Friday, August 16, 2013

World Missions: Overcoming Barriers to the Great Commission

I have posted a series of nine posts over at SBC Voices that presents some of my most important thoughts on missionary strategy. You can access an index to all of these posts here.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Official Roman Catholic Positions Concerning Theology of Religions since Vatican II

The Second Vatican Council was a watershed event for the development of the Roman Catholic approach toward non-Christian religions. That is not to say that it is the final word. Since the official sessions that opened on October 11, 1962 under Pope John XXIII, and closed on December 8, 1965 under Pope Paul VI, there has been much further discussion, clarification, and expansion of the basic concepts laid out in the documents redacted and approved at Vatican II.

This paper will present an overview and evaluation of these developments. First of all, this paper will present some brief information regarding the events leading up to and during Vatican II. Next, it will present an outline of key events and personalities related to the official position of the Roman Catholic Church on non-Christian religions since Vatican II. Subsequently, it will present a review of the main theological points articulated by official representatives of the Church with regard to non-Christian religions, including reference to nuances in the ongoing development of thought on these points. In conclusion, there will be some comments of evaluation offered from a conservative evangelical perspective.

Pre-Vatican II History

The witness of Catholic sources previous to Vatican II regarding non-Christian religions is mostly negative. Finnish theologian Miikka Ruokanen goes as far as to claim: “Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church produced no positive statements on non-Christian religions.”[1] Muslim analyst Mahmut Aydin observes:
Up to the Second Vatican Council the official Catholic teaching concerning non-Christian religions was mainly concerned with the possibility of the salvation of non-Christians. During that period the major issue discussed among Church authorities and individual theologians was the axiom Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus [there is no salvation outside the Church].[2]
In spite of this evaluation, various sources cite a certain degree of openness on the part of some Church Fathers referencing “seeds of the Word” sown among the nations of the earth previous to the arrival of the gospel.[3] Pluralist theologian Paul Knitter goes further, claiming several Church Fathers believed “an authentic revelation and possibility of salvation was offered to all peoples.”[4] There is some question as to whether extra ecclesiam nulla salus referred originally only to heretics and schismatics or to everyone, but from the time of Augustine onward, it is clear it was used in relation to non-Christians as well.[5] By the date of the Council of Florence, in 1442, there was no doubt where the Church stood:
The sacrosanct Roman church . . . firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” . . . and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.[6]
Traditionally, the Catholic Church has taught that people are born again at the moment of their baptism in water. However, there are many references from doctors and saints of the Church down through the years that both implicitly and explicitly teach the validity of a “baptism of desire,” or the application of the merits of baptism to those who, though they are sincerely contrite, and have every intention of doing so, are, for whatever reason, unable to be baptized. Traditional Catholic doctrine has also taught the validity of a “baptism in blood,” in which those who die as Christian martyrs without having first experienced water baptism, are assured of salvation.[7] Each of these cases applies specifically to those who consciously embrace the Christian faith. However, Pope Pius IX, in his allocution Singulari Quadam (1854), opened up the question even further, adding a new caveat: “For, it must be held by faith that outside the Apostolic Roman Church, no one can be saved . . . on the other hand, it is necessary to hold for certain that they who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, are not stained by any guilt in this matter in the eyes of God.”[8] In spite of all this, prior to Vatican II, there was no official Church relationship with members of non-Christian religions, per se.

Background and Documents of Vatican II

In many aspects, Vatican II represented a valiant effort on the part of the Catholic Church toward an aggiornamento (or a bringing up to date) of the position of the Church with the realities of the modern world. Although vanguard theologians, such as Karl Rahner, were pushing for more openness in regard to non-Christian religions, this question was not initially on the docket to be considered by the delegates of the Council. Pope John XXIII, however, sensing a need to counteract anti-Semitism in the Church, wanted the Council to make a statement clarifying the position of the Church toward the Jews. In response, various bishops, led by those from Africa and Asia, were concerned this might be interpreted as showing special favoritism toward the Jews, and pushed for a discussion on other religions as well.[9]

After the death of John XXIII, his successor, Paul VI, was encouraged by various bishops to ask the Council for a document on Islam, which, in turn, led to a full-blown discussion on other religions, and the subsequent promulgation of the “Declaration on the Relationship to Non-Christian-Religions,” or Nostra Aetate, as it is commonly known.[10] Other Council documents, such as the apostolic constitutions Lumen Gentium and Guadium et Spes, as well as the apostolic decree Ad Gentes, also touched on questions related to non-Christian religions.

The importance of Vatican II in regard to the Church’s stance toward other religions is crucial. Even controversial theologian Hans Küng, whose views on non-Christian religions are more open than those spelled out in the Council, had this to say:
Without this Council, the Church would still regard other world faiths as mainly the object of negative-polemical conflict and conquistadorial missionary strategies. There would still be enmity mainly with Islam and particularly with Judaism. . . . It cannot be overlooked: since Vatican II there has been a tremendous increase in the knowledge and respect of other faiths and especially of Judaism—in preaching, catechesis, study and conversation. Discrimination of any kind for reasons of race, skin colour, class or religion is now frowned upon.[11]
Aydin adds the following observation:
One interesting point of the post-Vatican II period is that many years after the Council the Catholic Church authorities refer very much to its teaching by using the following phrases “as Vatican II teaches”, “the Council taught”, and “the teaching of the Council” in their statements. This would seem that the teaching of the Council is not regarded by the Catholic authorities as a starting point but as the goal for interreligious dialogue.[12]
One of the important consequences of Vatican II was the Church’s tacit endorsement of the inclusivist theology of religions of Karl Rahner. Although shortly beforehand his views were not widely appreciated, after the Council, Rahner gained prestige as a leading spokesman for the official Catholic position.[13]

Post-Vatican II Popes

One important way of evaluating the position of the Catholic Church during a particular time period is to look at the words and actions of the reigning popes during that same time period. Since the conclusion of Vatican II, there have been four different popes. Paul VI ascended to the papal throne after the death of John XXIII, and occupied it from June 21, 1963 to August 6, 1978. The reign of the next pope, John Paul I, lasted only 33 days, leaving him no time for significant input on the question of non-Catholic religions. However, his successor, John Paul II, served as Pope from October 16, 1978 to April 2, 2005, the second-longest documented period in Church history. The present pope, Benedict XVI, was inaugurated on April 24, 2005.

Paul VI

Approximately eight months after convening the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII, who had secretly been battling stomach cancer, died at the age of 81. Upon being elected in the ensuing conclave, one of the first things the new pope, Paul VI, did was to re-open the Council. As previously mentioned, it was this pope who first led the Council to consider the question of non-Christian religions. On Pentecost Sunday, 1964, even before the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, the Pope took the initiative to officially launch a new department of the Roman Curia for the purpose of overseeing relationships with other religions. This organization, first called the Secretariat for Non-Christians, was later renamed the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Three months later, he issued the encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, in which he publicly clarified the purpose of the Secretariat and established the guidelines of dialogue.

