Alternatives To The Threefold Typology

Before leaving this particular debate it will be appropriate to note those who have either claimed a fourth option or those who are unhappy with this threefold classification altogether (and, therefore, also with any fourth option). Regarding those who propose a fourth option (DiNoia 1992; Ogden 1992), I can only briefly register some reservations. In DiNoia's case, he restricts the definition of exclusivism to stipulating that only those who explicitly confess Christ in this life will be saved. Hence, his purgatorial option allegedly constitutes a fourth option. In Ogden's case his fourth option rests on the distinction that pluralists claim that other religions are salvific means, while he wishes to claim that they may be salvific means. Ogden claims this to be a new fourth option between inclusivism and pluralism, but it rests on a very shaky definition of pluralism, for not all pluralists are committed to an a priori affirmation of other religions as salvific means. Ogden's representative atonement theology places him firmly in the pluralist camp. However, readers must judge for themselves on this matter.

Challenges to the whole approach have been put forward most forcefully by Kenneth Surin and John Milbank, both primarily reacting against pluralism but finding problems with the entire project (Milbank 1990; Surin 1990). Surin's criticism is essentially political and genealogical (deriving from Michel Foucault), suggesting that rather than serve up theories about religious unity in an abstract, ahistorical and apolitical fashion, real attention should be paid to the social, political and power relationships between religions in their particular locality, rather than reified global speculation. Theological talk has usually served to obscure rather than identify the real terrain of importance. If anything, it perpetuates the existing status quo by distracting attention away from the real problems. While Surin's criticisms are powerful and incisive, there is a danger that he redescribes the territory so radically that there are no valid theological questions left, only political-sociological questions. While this materialist reductionism is insightful, ultimately it surrenders theology entirely into the hands of social and political theorists, reducing all theological discourse to genealogical origins. Milbank, while sharing much with Surin, proposes a quite different role for theology. Milbank is deeply suspicious of the notion of 'religion', as well as the belief that dialogue provides a privileged access to truth. Rather, he urges that Christianity simply proclaim its vision and practice, for there is no intrinsic theological rationale for 'dialogue', while there is regarding mission. While Milbank's essay is taunting and polemical in places, it raises significant questions. It seems that while he has offered a devastating criticism of pluralism, despite his claims, he has not really attended to the different approaches within the theology of religions and cannot therefore be justified in calling for 'The End of Dialogue'. What both Surin and Milbank do so clearly is alert us to the fact that all theology is also tied up within a political and social nexus. We shall return to this point in what follows.

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