Monday, August 25, 2014

Essay 2 in Alan Race & Paul M. Hedges, Christian Approaches to Other Faiths (London, UK: SCM, 2008)

Paul Hedges wrote the second essay in Christian Approaches to Other Faiths (London, UK: SCM, 2008) titled 'A Reflection on Typologies: Negotiating a Fast-Moving Discussion.' The first half of this chapter examines the various typologies or conceptual models that have been used when discussing theology of religions. In the second half, it fine-tunes the classical typology suggested by Alan Race in the 1980s and developed his own 'particularities' model. 

The main typologies that Hedges engages with are:
  1. Alan Race's exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism.
  2. Perry Schmidt-Leukel's atheism, exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism.
  3. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen's ecclesiocentric, christocentric, and theocentric.
  4. Paul Knitter's replacement, fulfilment, mutuality, and acceptance.
  5. Owen Thomas' truth-falsehood, relativity, essence, development-fulfilment, salvation-history, revelation-sin, and new-departure.
Hedges' own typology is based on Race's. He envisages that a good typology should be descriptive (contrast prescriptive), heuristic (contrast normative), multivalent (contrast defining), and permeable (contrast closed). Therefore he suggests that each category should be in the plural: exclusivisms, inclusivisms, pluralisms, and particularities. 

The particularities model that Hedges proposes takes seriously the uniqueness of each religion and so it can hardly conclude how religions relate among themselves. Particularists reject metanarrative. Objective evaluation various religions cannot be done. These are regarded as unknowable. The particularities position is thought to transcends exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. As Hedges writes,
The orientation of particularity has affinities with exclusivist type approaches, in that it sees each faith as being 'tradition-specific', which is to say, it speaks its own unique language about its own unique goals and purposes. It also has affinities with inclusivisms, in that many particularists allow that the Holy Spirit may be at work in other faiths. It might also move towards some measure of overlap with pluralisms, for a number of particularists hold that other faiths display some purpose within the divine mystery and may hold truths from which Christianity can learn.  However, as defined here, particularity is grounded in post-modernism, and it is this which provides its distinctive character. (p.27)
Hedges explains what he means by 'post-modernism',
Post-modernism relates to the theology of religions by disputing basic (modern) assumptions. One of these is the question of whether all 'religions' are pursuing the same goal, even granting that such a category termed 'religions' exists at all. It also emphasizes the need to respect the religions 'Other', rather than fit other faiths within a grand overarching (Western, rational, controlling) metanarrative.
Without metanarrative, particularities have no common ground that could arbitrate between religions. They strongly affirm the unique particularity of each religion. For this reason, their proponents hold on to "indeterminacy" in how God works through other faiths. The Holy Spirit's function in other religions is unknowable. (p.29)

My critique on this model is that it renders futile the quest for theology of religions. If we assume that we cannot say anything theologically meaningful about other faiths from our own religious tradition, then it follows that any distinctly Christian approach to them is impossible. The attempt for theology of religions is conceptually prohibited at the outset.

Hedges has written chapter 6 to elaborate on the particularists position. Perhaps he will address this concern there.

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