In the years following Vatican II, in the wake of Nostra Aetate, there was some degree of confusion regarding the relationship of dialogue and evangelization. Influenced by conservative theologians such as Jean Danielou, and troubled by extreme statements by others such as Hans Küng, in 1974, the Pope convened a Synod of Bishops with the purpose of providing further clarity on the situation. However, they were unable to agree on a suitable statement, and remitted the task to the Pope for him to decide on his own.[14] The resultant apostolic declaration Evangelii Nuntiandi, published on December 8, 1975, strongly reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to the deliberate evangelization of non-Christians. While rehashing earlier statements of respect and esteem for other religions, the overriding implication was the salvific insufficiency of other religions, and the continued urgency of Christian proclamation.

Some have suggested this represented a step backward from the views expressed in the documents of Vatican II.[15] Overall, however, it must not be forgotten that Paul VI was the first pope to travel extensively outside of Europe and that it was he who opened the door for dialogue with non-Christian religions and instituted the Secretariat for Non-Christians.

John Paul II

Following the 33-day reign of Pope John Paul I, the pontificate of John Paul II is significant with respect to the Church’s relationship to other religions, if for no other reason, because of its longevity—27 years in all. During this time, he had many opportunities to travel to other countries, meet with representatives of other religions, and speak out on the position of the Church in regard to these religions. In general, his tone in regard to other religions has been viewed as more open than that of Paul VI. Arnulf Camps observes:
One can note different approaches in each pope depending on circumstances. When they meet a predominantly non-Christian audience, they take care not to use theological or polemical language. When meeting Christians they stress the difference between mission and dialogue and state that both are inseparable activities. Superficially considered, one could say that the teaching of Pope John Paul II does not differ from that of Pope Paul VI. However, the way John Paul writes and speaks about the value and redemptive quality of other religions is far more positive than his predecessor’s.[16]
Among John Paul II’s fourteen encyclical messages, three stand out with regard to his views expressed on non-Christian religions. Redemptor Hominis, issued in 1979, shortly after his inauguration, encourages Catholics to engage in dialogue with adherents of other religions, communicates the deep esteem and respect of the Church for the spiritual values underlying other religions, and reiterates statements made in Nostra Aetate affirming the universal activity of the Holy Spirit.[17] In 1986, Dominum et Vivificantem, while spelling out reasons for the upcoming Year of Jubilee, alludes to the Holy Spirit’s activity “outside the visible body of the Church.”[18] Finally, Redemptoris Missio, published in 1990, affirms the continued missionary mandate of the Church in light of questions as to whether the call for dialogue with other religions had superseded it.[19] In this document, the Pope essentially affirmed the inclusivistic theology of Rahner, recognizing the possibility of salvation for those outside the Church, while stipulating that “this occurs not through their own religious traditions but through the hidden presence of Christ and the universal activity of the Holy Spirit in them.”[20]

In a 1990 letter to the Bishops of Asia, John Paul II warned against the pluralist idea that Christianity is merely one path among others to salvation.[21] The necessity of a Christocentric ontological basis of salvation is made even more explicit in the 1994 apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, in which “the essential point by which Christianity differs from all the other religions” is identified as the Incarnation of the Word: “In Christ, religion is no longer a ‘blind search for God’ . . . Christ is thus the fulfilment of the yearning of all the world’s religions and, as such, he is their sole and definitive completion.”[22]

In addition to his writings, John Paul II’s meetings with representatives of other religions allowed him to put his doctrine into practice. Among these activities, several that stand out are: a 1985 meeting with a large number of young Muslims in Casablanca; the 1986 World Day of Prayer for Peace, celebrated together with leaders from 11 different non-Christian religions; the 1993 Day of Prayer, held with Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders, focusing on the end of the war in Bosnia; and a 2002 repeat of the World Day of Prayer for Peace, this time with more than 200 leaders of a number of different religions.[23] Addressing the Roman Curia, shortly after the first World Day of Prayer, he remarked that “every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person.”[24]

Benedict XVI

Before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger occupied the position of Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, in which he was known as a hard line defender of traditional Catholic orthodoxy. In a 1996 address to the Doctrinal Commissions of the Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America, he identified relativism as the “central problem for faith today,” linking it to the pluralistic ideas of John Hick and Paul Knitter.[25] During his tenure as Prefect, he issued notifications declaring the pluralistic views of Jesuit priests Anthony de Mello and Jacques Dupuis outside the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy.[26] Ratzinger is also the primary author of the controversial document Dominus Iesus, which, while not technically contradicting the inclusivistic positions articulated in other Catholic documents, boldly declares that non-Christians are “in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.”[27]

As pope, Benedict XVI has published three encyclicals to date. Of these, only Caritas in veritate, published in 2009, speaks directly to the question of other religions, pointing out the necessity of discernment between religions which alienate humans from one another, and those which provide a platform for love and truth to work toward the common good.[28] In 2006, not long after a public speech in which he angered many Muslims, who interpreted him as equating Islam with violence, Benedict XVI made news when he became only the second pope to ever visit a Muslim mosque, and the first to ever pray inside a mosque. This gesture was taken by some to symbolize “the harmony and brotherhood that one would expect to exist between Islam and Christianity” and as a recognition that the faithful of both religions pray to the same God.[29]

Secretariat for Non-Christians/Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

In addition to the popes, the Secretariat for Non-Christians, instituted by Pope Paul VI in 1964, has been one of the most important channels for communicating official Catholic views with respect to non-Christian religions, as well as for encouraging and facilitating dialogue with them.

The responsibilities of the Secretariat were defined as follows in the apostolic constitution Regimini Ecclesiae:
To search for methods and ways of opening a suitable dialogue with non-Christians. It should strive, therefore, in order that non-Christians come to be known honestly and esteemed justly by Christians, and that in their turn non-Christians can adequately know and esteem Christian doctrine and life.[30]
Relations with Jews, however, were kept under the supervision of a separate organization, the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews. The Secretariat also restricted itself to religious questions, leaving socio-political issues for other Church entities.[31]

Since its inauguration, there have been seven different presidents, marking seven different periods of work of the Secretariat/PCID. During the first period (1965-1973), Cardinal Paolo Marella led the initial impetus for carrying out the directives given to the Secretariat by the Pope. The Secretariat published a series of booklets designed to educate Catholics regarding the practice of dialogue, as well as the beliefs and practices of their dialogue partners. At this time, different consultors groups were also set up to supervise relations with four major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and African traditional religions.[32]

At the first, the Secretariat was not given a high profile. Its objectives were not very clear. However, under the presidency of Cardinal Sergio Pignedoli (1973–1980), after setting up its basic structure, the Secretariat began to open up and enter more fully into dialogue with the religions of the world. Pignedoli described the work of Secretariat up to that time in the following words: “We have limited ourselves to the service of friendship toward our non-Christian brethren. This friendship is religious, based on eternal spiritual values.”[33] Right after becoming president, he sent a letter to each of the Bishops asking them to set up commissions for inter-religious dialogue in their respective regions, and prepared an annual program with the approval of the Pope.[34]

During the third period, under the leadership of Archbishop Jean Jadot (1980–1984), the Secretariat focused its attention on encouraging dialogue on a local level, with a special emphasis on Christian-Muslim relations. In 1984, on the 20th anniversary of its founding, the Secretariat published a key document entitled “The Attitude of the Church towards the Followers of Other Religions: Reflections and Orientations on Dialogue and Mission.”[35]

