoxically, firm believers in the possibility and the value of communication and dialogue between apparently “incommensurable” traditions. They seek a difficult, paradoxical path between foundationalism and relativism; even though there are no preestablished common foundations, we can still talk to and understand each other.

Just how this works is not clear. Cobb and Panikkar (Bernstein as well) seem to take a Habermasian approach; they simply plunge coldly into the dialogue, trusting that, in the very praxis of communication, common ground or shared viewpoints will be discovered or created. Even though this common ground is not at all terra firma, even though it remains “shakyground”[20] it can suffice to overcome incommensurability (e.g. between Sunyata and God) and can lead to mutual understanding, indeed (as Cobb tells us) to the “mutual transformation” of religions.

Affirming their faith in the value of dialogue, many of the authors who earlier eschewed every trace of “common ground” now try to indicate what makes dialogue possible and valuable and how one should go about communicating. In doing so, they sound, one must say, like they are searching for something 44 common” within religious history or experience. Disavowing any universal theory for the religions, Panikkar still invokes one aspiration (in the literal sense of one breath) or one inspiration (as one spirit) for all the religions.[21] Bernstein proposes a dialogical model based on reason that can be shared by the plurality of voices.[22] Other philosophers invoke a universal human “bridgehead” of shared perceptions and logical standards that provide a basis for translating between perspectives.[23] Heinrich Ott, though viewing Buddhism and Christianity as two clearly distinct paths, trusts that they are moving through the “same woods” or through a common “neighborhood.”[24]

What these authors are sensing is that the different religions cannot, ultimately, be apples and oranges, for if they were, how could they, or why should they, speak and work together? Anyone who affirms the value of interreligious dialogue affirms implicitly that there is something that bonds the religions of the world. But the problem is how to indicate it? How to discover it? How to work creatively with it?

This is where a liberation theology of religions may be of great help. If there is no preestablished common ground or common essence that we can invoke before dialogue, perhaps there is a common approach or a common context with which we can begin dialogue in order to create our shared “shaky ground.” For liberation theologians this common context would be the preferential option for the poor and the nonperson-that is, the option to work with and for the victims of this world. As Harvey Cox puts it with typical clarity: “For liberation theology, the basis for the interreligious dialogue is the struggle of the poor.”[25]

The reason why the preferential option for the poor provides such a basis has to do with the epistemological claims of liberation theology-that is, with the hermeneutical privilege of the poor. “Latin American liberation theology, black theology, and feminist theology all claim that the experience of the oppressed is a privileged hermeneutical ground, that identification with the oppressed is the first act in understanding either the Bible or our worid today.”[26] And we might add: it is “the first act of religious believers toward understanding each other.” The liberationists are telling us that without a commitment to and with the oppressed, our knowledge is deficient-our knowledge of self, others, the Ultimate. This is not to imply that we can know the truth only in such a commitment but, rather, that without this option for the poor, the truth that we may know is, at best, incomplete, deficient, dangerous.

Because of its hermeneutical priority and potency, therefore, the preferential option for the oppressed (at least in the world as it exists today) serves as an effective condition for the possibility of dialogue-that which makes it possible for different religions to speak to and understand each other. If the religions of the world, in other words, can recognize poverty and oppression as a common problem, if they can share a common commitment (expressed in different forms) to remove such evils, they will have the basis for reaching across their incommensurabilities and differences in order to hear and understand each other and possibly be transformed in the process.

It is important to note the differences between what is being proposed here and “objectivism” or “foundationalism.” The fundamental option for the poor and nonpersons serves not as a “foundation” or “Archemedean point” or sure-fire criterion of judgment, but as an approach, a context, a starting point that must itself be clarified as it clarifies and creates new common ground of understanding.

If all this makes some sense, then I think we can go a step further; instead of searching for “one God” or “one Ultimate” or a “common essence” or a “mystical center” within all religions, we can recognize a shared locus of religious experience now available to all the religions of the world. Within the struggle for liberation and justice with and for the many different groups of oppressed persons, believers from different traditions can experience together, and yet differently, that which grounds their resolves, inspires their hopes, and guides their actions to overcome injustice and to promote unity. Aloysius Pieris suggests that in our contemporary world, the struggle for liberation and for the transformation of this world provides a cross-cultural, cross-religious basis for defining and sharing religious experience among all religions: “I submit that the religious instinct be defined as a revolutionary urge, a psycho-social impulse, to generate a new humanity. . . . It is this revolutionary impulse that constitutes, and therefore defines, the essence of homo religiosos.[27]

Perhaps better than the monastery or the mystic’s mountain, the struggle for justice can become the arena where Hindus and Muslims, Buddhists and Christians and Jews, can sense, and begin to speak about, that which unites them. What makes possible a communication in doctrine between believers from different paths is not only what Thomas Merton called a communion of mystical-contemplative experience[28]but also and especially a communion of liberative praxis. In the words of M. M. Thomas:

