- Only One Way? Three Christian Responses to the Uniqueness of Christ in a Pluralistic World by Gavin D’Costa, Paul Knitter, and Daniel Strange
It may be necessary to justify the inclusion of this debate among Christian theologians in a journal dedicated to Buddhist-Christian dialogue, as Buddhism receives only passing mention, mainly by Knitter. The answer is that their debate is paradigmatic for what is or will be occurring in virtually all religious traditions as they rise to the challenge of forging acceptable relationships with their respective religious Others. In the case of Christianity, with its emphasis on correct doctrine, the differences are disconcertingly sharp; as Strange remarks toward the end, echoing a comment by D’Costa (147), “Whither ecumenism indeed?” (213–214). D’Costa sets out his stall as a Roman Catholic theologian, taking this to mean “that my theological job, shaped by the Church’s teachings about the role of the theologian, is to convey the teachings of the Catholic Church on the matter at hand,” for, as he remarks with reference to Alasdair MacIntyre and postmodern philosophy, “everyone doing theology comes from ‘somewhere’” (3). Knitter, also a Catholic theologian, defines theology as “a mutually clarifying and a mutually criticizing conversation between Christian experience and beliefs on the one side and ongoing human experience and understanding of self and the world on the other side” (47–48). By the time he comes to respond to D’Costa’s contribution, Knitter’s opening sally is: “He is not Catholic enough!” (153). D’Costa, in fact, finds he has more in common with the Calvinist theology of Strange than he does with his coreligionist Knitter, who decides to address his final comments to “Davin,” a composite of Dan and Gavin (199).
Both Christian and Buddhist readers may well be bewildered by these alignments, but the value of the book lies in the intellectually uncompromising though always friendly search for an authentically Christian stance toward other religions. It invites a similar debate among Buddhists, who tend to have a different take on diversity, as Rita Gross often points out, but are nevertheless not dispensed from clarifying either their own internal relations or their position vis-à-vis Christians and others. The book under review, in any case, leaves no doubt that the divergences among these very committed Christians are serious and deep. D’Costa gives a comprehensive [End Page 201] documented account of recent papal and earlier Church teaching on other religions, well aware that not all of it is palatable and that it always requires interpretation, just as the Bible does in the light of it: sola scriptura is insufficient (4–5). At the core of this teaching is that Christ and the Church are necessary for the salvation of all (18 n. 20), which entails that the salvation of non-Christians is not yet actualized, as they are not part of the Church, though they have the potential to be so and thus be saved, for “salvation is a deeply corporate and social event” (19; he notes that this was the point on which Jacques Dupuis was interrogated by the Vatican). D’Costa endorses the teaching of John Paul II on the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of non-Christians, stressing that this presupposes rather than bypasses the salvific efficacy of Christ. He persists in his interpretation of the Vatican Council documents as never conceding that other religions are salvific in their own right. The religions represent preparation for, not participation in Christian salvation; there is no de jure pluralism (33–34, citing Dominus Iesus). He thus adheres strictly to his position that “it is better to argue from within a tradition to a goal that one seeks” (45).
Moving to Knitter’s contribution, we breathe different though no less Catholic air. Inspired by liberation theologians like Aloysius Pieris of Sri Lanka, his dual focus is on the religions and the poor; he aims at a theology that is both...