As a Nigerian convert from African traditional religion, Cardinal Francis Arinze brought a unique perspective to his presidency of the Secretariat (1984–2002 ), which changed its name in 1988 to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID). Under his leadership, the PCID published a second key document, “Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” jointly published with the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples, going into greater detail than ever before on the relationship between interreligious dialogue and gospel proclamation. In addition, under his watch, two plenary assemblies were convened, in 1992 and 1995, with the purpose of discussing and evaluating the Church’s efforts at interreligious dialogue.[36]

From 2002 to 2006, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, one of the leading authorities in the Catholic Church on Islam and Christian-Muslim relations, took over as president of the PCID. In 2006, newly elected Pope Benedict XVI named Cardinal Paul Poupard president of the PCID. However, he was replaced just one year later, in 2007, by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who continues to occupy the post at the present time. Cardinal Tauran has been particularly outspoken in his opposition to the American-led invasion of Iraq. On the other hand, in an interview with terrasanta.net, he provided a more nuanced perspective, stating that “the world is obsessed with Islam, that such an obsession is holding Christian dialogue ‘hostage,’ and that in the world of religious dialogue, there should not be first-class religions and second-class religions.”[37]

Catechism of the Catholic Church

When considering authoritative statements of Catholic belief, one source that cannot be ignored is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1994 by a committee appointed by Pope John Paul II and led by Cardinal Ratzinger. Upon its publication, the Pope declared it to be “a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.”[38] In general, the Catechism echoes other Post-Vatican II voices that seek to walk a tightrope between the omnipresent work of the Holy Spirit among the nations and religions of the world, including the possibility of salvation through non-ordinary channels, and the perfect and ultimate fulfillment of God’s salvific intention in Christ and the Church.[39] The specific elements of the Church’s Post-Vatican II theological perspective, including those points spelled out in the Catechism, will be considered in the following section.

The Catholic Position: Main Theological Points

Although not without apparent contradictions, the official Catholic position on non-Christian religions since Vatican II is, by and large, internally consistent. Even though there were times in Catholic history in which there appeared to be no room for the current understanding, further clarifications and developments of thought have helped to resolve the conflicts. Thus, the reigning paradigm of a hard line view of extra ecclesiam nulla salus has, in the years since Vatican II, consistently given way to an inclusivistic theology of religions more in line with the approach of Rahner. In this section of this paper, various facets of this model will be taken out and analyzed one by one, but it is important to remember they are each a part of an overall vision and only make sense as part of the whole. For each of these facets, some development of thought and differing degrees of emphasis may be observed in accordance with the particular writer discussing them and the date of writing in which they are discussed. In each case, though, the end result is generally consistent with the overall vision of the Catholic Church.

The Church’s General Attitude toward Non-Christian Religions

At Vatican II, the Catholic Church began to make a lot of flattering comments with respect to non-Christian religions. Much of the content of these comments is vague, but the tone is undoubtedly more positive than that used before the Council. Nostra Aetate, for example, makes reference to “good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among” the followers of other religions. It adds that “the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions,” and they should be regarded with a “sincere reverence” inasmuch as they “reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.”[40] Pope Paul VI followed in the same vein in his 1975 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, expressing the Church’s respect and esteem for those in other religions who search for God with “great sincerity and righteousness of heart.”[41]

John Paul II picked up the same theme in 1990 in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, recognizing the Church’s appreciation, esteem, and respect for the “spiritual treasures” and “magnificent heritage of the human spirit manifested in all religions.”[42] He also exhorted the Church to have a missionary attitude of not tearing down but rather building on top of signs of Christ’s presence and of the working of the Spirit already present in other religions.[43] Under his pontificate, the PCID issued their important declaration on Dialogue and Proclamation, echoing the call for respect for the positive values found not only in individual believers of other religions but also in their religious traditions themselves. They cited the Pope’s acknowledgement after the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi that the Holy Spirit is mysteriously present in the heart of every person and every authentic prayer is “the theological basis for a positive approach to other religious traditions.”[44] Archbishop Fitzgerald, speaking as president of the PCID, said in a speech on interreligious dialogue that “we cannot go to people of other religions as if we had everything and they had nothing” and “everything that is good, noble and beautiful in their rites and traditions is to be welcomed with respect and gratitude.”[45] The Catechism, published during John Paul II’s pontificate, echoes the words of Nostra Aetate with respect to treating other religions with “sincere respect” because they “reflect a ray of truth.” It also refers to the common origin and destiny of all nations and recognizes in other religions elements of goodness and truth, as well as an authentic search, albeit “among shadows and images,” for God.[46]

Benedict XVI has on various occasions voiced a call for discernment in the Catholic approach to other religions. Yet, writing in 2000 as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he recognized, in Dominus Iesus, that “some elements” of the sacred writings of other religions are able to “nourish and maintain their life-relationship with God,” and echoed Vatican II’s claim that they “reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men.”[47] In Caritas in Veritate, he emphasized the need for discernment, pointing out that not all religions are equal, and some do not embody the principle of love and truth as well as others.[48]

The Comparative Value of Catholicism and Other Religions

In spite of the generally friendly tone, the official attitude of the Catholic Church toward other religions since Vatican II has not been unequivocally positive. This can especially be seen when the value of these religions is juxtaposed to that of Catholic Christianity. Paul VI, for example, was careful in Ecclesiam Suam to temper his words of praise for other religions, saying we cannot “adopt an indifferent or uncritical attitude toward them” or regard them as on an equal footing with Christianity, which is the “one and only true religion.”[49] In Evangelii Nuntandi, he claimed that other religions, though “they have, as it were, their arms stretched out towards heaven” are not successful at establishing an authentic relationship with God in the same way as Christianity.[50] In Dialogue and Proclamation, the PCID called for discernment with regard to other religions, dividing between that which is good and includes elements of grace and that which is sinful and incompatible with Christian revelation.[51] The Catechism admonishes that human religious behavior often has limits and errors, and that Christians cannot accept non-Christian “revelations” that claim to surpass or correct the revelation of Christ.[52] Cardinal Ratzinger, in Dominus Iesus, makes a nuanced distinction between theological faith, which is to be understood as a strictly Christian concept, and belief on the part of followers of other religions, who, in comparison to Christians, are in a “gravely deficient situation.”[53]

Seeds of the Word as Preparation for the Gospel

A recurring theme in official Catholic views since Vatican II, closely related to the idea that the religions of the world contain good things and a ray of truth, is the idea, first suggested by several Church Fathers (see footnote 3 above), that by the presence of the Holy Spirit seeds of the Word have been planted among the cultures of the world, preparing them to receive the gospel.[54] The Vatican II decree Ad Gentes specifies that which is good in other religions is “not lost, but is healed, uplifted, and perfected for the glory of God.”[55] The constitution Gaudium et Spes speculates further on the potential spiritual efficacy of these seeds of the Word, “not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way . . . the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.”[56] In Dialogue and Proclamation, the PCID extrapolates this to mean “they may in many cases have already responded implicitly to God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.”[57]

