Those who never hear the gospel 1

Those who never hear the gospel 1 October 15, 2010

This post is from David Opderbeck…

Gavin D’Costa, Christianity and World Religions: Disputed Questions in the Theology of Religions.

Here on Jesus Creed, we’ve had many spirited discussions about the “theodicy of soteriology”:  the problem of why God’s salvation seems to be restricted to so few people who hear and respond to the gospel.  In this book, which I’ll be blogging through over the next few weeks, Gavin D’Costa offers a robust Roman Catholic theology of religions, including, but not limited to, the difficult question of the fate of the unevangelized.  D’Costa is a Roman Catholic theologian at the University of Bristol in the U.K.  Among other things, he works with the Pontifical Council for Other Faiths.

An initial question:  can those of us who are Protestant learn anything from Catholic theology?  In particular, what can we learn from Catholic theological method in relation to hard questions?

One of the great strengths of D’Costa’s book is that it is scholarly and thorough.  Unlike some recent books on this topic, it is not aimed at a general audience, much less the North American evangelical market.  Although it is a more difficult read, it is ultimately far more satisfying than most other surveys.

Here is how D’Costa frames the theological issues concerning how Christianity relates to other religions:

The key dogmatic issues are the doctrines of God as trinity, the nature of the incarnation as unique, the character of the church, the meaning of mission, and the ethical/social challenges that Christians face in encountering religious pluralism.

We’ll see, as we work through the different approaches to religious pluralism, why each of these dogmatic questions matter, and how D’Costa unpacks them from the Catholic perspective.

Here is a preview of some of his primary arguments:  (1) “religions” should be understood not only in terms of specific doctrines or cultic practices, but also and primarily as “cultural configurations of power and discipline”; (2) “secular discourse,” which seeks to strip the public square of all religious content, is a type of “new authoritarian religion incapable of dealing with religious plurality”; (3) today, “[t]he real clash of civilizations is not between Christianity and Islam but possibly between modernity / postmodernity and religious cultures”; and (4) the soteriological problem of apparently just people in non-Christian religions can effectively be addressed through the doctrine of Christ’s descent into Hell.

Because we have spent so much time here on Jesus Creed discussing the soteriological problem, I’ll take the book a bit out of order, and discuss D’Costa’s approach to the problem first, in my next post.

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