A New Meeting of the Religions: Interreligious Relationships and Theological Questioning

By Robinson, Bob | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2003 | Go to article overview

A New Meeting of the Religions: Interreligious Relationships and Theological Questioning


Robinson, Bob, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


A New Meeting of the Religions: Interreligious Relationships and Theological Questioning. By E. Luther Copeland. Waco: Baylor University Press, 1999, ix + 179 pp., $19.99.

This new and useful addition to the growing literature on religious pluralism and Christian mission is written in two sections. Part one contains a useful survey of the now familiar exclusive-inclusive-pluralist model (and some of its manifest inadequacies) and helpfully elaborates the appeal of pluralism to many people. It also offers a representative and well-digested survey of the variety of theologies of religion-conservative and liberal, Protestant and Catholic, Western and non-Western-that are offered these days. For readers familiar with the literature, there may be little to learn but others-students included-will find the surveys to be fair and representative. Part two is much longer and more stimulating and original in content as Copeland begins the task of constructing a positive Christian theology of the religions.

I am impressed by a number of positive features about this book. Copeland takes seriously the contribution of theologians from the third world and he has read widely (and clearly benefited from) those who would not share his own generally evangelical starting points. Hick and Hocking, Samartha and Song, Tillich and Toynbee-not to mention a number of Catholic scholars (Rahner, Panikkar, Pieris and Knitter are the most quoted)-are among the many to whom readers are introduced. Then there is Copeland's willingness to ask and answer hard questions. Part two, for example, launches straight into a list of fourteen searching questions-together with his own answers!-about revelation and salvation and how the world's religions (and therefore the vast majority of the people made and loved by God) might be related to what Christians know of God's revealing and saving finality in Christ. These are widely asked questions, and Copeland may be right in saying that his is the first theology of religions that raises all of them as explicitly as he does. (The exception, curiously absent from the quite extensive bibliography, is Calvin Shenk, Who Do You Say That I Am? Christians Encounter Other Religions [Herald Press, 1997]). But Copeland certainly asks the searching questions and faces them honestly. He is content to remain agnostic (for example, about whether, finally, there are few who will be saved) and to argue for answers with which many evangelical colleagues would disagree (for example, he judges that even common interreligious worship is "not impossible" in some circumstances). Moreover, Copeland has at least worked as a missionary (in Japan), and this adds a helpful realism to much of what he relates and undoubtedly reinforces his strong advocacy of both tolerant respect for and constructive listening dialogue with followers of the world's great faiths. At the same time he remains an energetic proponent of world mission, believing it to be required by the revelation of the triune God and motivated by grateful loyalty "to the One who has purchased me at so great a price" (p. …

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