Ordinary and Other Paths to Salvation

One of the key issues at stake, not only in Roman Catholic theology of religions, but any theology of religions, is the possibility of salvation for non-Christians, and the path by which they might arrive at the destination of ultimate salvation. As previously mentioned, historically, though a surface reading of extra ecclesiam nulla salus seemed to close the door to this possibility, the concepts of “baptism of desire” and the lack of culpability for those in unavoidable ignorance opened a crack in the door. The documents of Vatican II leave no doubt in regard to this possibility. Lumen Gentium plainly declares: “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.”[58] Ad Gentes chimes in: “God in ways known to Himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to find that faith without which it is impossible to please Him.”[59] Pope Paul VI, in Evangelii Nuntiandi, distinguished between “the ordinary paths of salvation”—i.e. by the word and life of the Son of God—and “other ways”—i.e. “by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them.”[60]

Although the existence of alternative paths of salvation is not in doubt, there is still some lack of clarity as to just what these paths are. In general, however, the consistent position of the Catholic position is that, even though the recipients of grace may not be aware of it, the source of the grace needed for salvation is always mediated through Christ. Pope John Paul II, in Redemptoris Missio, explains: “Although participated forms of mediation of different kinds and degrees are not excluded, they acquire meaning and value only from Christ’s own mediation, and they cannot be understood as parallel or complementary to his.” He elaborates further: “It is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.”[61]

Though the official Catholic position is clear that salvation to non-Christians is mediated through Christ, there is some ambiguity with respect to exactly how this occurs. Various official documents, including Dialogue and Proclamation, use the term mystery to describe the uncertainty of this process.[62] In Dominus Iesus, Cardinal Ratzinger admits: “Theologians are seeking to understand this question more fully.”[63] Several official documents, though, provide a couple of suggestions as to what this may entail: things such as “sincere practice of what is good in their own religious traditions,” “following the dictates of their conscience,” “[living] evangelical values and [being] open to the action of the Spirit,” “methods of prayer, ethical rules, rites and practices which encourage death to oneself in order to live for others,” and “[leading] a life of self-sacrifice [and] virtue.”[64] The Catechism describes the prerequisites for salvation by means of the non-ordinary path in the following manner: “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”[65] Cardinal Ratzinger, however, issues some words of caution about taking this too far: “One cannot attribute to [the prayers and rituals of other religions], however, a divine origin or an ex opere operato salvific efficacy, which is proper to the Christian sacraments”; and “to hold that these religions, considered as such, are ways of salvation, has no foundation in Catholic theology.”[66]

Orthodox Christology

In spite of opening up to non-Christian religions in all the ways mentioned thus far, there are certain areas of theology on which the Catholic Church has continued to insist on Christian orthodoxy, as traditionally understood. Preeminent among these is an orthodox Christology. In response to the pluralist thesis that there are two different economies—that of the “eternal Word” and that of the “incarnate Word”—active in salvation in different ways for different people, both Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger (before becoming Pope Benedict XVI) pointed out the need for the Catholic Church to stay faithful to the Christology defined in the First Council of Nicaea and the Council of Chalcedon. Accordingly, Jesus of Nazareth, fully God and fully man, is the one and only Word of the Father, through whom He brings about salvation for all humanity. The Christology of Vatican II is the same Christology of the ancient Church.[67] By the same token, there is no division between the economy of the Holy Spirit and that of the Son. Both John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger insist, contrary to the ideas of the pluralists, that the work of the Spirit in the world is always linked to that of the Son, who opened the path of salvation by means of his incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.[68]

Christ (and the Church), the Only Source of Salvation

The logical consequence of this is that, even though there may be an ordinary path and other not so ordinary paths to salvation, they are all streams of the same mediation of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church affirms the continued validity of such biblical passages as John 14:6, Acts 4:10, 12, and 1 Tim 2:5–7 that maintain only one path to the Father, “one name under heaven by which we must be saved,” and “one mediator between God and man.”[69] However, there is room for a nuanced “participated mediation” through other religions, as long as it is not seen as parallel or complementary to the unique mediation of Christ.[70] Ironically, many of those who participate in this mediation of Christ “remain unaware that Jesus Christ is the source of their salvation,” coming to them through “the invisible action of the Spirit of Christ.”[71] Catholic doctrine is further complicated at this point by the belief that salvation is not mediated by Jesus alone—it is also the will of God that all people come to Christ by faith and baptism through the Church.[72] Indeed, for those who are exposed to the teaching of the Catholic Church, this exposure may well prove hazardous for their eternal state: “Therefore those men cannot be saved, who though aware that God, through Jesus Christ founded the Church as something necessary, still do not wish to enter into it, or to persevere in it.”[73]

According to Indian theologian Gavin D’Costa, a particularly controversial question that remains open since Vatican II is whether or not non-Christian religions, per se, may be regarded as vehicles of salvation. From his perspective, the documents of Vatican II themselves are silent on this question, and “this silence has in fact been read in two quite differing ways by post-Conciliar theologians.” According to D’Costa, Knitter claims the majority of Catholic thinkers believe that Vatican II affirms, implicitly but clearly, that other religions are ways of salvation. Rahner, however, agrees the texts are silent on this point.[74]

Concentric Circles

In light of calls for discernment in its treatment of different religions, the Catholic Church has made some observations specifying several of these religions. Pope Paul VI laid down a precedent in Ecclesiam Suam categorizing religions according to a model of concentric circles.[75] In the first circle, closest to the Christian core (of which the Catholic Church comprises the most central place), comes the Jewish religion, which shares with Christians a common revelation in the Old Testament as well as a common worship of the one supreme God. It is this privileged position with respect to Christianity that led the Church to channel its dialogue and relations with Jews under the auspices of another entity apart from the PCID. In the next circle, in recognition of its status as the next major monotheistic religion, comes Islam. Though the PCID has focused its efforts on relations with representatives of various religions, Muslims, occupying the innermost circle of those religions within its sphere of operation, have received the most attention. Of the various interreligious encounters organized under the auspices of the Secretariat/PCID, Muslim analyst Mahmut Aydin sees the 1976 meeting in Tripoli, Libya as especially significant. Among the recommendations in the final report, two have important theological repercussions: acknowledgement of all the prophets without disparaging and discrediting them (which, according to Aydin, implies a willingness on the part of the Catholic delegation to consider the prophethood of Muhammad); and a mutual renouncement of proselytism between Catholics and Muslims.[76] In Paul VI’s outer circle, after the Muslims, come the “great Afro-Asiatic religions.”

