Nothing in Rahner's oeuvre has received so much attention as the theory of the anonymous Christian. In large part this is because questions of religious pluralism and interreligious relations command the interest of a broad audience-broader than do systematic or dogmatic theology-and because Rahner has been taken to offer a (or indeed the) classic example of the “inclusivist” position. Many therefore are familiar with Rahner's views on the possibility of salvation outside the (visible) church who are not familiar with the rest of his theology, and some at least presume that the theory of the anonymous Christian is in fact the central purpose of Rahner's work.
Rahner does, certainly, take up the question of the salvific status of those outside the (explicit) church on a number of occasions, but if one considers this theme in the context of the whole of his work, it has to be seen simply as one among the many intellectual and pastoral problems facing contemporary Christians to which he turns his attention. It is no more helpful to see the theory of the anonymous Christian as the goal towards which the whole of Rahner's theology is directed than it is to cast Spirit in the World as its foundation. 1
We turn in this chapter to the theory of the anonymous Christian, then, not because it is the logical and inevitable conclusion to any discussion of Rahner's theology, but because, given the level of interest and criticism it has attracted, it makes a useful case study for the nonfoundationalist reading of Rahner.
In spite of the volume of secondary literature it has generated, Rahner's theory of anonymous Christians is relatively simple. 2 Rahner starts from the fact that Christians believe on the one hand in the universal salvific will of God, and on the other in the necessity of faith in Christ and membership of the Church for salvation. The question is, how can these two things be reconciled? If Church membership is necessary for salvation