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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Inclusive theology

There's a series of post by Francis X. Clooney SJ at America magazine's blog on ecumenism and Dominus Iesus, the latest one being Dominus Iesus 10 Years Later: Part III.

This reminded me of a book I've just checked out of the library, The Inclusive God: Reclaiming Theology for an Inclusive Church by Steven Shakespeare and Hugh Rayment-Pickard (I've mentioned Steven Shakespeare in a past post).

Maybe later I'll post some excerpts from the book, but in the meantime, I saw a review of it in a Fulcrum newsletter and thought I'd post that. The writer of that review article ends by saying that he believes inclusive theology is, well, too inclusive, but I wonder what Fr. Clooney would say of the book.

Here's the review ....


Tolerance with Teeth?

A review article of The Inclusive God: Reclaiming Theology for an Inclusive Church by Hugh Rayment-Pickard and Steven Shakespeare (Canterbury Press, 2006)

Fulcrum Newsletter, June 2007
by Graham Kings

Dear Fulcrum Friends,

There is a poignant story of Jesus walking towards a Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, during the apartheid era, and seeing a black man sitting on the steps, crying. He asked, 'Why are you weeping?' The reply came, 'They won't let me in there.' Jesus said, 'I know exactly how you feel. I've been trying to get into that church for years.'

I retold that story last October, in Westminster Abbey, at the launch of The Inclusive God: Reclaiming Theology for an Inclusive Church, by Hugh Rayment-Pickard and Steven Shakespeare, having been asked by Canterbury Press to be a 'critical contributor' in a seminar discussion with the authors. I posed the question whether the book could be described as 'Tolerance with Teeth' since, as well as expounding their theme, the authors also have bites at the concepts of 'Radical Orthodoxy' and of evangelicalism. Then I outlined some points to celebrate and to question.

Points to Celebrate ...

* Inclusion of the gentiles. This crucial biblical concept is outlined on p51 and they could have made much more of it by mentioning Melchizedek, Rahab, Ruth, and Jonah.

* Inclusion of the outcasts. A fine point is made on p94 that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, and did not wait for them to be reformed tax collectors and sinners.

* The Bible as the prime authority for inclusive theology. This key statement is included on p14. The Bible is not seen as timeless, abstract truths but as multilayered. They tilt at 'fundamentalism' and also have a dig at the current popularity of 'The Gospel of Thomas', p96.

* Centrality of the cross. Jurgen Moltmann's crucicentric theology of The Crucified God is powerfully elucidated on p72.

* Missionary impulse. There is a genuine desire to communicate the good news and this reminded me of the style of John Robinson and David Jenkins. Listening, as part of mission, is rightly emphasised.

* God is not a puppet master. Freedom and human responsibility is greatly valued.

Points to Question ...

* Sources are not inclusive enough. The book rightly questions 'eurocentrism' and 'white supremacy' in theology (p32 and notes on pp118 and 119), but in fact their listed books are all white, western and male. Insights from, eg R S Sugirtharajah, Kwame Bediako, and Lamin Sanneh would have been valuable.

* The 'L' word - liberal. In his foreword, Giles Fraser writes that 'Inclusivity has nothing to do with being liberal' (p x). However, the writers claim that 'The Inclusive Church is heir to the best liberal Christian tradition, which it seeks to extend and deepen.' (p2)

* Liberal and liberation tension. In following John Robinson's In the End God, they downplay the concept of eschatological judgement, but in liberation theology the harshness of God's judgement is seen as part of the good news whether it is criticising a contemporary 'Caiphas' or a modern dictator.

* Universality slips into universalism. The well known texts of Ephesians 1:10 and 1 Corthinians 15:22 are cited but this proves to be a very selective use of the words of Paul, and also of Jesus, concerning judgement. A key question would be: 'does dogmatic universalism include and imply a dictatorial view of God who forces salvation onto everyone, whether they like it or not?' How does this 'universalism' relate to the point mentioned above that God is not a puppet-master?

* Substitution. There is tilting against the dangers of 'penal substitution' but ironically, in using the work of Rene Girard, the authors do see the concept of Jesus as the scapegoat as deeply embedded in the Scriptures: 'On the cross, Jesus takes the place of the scapegoat, and stands with the excluded.'(p70)

* No mention of the 'image of God' concerning creation. This surely is the great inclusive metaphor - all human beings, everywhere and at all times, are made in the image of God - but although it is mentioned in passing on p41 and p115, it is not discussed in the chapter on creation, nor is it in the index.

* Use of Anamnesis for Gene Robinson's Consecration. The deliberately provocative use of this profound biblical and liturgical word is unwise and unwarranted. In the whole book, there is no engagement at all with Paul's writings on homosexuality, in spite of the comment on p1 that inclusivity is often perceived as being about homosexuality.

* Salvation and people of other faiths. There is an inadequate treatment of the sharpness of John 14:6 and in opting for the 'inclusivist' position, there is a general exposition of the outmoded concepts of 'exclusive, inclusive and pluralist' perspectives. This nomenclature was originally conceived by a so-called 'pluralist', Alan Race, and is slanted towards his viewing point. I have outlined a suggested alternative matrix of 'narrow scope', 'wider hope', 'cosmic promise' and 'natural assumption' in a Fulcrum newsletter (September 2005), where I opt for 'wider hope', which develops inclusion without universalism. It is possible for people to be saved by Christ, by faith and by the cross without hearing the gospel, but not all are automatically saved.

* Resurrection of the body is an optional belief. This is mentioned on p77, but there is no engagement with another book also launched at Westminster Abbey three years previously, N T Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003), which elucidates magisterially the case for its centrality in Christian belief.

This book is worth reading, for it has many insights, but if it could be described as 'tolerance with teeth', it would appear to be 'gap-toothed'. Not all uses of 'exclusivism' in the Scriptures, or in today's language are negative: the Hebrew prophets demand loyalty to Yahweh alone; the New Testament writers enjoin faithfulness to Jesus Christ as the unique focus of God; and people are called to exclusive loyalty to their spouses. In his discussion on friendship, Aristotle maintained that 'like seeks after like' (Ethics Book VIII): but the calling of Jesus of Nazareth is into an inclusive fellowship of the 'unlike'.

Yours in Christ,


Canon Dr Graham Kings is vicar of St Mary Islington and theological secretary of Fulcrum



Blogger Matthew said...

Girard's soteriology is the polar opposite of penal substitutionary atonement.

6:25 PM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...


I was going to say the same thing. There is nothing ironic about using Girard and rejecting penal substitution. Statements like that really make me wonder if the authors have any idea what they are talking about.

7:05 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Matthew,

I don't know much about Girard except for what I've read of James Alison's mention of him. I read an article of his on atonement - AN ATONEMENT UPDATE ...

Rather than invoke the idea of sacrifice as something God demands of us by becoming the victim in our place, Christ puts an end once and for all to the human insistence for sacrificial victims.

Is that sort of what you mean?

7:11 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Yeah, I had a hard time finding any review of the book at all so I posted this one, though I don't agree with all the conclusions of the reviewer.

I'm just starting the book - maybe I can post an excerpt from the atonement part of the book later.

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Victor said...

>>Rather than invoke the idea of sacrifice as something God demands of us by becoming the victim in our place, Christ puts an end once and for all to the human insistence for sacrificial victims.<<

So true crystal but we, guys and gal sometimes kind of realize a little of what Jesus The Christ suffered for our sins that we just on occasions go crazy sort of speak for Him. Go Figure!

I hear ya! Tell me about "IT" Victor? :)


9:22 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Victor,

That was Fr. Alison, not me, but I do like what he wrote :)

12:21 PM  

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