The Vatican II constitution Lumen Gentium, published shortly after Ecclesiam Suam, follows the same schema, with the Jews, Muslims, and an undefined group of those who “in shadows and images seek the unknown God” occupying successive levels of relationship with the Catholic Church.[77] Nostra Aetate goes into a bit more detail describing some distinctive qualities of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam that are viewed as positive.[78] The Catechism only specifically mentions Jews and Muslims, whom it places in a special place as those who “acknowledge the Creator,” “profess to hold the faith of Abraham,” and “adore the one, merciful God.”[79] John Paul II, in his speech to Muslim youth at Casablanca, told them both Christians and Muslims “believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and his creatures to their perfection.”[80] However, in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, he focuses more on differences:

In Islam, all the richness of God’s self-revelation, which constitutes the heritage of the Old and New Testament, has definitely been set aside. He is ultimately a God outside of the world, God is only Majesty, never Emmanuel. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection. Jesus is mentioned, but only as a prophet. The tragedy of redemption is completely absent. For this reason not only theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very different from Christianity.[81]

More recently, Benedict XVI, in Caritas in Veritate, distinguishes, without naming names, between religions that “teach brotherhood and peace” and others that “do not fully embrace the principle of love and truth.”[82]

The Purpose of Dialogue

One of the practical implications of the Church’s position toward non-Christian religions is the call to dialogue. The Catholic Church, in the Second Vatican Council, declared that Christ’s disciples should converse with the people among whom they live, “that they themselves may learn by sincere and patient dialogue what treasures a generous God has distributed among the nations of the earth.”[83]

Exactly what this dialogue implies, however, has been a question of almost constant discussion ever since. Some official statements indicate the attitude in which dialogue should be engaged. John Paul II, for example, said dialogue should be “without pretense or closed-mindedness, but with truth, humility, and frankness,” and “an attitude of a profound willingness to listen.” At the same time, he warned against “abandonment of principles” and “false irenicism.”[84] Cardinal Ratzinger, in Dominus Iesus, cautioned that although Catholics should treat adherents of other religions as equals in regard to personal dignity, they should not consider their religions as possessing equal value to Christianity.[85]

According to Church authorities, the participants in dialogue are to be all the faithful, including the laity, though the forms in which each one participates will vary according to the circumstances.[86] The PCID spelled out four different forms in which dialogue takes place:
a) The dialogue of life, where people strive to live in an open and neighbourly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations.
b) The dialogue of action, in which Christians and others collaborate for the integral development and liberation of people.
c) The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other’s spiritual values.
d) The dialogue of religious experience, where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute.[87]
The key issue, however, is the purpose of dialogue. The PCID sums up this purpose as follows: “In the context of religious plurality, dialogue means ‘all positive and constructive interreligious relations with individuals and communities of other faiths which are directed at mutual understanding and enrichment’, in obedience to truth and respect for freedom.”[88] There are, however, other more specific ways of defining the various facets of the purpose of dialogue. Pope Paul VI wrote of “mutual understanding and friendship” through which the people of the earth can “begin to work together to build the common future of the human race.”[89] On another occasion, he described this a little more specifically: “we desire to join with them in promoting and defending common ideals in the spheres of religious liberty, human brotherhood, education, culture, social welfare, and civic order.”[90] Another important purpose is collaboration toward world peace. John Paul II alluded, on various occasions, to the importance of interreligious dialogue, especially among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, as a contribution to world peace.[91] On another occasion, he said dialogue worked toward “the elimination of prejudice, intolerance and misunderstandings.”[92]Archbishop Fitzgerald, representing the PCID, said in a speech he gave at Trinity College in Washington, DC:

A further step in dialogue is to work together in the service of humankind. The problems with which our world is faced are so great that there is need of the efforts of all to thee up to them. Religions can help in providing motivation to reach out to those who are in need, to strive for a more equitable division of the world’s resources, to ensure that while natural resources are exploited the environment is protected.[93]

Of all the purposes of dialogue, the most controversial is theological, or what the Church calls a dialogue of salvation.[94] One part of this involves what Christians receive from adherents of other religions by way of dialogue. The Catechism speaks of “learning to appreciate better ‘those elements of truth and grace which are found among peoples, and which are, as it were, a secret presence of God.’”[95] According to the PCID, “Interreligious dialogue does not merely aim at mutual understanding and friendly relations. It reaches a much deeper level, that of the spirit, where exchange and sharing consist in a mutual witness to one’s beliefs and a common exploration of one’s respective religious convictions.”[96]

The question has been raised by some: If interreligious dialogue is so important, has it perhaps eclipsed the need for gospel proclamation?[97] Vatican II spoke clearly to this matter,[98] and the statements of Pope Paul VI are even clearer,[99] but, nevertheless, the questions have persisted. By 1990, the discussion had gathered so much steam Pope John Paul II felt, in light of the call to dialogue, that he needed to speak to the question of whether the missionary mandate of the Church was still valid. It was clear the Council and the post-Vatican II Magisterium had already said yes.[100] For the Pope, although “inter-religious dialogue is a part of the Church’s evangelizing mission,” dialogue and gospel proclamation are not identical or interchangeable.[101]

There appears, however, according to some statements of the PCID, to be some crossover between the two. Dialogue with other religions may have a prophetic role, raising questions, and even challenging shortcomings.[102] Indeed, one aim of interreligious dialogue, according to the PCID, is conversion. Though this conversion is defined broadly as “a deeper conversion of all towards God,” still, according to the position of the Church, all men are expected to seek the truth, follow the dictates of their conscience, and embrace truth whenever they come to know it, “especially in what concerns God and his Church.”[103]

However, gospel proclamation—or evangelization—is more specific in its aim. Pope Paul VI was very clear on this: “There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.”[104] Understood this way, the Church has made clear, through repeated declarations, that, not only dialogue, but also gospel proclamation, is absolutely necessary, and the missionary mandate as valid as ever.[105] The reasons for this are twofold. It is only through Christ, and through the Church, by means of baptism, that people discover “the fullness of truth and the fullness of the means of salvation, in order ‘to enter into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.’”[106] Also, according to Catholic doctrine, once someone has come to the knowledge of the truth, the proviso that they did not have a valid opportunity to accept the truth, and a possibility of a non-ordinary path of salvation, no longer holds: they must submit to baptism and the authority of the Church to avoid eternal condemnation.[107]

Conclusion: An Evangelical Evaluation

Upon evaluating the Catholic post-Vatican II position toward non-Christian religions from an evangelical perspective, it is necessary, first of all, to make reference to Catholic teaching on salvation in general. From an evangelical understanding of Scripture, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Although a defense of that understanding is beyond the scope of this paper, it must remain at the foundation of any evangelical evaluation on the subject.

From this perspective, the traditional Catholic understanding of the ordinary path of salvation, by way of baptismal regeneration (not to mention the requirements for remaining in a state of grace), is contrary to biblical teaching. The doctrine of “baptism of desire,” however, muddies the water a bit. The argument can be made, from an evangelical perspective, that authentic faith implicitly carries with it a sincere submission to the lordship of Christ and disposition to obey his commands. Notwithstanding discrepancies between the Catholic view and a specifically baptistic perspective on baptism, including the appropriate meaning, mode, and subject, a mutual understanding of baptism as a command of Christ leaves open the possibility of some common soteriological ground, viewed from the perspective of “baptism of desire.” There appears, however, to be some internal inconsistency between the Catholic understanding of the ex opere operato efficacy of the sacraments (including baptism) and “baptism of desire.”

