Tennent Chapter 7: An Evangelical Theology of Religions

Brief notes on Tennent’s thoughts about a theology of religions.

For much of Christian history, contact with other religions was sporadic at best. Globalisation changed all of that.

Preliminary Considerations

Theology of Culture and Theology of Religions

Religion exists within cultural settings of symbols, feelings and attitudes. A theology of religion could be seen as a subset of a theology of culture, but this book chooses not to do that.

  • Christianity claims to be transcultural as does Islam which claims authority over all cultures.
  • There is a developing body of theological literature on the subject

Placement within a Trinitarian Missiology

  • God the Father is the ultimate source of creation and no culture exists outside of his influence.
  • God the Father is the source of all revelation. Anything we can know about God ultimately comes from him.

The Classic Paradigm and Beyond

Exclusivism

Three non-negotiables:

  • The unique authority of Jesus Christ as the apex of revelation and the norm by which all beliefs must be critiqued.
  • The Christian faith is based on the historical life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • Salvation comes by faith, through the death of Christ on the cross.

This is a rigid stance towards other religions, though there are nuances within it.

Inclusivism

Affirms the first two of the three non-negotiables above.

Believe that everyone has access to salvation in Christ, even if they don’t know about him.

Pluralism

Pluralism rejects all three of the non-negotiables and believes that all religions provide equal access to God. Pluralists see no need to defend their views from the Bible as that would be according a special place to Christianity.

Postmodern or Acceptance Model

This is not a classic model. Each religion exists on its own terms. There may be multiple, co-existing truths. God is revealed in the diversity of belief, not in any particular religion.

Evaluation of the Four Positions

Postmodern Model

  • Rejects revelation as the basis for truth
  • Has a weak view of history
  • It leads to an unbridled reletavism

Pluralism

  • Does not take the claims of those practicing the religions seriously
  • The God of the pluralists is so vague that he is unknowable.
  • Is based on subjectivism, not on objective truth claims

Inclusivism

  • Can’t separate the ontological nature of Christ’s work and the epistomological response of faith.
  • To argue that all faith is essentially faith in Christ is to shift the focus from Christ to the experience of faith itself.
  • It separates salvation from ecclesiology.
  • To call Hindus or Buddhists hidden Christians is insulting.

Exclusivism

  • In focussing on special revelation, it can overlook the work of God in the pre-Christian heart.
  • It tends towards defensivism and away from real dialogue.
  • Results in the separation of religions and their texts from culture.

The Classic Paradigm Revisited and Evaluated

Structural Problems

  • The different positions are defined from a soteriological position and separate salvation from a creational and eschatological framework.
  • The framework evaluates particular religious traditions; whereas Christianity claims that Christ himself is the important one. Christianity has been at fault at times.
  • The framework emerges out of the enlightenment paradigm and ignores the history of the world church which has a very different experience of religious pluralism.

Young’s Approach

Young focuses on pneumatology, rather than Christology for his framework, however it is weakened by never giving due attention to Christology or soteriology

An Evangelical Theology of Religion

Five Standards in the Formulation of a Theology

  • Being attentive to nomenclature
  • Maintaining a Trinitarian frame with a Christological focus
  • Proclaiming Biblical truth
  • Placing the discussion within a larger theological setting
  • Recognising the global dimension of religious pluralism and world Christianity

Building a Theology of Religions on the Restated Classic Paradigm

  • Embrace more precise and descriptive terms while at the same time recognizing what we can learn form the performative practice of each position in the actual give-and-take of interreligious encounter.
  • Revelatory particularism should be articulated within a Trinitarian context.
  • Revelatory particularism embraces a canonical principle that asserts that the Bible is central to our understanding of God’s self-disclosure.
  • Revelatory particularism positions an evangelical theology of religions within the missio Dei.
  • Revelatory particularism should be both evangelical and catholic.

This post consists of my personal notes taken from Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century (Invitation to Theological Studies Series) by Timothy Tennent. Once you have read all my notes, please buy the book! The notes are more brief than usual this time as the subject is not one that interests me greatly. If you want to know more, buy the book!

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