Interfaith Theology: A Lecture for the Interfaith Symposium of the KZN Legislature
5th April 2019
The quest for the religious sector to advance their participation towards promoting interfaith theology is the subject of this lecture. The religious sector in KwaZulu-Natal to some extent has not addressed the subject of interfaith theology, or theology of religions in the context of science of religion or philosophy of religion, consciously as a body that is conscientiously, and systematically dealt with.
Among other things, the religious sector must deliberately do a mission theology of religion that consciously seeks to attend to social ills and moral regeneration. This may happen when some entry points can be explored around interfaith dialogue. In this short essay, one would suggest some proposed entry points towards interfaith dialogue that seeks to introduce an interfaith theology.
Engaging in interfaith dialogue that seeks to consciously confront interfaith theology is our challenge of the moment. The theocentric approach according to Knitter (1989) and Samartha (1991) “… makes it possible to recognise the theological significance of other revelations and other experiences of salvation, a point that for many Christian theologians is frightfully difficult even to admit. Theocentricism allows for an evading quest for the meaning of Jesus Christ (a Saviour) in which neighbours of other faiths can also participate, as in fact they already do, thus opening for Christians undreamed of possibilities of enriching others and being enriched by them”.
The realisation of the fact that most religions are theocentric may be an entry point of cooperation not for expediency but for joint operation on dealing with the issues of interfaith theology and moral regeneration from a united front of people of faith. Theocentricism is the provision of a united vision of a participatory theology of mission of religion this time of attending to interfaith theology and moral regeneration programmatically and consciously.
South Africa and specifically KZN is mainly a society of diversity and religious pluralism. Dialogue in the religious sector, in search of tools of promoting interfaith theology and encouraging moral regeneration should consider the religious plurality and cultural diversity in which we are called together to act in unity. Dialogical pluralism as an entry point for religious cooperation in the quest for interfaith theology is aware that not all faiths use theology to interact with issues. So, a dialogical pluralism acknowledges the identities, the particularities, the peculiarities and the limitedness of all faiths especially when it comes to social action in the context of interfaith theology and the need for the elevation of moral regeneration, freedom of religion and the quest for justice, peace and righteousness among all people.
Dubuis (1991: 183) is proposing a ‘Christic Mystery’ as one entry point towards interfaith joint social action. The notion of Christic Mystery is affirming the Christic element in all religions and cultures. “… The centrality and obligatory pressure of this mystery in any experience of salvation is maintained, as constituting that salvation ; but instead of claiming salvation to be inseparable from Jesus of Nazareth, it is suggesting that Jesus is only one particular historical manifestation of it among others … Jesus is no longer essentially linked to the mystery. He is one symbol of it among others, a manifestation or expression – perhaps special, perhaps eminent somehow, but surely not unique. Krishna, for example, or Gautama, the Buddha, are also historical manifestations of the mystery of Christ”.
Caution is taken however that Dubuis (1991) borders too close to the normativity and superiority of Jesus of Nazareth. The concept of Christological pluralism advocates for a pluralism of saving epistemes (epistemologies/ science of knowing) and living experiences of all religions. This concept does not extinguish the claims and identities of other religions. The discussions of the Christic mystery must be brought in the centre of religious dialogue in the spirit of dialogical pluralism.
“One model of reaching common ground on many difficult issues and doctrines, approaches and methodologies which have dominated ecumenical relations since the late 1950’s has been that of dialogue. Dialogue rather than debate, using reason rather than falling back on ideological positions has been successfully employed in many ecumenical circles of theological, political, social and economic discourse. We get our inspiration from the fact that dialogue at the end of it all remains an instrument of final resolve in any dispute including that of land” (Ngoetjana M. L. 2014, unpublished).
The implication of reductionism is that God is not ashamed to become like us and to be a creature as it happened in Jesus. God was manifest in creation as a person. The interfaith mission theology proposed the implication that God may not be confined in the revelation through one form of creation, a human being. This understanding could open up a possibility of regarding the revelation of God in other religions and cultures in the manner that is culturally and religiously valid for them. This, iconic reductionism implies that God can be revealed in multiple forms. The iconisation of God through many cultures and religions could be one platform of understanding that can enhance interfaith dialogue which may give us a premise of commencing to conceptualise the possibility of religions embracing interfaith theology and championing moral regeneration, religious freedom, justice, peace and righteousness in the world commencing from KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Interfaith Symposium.
Love (Agape) towards the Neighbour
Our search for interfaith dialogue can be enhanced and realised when there is a notion of the love for neighbour among religious people. Where there is no mutual love and commitment to a particular social course people of faith are bound to fail in their endeavour to take social action and thus fulfil their mission on earth. Fellow believers must just make up their mind and mend their relationship and make a difference or be counted where matters of social concern and common good bid us work together.
For now let us deal with this short, first lecture. More lectures will come. They will be dealing with interfaith theologies on Koinonia, Diakonia, Kenosis, Liberation Theological perspectives and insights on interfaith relations, mystery of soteriology, the cosmic Christ, pneumatological comprehensions, translational theology and encountering the Saviour anew.
In this short lecture, comments and suggestions were made around the Theocentric Approach, Dialogical Pluralism, the Christic Mystery, Iconic Reductionism and Agape towards people of other faiths in interfaith encounter inquiring about the possibility of deliberately engaging the issues of interfaith theology and the mission of religions towards world peace and justice. This short lecture is supposed to generate themes or topics that may inform the coming interfaith symposium in the province of KZN.
Dr. L M Ngoetjana
Ngoetjana M. L. 1994. A Christian Theology of Mission which Takes the Existence of other Religions Seriously: With Special Reference to Radical Evangelicalism in South Africa. Unpublished Master of Theology Dissertation: University of Natal.