In addition, biblical faith, understood from an evangelical perspective, does not entail submission to the Roman Magisterium. In this sense, it can be argued that Catholic soteriology, viewed from the perspective of the ordinary path of salvation, is narrower than evangelical soteriology. From another perspective, though, the point can be made that those who are depending on Catholic prerequisites as a condition for salvation are not truly seeking salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and thus remain outside the scope of biblical salvation. It may be argued, however, that conscious belief in the doctrine of justification by faith alone is not technically a requirement for being justified by faith alone.

Where Catholic soteriology is clearly more open than evangelical soteriology (at least, when this is understood to mean conservative exclusivism) is in regard to the so-called non-ordinary paths of salvation. Though maintaining a biblically orthodox Christology, and avoiding the excesses of theocentric or pneumacentric pluralism, the biblical basis for the Catholic teaching that those who are ignorant of the message of Christ and the Christian gospel are not to be held culpable for their ignorance is lacking. The Catholic attempts to describe what a non-ordinary path to salvation may look like (e.g. the sincere practice of the rites of other religions, ethical rules, and a life of self-sacrifice) appear strangely close to what evangelicals have traditionally understood as salvation by works.

On the other hand, the Catholic insistence on the mediation of Christ as the only ultimate source of salvation, and the continued necessity, and indeed urgency, for gospel proclamation may be viewed as salutary. However, the possibility of a greater knowledge of the truth exposing those who may have otherwise been safely on a non-ordinary path to salvation to increased risk of condemnation cannot help but raise the question of the motivation for sharing that truth. Would it not be better to leave them in the state they were in before being exposed to the truth for which they will ultimately be held accountable?

As far as interreligious dialogue is concerned, there is evidently much practical benefit to be obtained from mutual understanding, friendship, cooperation in humanitarian projects, and efforts made with a view toward the promotion of world peace. Evangelicals can also find some common ground with Catholics in the perspective of dialogue as a partner to evangelization. It is true that we should learn to listen carefully and with respect to the perspectives of those with other religious beliefs, and even that some of these perspectives may help us understand the truth of God with greater clarity and breadth. It is important to remember that, although the incarnate Word is God’s perfect revelation to man, and the written Word is “the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried,”[108] all truth is God’s truth, wherever it may be found.

In the end, though, as the Catholic Church also teaches, dialogue must never become a substitute for clear gospel proclamation. The goal of Christian dialogue must ultimately be conversion. This perspective will never be popular among the leaders of other religions. Even with its greater degree of openness in regard to non-ordinary paths of salvation, the Catholic Church has been the object of criticism from representatives of other religions for its insistence on holding its ground on this point.[109] It should not be expected that the response of non-Christian religious leaders to us as conservative evangelicals will be any more charitable. True compassion for the souls of men, however, will lead us to not compromise on the exclusivity of the gospel. Furthermore, from the evangelical perspective, faithfulness to the Word of God and obedience to the commands of the Son of God demand it.

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[1] Miika Ruokanan, The Catholic Doctrine of Non-Christian Religions (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1992), 11.

[2] Mahmut Aydin, Modern Western Christian Theological Understandings of Muslims Since the Second Vatican Council (Washington: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2002), 11–12.

[3] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Apostolic exhortation, December 8, 1975, sec. 53 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_p-vi_exh_19751208_evangelii-nuntiandi_en.html. Also, John Paul II, Redemptoris Hominis, Encyclical letter at the beginning of his papal ministry, March 4, 1979, sec. 11 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/edocs/ENG0218/__PC.HTM; and, Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, Dialogue and Proclamation, May 19, 1991, sec. 24 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_19051991_dialogue-and-proclamatio_en.html; referencing the views of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius of Caesarea.

[4] Paul F. Knitter, No Other Name? (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1985), 121. Knitter references Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Theophilus of Antioch, Athenagoras, and Tertullian.

[5] Aydin, 12–13.

[6] Eugene IV, Cantate Domino, Papal bull, The Council of Florence, 1438–1445 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://catholicism.org/cantate-domino.html

[7] A good list of sources and discussion on these points may be found online at: http://www.catholicapologetics.info/modernproblems/currenterrors/bpdsir.htm#thomas; and at http://www.catholicessentials.net/baptismofdesire.htm. These same ideas are affirmed by the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 1257–59 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_P3M.HTM#C

[8] Pius IX, Singulari Quadam, Papal allocution, December 9, 1854 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://geocities.ws/caleb1x/documents/singulariquadam.html

[9] Mauro Velati, “‘The Others’: Ecumenism and Religions” (trans. Paul Burns; Concilium 2005/4): 42; Also, Gavin D’Costa, The Meeting of Religions and the Trinity (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2000), 102; and, Aydin, 22–23.

[10] Aydin, 23. Also, Ruokanen, 35–44.

[11] Hans Küng, “Is the Second Vatican Council Forgotten?” (trans. Natalie K. Watson; Concilium 2005/4): 110.

[12] Aydin, 86.

[13] D’Costa. Theology and Religious Pluralism, 80, 82–83; Knitter, 125; Aydin, 86.

[14] Aydin, 60–62.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Arnulf Camps, “Interreligious Dialogue: A Task with Many Challenges,” Studies in Interreligious Dialogue 10 (2000): 166–67.

[17] John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, sec. 6, 11, 12.

[18] John Paul II, Dominum et Vivificantem, Encyclical letter on the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World, May 18, 1986, sec. 53 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/edocs/ENG0142/__PG.HTM

[19] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, Encyclical letter on the permanent validity of the Church’s missionary mandate, December 7, 1990 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/edocs/ENG0219/_INDEX.HTM

[20] Aydin, 67.

[21] John Paul II, “Letter of His Holiness John Paul II to the Bishops Delegates to the Fifth Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference,” sec. 4 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/letters/1990/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_19900623_vescovi-asia_en.html

[22] John Paul II, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, Apostolic letter on Preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000, November 10, 1994, sec. 6 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_10111994_tertio-millennio-adveniente_en.html

[23] Camps, 166; “Day of Prayer,” Wikipedia article [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_of_Prayer

[24] PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 27, citing John Paul II, “Address to the Members of the Roman Curia,” December 22, 1986, sec. 11.

[25] Joseph Ratzinger, “Relativism: the Central Problem for Faith Today,” Address during the meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the presidents of the Doctrinal Commissions of the Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America, held in Guadalajara, Mexico, May 1996 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/RATZRELA.HTM

[26] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Notification concerning the writings of Father Anthony de Mello, SJ,” June 24, 1998 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19980624_demello_en.html; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Notification on the book Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, by Father Jacques Dupuis,” January 24, 2001 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20010124_dupuis_en.html

[27] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, Declaration on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, August 6, 2000, sec. 22 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html

[28] Benedict XVI, Caritas in veritate, Encyclical letter on Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth, June 29, 2009, sec. 55. [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate_en.html. However, in Spe Salvi (2007), Benedict XVI makes a passing reference to the Apostle Paul’s declaration that the Gentiles in Ephesus, although they followed after certain gods and religions, were “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, Encyclical letter on Christian Hope, November 30, 2007, sec. 2 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20071130_spe-salvi_en.html

[29] Vimal Tirimanna, “Pope Benedict’s Prayer in the Blue Mosque,” Studies in Interreligious Dialogue 18 (2008): 29.