The common response to the problems of humanization of existence in the modern world, rather than any common religiosity, or common sense of the Divine, is the most fruitful point of entry for a meeting of faiths at the spiritual depth in our time.[29]

Such a claim corresponds to the insistence of liberation theologians that theory or doctrinal clarity can be achieved only in and through liberative praxis. In order, therefore, to enter into the difficult discussion of whether there is a “common essence” or “ground” within all religions, in order to know whether “God” and “Sunyata” might, after all, have something in common, we must not only pray and meditate together, but we must first act together with and for the oppressed. John Cobb, therefore, is right: we cannot know what is “common” between the religions before dialogue-but dialogue now is understood not only as shared conversation or prayer, but as shared praxis. “For the liberationist,” Harvey Cox tells us in Western images, “this unseen reality [the hypothetical transcendent unity of religions] lies ahead not beneath or behind. It is eschatological, not primal. It requires faithful love and service, not esoteric insight.”[30]

This understanding of the central role of the preferential option for the poor and nonpersons within interreligious dialogue means that the evolution within Christian attitudes toward other faiths that I described in my book No Other Name? is incomplete. The evolution, I suggest, is being called to a further stage. If Christian attitudes have evolved from ecclesiocentrism to christocentrism to theocentrism, they must now move on to what in Christian symbols might be called “kingdom-centrism,” or more universally, “soteriocentrism”. For Christians, that which constitutes the basis and the goal for interreligious dialogue, that which makes mutual understanding and cooperation between the religions possible (the “condition of the possibility”), that which unites the religions in common discourse and praxis, is not how they are related to the church (invisibly through “baptism of desire”), or how they are related to Christ (anonymously [Rahner) or normatively (Küng), nor even how they respond to and conceive of God, but rather, to what extent they are promoting Soteria (in Christian images, the basileia)- to what extent they are engaged in promoting human welfare and bringing about liberation with and for the poor and nonpersons.

A Christian liberation theology of religions, therefore, will propose as the common” (though still “shaky”) ground or starting point for religious encounter not Theos, the ineffable mystery of the divine, but rather, Soteria, the “ineffable mystery of salvation.”[31] Such a soteriocentrie approach, it seems, is less prone to (though never fully immune from) ideological abuse, for it does not impose its own views of God or the Ultimate on other traditions; in this way it responds to Cobb’s criticism of theocentrism. A soteriocentric approach to other faiths also seems to be more faithful to the data of comparative religions, for although the religions of the world contain a divergent variety of models for the Ultimate-theistic, metatheistic, polytheistic, and atheistic-”the common thrust, however, remains soteriological, the concern of most religions being liberation (vimukti, moksa, nirvana) rather than speculation about a hypothetical divine liberator.”[32]

John Cobb, however, in his criticism of the first draft of this essay, continued to warn that “posing such a condition (i.e., the preferential option) on dialogue unilaterally from the Christian side is a continuation of the imperialism Knitter opposes . . . he appears to say that he seeks dialogue only with those who share his understanding of salvation.” Cobbs admonitions are important. They help clarify that the preferential option for the oppressed is not to be imposed as an absolute condition for interreligous dialogue; rather, it is offered, or suggested, as an invitation to a more authentic and effective dialogue. I am not demanding that other religions accept concern for the suffering of oppressed peoples as a starting point for interreligious encounter; but I suspect, and am suggesting, that they can and will want to do so. My suspicions are strengthened by the claim of Pieris that the religions of the world share many more common starting points in their soteriologies than in their theologies. Also, as will be emphasized in the next section, in proposing Soteria as a context or starting point for dialogue, I am certainly not implying that there is only one way of understanding “salvation” or that my Christian grasp of it is final or normativa. One starts with “shaky” ground that has to be firmed up in the dialogue; the starting point may be clarified or corrected after one starts. But one does have a starting point.


3. Harvey Cox summarizes the practical advantages of a soteriocentric approach and signals a further contribution that it can make to a liberation theology of religions:

In the light of this “Kingdom-centered” view . . . the whole meaning of the discussion among people from different religious traditions shifts. The purpose of the conversation is different. Interfaith dialogue becomes neither an end in itself nor a strictly religious quest, but a step in anticipation of God’s justice. It becomes praxis. Similarities and differences which once seemed important fade away as the real differences between those whose sacred stories are used to perpetuate domination and those whose religion strengthens them for the fight against domination-emerge more clearly.[33]

“Real differences emerge more clearly” -Cox is suggesting how the preferential option for the oppressed might help both academicians and participants in dialogue grapple with another problem within the discussion about religious pluralism in affirming the independent validity of all traditions and the danger of judging another’s truth according to one’s own inappropriate criteria, how does one avoid a radical skepticism or a suffocating relativism? How is one able to resolutely oppose what Langdon Gilkey, in his essay in this volume, terms “intolerable forms of religion and the religious?[34] So far, I have discussed how the different religions might understand each other. Is there any possibility that they might also be able to judge each other? In their religious studies and conversations, even academicians are realizing that both the state of our world and the nature of the human spirit (Lonergan tells us that understanding is but a stepping stone to judgment) require us to make judgments, even though tentative, concerning what is true or false, good or bad or at least, concerning what is preferable. In John Hicks terms, we cannot avoid the need of “grading the religions.”[35]

