Christ or Spirit: Christian Pluralists Differ in Emphasis

By John L. Allen Jr
National Catholic Reporter
September 19, 2003

Perhaps the sharpest debate among Christian pluralists has long centered on whether the doctrine of Christ or of the Holy Spirit, Christology or Pneumatology, is the best vehicle for their re-evaluation of the tradition.

That division hung in the air in Birmingham.

Peter Hodgson, a Protestant theologian from Vanderbilt University, argued for the Spirit-based option.

“Scriptural passages that prioritize Christ over the Spirit will be less suitable than those ‘which let the Spirit speak through all the prophets and know that the Spirit has been poured out on all flesh,’ ” Hodgson wrote, quoting the German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner.

Hodgson advocated a “pneumatic Trinitarianism,” suggesting that the diversity of religions in the world could be seen as patterned upon the diversity within the Trinity.

Jesuit Fr. Roger Haight insisted, however, that Christian pluralists “cannot avoid” Christology.

“You wouldn’t have a Trinity if Jesus didn’t come on the scene,” Haight said.

Haight’s 2000 book, Jesus, Symbol of God, which triggered an ongoing Vatican investigation, was an attempt to present a Christology open to a pluralist view.

The urgency of dealing with these issues, Haight said, is underlined by the September 2000 Vatican document Dominus Iesus, which employed Christological arguments to refute pluralism. If pluralism is to be accepted, Haight said, it has to deal with these objections.

The heart of Haight’s argument as presented in Birmingham was that Jesus reveals a loving God who wills the salvation of all. To be effective, this salvation has to be mediated through historical symbols and religious institutions. Hence, one should expect a diversity of religions, with no one religion, including Christianity, being absolute.

Dominus Iesus calls such views “in radical contradiction with the … Catholic faith, according to which the full and complete revelation of the salvific mystery of God is given in Jesus Christ.”


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