In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

BEYOND PROCESS THEOLOGY? A REVIEW DISCUSSION * A. Is Our Need for a" World Theology"? JOHN COBB subtitles his recent book, Beyond Dialogue, " toward a mutual transformation of Christianity and Buddhism." This assumes, of course, that such a transformation is desirable. Furthermore, those who are to be transformed are primarily a few theologians. Thus, it remains a question whether dialogue between such elite groups can in any way be said to amount to a" transformation" of Christianity. More than that, do sizeable numbers of Christians in fact desire such a " transformation "? And if so, is a dialogue with Buddhism the best and most desirable means, since surely other sources of transformation exist. Cobb offers us as evidence of the need for transformation that " Christian confidence in Christian superiority has eroded " (p. xii) . That may be true, but does this mean that Christianity needs transforming or just some of its practitioners? Cobb thinks the source of our confusion lies in Christology. That is, we are not so sure who Jesus was and whether his offer of salvation is exclusive. Cobb sees it as an advantage that in dialogue one does not seek to convert. But in response we must ask: Why should Christians really no longer seek conversion? The immediate problem with Cobb's proposed dialogue is his admission that the dialogue has been primarily with Zen and Pure Land Buddhists, which means that this involves a relatively limited group of the world's religions. He proceeds in Chapter I to a brief review of Christian history on the question of the exclusivism of Christian doctrine and adopts a *John B. Cobb, Beyond Dialogue. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983. 645 646 FUEDERICK SONTAG " revisionist " history of the missionary effort, branding it as unconcerned with " the positive value of the religious traditions of the people to whom they were directed " (p. 15) . Such an evaluation is of course one sided, since many returned missionaries are models of understanding of the cultures within which they labored. More important, however, is the question of whether Cobb is too Western in his own approach. That is, is Christianity primarily a matter of doctrinal assimilation? The unaddressed issue in all this is: What is Christianity? If it is doctrine, that is one thing. If at its core it is not, the situation is quite another. Then to argue superiority of doctrine is irrelevant. In our relationship to others, is our aim in Christianity talk and understanding? Or, should it perhaps be of service to the needs of others wherever it appears. If so, this would make the discussion of doctrine far less important. To paraphrase Marx: The aim is not to understand other cultures but to free people from suffering. If this is true, the ' Christian ' is he who relieves suffering, whatever culture or doctrinal background he comes from. Perhaps the point is not to listen and discuss but to serve, in which case dialogue may be too intellectual an approach . Cobb does suggest that we might serve other religions rather than proselytize (p. 30), but his exclusion of conversion ma.y be needlessly restrictive. At this point Cobb's universalism emerges: He thinks religion now has beome truly universal " as worshippers of all the gods interact" (p. 34). But in point of fact, this happens in only a small percent of the cases. The vast majority know little or nothing of religions other than their own. Is one God really revealed in all religions, as Cobb supposes (ibid.)? That is an immense assumption left unanalyzed . Cobb opts for a reconsideration of religion based on a global view (p. 36). But we have to ask him: (I) How many will really follow this course; and (2) is this a realistic or even a possible goal? Perhaps no such thing as "global theology" is available. But he does not argue the issue. Cobb wants us to BEYOND PROCESS THEOLOGY? 647 " assimilate the elements of truth in all other traditions" (p. 41), but this involves vast assumptions about what' truth' is like and whether all religions are compatible or rather involve basic incompatibilities and irreconcilable conflicts. What we need to do is to examine his rather romantic assumption about the...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 645-661
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.