[30] Secretariat for Non-Christians, The Attitude of the Church toward Followers of Other Religions : Reflections and Orientations on Dialogue and Mission, May 10, 1984, sec. 4 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.msceurope.co.uk/Dialogie%20and%20Mission%20-%20PCID.pdf

[31] Profile: The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_pro_20051996_en.html

[32] Aydin, 51–52.

[33] Velati, 43.

[34] Aydin, 53.

[35] Ibid., 55.

[36] Ibid., 55–56.

[37] Reuters, “Ex-diplomat Cardinal Tauran pulls no punches now,” June 12, 2008 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/06/12/ex-diplomat-cardinal-tauran-pulls-no-punches-now

[38] John Paul II, Fidei Depositum, Apostolic Constitution on the Publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church prepared following the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, October 11, 1992, sec. IV [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_jp-ii_apc_19921011_fidei-depositum_en.html

[39] Catechism of the Catholic Church [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM. Sections that speak to issues relating to non-Christian religions include 67, 841–45, 856, 1149, 2104, 2566, 2569.

[40] Paul VI, Nostra Aetate, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, October 28, 1965, sec. 2 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html

[41] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, sec. 53.

[42] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, sec. 6, 12.

[43] Ibid., sec. 12, 56.

[44] PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 14, 17, 27.

[45] Michael Fitzgerald, “Evangelization and Interreligious Dialogue,” Address delivered at Trinity College, Washington, D.C., October 25, 2003 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.bc.edu/dam/files/research_sites/cjl/texts/cjrelations/resources/articles/fitzgerald_Oct03.htm

[46] Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 2104, 842, 843, 2566.

[47] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, sec. 8.

[48] Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, sec. 55.

[49] Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam, Encyclical letter on the Church, August 6, 1964, sec. 107 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_06081964_ecclesiam_en.html

[50] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, sec. 53.

[51] PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 30–31.

[52] Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 67, 844.

[53] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, sec. 7, 22.

[54] See, for example, Paul VI, Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic constitution on the Church, November 21, 1964, sec. 16 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html. Also, Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiadi, sec. 53; John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, sec. 11; John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, sec. 28; Secretariat, Dialogue and Mission, sec. 26; PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 16–17; and, Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 843.

[55] Paul VI, Ad Gentes, Apostolic decree on the Mission of the Church, December 7, 1965, sec. 9 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651207_ad-gentes_en.html

[56] Paul VI, Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, December 7, 1965, sec. 22 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html

[57] PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 68.

[58] Paul VI, Lumen Gentium, sec. 16.

[59] Paul VI, Ad Gentes, sec. 7.

[60] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, sec. 80.

[61] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, sec. 5, 10.

[62] PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 15, 29, 35.

[63] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, sec. 21.

[64] PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 29, 35. Also, Fitzgerald, “Evangelization and Interreligious Dialogue.”

[65] Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec.1260.

[66] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, sec. 21. Also, Notification to Dupuis, sec. 8.

[67] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, sec. 6. Also, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, sec. 9–10; and, Notification to Dupuis, sec. 1-3.

[68] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, sec. 29. Also, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, sec. 12; and, Notification to Dupuis, sec. 5.

[69] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, sec. 5.

[70] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, sec. 6, 14, 21. Also, Notification to Dupuis, sec. 6.

[71] PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 29. Also, Fitzgerald, “Evangelization and Interreligious Dialogue.”

[72] Paul VI, Lumen Gentium, sec. 17. Also, John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, sec. 9, 55; Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 845; and, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Notification to Dupuis, sec. 6–7.

[73] Paul VI, Ad Gentes, sec. 7. Also, Paul VI, Lumen Gentium, sec. 14.

[74] D’Costa. The Meeting of Religions and the Trinity, 99–105.

[75] Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam, sec. 107.

[76] Aydin, 54.

[77] Paul VI, Lumen Gentium, sec. 16.

[78] Paul VI, Nostra Aetate, sec. 2–3.

[79] Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 839–41.

[80] Aydin, 69.

[81] John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), 92–93.

[82] Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, sec. 55.

[83] Paul VI, Ad Gentes, sec. 11.

[84] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, sec. 56. Also, John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, Apostolic letter at the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, January 6, 2001, sec. 56 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20010106_novo-millennio-ineunte_en.html

[85] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, sec. 22.

[86] John Paul II. Redemptoris Missio 57. Also, PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 82.

[87] Secretariat, Dialogue and Mission, sec. 17. Also, PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 42; and, John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, sec. 57.

[88] Secretariat, Dialogue and Mission, sec. 3. Also, PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 9.

[89] Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, Encyclical letter on the Development of Peoples, March 26, 1967, sec. 43 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_26031967_populorum_en.html

[90] Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam, sec. 108.

[91] John Paul II, “No peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness,” Message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace, January 1, 2002, sec. 12 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/messages/peace/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_20011211_xxxv-world-day-for-peace_en.html; Novo Millennio Ineunte, sec. 55.

[92] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, sec. 56.

[93] Fitzgerald, “Evangelization and Interreligious Dialogue.”

[94] PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 38.

[95] Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 856.

[96] PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 40.

[97] Ibid., sec. 4. Also, Fitzgerald, “Evangelization and Interreligious Dialogue.”

[98] Paul VI, Ad Gentes, sec. 7.

[99] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, sec. 5, 53. Also, PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 66.

[100] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, sec. 1.

[101] Ibid., sec. 55. Also, PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 77.

[102] PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 79.

[103] Ibid., sec. 41.

[104] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, sec. 22. See also sec. 27: “Evangelization will also always contain - as the foundation, center, and at the same time, summit of its dynamism - a clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, who died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all men, as a gift of God’s grace and mercy”; and PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, sec. 81: “Proclamation, on the other hand, aims at guiding people to explicit knowledge of what God has done for all men and women in Jesus Christ, and at inviting them to become disciples of Jesus through becoming members of the Church.”

[105] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, sec. 22.

[106] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Doctrinal Note of Some Aspects of Evangelization,” October 5, 2007, sec. 7 [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20071203_nota-evangelizzazione_en.html

[107] Paul VI, Lumen Gentium, sec. 14. Also, Ad Gentes, sec. 7.

[108] Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Faith & Message, sec. I. [cited 4 June 2011]. Online: http://sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp

[109] Swami Dayanand Saraswati, “Mission, Dialogue & the Roman Catholic Church: a Hindu Critique,” Interreligious Insight 2 (2003): 8–11. Also, Aydin, 57.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

I Voted Today... for Tim Pawlenty


I voted today…  for Tim Pawlenty. I know a lot of you, after reading that, have already decided that I am an idiot. Perhaps I am. From what I understand, in the state of Tennessee, where I live and where I voted, the votes of those whose names were not on the ballot were not even tallied. And Pawlenty’s name was not on the ballot. That means, from the perspective of some, that my vote meant absolutely nothing. I have taken that into consideration, and thought long and hard about it, but at the end of day came to the conclusion that, at least, by way of this blog, and by Facebook, and Twitter, I can tell people about my vote and the reasons that led me to vote the way I did. That, from what I have been able to sort out, is a better stewardship of my time and efforts than not voting at all.