But to call for such evaluative judgments is to rekindle fears of foundationalism, neocolonialism, and ideological abuse. Where are we to find criteria for judging or “grading”-criteria that have some inbuilt protection against being turned into exploitive tools and that can win general consensus in the academy and in the arena of interreligious encounter? Doctrinal criteria-concerning the qualities of the Ultimate, or the activity of a universal Logos, or the presence of an anonymous Christ or Buddha-prove too controversies and prone to ideology. Criteria from mystical experience-Merton´s “communion before communication” or Panikkar’s “Pneuma before Logos”-are helpful but often, in the end, hard to apply.

Might a soteriocentric basis for dialogue-the preferential option for the poor and nonpersons-provide general criteria that a variety of religions could agree to work with as a basis for grading themselves? Hick himself suggests a criterion of “soteriological effectiveness”-whatever promotes “that limitlessly better quality of human existence which comes about in the transition from self-centeredness to Reality-centeredness.”[36] Stanley Samartha holds that the religions of the world can formulae “a global ethic” or a “consensus of conscience” that would not be “a religious fruit salad but a set of principles on questions of sharing power and resources both within the national community and between nations in the global community.”[37] Hans Küng has proposed that the first ingredient in an “ecumenical criteriology” for determining “true religion” is the humanum-those “fundamental values and fundamental demands” essential to being human. “Should it not be possible to formulae a general ethical fundamental criterion with an appeal to the common humanity of all which rests upon the Humanum, the truly human, concretely on human dignity and the fundamental values accorded to it?”[38]

A liberation theology of religions would affirm such suggestions but would warn against their dangerous lack of specificity. Whose humanum are we talking about? Or, as liberationists persistently ask: Who is the interlocutor for these theologians? “Soteriological effectiveness,” “a global ethic,” the humanum need to be preferentially focused on the oppressed, the marginated, the powerless of our world, which means that these criteria have to be formulated and concretized in the actual praxis of liberation for the oppressed. Otherwise, such criteria run the risk of sinking into ineffectual theory or First World ideology. Can the religions of the world agree on the necessity and value of such liberative criteria? The declaration of the World Conference on Religion and Peace in Kyoto (1970) is a hopeful indication; among the convictions that the religions “possessed . . . in common” was “a feeling of obligation to stand on the side of the poor and oppressed against the rich and the oppressor.”[39]

Such soteriocentric criteria, although focused on the poor and nonpersons, need not lead to a new form of foundationalism or an ethical Archimedean point outside the praxis of liberation and dialogue. As already stressed, we are not starting with preestablished absolutes. In her contribution to this volume, Marjorie Suchocki illuminatingly points out the complexity and persistent pluriformity in coming to a common understanding of “justice.”[40] Soteriocentric criteria, therefore, serve as a heuristic device rather than as a defined basis.

The criteria-what elements contribute to authentic, full liberation-can be known only in the actual praxis of struggling to overcome suffering and oppression, and only in the praxis of dialogue. What are the causes of suffering, of oppression? How best eliminate them? What kind of socio-cultural analysis is needed? What kind of personal transformation or alteration of consciousness is required? The preferential option for the poor does not provide prefabricated answers to such questions. And yet the starting point for struggling, together, toward answers is given in the fundamental option for and commitment to the oppressed.[41]

Furthermore, as Hick has indicated, in applying the liberation theology soteriocentric criteria in interreligious conversation, one should not expect to be able to give one grade in globe for an entire religion or to rank religions in a kind of ethical hierarchy.[42] As W. C. Smith has made clear, the reality of religion transcends our rational, Western constructs about “religion.”[43] I Still, by applying the criteria of liberative praxis, by asking, for example, how a particular Hindu belief or Christian ritual or Buddhist practice promotes human welfare and leads to the removal of poverty and to the promotion of liberation, we might be able to arrive at communal judgments concerning what is true or false, or what is preferable, among different religious claims or practices.

In holding up Soteria as the source of ethical criteria for interreligious dialogue, one need not be ideologically naive. Even though there may be general agreement about promoting justice and removing oppression, each religion or tradition will have its own understanding of what Soteria and liberation entail. Here, as Gavin D’Costa has pointed out in his criticism of my book, every theocentric or soteriocentric approach remains, in a sense, inherently Christocentric (or Buddhacentric, Krishnacentric, Quranocentric).[44] We all have our particular viewpoints, our perspectives, or different mediators. The criteria by which we understand what liberation means or what makes for authentic or deceptive salvation are provided by our particular mediators. The Universal, therefore, whether it be Theos or Soteria, is always experienced, understood, and responded to via a particular symbol or mediator. In no way is Christ left behind; he remains the Christians way, truth, and life.

