Monday, March 05, 2007

Further Reflections on Interpretation Journal and a Theology of Religions

In a previous post I mentioned an interested collection of articles in the January 2007 issue of the journal Interpretation. The issue is devoted to consideration of theology of religions, and it includes an essay by Terry Muck titled "Theology of Religions after Knitter and Hick: Beyond the Paradigm." The article is followed by two responsive pieces, the first by Marianne Farina of Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, and the second by Amos Yong of Regent University School of Divinity. Following is a summary of some of Muck's thoughts in his essay, and that of the responsive essays.

Muck's Essay

Muck's article summarizes the contributions of Paul Knitter and John Hick to the development of a theology of the religions. He considers three main points that each of these scholars has contributed to the issue, and includes positive comments on these contributions. Muck then moves from this overview of these "scholars par excellence" to a critique of their views. He then suggests what this theological and philosophical approach might go beyond in the form of "beyond Western," "beyond Modern, and "beyond 'the paradigm'" of exclusive-inclusive-pluralist, a paradigm that Muck feels has "outlived its usefulness."

Muck then moves to considerations of "where to go from here." As a way of suggesting items for a new theological agenda he suggests we need "bigger theology." Muck finds Amos Yong's writings on pneumatology to be especially helpful here, as well as Veli-Matti Karkkainen's work on the importance of Trinitarianism to Christian theology. Muck also suggests that we need a "wider methology" that develops a Christian theological framework "among the teachers and practitioners of Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim theologians." He suggests that an examples of this creative work can be found in Gerald McDermott through his book Can Evangelicals Learn From World Religions? (InterVarsity, 2000), Keith Ward at the University of Oxford, James Fredericks of Loyola Marymont University, and Robert Nevill at Boston University.

The third component of Muck's theological agenda is "deeper missiology" by which he means taking "the contextualization of the gospel to a whole new level" in the form of "radical contextualization" such as that being experimented with among "Muslim Background Believers and Hindu dharma-based Christians." This would involve "participant theologizing" which is similar to anthropological participant observation. Muck says that "participant theologizing means entering into the religious stories of indigenous peoples and doing religious thinking alongside them, using their terms, asking their questions, using methods common to their way of thinking religiously."

Muck concludes his essay by reiterating the need to move beyond the soteriological questions to working to make Jesus' deepest desire more real: "How can we all become one?

First Reponsive Essay

The first responsive essay by Farina was brief, and in my opinion it did not offer much by way of response or additional considerations. She notes that Muck's thesis is similar to other projects of interfaith engagement, and notes similiarties to efforts in Roman Catholicism. She also discusses her work in Bangladesh among Muslims, Hindus, and Christians in her own efforts at participant theologizing.

Second Reponsive Essay

The second responsive essay by Yong was also brief, but it provided much more by way of substantive interaction with and critique of Muck's ideas. He begins his essay noting his great respect and admiration for Muck on his own theological thinking and praxis before moving to consideration of his mentor's ideas. In Yong's view, although there are problems with the exclusivist-inclusivist-pluralist paradigm, which Yong has mentioned in his own writings, nevertheless he says that he is "beginning to wonder whether we can get beyond the paradigm in terms of this question." He then provides a few of his own thoughts as to why.

Yong then moves to question whether participant theologizing is helpful, and offers three questions which challenges Muck's suggestion. Even so, Yong continues his interaction with Muck and states that despite the difficult questions, "I am not prepared to throw in the towel on the idea of participant theologizing" as he wonders whether it is possible to engage in this process through means "that are both 'in' but also not 'of' the paradigm."


These three essays provide interesting ideas worthy of consideration by missional Christians as they consider one of the key theological and cultural issues of the twenty-first century, that of a theology of religions.

In a future post I will touch on aspects of another interesting article in this issue of Interpretation, one by Michael Barram titled "The Bible, Mission, and Social Location: Toward a Missional Hermeneutic."

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