- Theological Reflections at the Boundaries by Paul O. Ingram
In this text, historical theologian Paul O. Ingram challenges Christian theologians and scholars of Buddhist-Christian studies to engage the natural sciences as well as religion, comparative theologies, and interfaith dialogue. The parameters of his project are established by constructivist epistemology, critical realism, and the pluralist hypothesis, with pluralism providing a theoretical framework for engaging difficult theological questions. As such, the book functions as an extended example and demonstration of what Ingram advocates. It is complex, wide-ranging, and seldom static. Ingram is a “dust-mop thinker,” sweeping up everything in his path and integrating it into his argument in creative ways. Although Ingram positions the book’s approach as history of religions, it demonstrates his additional prowess as a constructive-systematic theologian.
Ingram begins by asserting that world religions and the natural sciences are the two most important dialogue partners for a particular type of contemporary Christian theologians—those who want to generate knowledge that can creatively transform Christian faith and practice. This pragmatic criterion becomes a touchstone throughout the text. The book goes on to illustrate the promise and challenge of a three-way conversation among theology, science, and world religions through chapters that address, in turn, religious pluralism, interfaith dialogue, creation, Christology, social justice, and eschatology. The argument throughout is shaped by Ingram’s long participation [End Page 224] in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, and the book engages “world religions” qua Buddhism as a particular example of interreligious understanding vis-à-vis the natural sciences. Throughout, Ingram carefully positions himself as a Lutheran Christian committed to religious pluralism and to Whiteheadian process philosophy.
Two central inquiries shape the book. The first is epistemological; Ingram wants to clarify the relationship between “boundary questions” in science and theology and the generation of new knowledge. (This concern provides the “reflection at the boundaries” of the book’s title.) The second inquiry is theological and personal; Ingram seeks to clarify and articulate a responsible Christology in a world that is religiously plural and scientifically complex. He invokes a revised version of the question that Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29). In Ingram’s account, Jesus asks: As a Christian, who do you say I am in a multireligious world? In a scientific/technological world? In human and existential terms?
While Theological Reflections at the Boundaries is not intended primarily as a work of Buddhist-Christian studies, it nicely summarizes and restates Ingram’s contributions to the field. It also continues the research agenda that Ingram established with the 2008 publication of Buddhist-Christian Dialogue in an Age of Science.1 I find the book helpful in framing Christology’s relationship to theological anthropology in light of science, technology, and world religions. Teachers may find that the book’s complexity makes it a good choice for learning, appropriate both for close reading and lively discussion. The book is accessible to some undergraduates and to graduate theological students. (I cannot assess its usefulness for students of science who are engaging boundary questions.)
The nature of boundary questions in religion and science is described in the first chapter. In Ingram’s view, boundary questions are those that cannot be answered through scientific methods (which seek to describe physical processes) or through theological or philosophical methods (which are meant to address “human universals”). As examples of boundary questions in each domain, Ingram cites theodicy and the cause of the big bang in the cosmology of physics. Because boundary questions cannot be answered through standard approaches to knowledge, they create cognitive dissonance; cognitive dissonance stimulates new approaches to inquiry that lead to new insights and understandings. Ingram argues that Zen koans, as an outgrowth of Nagarjuna’s epistemology of emptiness, and Christian debates about divine passivity provide excellent examples of the creative potential engendered by cognitive dissonance.
Because Ingram is well aware of the epistemological limitations of science, religion, and theology, he carefully positions his methodology and argument as critical realism informed by constructivist epistemology. He contrasts his...