But what makes the soteriocentric approach different from christocentrisrn or theocentrism is its explicit recognition that before the mystery of Soteria, no mediator or symbol system is absolute. The perspective on Soteria given by any one mediator is always open to clarification, completion, perhaps correction by the viewpoints of other mediators. So again, the absolute, that which all else must serve and clarify, is not the church or Christ or even God-but rather, the kingdom and its justice. And although Christians understand and serve that kingdom through Christ, it is in seeking first the kingdom and its justice that all else will be added to them, including a clearer, perhaps corrected, understanding of that kingdom and of Christ. This brings us to a consideration of how the method of liberation theology might clarify the christological component of a theology of religions.



Besides clarifying the context and starting point for a genuinely pluralistic interreligious dialogue-beyond both exclusivism and inclusivism-the method of liberation theology can also help resolve the even more knotty problem of the uniqueness of Christ. In order to avoid preestablished absolutist positions that prevent a genuinely pluralistic dialogue, Christians must, it seems, revamp or even reject their traditional understanding of Jesus Christ as God’s final, definitive, normative voice. Can they do this and still call themselves Christians? To show how a liberation theology of religions can help answer such christological quandaries, I offer the following four considerations.


1. As already mentioned, liberation theology insists that praxis is both the origin and the confirmation of theory or doctrine. All Christian beliefs and truth claims must grow out of and then be reconfirmed in the praxis or lived experience of these truths. According to liberation theology, one does not first know the truth and then apply it in praxis; it is in action, in doing, that truth is really known and validated. What this means for christology has been made clear by theologians such as Jon Sobrino and Leonardo Boff: we cannotbegin to know who Jesus of Nazareth is unless we are following him, putting his message into the practice of our lives.[45] This was the process by which the New Testament titles for Jesus carne to be formulated; they were the fruit, the joyful kerygma, derived from the experience of following him. And because this experience varied according to the various communities and contexts of the early churches, the titles for Jesus proliferated.

Praxis, therefore, was the starting point of all christology. And it remains the criterion of all christology, for everything we know or say about Jesus must be continually confirmed, clarified, and perhaps corrected in the praxis of living his vision within the changing contexts of history. In this sense, therefore, as Boff tells us, nothing we say about Jesus is final; “no title conferred on Christ can be absolutized”[46]

What this primacy of praxis means for a christology of interreligious dialogue is implied in a remark made by Sobrino:

[Jesus’] universality cannot be demonstrated or proved on the basis of formulas or symbols that are universal in themselves: e.g., dogmatic formulas, the kerygma as event, the resurrection as universal symbol of hope, and so forth. The real universality of Jesus shows up only in its concrete embodiment.[47]

In other words, the Christian conviction and proclamation that Jesus is God’s final and normative word for all religions cannot rest only on traditional doctrine or on personal, individual experience. We cannot know that Jesus is God’s last or normative statement only on the basis of being told so or on the basis of having experienced him to be such in our own lives. Rather, the uniqueness of Jesus can be known and then affirmed only “in its concrete embodiment,” only in the praxis of historical, social involvement. This means, concretely, that unless we are engaged in the praxis of Christian dialogue with other religions-following Christ, applying his message, within the dialogue with other believers-we cannot experience and confirm what the uniqueness and normativity of Christ mean.

But has such praxis taken place? Have Christians actively learned from and worked with other religions to such a degree that they have experienced the uniqueness and normativity of Jesus over all others? Has their praxis of dialogue with other believers been extensive enough to make the universal claim that Jesus surpasses and is therefore normative for these other faiths? I think not.

Although it is true that the church for centuries has been “going forth to all nations” and religions, it is only in this century that the Catholic Church, in Vatican II, and the Protestant churches, through the World Council of Churches, have taken up a conscious, extensive dialogue with other religious traditions. From the perspective of a liberation christology of religions, therefore, Christians will have to admit that at least at the moment it is impossible to make claims of finality and normativity for Christ or Christianity. This means that we have “permission”-maybe even an obligation-to enter into a dialogue with other believers without making our traditional claims of “no other name” or “one mediator.” In making this step we are strengthened and consoled by Boffs reminder that no christological title is absolute; even those titles claiming finality or normativity for Jesus may, as a result of our praxis of religious dialogue, have to be revised.


2. Another related ingredient in the theology of liberation-the primacy of orthopraxis over orthodoxy-assuresChristians that if claims about the finality of Christ/Christianity are not presently possible, neither are they necessary. The primary concern of a soteriocentric liberation theology of religions is not rightbelief” about the uniqueness of Christ, but the “right practice,” with other religions, of furthering the kingdom and its Soteria. Clarity about whether and how Christ is one lord and savior, as well as clarity about any other doctrine, may be important, but it is subordinate to carrying out the preferential option for the poor and nonpersons. Orthodoxy becomes a pressing concern only when it is necessary for orthopraxis-for carrying out the preferential option and promoting the kingdom. If orthodox clarity is not required for such purposes, it can wait.

