The Twin Tracks of Theology & Dialogue
SCM Press, London, 2001, £14.95
(price at publication of review)
Reviewed May 2002; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2002
Alan Race is known in interfaith circles as the author who first described the exclusivist, inclusivist and pluralist attitudes towards other religions, roughly speaking the closed, partially open and fully open approaches to other faiths as sources of truth and salvation. This book is another essay in identification, this time of the divergent tendencies between reflection on inter-religious relationships that arises within theological thinking, and reflection that arises from actual meeting in dialogue. Race points out that these two tracks, as he calls them, of interfaith encounters do not necessarily lie in the same direction, because theological reflection tends to promote one religion (my own) above others, while dialogical reflection can extend the same validity to all religious experiences. This book is an exploration of ways towards a resolution.
Race begins with the theological track. In this part of the book he seeks to remove obstacles towards a theological recognition that all faiths are valid and equal. He first sets out and defends his exclusivist, inclusivist and pluralist alternatives, and proposes that the only credible and practicable way forward is through the pluralism. Then secondly he argues that Christian thinking about other faiths must free itself from what he calls the Jewish-Christian filter that imposes upon all interfaith relationships the replacement relationship traditionally thought to exist between Christianity and its mother faith. And thirdly he confronts the challenge that is posed by Christian beliefs in the unique status of Jesus, and insists that it is in Christís message rather than in his divine-human nature that his essential importance is to be seen.
In the second part of the book, Race turns to the insights that have been offered by reflection arising from dialogue. He examines what dialogue is thought to be and to involve, and then argues that real encounter in dialogue is only possible for those who surrender presuppositions about their own religion and adopt a thorough-going pluralist attitude. He moves on to examine the fruits of cooperation on ethical rather than theological issues, and finally tests the possibilities of mutual recognition through mystical insights.
Race makes it clear from the start that for him pluralism is the only justifiable theological position and practicable attitude, and in the conclusion he restates this with uncompromising directness. Readers who do not entirely agree may feel that from time to time he does not give other outlooks a full say, and that some of his rejoinders against opposing views are too dismissive. But there is much here to inform and invigorate anyone who wishes to think seriously about relations between the faiths, and few these days can ignore such a pressing necessity.
David Thomas, University of Birmingham
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