Divinity and Diversity: A Christian Affirmation of Religious Pluralism

Review & Commentary

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  1. Review

    One of the indirect consequences of globalization is the emergence of religious pluralism, which many observers agree is the major issue on the twenty-first century agenda of faith communities. Some faith communities confront religious pluralism with fear, seeing it as a threat to the uniqueness of their belief. They response by building and living in a ghetto of exclusivity. Other faith communities regard religious pluralism with tolerance. Accepting the differences between beliefs, they attempt to find common ground, thus maintaining an open house of inclusiveness.

    In a major contribution to issue of religious pluralism, the author offers a comprehensive theological foundation for faith communities, particularly the Christian community, for going beyond these alternatives and affirming religious pluralism as a positive and hopeful reality. She writes, "My goal is a Christian affirmation of our own Christian tradition and other traditions, living toward a vision of the world as a community of diverse communities." Marjorie Suchocki is Professor Emerita of Theology at Claremont School of Theology.

    Using her perspective of process-relational theology, the author interprets Genesis I as the story of the interactive call of God and the response of the world. The result of the interaction is "a conglomeration of mind-boggling diversities" at all levels of creation, from the "deepest cellular level of things" to the human species and community. The call of God and the response of people are characterized by a diversity of cultures and religions, which she sees as " the work of God in creative response to people in their various contexts in the world."

    On this foundation she suggests that in the interaction of call and response, God is "incarnated" in the world through human cultures, calls all religions into existence, and is present in the response of all faith communities. She writes, "The goal of God’s call within each culture is toward richness and inclusiveness of community." This leads her to caution about "abstracting" truth from our experience to declare our way is the only "way, the truth and the life." She maintains that the way, the truth, and the life proclaimed by all religions are "parallel truths." She writes, "My naming of God through Jesus Christ reflects the work of God with me and the tradition in which I stand, and it truly names God. A Jewish naming of God reflects the work of God with Jews in the tradition in which they stand. We are each naming the way God has worked with us respectively." And she would apply such naming of God to other faith traditions.

    She then proceeds to offer criteria by which we can judge the "multiple forms of truth" which emerge from the various experiences of faith communities. The first is the belief that humanity is created in the image of God. After tracing the use and interpretation of the image of God concept through Christian history, she believes it to be helpful to associate it with the Trinitarian nature of God. If this is done, the image of God is communal, not individual. She writes, "For the human to be made in the image of God is for the human to exist in community that is itself created in and through irreducible diversity." Consequently, a Christian affirmation of religious pluralism, will involve working "toward the goal of becoming a community across lines of irreducible differences, after the model of the image of God" under the criteria of "deeds of righteousness, mercy and kindness."

    The next step is to see the Christian symbol of "the reign of God" as both a "theologically based reason for affirming other religions" and a criterion for "evaluating ourselves and others." She writes, "A theology of the reign of God calls us toward a new affirmation of religious pluralism." We live the reign of God when we reach out to the "strangers within our gates," people of other faith communities and engage them as friends in dialogue.

    In a chapter entitled Saving Grace, the author deals with the meaning of the cross and resurrection and its implications for understanding what God has done for us in Christ. She illuminates four concepts, which have been regnant in different eras of the history of the Christian church, relative to a particular understanding of what is wrong with the human condition. This pluralism of understandings, evident in Christianity, is a demonstration that God can reveal his love and grace in diverse ways within different cultures and faith communities.

    Concluding her Christian affirmation of religious pluralism, Dr. Suchocki writes, "I believe that God is calling us to a new and more intense form of mission activity in the world – not to convert the world to our own religion, but to convert the world toward friendship." Friendship can be cultivated on the personal and local congregational level when we share knowledge and engage in conversation about our different faith communities. Friendship can also occur on the global level when we "together seek deeper knowledge of the roots of the ills that plague our planet."

    This profound, illuminating, engaging and prophetic book is a major contribution to the agenda of dealing with the issue of religious pluralism. At the end of each chapter are questions for personal reflection and group discussion. Divinity and Diversity is an essential guide for individuals and groups committed to converting the world toward friendship.

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