I think it can wait. Christians do not need orthodox clarity and certainty concerning Jesus as the “only” or the “final” or the “universal” savior in order to experience and fully commit themselves to the liberating truth of his message. What Christians do know, on the basis of their praxis of following Jesus, is that his message is a sure means for bringing about liberation from injustice and oppression, that it is an effective, hope-filled, universally meaningful way of realizing Soteria and promoting Gods kingdom. Not knowing whether Jesus is unique, whether he is the final or normative word of God for all times, does not interfere with commitment to the praxis of following him and working, with other religions, in building the kingdom. Such questions need not be answered now. In fact, as we just saw, they cannot be answered now. In the meantime, there is much work to be done. Not those who proclaim “only Lord, only Lord,” but those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom (Matt. 7:21-23).

These christological conclusions drawn from the liberationists’ insistence on the primacy of orthopraxis over orthodoxy end up sounding very similar to H. Richard Niebuhrs recommendation, way back in 1941, that Christians adopt a confessional approach to peoples of other faiths. He urged his fellow believers in Christ to relate to other believers “by stating in simple, confessional form what has happened to us in our community, how we came to believe, how we reason about things and what we see from our point of view.” And today he could have added: “and by putting into praxis what we have come to believe.” Niebuhr urged that such a confession, in word and deed, need not, should not, be accompanied by any attempt to “justify it [Christianity] as superior to all other faiths.” Such “orthodox” claims about the superiority or normativity of Christ over all religions were not only not necessary for the living out of the Christian confession; they were, in Niebuhrs prophetic words, “more destructive of religion, Christianity, and the soul than any foes attack can possibly be.”[48]


3. The possibilities, describes earlier, of using the preferential option for the poor as a working criterion for “grading the religions” contain further christological implications. If liberating praxis with and for the poor and nonpersons is an indicator and measure of authentic revelation and religious experience, then Christians, whether they like it or not, have the means to discern not only whether but how much other religious beliefs and practices may be genuine “ways of salvation”-and further, whether and how much other religious figures may be genuine liberators and “saviors.” In other words, the soteriocentric criteria for religious dialogue contained in the preferential option for the oppressed offer Christians the tools to critically examine and possibly revise the traditional understanding of the uniqueness of Christ.

Simply stated, from their ethical, soteriological fruits, we shall know them we shall be able to judge whether and how much other religious paths and their mediators are salvific. Judgments can go in different directions. In their academic and personal encounter with other believers and other paths, by applying the criteria of liberative praxis, Christian theologians may find that although there are other “saviors” in other traditions, still, Jesus the Nazarean appears to them-and perhaps to other believers too-as the unique and somehow special liberator-as he who unifies and fulfills all other efforts toward Soteria. Or, Christians may discover that other religions and religious figures offer a means and vision of liberation equal to that of Jesus, that it is impossible to “grade” saviors or enlightened beings in the sense of ranking them. For instance, they may conclude that the liberative, transformative power of the Buddhist notions of enlightenment, dependent co-origination, and compassion, as they are being practiced in the “family gatherings” of the Sarvodaya Movement in Sri Lanka, are just as salvific as are the symbols of the kingdom of God and redemption and grace as they are being lived out in the comunidades de base in Nicaragua. Jesus would then be unique-together with other unique liberators. He would be universal savior-with other universal saviors. His universality and uniqueness would be not exclusive, nor inclusive, but complementary.

And yet, according to a soteriocentric liberation theology of religions, whether such discernments about uniqueness and finality are eventually made or not is, in the final analysis, not that important long as we, with all peoples and religions, are seeking first the kingdom and its justice (Matt. 6:33).


4. A liberation theology of religions offers help in dealing with another obstacle facing those who are exploring possibilities of a nonabsolutist or nondefinitive understanding of Christ. The final touchstone, it can be said, for the validity and appropriateness of a new understanding of Christ as “one among many,” in a relationship of “complementary uniqueness” with others, is whether such a view will, eventually, be received by the faithful. Reception by the faithful was the final criterion for the validity of the early ecumenical councils, and it remains such a criterion today for popes, councils, and theologians.[49] Christian theologians, in other words, cannot ply their trade in well-padded ivory towers; belonging as they do to the “ public of the academy, “ they must also be able to communicate and find a home in the “public of the church.”[50]

But this is precisely the reason why a number of very open-minded theologians feel they cannot endorse a pluralist theology of religions and move to a view of Jesus that would diminish his “once and for all” (epaphax, Heb. 9:12) uniqueness. Such a view could never be received by the “sense of the faithful.” Monika Hellwig and Frans Josef van Beeck insist, sensitively yet firmly, that “to claim only that Jesus offers a way of salvation to us which is one among many is to fall short of fidelity to the classic statements about Jesus in the bible and the tradition.”[51] Avery Dulles argues that any diminishing of the lex credendi (the law of believing) concerning the “utter uniqueness and transcendence of what happened in the career of Jesus Christ” will weaken the lex orandi (the law of praying) of the community. “If this [Christ utter uniqueness is obscured, the Christ event will not elicit the kind of worship and thanksgiving needed to sustain the Christian community in its vibrant relationship to God.”[52] And Hans Küng has told me personally, and has said publicly, that although to move in the direction of a nonabsolutist christology might make logical sense, he himself could not make this move, mainly for two reasons: it would alienate him from his faith community and it would tend to diminish the depth and firmness of Christians’ personal commitment to Jesus Christ.”[53]

 All these reservations, which come not from the Farwell’s and Rat zingers but from some of the more liberal thinkers in our communities, are based on the perceived clash between the new no absolute views of Christ and the sensus fidelium. So, if these new christologies have any future within Christian theology, they need a better ecclesial mediation in order that they might be “received” by the faithful.

