Review of Dermot Lane’s “Stepping Stones To Other Religions: A Christian Theology of Inter-Religious Dialogue”

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Posted on January 11th, 2013 | Filed under Academic, Book Review, Interfaith, Theology, Uncategorized
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stepping stones

In Stepping Stones to Other ReligionsDermot Lane offers an entry into interreligious engagement for Christians (particularly Roman Catholics) in the twenty-first century. It serves as a commendable introduction to the topic and makes the basic argument for why the Catholic faith mandates engaging other traditions in a respectful way while striving for mutual learning. The text is rigorously organized, yet does not delve into any one particular theme in too great of detail.

The main thrust of the work surfaces in his review of the current context of interreligious dialogue (i.e., twenty-first century pluralized, globalized, and postmodern world), a brief history of the Catholic Church’s official positions and responses to other religions over the years, and a constructive proposal of a Christian theology of the Spirit for interreligious dialogue. Lane also devotes a chapter to a brief, yet effective, overview of Rahner’s contribution to interreligious dialogue (e.g., experience of God, grace and nature, Christology, anonymous Christianity, etc.), which serves as the foundation upon which he proposes his own theology going forward.

In chapter one, after articulating the promises and perils of both modernity and postmodernity, Lane argues that in the world of the twenty-first century, “the task facing theology … is one that requires not a return to pre-modern forms of faith, or a naïve embrace of either modernity or post-modernity; instead, it necessitates a rescuing of modernity in the light of some of the critiques from post-modernity” (46-47).

In chapter two, Lane strives to accomplish the two-fold task of examining “the teaching of the Catholic Church on other religions at the Second Vatican Council and the theological challenges it poses for the self-understanding of Christianity today” (63). This chapter, and the book as a whole, deservedly devotes special attention to Nostra Aetate.  One of the most profound perils of wisdom gleaned from this chapter is Lane’s challenge to Catholics: “If we are to take seriously the thesis that Vatican II was ‘a theological event,’ then it seems we must reformulate our theologies of the Spirit, of Revelation and of Christ so that Christians can encounter the richness of other religious traditions” (89).

Chapter three ambitiously sets out to “summarizes the debate about the relationship of Christianity to other religions in the twentieth century, to critique the three-fold typology surrounding the debate in the twentieth century, to propose some guidelines on the dynamics of dialogue, to outline the importance of maintaining a dialectical relationship between the particularity and universality of Christian faith, and to report briefly on observations by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the work of [Jacques] Dupuis and the US bishops on a book by [Peter] Phan” (98).

Chapter four gives an accessible overview of “Rahner’s contribution to inter-religious dialogue,” and in particular “how Rahner relates Christ to the religious other” (133). Lane employs Rahner’s robust theological vision as a point of departure for his own pneumatology in the ensuing chapters.

In chapters five, six, and seven, Lane offers the most constructive contribution of the book to interreligious engagement. In chapter five he suggest that pneumatology is perhaps the most appropriate point of departure for a Christian theology of other religions. In particular, he focuses on the contributions of Bernard Lonergan and Frederick Crowe. Most constructively, Lane prescribes the re-sarcramentalizing of spirit talk; that is, he advocates for putting “spirit back into matter and … [thus] begin to overcome the dualism between body and soul, the dichotomy between spirit and matter, and the divorce between flesh and the subject because subject and spirit and soul exist only as embodied and enfleshed and incarnated” (191).

In chapter six, Lane tackles the constructive task of developing a Christian pneumatology of revelation grounded on Dei Verbum andthe role of the imagination which sacramentally facilitates the invocation of “the play of all the senses as well as the dynamic capacity of the human spirit to receive what lies beyond the merely empirical view of life … imagination provides an opening, perhaps a sacred space or what others call ‘a God-shaped hole,’ within the human spirit for the reception of God’s gracious self-communication in history” (216).

Chapter seven offers the pinnacle of Lane’s proposal in its development of a Christian theology of the Holy Spirit.  Based on both Judaism and Christianity, his pneumatology is sketched out in the shape of a Spirit-Christology, which moves towards a Spirit-centered ecclesiology. He concludes the chapter by reviewing its implications for interreligious dialogue. Though not explicitly stated, beneath the contours of Lane’s vision lurks the panentheistic understanding of the whole creation as “enspirited by God” (240, quoting Jay McDaniel), which I agree offers a conducive entry point into interreligious conversation.

Lane might be proposing, if I may be so bold to coin a new term, pan-en-pnuemism (all is in the Spirit and the Spirit is in all). In short, Lane is “proposing to put pneumatology at the centre of theology, and move from there to a Spirit Christology, and from a Spirit Christology via Pentecost to the construction of a full-fledged spirit ecclesiology” (260).

The seventh and final chapter narrows in scope to review the history of Jewish-Christian relations, and in particular the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jewish community. In so doing, Lane argues for a recovery of the Jewishness of Jesus as a necessary prerequisite for properly understanding the Christian tradition, proposes common concerns and goals of the two traditions (e.g., responses to understating God in light of human suffering), and lingering obstacles for Jewish-Christian relations (e.g., the Church’s use of the term “mission” in the context of its relationship to the Jewish Community).

Those seeking a radical breakthrough beyond Rahner’s Christian theology of religions (i.e., “anonymous Christianity") may be disappointed. Lane does indeed appear more charitable to other religions and reasonably calls for a move to the Spirit in the doing of Christian theology of religions. Lane’s theological vision rests on the understanding of the biblical God instituting a covenant with creation “established through the agency of the Spirit of God ‘brooding’ over creation” (294).

The Spirit then brings about the covenant of God with Israel while remaining active in the person of Jesus who established a new covenant with Christians. Lane understands these not as three distinct actions of God [1) creation, 2) covenant with Israel, 3) covenant with Christians], but rather as “one single saving action which is manifest universally in the gift of creation, offered in particular in God’s historical covenant with Israel on Sinai with Moses and concentrated personally in the life of Jesus which culminates on Calvary” (294).

In this manner, God’s covenant with both Jews and Christians remains in place and one does not replace the other. The task moving forward for Lane and his fellow Christian cohorts is to apply this Spirit-centric Christian theology of religions to the other religions beyond Judaism.

Dermot A. Lane. Stepping Stones To Other Religions: A Christian Theology of Inter-Religious DialogueMaryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2011. Pp. 328. $40.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-57075-991-8.

This review was first published here on Catholic Books Review on Jan. 9, 2013.

Image courtesy of Orbis Books.

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Hans Gustafson currently serves as the assistant director of the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at Saint John's University (Collegeville, MN) and the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN), where he also teaches in the theology department. He holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion and Theology from Claremont Graduate University. Follow him on Twitter @hansgustafson and his blog at hansgustafson.wordpress.com/


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