The First and the Last: The Claim of Jesus Christ and the Claims of Other Religious Traditions

Article excerpt

The First and the Last: The Claim of Jesus Christ and the Claims of Other Religious Traditions. By George Sumner. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004. vi + 219pp. $26.00 (cloth).

The central conceptual notion of The First and the Last is "final primacy," which the author introduces and explicates in the opening two chapters, and then "tests" in a variety of contexts for the rest of the book: in modern theology, with particular attention to the work of Barth, Rahner, and Pannenberg (chapter 3); in theories concerning the economy of salvation, as articulated in various Trinitarian theologies of the religions (chapter 4); in the theology of mission (chapter 5); in Indian Christian theology (chapter 6); and among theologies of inculturation (chapter 7).

According to Sumner, traditional Christianity's convictions regarding "the primacy of the revelation in Jesus Christ and the uniqueness of his mediating agency in salvation are at stake" as a result of the "radical challenge" posed by Christian pluraliste (p. 1). In response to that challenge, the author seeks to provide "an alternate, 'postpluralist' view of the relationship between Christian belief and the claims of other religious traditions" (p. 2). It is for this end that he develops his notion of final primacy.

Drawing on Alasdair Maclntyre's concept of "epistemological crisis" and the "rule-theory" or "grammatical" theologies developed by George Lindbeck and others, Sumner explains that

the "final primacy" of Jesus Christ . . . consists in the fact that, in narratives generated from the scriptural narrative, by which theological constructions imagine alien claims and communities somehow engrafted into the divine economy, Christ is the One toward whom the narratives run and from whom their truth (to the extent that they are true) derives. He is the finis legis (the end of the law) and the prima veritaa (the first truth) (pp. 16-17).

This "pattern" of final primacy is "common to all appropriate Christian theologies of religions" (p. 17), and as such must be viewed as nonnegotiable: "the centrality of the person of Christ for salvation and revelation, is doctrinally 'the one thing needful'" (p. …