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Orthodoxy and engagement

25 April 2014

Marcus Braybrooke considers Christianity and other faiths

Postcolonial Theology of Religions: Particularity and pluralism in world Christianity
Jenny Daggers
Routledge £24.99
Church Times Bookshop £22.50 (Use code CT366 )

THE Church Times asks its reviewers to include a few sentences describing a book's intent; so let the author, Jenny Daggers, speak for herself.

The constructive proposalof this book presents "Christian particularity, centred in Trinitarian thinking, as capable of hospitality to the liberative and interreligious concerns of post-colonial, Asian and feminist theologies; respectful interreligious engagement and the pursuit of gender justice amid increasing global diversity need not require repudiation of orthodox Trinitarian thought and its liturgical expression."

It would be a pity if the complexity of the language deterred readers from struggling with this important book, which summarises and offers critiques of the views of many theologians on the question how Christianity relates to other world religions.

The Christians who first addressed this issue, as Daggers makes clear, were Western males, often entangled in the European colonial project. Moreover, the generic use of the term "religion" by "natural religion", the supposedly neutral "scientific study of religion", and "comparative religion" - in which comparisons always favoured Christianity - masked the particularity of religions.

The author distinguishes helpfully between three dominant approaches. The first sees global Christianity diminished by secularism - a view dominant in the early years of the World Council of Churches. The second pictures Christianity transcended, either by modifying claims for the uniqueness of Jesus Christ or by the gradual growing together of faiths into a world religion. Third, many continue to hope that by the Church, by her missionary endeavours, will indeed become universal.

Today's post-colonialism and post-modernism, however, provide a new context in which to address the question of Christianity's relationship to other religions. Daggers insists on the particularity of each religion and the importance of listening to the voices of Asian Christians and women theologians from all continents. Daggers makes clear the importance of inter-religious co-operation in the search for peace and in protecting human rights and the environment, but insists that this does not require diluting orthodox Trinitarian belief - indeed, new emphasis is put on the universal presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet, even in the concluding chapter, Daggers discusses other writers instead of giving a clear summary of her own views and their bearing on actual interreligious engagement.

The motivation of the interfaith pioneers was not primarily theological, but a mystical sense of the all-encompassing love of the Holy One, who transcends all human speech. George Appleton, Thomas Merton, Bede Griffiths, and others who have inspired me are not mentioned in the index, and I feel like asking those who engage in this scholarly debate what the father in the Upanishads asked his son Svetaketu: "As you are so well-read. . . have you ever asked for that instruction by which we hear what cannot be heard, by which we perceive what cannot be perceived, by which we know what cannot be known?"

The Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke is President of the World Congress of Faiths.


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