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Reviewed by:
  • Buddhists and Christians Through Comparative Theology and Solidarity
  • Paul O. Ingram
Buddhists and Christians Through Comparative Theology and Solidarity. By James L. Fredericks. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004. xiv + 134 pp.

This elegantly written book is not only a call to Christians to act in solidarity with persons of other faith traditions as well as persons professing no religious identity inmatters of social, economic, and ecological injustice. It is also a challenge posed directly to Christians to create new forms of interreligious solidarity that can empower political and social solidarity with other religious communities. Of course, interreligious solidarity requires interreligious dialogue, but Fredericks seeks to [End Page 223] deepen the Christian theological underpinnings of interreligious dialogue by delineating a model of theology of religions that moves beyond the usual exclusivist, inclusivist, and pluralist models. He calls this model "comparative theology of religions."

Given the fact of religious pluralism that necessitates living out one's own particular faith tradition surrounded by faithful persons who religiously dwell in other faith traditions, and given the emerging realities of globalization, no religious tradition can remain in isolation from any other religious tradition nor from the growing secularization that challenges persons of faith wherever persons of faith are found on this planet. The issue is not the emergence of a new global religion that will supercede Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Hinduism. Fredericks argues that the contrary is the case: as globalization and secularization erodes national, civic, and religious identity everywhere, interreligious solidarity that does not wash over the diversity of religious traditions becomes more important as a source of personal and communal identity, meaning, and purpose.

Since the meaning of "solidarity" depends on how one understands the practice of interreligious dialogue and the theological models through which interreligious dialogue is practiced, Fredericks expends much effort describing and critiquing the exclusivist, inclusivist, and pluralist models of theology of religions. Strictly speaking, as Fredericks notes, "theology of religions" is not an issue for other religious traditions. Appropriating the words of Martin Luther, "this is most certainly true." Given the universal claims of Christian theology about the significance of the Incarnation and the notion that Christ is the only way to salvation, non-Christian traditions do not face the same exclusivist or inclusivist issues in their dialogues with other religious persons. This traditional Christian claim makes theology of religions a distinctively Christian problem.

Fredericks's main criticism of exclusivist and inclusivist theologies are that both models are "replacement theologies" because (1) they either argue for the "replacement" of all non-Christian traditions with a form of Christian tradition, either Catholic or some form of Protestant tradition, or (2) they replace non-Christian traditions by assuming that what is good and true in these traditions is found most completely in Christian tradition. Much Protestant theology is exclusivist, and the current theological stance of Roman Catholicism is inclusivist. Both approaches are thoroughly nondialogical and thereby incapable of promoting Christian solidarity with non-Christians, and Fredericks's arguments in this regard are exceptionally cogent.

But the trouble with pluralist theologies of religion, Fredericks argues, is that they "require Christians to recognize that Jesus is not the full revelation of God to the World. God is always more. Christians need to pay attention to other religious traditions in order to learn more of God" (p. 9). The idea of the incompleteness of God's revelation in Jesus doesn't make this revelation less true. But theological pluralism does make it difficult for Christians to be faithful to the depth and fullness of Christian faith and experience. In so doing, it fosters a debilitating theological relativism that often falsifies both Christian traditions and the non-Christian traditions with which one is engaged in dialogue. Given the relativist theology inherent in pluralist [End Page 224] theologies, it is difficult to see, Fredericks concludes, how theological pluralism can promote interreligious solidarity.

So how should Christians understand the nature of religious pluralism and thereby enter into dialogue with faithful non-Christians in order to create religious solidarity, a sort of unity in diversity that aids all religious persons in confronting issues of injustice that are not religion-specific and haunt all religious human...


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