Liberation theology can lend a helping hand in working out such ecclesial mediation. First of all, although liberation theologians are extremely sensitiva about operating with and from the “sense of the faithful”-Liberation theology was born from the womb of the basic Christian communities-they would not be so worried about stirring up and challenging the faithful. What happens in the basic Christian communities is not simply a reflecting upon Christian beliefs but a sharpening, indeed a transformation, of the sense of the faithful. Liberation theologians consider themselves not only teachers and learners but also, where need be, prophets. (Gustavo Gutiérrez has said, “In the United States I am called theologian. In Peru I am an activist.”)” Liberation theologians might suggest to Hellwig and Küng that they must be ready to push and prod the faithful instead of only reflecting on their experience. (As if Küng needs any encouragement to push and prod!)[54] As the American bishops themselves have recently discovered with their pastoral letters on nuclear war and on the economy, theologians must sometimes rush in where the ordinary faithful fear to tread. Especially in this question of the uniqueness of Christ, I have found that congregational fears and hesitations can be overcome-indeed, that many of the faithful are happy someone is finally pushing and challenging them.[55]

But liberation theology can offer more than exhortation in solving this problem of ecclesial mediation. The basic liberationist maxim that orthopraxis holds a primacy over orthodoxy is not only a challenging epistemological insight; it is also a workable pastoral tool for mediating the new nonabsolutist christologies to the ecclesia. By understanding and affirming the primacy of orthopraxis, the faithful can, I suggest, be helped to see that in “receiving” these new views of Jesus, they are not only remaining faithful to the witness of the New Testament and tradition, but are also being challenged to an even deeper commitment to Christ and his gospel.

I suspect, for instance, that the “sense” of most Christian faithful-in so far as they are brought into touch with their own experience through a liberative praxis of their faith-will resonate with the claim made above that the right practice of following Jesus and working for his kingdom is more important for Christian identity than is the right knowledge concerning the nature of God or of Jesus himself. Those Christians who are challenged and enabled to make the link between their own experience, the gospel, and liberative praxis will agree, I am quite certain, that the essence of being a Christian is doing the will of the Father rather than knowing or insisting that Jesus is the one and only or the best of the bunch. In fact, the psychology of love and commitment would seem to suggest that the deeper and more secure ones commitment to a particular path or person is, the more one is open to the beauty or truth of other paths and persons. Christians can be led to see that neither their commitment to Jesus nor their ability to worship him (the lex orandi) need be jeopardized just because there may be others like him. Why, really, must something be “one and only” in order to merit our devotion and commitment? The Christian faithful will also grasp how much sound evangelical sense such an nonabsolutist approach to Christ makes: others will be much more readily convinced by Christians who give simple witness to how much their savior has actually done for them than by Christians who insist that “our savior is bigger than yours.”

Recognition of the primacy of orthopraxis over orthodoxy can also be used pastorally to enable Christian believers to understand the nature of New Testament language and what it means to be faithful to this language. On the basis of their own experience of pondering and praying over the scriptures, the faithful can readily grasp that the power and purpose of biblical language is first of all to call forth a way of life rather than a body of belief. More precisely, the christological language and titles of the New Testament had as their primary purpose not to offer definitive, ontological statements about the person or work of Jesus, but to enable men and women to feel the power and attraction of Jesus’ vision and then to “go and do likewise.” This is not to deny that the New Testament communities were trying to say something real about Jesus; they were making cognitive claims about him. But these claims were not the primary intent; they were, in a sense, means to an end-or better, calls to discipleship.

In my book, I called New Testament talk about Jesus “survival” and “live” language in order to distinguish it from philosophical language.[56] It would be more accurate and pastorally effective, I think, to call the New Testament claims about Jesus “action language.” He was called “one and only” or “only be gotten” not primarily to give us definitive theologico-philosophical statements, and not primarily to exclude others, but rather to urge the action or practice of total commitment to his vision and way. In order to urge that action, the New Testament authors used their “one and only” language. Now, if Christians today can continue with that same action, if they can continue to follow Christ and work for the kingdom without the traditional “one and only” language, then they are still holding to the core content of the original message. If recognizing the possibility of other saviors or mediators does not impede this praxis, then it is compatible with Christian identity and tradition.

