'World Religions' in the Context of Christian Faith
(and not the other way around)
Sources: Lesslie Newbigin, "The Gospel among the Religions" in The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, rev. ed. (Eerdmans, 1995); Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Eerdmans, 1995); Paul F. Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions (Orbis, 2002); John G. Stackhouse, Jr., ed., No Other Gods Before Me? Evangelicals and the Challenge of World Religions (Baker, 2001); James Wm. McClendon, Jr., Witness: Systematic Theology vol. 3 (Abingdon, 2000); Telford Work, "Confidence and Contradiction: An Evangelical Takes the Bible to Islam," forthcoming.
'He Ascended to Heaven and Sits at the Right Hand'
Lectionary readings for the Feast of the Ascension:
Acts 1:1-11, Ps. 47 or 93 (or 110 in Year C), Eph. 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53.
Christian worship, doctrine, and life see the present in the context of the ascended, reigning Christ.
'Christianity and World Religions': Common Paradigms
Paul Knitter's models of 'Christianity and other religions':
Total replacement, partial replacement, fulfillment, mutuality, acceptance.
This framework assumes 'religious' likeness and implies certain options:
Should we be 'imperialist' and make our religion the goal (or means) of empire, family, business, patriotism, etc.?
Should we be 'absolutist' and appraise the Christian 'worldview' in terms of universal objective truth?
Should we be 'relativist' and respect Christianity as a world religion, worldview, or value system?
'Religion' behind the Scenes
Our word 'religion' belongs to the modern project:
Thus Religionswissenschaft ('religious studies') and Religionsgeschichte ('history of religions').
Modernity is the project of discovering the universal metanarrative.
'Postmodernity' reconceives, withdraws from, or fully abandons that project.
Religions (and thus Christianity) seem stuck in-between these dilemmas; thus our predicament.
No other 'metanarrative' rightly frames the story of Christian faith.
Is 'religion' then an appropriate genus? (Cf. 1 Cor. 8.)
For Newbigin, it stands for "that which has final authority for a believer or a society" (161).
What are the significance and end of particular gods and lords?
How do we understand particular religions (communities of final authorities)? (174ff)
1. All the world is already related to Jesus as its alpha and omega and his glory.
2. Humanity sinfully uses God's gifts as means of independence.
3. God exposes and meets this in the story of the cross as the world's reconciliation.
4. Salvation brings all Christ's treasures into obedience to him (John 16:12-15).
5. The Church is no more than the sign of that promise's fulfillment.
6. The Church's task brings it into 'kenotic [self-emptying] dialogues'.
Mission, education, and conversion are the birth and death of metaphors.
A Case Study: Islam
How do I as an evangelical Christian appreciate Islam?
As false ideology? (This sees the Bible as a 'treasury of truth'.)
As fallow mission field? (Bible as a means of mission.)
As basis for conversion? (Bible as a means of conversion.)
As social order oppressive and supportive of Christ's body? (Bible as God's Word to the Church.)
As domain of principalities and powers? (Bible as a means of power.)
As a figure in the Bible's narratives? (Bible as (all) history.)
If so, then which figure?
Ishmaelite children of another promise?
Assyrian and Babylonian captors?
God-fearing goyim of Acts?
The cultural conservatives of James?
The beast of Revelation?
The Pharisees of the Gospels?
Rather, Saul (Newbigin) or Simon bar-Jonah (Work).