Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Radical Atonement and the Cosmic Body of Christ

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Radical Atonement and the Cosmic Body of Christ

Article excerpt

In considering interreligious relations and Christian distinctiveness in a post-Christian era, three primary questions that need to be asked are: (I) What presuppositions guide interreligious dialogue between self-identified Christians and those of other faith traditions? (2) What is the lowest common definition of a Christian? (3) How does a Christian address the concept of the religious Other? I intend to provide answers, albeit from my own subjectivity, to the above questions. First, however, I would like briefly to address the term "post-Christian."

The religious composition of humanity in 2012 cannot be considered, on the whole, to be post-Christian, nor can the term "post-Christendom" be used to describe the cultures of certain Western and South American nations, as in "post-Christendom Ecuador" or "post-Christian Poland." However, it is certainly true that the Western world can no longer be considered unified under a concept called "Christendom" as it existed from roughly 500 to 1700 C.E. The church as institution and cultural force has lost its influence in the last 300 years, mainly due to the effects of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Even if certain countries (mostly Catholic) maintain powerful church structures and a high religiously affiliated demographic, the might of Christendom is no longer felt across a broad spectrum. The effects of Christendom, where they still exist, are geographically, linguistically, and culturally separated.

Some parts of the world are still deeply rooted in Christendom, while others are clearly post-Christian. These are terms that I believe should be used carefully and not too sweepingly. While the West in general may be entering into or already in a post-Christian age, the lingering effects are still present where Christendom once held sway. For example, the southern United States is still deeply religious, and the church plays a significant role in the lives of at least a large majority of the population there. Christian and post-Christian segments of society often live side-by-side, and I think this is nowhere more evident than in the U.S.A. political realm.

The first question I think it is important to ask with regard to interreligious relations and Christian distinctiveness in contemporary times is what presuppositions we, as self-identified Christians, bring to the table of interreligious dialogue. To limit the question further, I would ask what presuppositions specifically about faith and scripture we bring to the table. Since everyone speaks and acts from a certain set of presuppositions, a dialogue without points of reference is not really a dialogue at all.

The domination of tolerance in modern secular culture has, in my mind, been the death of serious, purposeful dialogue among groups of differing religious (and other) beliefs. To tolerate something is not to respect it for its distinctiveness, attempt to understand it, or try to learn from it. It is, rather, an attitude of condescension and nihilistic relativity. To tolerate something or someone is not to care in the least about that thing or person and to refuse the possibility of being transformed by interaction with that thing or person. Therefore, rather than attempting to avoid the conversation by glossing over distinctions of belief, true dialogue can occur only when the distinctions are clearly articulated and engaged.

For self-identified Christians, I propose that there are two primary distinctions that engage the Other in conversation while providing a foundation from which the dialogue can proceed. The first distinction is a view of Holy Scripture as both inspired and in some sense authoritative. What inspiration and authority mean in this context is too large a task to define in this essay, but that the scriptures are in some sense not mundane--that their authorship, while human, was derivative of divine agency and that the material found in scripture lays claim to the lives of Christians--is, I think, necessary for any interreligious dialogue to move forward. …

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