In fact, it might be argued that today such a recognition of others is necessary for remaining faithful to the original witness about Jesus. Theologians who are exploring a pluralist theology of religions and a nonabsolutist christology are doing so not merely for the sake of novelty or for the sake of joining the excitement of a truly pluralist interreligious dialogue; rather, they do so because “the love of Christ urges them” (2 Cor. 5:14). They want to be faithful to the original message of the Nazarean-that to which Jesus always subordinated himself: the kingdom of love, unity, and justice.

In order to serve and promote that kingdom, we want to dialogue and work with others and be open to the possibility that there are other teachers and liberators and saviors who can help us understand and work for that kingdom in ways as yet beyond our hearing or imagination. “Anyone who is not against us is with us” (Mark 9:40). This present volume was assembled with the suspicion and trust that there are others, perhaps many others, with Jesus and many other religious paths, with Christianity. Each very different, each unique-but with each other.



[1]Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Faith of Other Men (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 127.

[2]Harvey Cox, Religion in the Secular City: Toward a Postmodern Theology (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), pp. 223, 233.

[3] “The Place of Non-Christian Religions and Cultures in the Evolution of Third World Theology,” in Irruption of the Third World.- Challenge to Theology, Virginia Fabella and Sergio Torres, cds. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1983), pp. 113-14.

[4]Ibid. p. 122, also pp. 117-20.

[5]Gilkey, p. 44, above.

[6]Strength of the Weak: Toward a Christian Feminist Identity (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984), p. 66.

[7]Below I will urge that shared liberative praxis, flowing from the shared preferential option for nonpersons, constitutes not only the primary purpose but a condition of the possibility and the essential first step in interreligious dialogue. Liberative praxis, in a sense, is the substance of dialogue among world religions-that from which shared prayer/meditation and shared reflection/doctrine can flow.

[8]Juan Luis Segundo, The Liberation of Theology (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1976), pp. 7-9. In another sense, ideologies cannot and should not be avoided; they are not necessarily opposed to Gods word. Liberationists claim that a divine ideology runs through the Bible-God has taken the side of the poor. See ibid., pp. 97-124; idem, Faith and Ideologies (Maryknoll, N. Y.: Orbis B ooks, 1984), pp. 87-129.

[9]Karl Rahner, “Anonymous Christianity and the Missionary Task of the Church, in Theological Investigations, vol. 12 (New York: Seabury, 1974), pp. 161-78; idem, “Observations on the Problem of the ‘Anonymous Christian,’“ in theological lnvestigations, vol. 14 (New York: Seabury, 1976), pp. 280-94; Hans Küng, On Being a Christian (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1976), pp. 110- 12.

[10]Pieris, “ The Place, “ p. 114; idem, “ Speaking of the Son o f God in Non-Christian Cultures, e.g., in Asia,” in Jesus Son of God?, Edward Schillebeeckx and J. B. Metz, eds. (Concilium, 153) (New York: Seabury, 1982), p. 67; Ignace Puthiadam, “Christian Faith and Life in a World of Religious Pluralism,” in True and False Universality of Christianity, Claude Geffre and Jean-Pierre Jossua, eds. (Concilium, 135) (New York: Seabury, 1980), pp. 103-5.

[11] “A Third World Perspective,” in Doing Theology in a Divided World, Virginia Fabella and Sergio Torres, cds. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1985), p. 202.

[12]Arnold Toynbee, “The Task of Disengaging the Essence from the Non-essentials in Mankind’s Religious Heritage,” in An Historians Approach to Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956, pp. 261-83; Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of religion (New York: New American Library, 1964, chaps. 6 and 7; Bernard J. E Lonergan, Method in Theology (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972, pp. 101~24. Walter T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1960; Frithjof Schuon, The Transcendent Unity of Religions (New York: Harper & Row, 1975); Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, Naomi Burton et al., cds. (New York: New Directions, 1975), pp. 309-17.

[13]Jeremy Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983); Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton University Press, 1979); Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, Foundational Theology: Jesus and the Church (New York: Crossroad: 1984), pp. 285-311. George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985).

[14]Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism, p. 8

[15]Thomas B. Ommen, “Relativism, Objectivism and Theology,” Horizons, 13 (1986) 299.

[16]Panikkar, p. 1 10, above. See also idem, “A Universal Theory of Religion or a Cosmic Confidence in Reality? “ in Toward a World Theology of Religions, Leonard Swidler, ed. (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 1987).

[17]“The Meaning of Pluralism for Christian Self-Understanding,” in Religious Pluralism, Leroy S. Rouner, ed. (University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), p. 172.

[18]Beyond Dialogue: Toward a Mutual Transformation of Christianity and Buddhism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), pp. 86-90, 110-14; idem, “Buddhist Emptiness and the Christian God,” Journal of the American Academy of religion, 45 (1979) 11-25.

[19]Beyond Dialogue, pp. 41-44.

[20]Mark Kline Taylor, “In Praise of Shaky Ground: The Liminal Christ and Cultural Pluralism, “ Theology Today, 43 (1986) 36-5 1.

[21]Panikkar, “A Universal Theory of Religion.”

[22]Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism, p. 172.

