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Problems of Religious Diversity
Problems of Religious Diversity
Paul J. Griffiths
Wiley-Blackwell, 2001
196 pp., $51.95

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Theology and the Dialogue of Religions (Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine)
Theology and the Dialogue of Religions (Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine)
S. J. Michael Barnes
Cambridge University Press, 2002
292 pp., $62.00

Buy Now
Problems of Religious Diversity
Problems of Religious Diversity
Paul J. Griffiths
Wiley-Blackwell, 2001
196 pp., $51.95

Buy Now

by Gerald R. McDermott


Jesus and the Religions

A new paradigm for Christian engagement?

Religious pluralism is anything but new. More than three centuries ago, John Bunyan wondered why such a small proportion of the planet had access to the Christian gospel: "Could I think that so many ten thousands in so many Countreys and Kingdoms, should be without the knowledge of the right way to Heaven?"

Indeed, 1,800 years ago the church was confronted by as much religious diversity as exists in a major metropolis today, and its first theologians worked hard to relate Jesus to Greco-Roman religion and philosophy. In the second and third centuries, Irenaeus and the Greek apologists (Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria) developed theologies of history and revelation that understood God to be at work in non-Christian traditions and Christ, the logos, to be teaching and saving souls outside of Israel and the church.

During the first millennium, however, most Christians were convinced that extra ecclesiam nulla salus—outside the church there is no salvation. As Cyprian (d. 258) put it, "You cannot have God for your Father if you don't have the Church for your mother." Cyprian could say this because he shared the prevailing presumption that the gospel had been promulgated everywhere and that everyone had the opportunity to accept it. Even Augustine (354-430), who knew some African tribes had not yet heard, generally restricted salvation to the church: he believed that God had foreseen that those Africans would not accept Christ if He were offered to them.

In the second millennium, attitudes began to change. Abelard (1079-1142) spoke of pagan saints such as Job, Noah, and Enoch. Pope Gregory VII (d. 1085) conceded that Muslims who obey the Qur'an might find salvation in the bosom of Abraham, and St. Francis (1181-1226) referred to Muslim "brothers." Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) introduced "implicit faith" and the "baptism of desire" for those who have not heard but would have embraced the gospel. Dante's Divina Commedia (c. 1314) places Avicenna, Averroes, and Saladin in ...

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