The Common Task: A Theology of Christian Mission.
By M. Thomas Thangaraj. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999. Pp. 167. Paperback $22.
Not Without My Neighbour. Issues in Interfaith Relations.
By S. Wesley Ariarajah. Geneva: WCC Publications, 1999. Pp. 130. Paperback $9.95/ L6.25.
These two books on interreligious dialogue, written by South Asian theologians resident in the United States, share similar theological outlooks but approach their topic differently.Thangaraj locates the term "mission" in the public usage of "humanity," arguing for a missio humanitatis (contra a missio Dei) that would provide a formal, universal framework to facilitate the widest possible participation in dialogue. Describing humans as selfconscious, historical, and ecological beings, he draws from this definition a "new starting point" for mission consisting of responsibility, solidarity, and mutuality. It is left to each religious and secular tradition to articulate the content of these terms in their unique ways. This is the basis for dialogue, which, in turn, is the only way of mission in the new globalized, postcolonial, pluralist world.
The bulk of the book comprises a retelling of Christian theology on these terms. This retelling suffers from occasional lapses into incoherence (e.g., what does it mean to share in mission "with other living and non-living beings"? [p. 92 and elsewhere]), self-contradiction (e.g., the conflicting statements, dispersed throughout the book, on the link between colonialism and the missionary movement), and confusion (e.g., the sloppy critique of "Christolotry," pp. 150-51).
As for Thangaraj's theological method, the flaws are obvious. He shares the secularist assumption that human reality can be understood apart from God. He then slides from a purportedly neutral description of human being to normative ethical prescriptions. Moreover, the weight that he brings to bear on each term reveals an agenda derived from elsewhere. For instance, how does an egalitarian mutuality (rather than, say, hierarchical ordering) flow from our ecological natures? And does not this view exclude from the dialogue many who would disagree fundamentally? (The issue of what would constitute fundamental disagreement is never raised.) Is it not more humble to recognize that there are, say, distinctively Buddhist reasons for engaging in dialogue, just as there are distinctively Christian ones, and that Buddhist items on the "agenda" of engagement will look different from the Christian items? …