Hans WALDENFELS, Jesus Christ and the Religions: An Essay in Theology of Religions. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2009. pp. 145. $ pb. ISBN 13 978-0-87462-739-8.
Reviewed by Peter C. PHAN, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. 20057

This volume by a world-renowned and prolific German Jesuit who was theologically trained in Japan and who had been engaged in interreligious dialogue, especially between Buddhism and Christianity, decades before it became fashionable, is an excellent introduction to the Christian theology of interreligious dialogue. Originally appearing in German as Christus und die Religionen, the book contains five chapters, with chapters 1 and 3 dealing with the Christian faith in Jesus, chapters 2 and 4 with the Christian attitude toward non-Christian religions, and the last chapter with interreligious dialogue as such.

For Waldenfels, two events, unrelated to one another, makes interreligious dialogue a pressing imperative. The first is the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, which jolted Western consciousness into recognizing the role, for good and for ill, of religion in both fomenting and resolving political conflicts. Secondly, the publication of the declaration Dominus Iesus (September 2000) by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the leadership of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) and the subsequent notifications against theologians such as Jacques Dupuis, Jon Sobrino, and Roger Haight for the alleged ambiguities of their theologies of religions have made dialogue between Christianity and other religions a highly charged yet necessary theological enterprise. Both of these events, one political, the other ecclesiastical, require that believers of different religions know not only their own religions well but also those of others if they want to live in harmony and work together for the common good.

Religious knowledge, Waldenfels points out, is not only an intellectual understanding of the truths and practices of a religious tradition but also a personal commitment to living them out in daily life. For Christians, this means that “Jesus Christ cannot be an object of research, he is much more a subject who also today reveals himself and really meets with us, and creates intersubjectivity and true communication between himself and us and among us as well” (24). Thus, for Waldenfels, knowledge of Christ necessarily demands a “following of Christ” and it is only in following this way that Christians can discover the saving significance of other religious ways.

It is also in this sequela Christi, especially in solidarity with victims of injustice, that a true Christology can be reformulated today. In this connection Chapter 3 offers rich and challenging insights into how a Chalcedonian Christology of Christ as “truly God, truly man,” “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation” (which Walter Kasper calls a “paradigm of a negative Christology”) should be retrieved for interreligious dialogue. While holding firm to the church’s teaching about Jesus as fully man and fully God, Waldenfels proposes a “mutually inclusive” theology of religion in which Christianity includes other religions but is also included by them. In Rahner’s words, there are not only Buddhists who are “anonymous Christians” but also Christians who are “anonymous Buddhists.”

Waldenfels’s positive regard for non-Christian religions has vast implications for interreligious dialogue. First, he approaches religion not as a universal and abstract category but as particular and concrete embodiments of human transcendence. These embodiments can and do take a variety of forms of “spirituality” which, for Waldenfels, is far more important today when “religion exhausts itself in elements of structures” (37). Secondly, he sees religion not as a special and isolated history but as an integral part of world history. Waldenfels describes this world history as composed of five stories: suffering, search, promise, salvation, and God. Chapter 4 elaborates each of these stories at great length and depth and ends with the affirmation that every human being is able to find truth and that this truth requires one to live in radical selflessness ad openness to the Transcendent.

The final chapter discusses how these various stories can be talked about and understood across different religious traditions, that is, in interreligious dialogue. Waldenfels emphasizes the need of focusing on the foundational “spiritual experiences” grounding each religious tradition, of “professing” one’s faith, and of entertaining the possibility of conversion to the religious standpoint other than one’s own. For him, in dialogue there is no place for competition. Rather there must be “mutual inclusiveness.” For Christians, Waldenfels holds, interreligious dialogue requires maintaining belief in Jesus as “truly man, truly God,” inviting others to share their Christian faith and not judging their spiritual condition, fostering religious freedom, and being in solidarity with all and in openness to God.

Waldenfels has packed into this slim volume an enormous amount of theological materials. Of course, it does not offer a comprehensive theology of religions, as the author himself acknowledges. For this, Jacques Dupuis’s many works will have to be consulted. However, the volume’s slimness is an advantage since it can serve as a convenient and suitable text for an undergraduate course on interreligious dialogue and theology of religions. Its usefulness is greatly increased by the two appendixes, one on the theology of religions and the other containing basic religious texts. It also has a very helpful glossary. In short, if you are looking for a book that is brief yet up-to-date, faithful to the Catholic tradition yet open to new insights, on interreligious dialogue and the theology of religions, Waldenfels’s volume is strongly recommended.


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