Paul Knitter is professor emeritus of theology at Xavier University and the author of One Earth Many Religions: Multifaith Dialogue and Global Responsibility and Jesus and The Other Names: Christian Mission and Global Responsibility. In this scholarly paperback, he presents a sturdy overview of the major positions taken by Christian churches and theologians in response to religious pluralism.
Wilfred Cantwell Smith back in 1962 expressed a sentiment recently echoed by Diana Eck: "Confucians and Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims, are not only in the United Nations, but down the street. Increasingly, not only is our civilization's destiny affected by their actions; but we drink coffee with them personally as well." At the turn of the millennium, Christians numbered 33.2 percent of the world population. The majority of them live in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Christianity is a world religion and must deal with the challenges that come with this super-charged status.
Knitter sees four models of how Christians relate to other religions. "The Replacement Model" is held by most Fundamentalists. It sees no value in other religions and posits Jesus as the One and Only Son of God and Savior. "The Fulfillment Model" is the one that appeals to most mainline Protestants and Catholics. Here grace and truth are also to be found in other religions, and dialogue is viewed as essential to the Christian way.
"The Mutuality Model" is summed up in the statement that there are many true religions called to dialogue. Here three bridges have been used by Christians to relate to those on different paths: the philosophical-historical bridge, the religious-mystical bridge, and the ethical-practical bridge. "The Acceptance Model" embraces inclusivism. It recognizes that real differences make for real dialogue and one of the best ways to understand one's own religion is through comparing it to others. The last two are appealing since they give free rein to the Spirit who is always blowing in the wind. Or, as Knitter puts it, "We're never going to be able to wrap our mind around what the Spirit is up to."
In the last pages of the book, the author suggests that Christians and those of other religions begin by working together on the pressing problems of poverty, hunger, violence, victimization, and patriarchy. Knitter's final advice is salutary: "Commit yourself first of all to acting together with your fellow Christians and your brothers and sisters in other religions in promoting the love, justice, and peace of God's Reign — and your theologies will take care of themselves. And even if this doesn't happen, even if we don't make that much theological progress, the world will still be better off."