[23]Martin Hollis, “The Social Destruction of Reality, “ in Rationality and Relativism, M. Hollis and S. Lukes, eds. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984), pp. 67~86; Steven Lukes, “ Relativism in Its Place,” ibid., pp. 261-305.

[24] “The Beginning Dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism, the Concept of a ‘Dialogical Theology’ and the Possible Contribution of Heideggerian Thought,” in Japanese Religions, Sept. 1980, pp. 87-91, 96.

[25]Cox, Religion in the Secular City, p. 230.

[26]Lee Cormie, “The Hermeneutical Privilege of the Oppressed, “ Catholic Theological Society of America Proceedings, 33 (1978) 78.

[27]The Place, p. 134.

[28]Merton, Asian Journal, pp. 309-17.

[29] Man and the Universe of Faiths, as quoted in Richard Henry Drummond, Toward a New Age in Christian Theology (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 1985), p. 129, emphasis added.

[30]Religion in the Secular City, p. 238.

[31]Pieris, “Speaking of the Son of God,” p. 67.

[32]Pieris, “The Place,” p. 133.

[33] Religion in the Secular City, p. 238.

[34]Gilkey, p. 44, above.

[35] “On Grading Religions,” Religious Studies, 17 (1981) 451-67.

[36]Ibid, p. 467, see also pp. 461-64. See also Hicks essay in this volume.

[37] Courage for Dialogue (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 1982), pp. 126-67.

[38] “What Is the True Religion? Toward a Three-dimensional Ecumenical Criteriology,” in Toward a World Theology of religions.

[39] Ibid

[40]Suchocki, pp. 156-60, above.

[41]I believe that this responds to the concern of John Cobb in his commentary on the first draft of this chapter: “When they [Hindus and Buddhists] think of liberation, they have something other than social change in mind, and they would like to share this other concern with us. They believe it to be of the utmost importance for everyone regardless of its effects on outward social conditions. Should we refuse to listen because it is our judgment that the plight of the poor is now more important than the liberation of the religious?” Certainly not! With some reservations about Cobbs exclusion of social change from all Hindu or Buddhist understanding of liberation, I would recognize that Christians concerned with social liberation must listen to the Eastern insistence that such liberation is impossible or emphemeral without enlightenment or religious liberation-that one must therefore also make a certain “preferential option” for personal enlightenment. At the same time, I am hopeful that Buddhists and Hindus will (as many do) recognize that although enlightenment is valid without effecting social conditions, enlightenment can and, in the world of today, must bring about such effects, especially for those who are among those suffering most in this world.

Yet what about religions that deny any relationship between the transformation of this world and personal salvation or enlightenment, that call upon their followers to abandon all concern for this world and concentrate only en the next? In view of his contribution to this book, Gilkey would perhaps see this as an example of what is intolerable in religion. If, as we said above, there are limits to tolerance, then there are also limits to dialogue. At the most, one can say that given the pressing needs of our present world, we “choose” not to dialogue with such other-worldly religions. When, or if, there is time, such a dialogue can be taken up in the future.

[42]“On Grading Religions,” pp. 465-67.

[43] The Meaning and End of religion, pp. 109-38.

[44]Review of No Other Name? in Modern Theology, 2 (1985) 83-88; see also Gavin D’Costa, “An Examination of the Pluralist Paradigm in the Christian Theology of Religions, “ Scottish Journal of Theology, 39 (1986) 211-24.

[45]Jon Sobrino, Christology at the Crossroads (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1978), pp. 346-95; Leonardo Boff, Jesus Christ Liberator (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1978), pp. 32-48, 264-95.

[46] Jesus Christ Liberator, pp. 229-31.

[47] Christology at the Crossroads, pp. 9-10.

[48] The Meaning of revelation (New York: Macmillan, 1962), pp. 39, 41.

[49]Avery Dulles, “The Magisterium in History: A Theological Reflection,” Chicago Studies, 17 (1978) 269.

[50]David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New York: Crossroad, 1981), pp. 3-33.

[51]Monika Hellwig, Jesus the Compassion of God (Wilmington: M. Glazier, 1983), P. 133; Frans Josefvan Beeck, “Professing the uniqueness of Christ,” Chicago Studies, 24 (1985) 17-35.

[52] The Resilient Church: The Necessity and Limits of Adaptation (Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1977), p. 78; see also idem, Models of Revelation (Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1983), pp. 189-92. Van Beeck express the same reservations in Christ Proclaimed.- Christology as Rhetoric (New York: Paulist, 1979), pp. 385-95.

[53]At conferences in Philadelphia, Temple University, Oct. 1984, and in Toronto, Toronto University, Nov. 1985.

[54]Quoted in Robert McAffee Brown, Makers of Contemporary Theology: Gustavo Gutiérrez (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1980), p. 20.

[55]Paul Knitter, “The Impact of World Religions on Academic and Ecclesial Theology,” Catholic Theological Society of A merica Proceedings, 1985, pp. 160-65.

[56]No Other Name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes toward the World Religions (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1985), pp. 182-86.


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