Newbigin: Exclusivist, Inclusivist, Pluralist

It has become customary to classify views on the relation of Christianity to the world religions as either pluralist, exclusivist, or inclusivist … [My] position is exclusivist in the sense that it affirms the unique truth of the revelation in Jesus Christ, but it is not exclusivist in the sense of denying the possibility of the salvation of the non-Christian. It is inclusivist in the sense that it refuses to limit the saving grace of God to the members of the Christian church, but it rejects the inclusivism which regards the non-Christian religions as vehicles of salvation. It is pluralist in the sense of acknowledging the gracious work of God in the lives of all human beings, but it rejects a pluralism which denies the uniqueness and decisiveness of what God has done in Jesus Christ.
—Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 182-83


I could sign my name to that.
Halden said…
Damn straight!
Shane said…
that is excellently articulated.
WTM said…
That quote alone may perhaps convince me to actually read this Newbigin fellow.
kim fabricius said…
I myself, with you guys, agree with what Newbign says so far as it goes (as I would - I studied under him!), but I'm with a growing number of theologians who are trying to escape altogether from the exclusivist/inclusivist/pluralist typology. Check out:

(1) Gavin D'Costa, The Meeting of Religions and the Trinity (2000). D'Costa deconstructs the typology, demonstrating, on the one hand, that it forces "diverse materials into easily controllable locations," and, on the other hand, that the dividing lines between the three types is "thin and blurred". Pluralists, for example, "present themselves as honest brokers"; in fact, however, they are (usually Kantian) exclusivists, "the category type which they constantly criticize."

(2) Michael Barnes, Theology and the Dialogue of Religions (2002). Barnes' major objection to the "paradigm approach" is that "it tends to serve the interests of the pluralist agenda only" - when, that is, it isn't just hopelessly totalising and inhibitive of real dialogue, of listening and hospitality.

(3) Rowan Williams, "The Finality of Christ" in On Christian Theology (2000). Williams thinks that the "text book options" over-easily deal with real inter-faith perplexities and inhibit recognising "the real otherness of other faiths."

The discussion seems to be moving on.
Anonymous said…
Newbigin is not inclusive enough for inter-religious dialogue. He allows that Christ might save non-Christians but stops short of allowing that Christ himself may be active through the means of their religions. According to Newbigin, God may be "active in their lives" but apparently not by any means in their actual religions. Allowing this would be a more inclusive inclusivism.

I couldn't sign my name to Newbigin's statement. Or to this statement :)
D.W. Congdon said…
Anonymous, that position would not be "a more inclusive inclusivism"; it would be outright pluralism. And that's going too far.
kim fabricius said…
Anonymous and David,

That's what I mean about the unworkability of the paradigm! But forgetting the typology, I have some sympathy with what Anonymous says. After all, if we allow that the Spirit may be active in people's lives, and these are the lives of real people, people who may, for example, be Muslims, then we cannot suddenly cordon off their religious practices and say the Spirit is not active in this part of their lives. After all, religions are not just, not mainly, belief systems, they are "forms of life" (Wittgenstein).

However, this is not to say that (in this case) Islam qua Islam mediates God - but anymore than Christianity qua Christianity mediates God! And here I am being a good Barthian, am I not? (Indeed a theologian friend of mine involved in "formal" inter-faith dialogue told me that he once met one of Barth's grandchildren, who told him that he (she?) thought his (her) grandfather would surprise a lot of people on this subject were he still alive today.)

But I would go even further. Whatever a person's form of life, there the Spirit, who is free, may blow. Of course, eo ipso, the Spirit will not be blowing in, say, a Nazi form of life, but may not atheists be "saints"? Why privilege "religious" forms of life? As the Taizé chant puts it, "Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est."

What I'm saying is that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the solus Christus stands, but then God can be "known" where God is not named, nor does simply naming God "Jesus" guarantee his presence. The Religious Right: I rest my case!
WTM said…
We walk a fine line when we start speaking about the work of the Spirit in the world in general for the Spirit is not merely the spirit of God, but also the spirit of Christ.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Kim. Yes, it seems Barthians would throw the charge "pluralism" (as David has) at one who claimed God was working in Christianity qua religion as well. At least they would in their more consistent moments. They have a problem with all "religions" even their own. Religion is apparently a "Canaanite/Catholic" island of creation totally bereft of God.

While they are most often clear in the negative implications this has for Christianity qua religion, they are less enthusiastic for the obvious positive implications this has for the status of other "religions" vis a vis "Christianity". Or other arenas of life as you, Kim, have pointed out.
D.W. Congdon said…
The problem with speaking about the freely blowing Spirit is that we cannot know where the Spirit is in fact blowing, if at all. The statement that the Spirit blows where it wills can and should be an article of faith, but it certainly cannot lead us to identify where the Spirit is blowing. The essence of the Barthian critique, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is that we cannot claim to know that the Spirit is going to be present in any particular religious community. God is free and not bound to any religious ritual.

That said, God promises that where two or three are gathered in the name of Christ, but this only reinforces the connection between Word and Spirit. The Spirit of God, we can say, is present along with the Word of God. If the Spirit is present elsewhere, we certainly cannot know this is the case. So even if the Spirit is at work in Islam or Mormonism or in the social club next door, we cannot state that such a presence is a matter of fact.

Anonymous is wrong for the opposite reason. Because Kim, following Barth, makes it clear that we cannot identify God with any particular religion, Anonymous seems to think this entails the notion that "religion is ... totally bereft of God." But this is just the inverse of saying that a particular religion is the locus of God's Spirit. We cannot say a definitive Yes and a definitive No; we can only say Yes and No.

The problem with pluralism is that it attempts to make a positive affirmation that God's Spirit is definitively present in all religious forms. The problem with exclusivism is that it says God's Spirit is present only in this form. We need to think dialectically about such matters.
kim fabricius said…
Can I just add that I think we can have an idea where the Spirit is blowing, because the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. As I have suggested in #3 of my recent "Ten Propositions on the Holy Spirit" at Faith and Theology on the pros and cons of the filioque, one of its advantages is that it more easily accommodates the point that Christ is our criterion for judging the presence of the Spirit anywhere in the world. Which is one reason why I am impatient with conservatives who, for example, if you support the priesting of women, or the inclusion of homosexuals in the church, declare ex cathedra that you are bowing down to the "spirit of the age". That "spirit of the age" may just be the Spirit of Christ.