Author: Lakeland, Paul
Date published: June 1, 2012
Journal code: PTHS
NO LONGER THE SAME: RELIGIOUS OTHERS AND THE LIBERATION OF CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY. By David R. Brockman. New Approaches to Religion and Power. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Pp. xu + 195. $85; $28.
This first offering in the series "New Approaches to Religion and Power" sets out to consider how non-Christian voices can enrich Christian theology. Liberation theology, thinks Brockman, has brought out the importance of the voiceless or marginalized, but not sufficiently recognized that the category includes those whom Christian theology would consider to be the religious other. Using categories from the philosophy of Alain Badiou, for whom any "situation" (and Christianity would be one such) acquires its meaning only in the larger context of the "void" (that which Christianity does not recognize), B. argues that in their different ways Schleiermacher (liberal Protestant thought), Barth (neoorthodoxy), Lindbeck (postliberal), and Gutiérrez (liberation theology) are blind to the insight that truth is larger than one's own tradition.
B.'s thoughtful discussion of this important question harbors within it, however, a near-fatal ambiguity. Is he concerned to show how the insights of other religious voices can truly help the Christian tradition to understand itself better, or does he really want to argue for the dissolution of Christian specificity in favor of some more holistic religious community? So, in his brief constructive final chapter he seems sympathetic to syncretism and multiple religious belonging, while not finally identifying with either. There is much in the logic of B.'s argument that leans toward simple religious pluralism, though Badiou's position would presumably suggest that opening to the void strengthens one's own sense of one's own situation. Of course B. is right that the religious other has much to teach the Christian community, but surely not necessarily to lead it to dissolve into something more sensitive but more amorphous. The objective, perhaps, is to be a humble participant in the family of world religions, while remaining true to a distinctive religious identity. To make this clearer, B. might have chosen a better dialogue partner than Gutiérrez - such as the Sri Lankan Jesuit Aloysius Pieris, whose Asian Christian context makes it essential to begin with an act of humility in the presence of the great religious traditions around the relatively tiny Christian Church.
Fairfield University, CT