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4 The Trinity and the World Religions Perils and Promise Gavin D’Costa The doctrine of the Trinity performs many tasks in Christian theology. For instance, it allows us to name God as Father who is revealed in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Spirit, so that our God-talk can refer analogically to the divine mystery. This is most significant as we turn to the question of the Trinity and other religions. Reflection on the world religions is often divided into two specific areas. First, there is a general “theology of religions.” Here various theological questions are explored, such as: What, if any, is the mode of “revelation” outside Jesus Christ? How is that revelation, if there is such, related to salvation? Do the Spirit and do the Son act within the world religions? If so, how is this to be understood? Is the kingdom of God operative outside the visible boundaries of the church? Are the Trinity, Christ, and the church necessary for salvation? These are just some of the questions that are being reflected on in Anglo-Saxon theology. The second field concerns specific questions related to particular engagements, a “theology with religions,” when for example Christianity encounters Hinduism and there is a question of whether the Trinity is analogous to the trimurti; or in what way does the Muslim doctrine of God as taught by Al Ghazali correspond to the Christian doctrine of the one God taught by Thomas Aquinas? How does the Trinity affect the understanding of “oneness” in this specific encounter? I will mainly focus on the first area in this chapter. In what follows I want to develop an argument in two sections.1 First, I want to indicate how recent reflection on the religions has been impoverished when the Trinity is not the guiding light. I want to suggest that the Trinity 107 actually helps secure the goals of many theologians who try to avoid trinitarian reflection. Second, I want to examine briefly some helpful trinitarian approaches and note their strengths and weaknesses. I will close with some very brief remarks. Avoiding the Trinity? Since the liberal tradition of the nineteenth century, the Trinity is sometimes seen as a problem rather than as a resource in engaging with other religions. Why? For some, Karl Barth’s trinitarian emphasis exemplifies the problems. The argument against Barth (summarized) runs as follows: if God is Trinity and the Trinity is God, then other religions can never amount to anything other than idolatry or human grasping, for none proclaim Father, Son, and Spirit. Barth’s christocentric focus is also deemed problematic, as it means that there can be no authentic “faith” outside of those who expressly confess Jesus Christ as Lord. According to his critics, Barth is seen to close down interreligious dialogues rather than opening them up.2 In reaction to this perceived “closed” circle, nontrinitarian theologies have been developed in the English-speaking world. Schematically speaking, they either emphasize one or two of the following instead: (a) the “Father,” (b) the “Spirit,” (c) a nondivine “Jesus” or a purely degree Christology, (d) or “the kingdom,” but not in a trinitarian balance. I refer readers to a more detailed outline and critique of such thinkers in their complex diversity.3 But to help readers of this essay, let me put a little flesh on these bones. Such summaries fail to do justice to careful reflection by the authors mentioned. John Hick’s vast corpus exemplifies a use of three of these four trajectories at different stages in his writing and in relation to different audiences—the Father, a nondivine Jesus, and the kingdom. During his early period, Hick stressed the “God of love” (the “Father”) at the center of the “universe of faiths.”4 Hick argued that a loving God would not consign the majority of humankind 1. This contribution draws on some of my published paper, “The Trinity in Interreligious Dialogues,” in Gilles Emery and Matthew Levering, eds., Handbook on the Trinity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 573–86, but has been edited to address the focus of the present volume. 2. See, for instance, Paul Knitter, “Christomonism in Karl Barth’s Evaluation of the Non-Christian Religions,” Neue Zeitschrift für systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosphie 13 (1971): 99–121, 3. Gavin D’Costa, “Pluralist Arguments: Prominent Tendencies and Methods,” in Karl Josef Becker, Ilaria Morali, and Gavin D’Costa, eds., Catholic Engagement with World...


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