Now, with that in mind, let me try to explain as succinctly as I know how the thought process that went into my decision.

First and foremost, in all my life, and in all the decisions I make, I am a Christian. My loyalty to Jesus and to the gospel trumps all other loyalties in my life. Having said that, though, I am conscious there are some political questions that are clearer from a biblical perspective than others. In this post, which I wrote shortly after the election four years ago, I spell out a basic outline of my political views from what I consider to be a biblically informed perspective: http://sbcimpact.org/2008/11/11/morality-politics-and-a-broken-heart.

Even so, I am aware that many may be in basic agreement with what I wrote there and end up on opposite sides of me when it comes time to cast their ballot. What I wrote there has more to do with general principles than with specific strategies for putting those principles into practice. A lot of those potential strategies, on whatever side you take, are complex, and while I have given a fair amount of time and effort toward trying to understand them (reading articles, listening to debates, etc.), I freely confess that a good grasp of the ins and outs of a number of them is beyond my pay-grade.

In trying to better understand the views of the various candidates and the degree to which they may or may not coincide with my own, in addition to reading from their own propaganda outlets, I have used several of the online “choose-a-candidate” sites I have discovered. Recently, I found two that were pretty thorough, and seem to me to do a good job of objectively presenting the issues and giving an opportunity to register the comparative weight you, as the voter, attribute to each issue. These are http://www.selectsmart.com/president/ and http://graphics.wsj.com/votecompass/?mg=inert-wsj. There are others, but these are the ones I used most recently.

At the end of one of these it presents a graph that shows your own overall political tendencies according to the answers you give on the questionnaire. The graph is divided into four quadrants, according to the voter’s degree of agreement with what are determined to be socially liberal or conservative positions, and fiscally liberal or conservative positions. When I took this test, and when I have taken similar tests in the past, I have consistently scored in the socially conservative/fiscally liberal quadrant. I know, I know, a lot of you are thinking by now that all the suspicions you had that I may be an idiot are now totally confirmed. But, as best as I have been able to sort out the issues, that is where these tests show my views to lie.

The ironic thing about it is that particular quadrant is the one quadrant of the four in which there is no announced presidential candidate—whether among Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, or any of the various other third-party or independent candidates—whose overall views also fall into that general classification. Not one!

Some tests told me that, among the various candidates, my views are closest to those of Romney, and some closest to those of Obama, but with whatever candidate, the correspondence of overall agreement was always fairly low.

Given all that, I have been faced with a dilemma. I decided a long time ago I would never vote for a candidate who is not clearly pro-life. Thus, for me, Obama has been out of the question from the get-go. At the same time, though, there are a number of matters that have caused me to be reluctant to back Romney. Other than the fact that I disagree with him on a significant number of specific political issues, I do not like the idea that he is a Mormon, and the potential influence a Romney presidency may have on the spread of the Mormon false gospel around the world. I am very concerned that political support for Romney has led some evangelicals to publicly water down their defense of the gospel. I do not like the fact that, when given an opportunity to do so, Romney has not disassociated himself with the blatantly racist views propagated in the Book of Mormon, nor with the racist historical legacy of his religious heritage. I do not like the fact that he has a demonstrated history of waffling on the issues of abortion and the sanctity of marriage. Last and not least, I cannot get away from the lingering feeling that he is the candidate that most clearly represents the interests of the wealthy and big business, when the Bible teaches that, as a general rule, as believers, it is the rich who are most often opposed to the interests of the gospel:

James 2:5–7. “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?”—(along with a whole bunch of other passages I could pull out if you need me to).

I am not saying it is a sin to be rich, nor that there is no such thing as a godly, compassionate, generous rich person. I am saying, though, that, as I read the Bible, the general tenor of its overall message cuts against the interests of the rich and in favor of those of the poor. I do not believe in liberation theology. I believe the central message of the gospel has to do specifically with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and with the spiritual salvation He bought for us at Calvary, and the eternal state of our souls. But, as I read it, when it comes time for us as Christians to decide how we use our influence in this world to love and serve those around us as a result of the life transformation the gospel brings about in our hearts, it seems the Bible would caution us more against the danger of falling in the trap of siding with the rich than in that of siding with the poor.

One other factor in my decision is that I do not, as a general rule, like the two-party system. I believe it systematically eliminates the possibility of someone with views similar to mine from even being considered as a viable candidate. It forces Christians to choose between the supposed “lesser of two evils.” For this reason, all things being equal, in this election, I would have voted for a third-party candidate.

Why, then, did I choose to write in Pawlenty, a registered Republican? I searched and searched and searched. I read the platforms of the various announced third-party candidates. But, in the end, I could not find one that came any closer to my own views on the issues than either Romney or Obama. It seems that practically all the third parties out there are driven by some extreme agenda or another, and my own views on the issues are actually more moderate—with the notable exception of abortion, on which I am pretty hard-line pro-life.

Actually, from what I have been able to gather, Pawlenty’s fiscal positions are a bit to the right of those of Romney, and, as a result, further away from my own. That made it hard for me to decide. I thought about the possibility of writing in Huckabee as well. But, having watched and listened to Pawlenty on several occasions, I have been impressed with his overall demeanor and even-handed approach. He comes across to me as a Christian gentleman, and as a reasonable and open-minded public servant. On the social and moral issues I rate as highest priority, he appears to be in basic agreement with my own views. And he actually did declare himself as a candidate in the Republican primary, so I know there is some degree of interest and willingness on his part to serve as President. And, even with some of his positions on especially fiscal issues that are not in line with my own, he is at least closer to my positions than any of the third-party candidates I have been able to find.

Another factor that led me to seriously consider the possibility of voting for Romney is the hope that somehow that vote might have a positive influence toward saving the lives of unborn children. I am still hopeful, if Romney wins, and if he has the opportunity to appoint new Supreme Court justices, that Roe vs. Wade may eventually be overturned, and that in some states abortion may be outlawed and some mothers may as a result be dissuaded from making the tragic decision to abort their babies. I am hopeful he will follow through with his promise to reinstate the Mexico City Policy through administrative means.

In the end, though, since I live in Tennessee, and the electoral votes of Tennessee have been de facto wrapped up a long time ago, I decided I could make more of a statement by voting for someone other than Romney than I could by voting for him. My vote is, essentially, a vote for the future. Thabiti Anyabwile sums up my thoughts on this well here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2012/10/23/are-christian-voters-soldiers-entangled-in-civilian-affairs.

So, there you have it. You may well not agree with me. That is fine. We live in a free country, and for that I am grateful. And I am open to being shown how, in one way or another, my perspective may be mistaken.

In the meantime, I realize that, in the overall scheme of things, gospel faithfulness is much more important than political correctness. I also remain hopeful for a future in which, to some limited degree, the two might be able to coincide more than they do now in the United States of America. I do pray, as God, through Jeremiah, directed the captives of Judah to seek for the peace of Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4–7), for the peace and prosperity of our country. I pray for justice for the oppressed of the world. I pray for freedom to proclaim the gospel. But, at the end of the day, when all is done and told,

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the Solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.