Divinity and Diversity: A Christian Affirmation of Religious Pluralism by Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 2003; 125 pages, ISBN 0687021944, paperback $20.00.
This valuable book holds that religious pluralism is not only compatible with Christianity, but that many major doctrines can be interpreted as calling for the embrace of those of other faiths as a fulfillment of God's intentions. Examining central Christian doctrines such as creation, the image of God, incarnation, resurrection, reign of God, grace, salvation, and mission which are generally used to show that only Christianity is valid, Dr. Suchocki interprets them in ways that demand reaching out in friendship to others different from ourselves. Creation can be seen as a gradual process of making order out of chaos, an interaction between God and each created thing, what she calls "call and response": "So we have a creation where God calls; creation responds. God then responds to the creation's response, and building upon it, calls yet again. Through call and response, the creation comes into being as world. It is incremental, gradual, with the creation participating in its own becoming." (p. 29) This process guarantees freedom and diversity, and God interacting with and responding to people everywhere throughout history, building on different responses in different places, brings about the different cultures, religions and spiritual approaches. Thus, too, God is not incarnate only in one individual, Jesus, but is "radically incarnate," embodied in all beings and cultures insofar as these take on God's influence. Just as light is both wave and particle, depending on how we measure it, so various cultures and religions can be incommensurate and yet all be "true."
The part of this book I enjoyed most were the chapters emphasizing social justice and religious pluralism as a Christian response to globalization and increased modern contact with those not like us. The image she chooses is "the stranger within one's gates," saying: "In the Hebrew scriptures, justice is tested by the extent to which society develops communal structures that channel well-being toward those with the least access to well-being. . . . In passage after passage of the Hebrew scriptures, conformity to the command to love God and neighbor was measured by the community's kindness to those disadvantaged within the society, often typified as the widow, the orphan, and the stranger within one's gates" (p. 77), which runs counter to the universal human tendency to favor those who are the most like us and fear or shun those who are different. She doesn't support homogenization of religions or leaving out the difficult parts where cultures disagree; instead she gives the model of friendship, where friends don't suppress who they really are or always agree, yet remain friends. In the same way, Christians can reach out to those of other faiths without needing to make those others like themselves by trying to convert them
A good book for Christians who wish to find a rationale for reaching out to others in friendship or interfaith, or for those who want to understand how Christianity can be interpreted as a religion of tolerance and respect of others. – Sarah Belle Dougherty