I was attracted to this title for two reasons: first, I teach lower division sections of World Religions and Philosophy of Religion, and secondly, the reputation of the author for being informed, respectful and critical in matters of inter and intra religious dialogue and pluralism. I was enriched by the careful scholarship and can draw on it for my own thinking and to help my students.
What Paul Knitter has done here (and has been doing since publication of No Other Name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes toward the World Religions , Orbis, 1985) is to offer a detailed map of the dialogical landscape of religious people who wish to understand each other and learn how to relate to one another theologically.
In sum, the author presents four models (attitudes, really) of understanding one's own religion's claims about "truth" and the claims of other religions. Those models are the following: 1) The Replacement Model ("There really is only one true religion—mine"), 2) The Fulfillment Model ("My religion really is the fulfillment of yours"), 3) The Mutuality Model ("There are many true religions and they are called to dialogue") and 4) The Acceptance Model ("There are many true religions and the differences are real and eternal and we just have to accept that.") With precision and attention to clarity, Knitter defines each mind-set, notes the degrees and nuances within each, summarizes the major contributors and then offers his own insights and questions into each. (Helpful bibliography is also provided.)
I was most enthusiastic and edified by his Part IV, "The Acceptance Model" because it seemed to describe the thinking of most of my students. This model is the "postmodern paradigm." Before outlining it, the author incisively summarizes the "postmodern context"—the assumptions and values of our times— the ideas to be avoided "at all cost": an excessive confidence in the power of reason, the primacy and reliability of empirical data, the exclusion of mythical-mystical views of the world, and the quest for universal truths.
It is so difficult for our thinking students to come to an unambiguous acceptance of the traditional understanding of Jesus Christ because for them "truth is always truths" and "diversity trumps unity every time." These are the mantras of postmodernism and our students have memorized them.
I think that this is Paul Knitter's model too. He said (p. 10), "The many are called to be one. But it is a one that does not devour the many. The many may become one precisely by remaining the many, and the one is brought about by each of the many making a distinct contribution to the others and thus to the whole....So there is a movement not toward absolute or monistic oneness but toward what might be called 'unitive pluralism': plurality constituting unity. Or in simpler, more engaging terms: the movement is toward a truly dialogical community [of believers], in which each member lives and is itself through dialogue with others."
As the author says in his concluding remarks (p. 238) "...having explored how Christians are trying to respond to the challenge [of making sense of other religious paths], we end up with a manyness of Christian viewpoints and models that for some may be even more bewildering than the manyness of religions." I concur and for that reason I would not use this text in my lower division classes. Actually, I recommend it for upper division Religious Studies and Theology majors, graduate students and professionals in the field. It is a worthwhile read. It is not an easy read.