by Simon

Lien-yueh Wei





Critique of Direct Dialogue between Religions:

 Toward an Indirect Dialogue


I. Introduction

Criticism is one of the most significant theological tasks of Theology. Theology must critically examine every issue. This study tries to critically explore the issue of interreligious dialogue, which is one of the most popular and controversial issues in contemporary theology.[1] There are many conflicting views on this issue within the Christian community. Some theologians, such as Paul Knitter, claim that Christians must engage in interreligious dialogue in order to learn truth from other traditions and to bring peace to religious communities and thus to the world, while others proclaim that interreligious dialogue is unnecessary because it does not help Christians learn from other traditions, but rather it distorts them and cannot solve the problem of religious conflict.

In order to discuss the topic clearly, this study divides interreligious dialogue into two forms: direct dialogue (dialogue about religious ideas) and indirect dialogue (dialogue about non-religious issues). Under critical examination, six potential problems arise regarding direct dialogue. Contemporary direct dialogue may essentially be Christianizing, imbalanced, incommunicable, compromised, unnecessary, or ineffective dialogue. However, this study suggests that Christians should be actively involved in indirect dialogue, which is capable of solving social and ethical problems, in order to follow Jesus’ teachings and fulfill the requirement of Christian stewardship.  Christians should not put their efforts into direct dialogue, concerned with their own interests, but into indirect dialogue, to meet the needs of others, all creatures, and the earth.


II. Criticism as a Theological Task

Nicholas Lash points out that criticism should be the theological task.[2] Indeed, theological criticism is essential if the church wants to succeed in the face of the modern secularized world. Criticism is employed by Christians as a modern form of the ancient patristic apologia― a defense of the faith to the world. It requires Christians and the church to exercise the gifts of prophets (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11), who criticize not only problems within the community of God’s people but also larger social injustices and ethical crises.


Theology must follow the steps of prophets in the Bible to help Christians and the church critically examine their faith and practice. It should be able to guide God’s people back to God’s way when they go astray. But, theology must critically examine itself before it can examine others. Theology is to critique everything, including theology itself. Lash warns that uncritical theological constructivism results in disaster. Theological criticism will only be constructive if it involves self-criticism. Without self-criticism, theological constructive efforts will be illusory and our critical activity destructive.[3]

Apologetic Criticism

Theology not only expresses faith, but also defends it. This theological task is essentially apologetic. In fact, most parts of the New Testament were written for apologetic reasons. Criticism is the modern form of apologia as the ancient form of defense of Christian faith. Theological criticism apologetically responds to contemporary challenges and hostilities against Christian faith. Theology helps Christians to be set apart from the world and to avoid secularization by criticizing secular values, standards, thoughts, cultures, philosophies, politics, etc. If Christians want to persist in and proclaim their faith actively, rather than to compromise or silence it, they must learn to apologetically and critically proclaim God’s truth in the world. 

Prophetic Criticism

Jesus Christ lived for others; so do his disciples. Christians must live not for themselves, but for others. Following the steps of Jesus Christ, theologians cannot remain silent on any social or ethical issue regarding any oppression or injustice. Theology must be a social-critical and ethical-critical theology. As DeHart points out, “Christian theology’s search for ‘audible’ forms of witness involve discerning the contemporary situation’s projects and conflicts as ‘parables of the kingdom’ and critically engaging them...”[4] Theologians must be prophets of the world, who criticize social and ethical problems. In this sense, theology can be understood as theo-critical-logos.

This study intends to deal with the issue of interreligious dialogue in theology. In order to achieve the theological task of criticism, this study will first critically examine interreligious dialogue and respond to its challenges to Christianity and then suggest a better Christian position on this issue.


III. Critique of Direct Dialogue between Religions

Interreligious dialogue could be categorized into two different forms: direct dialogue (dialogue about religious ideas, such as belief, doctrine, and truth) and indirect dialogue (dialogue about non-religious issues, such as social and ethical issues). This section focuses on direct dialogue.

Many theologians believe that Christians should alter their view on other religions from exclusivism or inclusivism to pluralism and should move from monologue toward direct dialogue. However, other theologians think that direct dialogue is unnecessary and even harmful to Christianity. Direct dialogue seems to be not only a popular trend but also a controversial issue in contemporary theology. This study will first express the views of some leading advocates of direct dialogue, especially that of Paul Knitter, and critically explore the potential problems of such views, which include the problems of Christianization, imbalance, incommunicability, compromise, unnecessity, and ineffectiveness.

1. Direct Dialogue as a Christianizing Dialogue

The first potential problem in direct dialogue is that Christian dialogists tend, implicitly or explicitly, to Christianize other traditions.

According to Knitter, every religion, not merely Christianity, possesses the truth of the divine and salvation. Christians should not declare their faith “as superior to all faiths,” but should be genuinely open to and learn from other religions through direct dialogue.[5] Raimundo Panikkar also emphasizes that Christians can learn not only the truth, but also Christ, from other religion. Christ is “hidden and unknown and yet present and at work” in all religions and human communities.[6] Panikkar uses the notion, “Christianness,” to signify that the triune God’s action and history should be discovered and comprehend in a global context, rather than merely within Christian community.[7] For him, Christians must find Christ and the triune God’s “Mystery” in Christianity, as well as other traditions.

However, why must the truths in other religions be related to or identified with Christian truth? Why must other traditions carry the truth of Christian salvation, reveal the triune God’s Mystery, or present hidden Christophany (the presence of Christ)? Why must other religious scriptures and beliefs be interpreted in Christian terms, language or notions? Why must there be “anonymous Christians” in other religions, rather than anonymous Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, or Taoists in Christianity?

If we regard the truths of non-Christian religions as the truth of the Christian God, Christ, or salvation, we are actually Christianizing their truths and their traditions. When Knitter looks at other religions through Christian eyes, what he learns from direct dialogue may not the truths in them, but the Christian truth implanted in them. He is not making their truths known, but making their truths sound rather like Christianity or distorting them in order to fit with Christianity. When Panikkar desires to find Christ in other religions through direct dialogue, what he has done may be not to disclose the Christ’s truth and work, but to Christianize their truth and work.[8]

This kind of Christianizing work is operated, intentionally or unintentionally, by some Christian dialogists through direct dialogue or dialogical theories. They absorb the doctrine, beliefs and truths of other religions into Christianity by interpreting them in Christian language and notions. On the surface, they do respect other traditions and declaim against the superiority of the Christian faith to others, but their view on direct dialogue essentially Christianize and deconstruct other traditions. They are more insidious than humble or disinterested, because they still presuppose, explicitly or implicitly, that their religious language, dogma, truth, or experience is superior and universal. 

In this sense, the motivations of direct dialogue include religious pretentiousness and imperialism. Direct dialogue is used as an artful means to extend Christianity. It becomes a Christianizing, colonizing, or exclusive dialogue, rather than pluralistic one.  It results in a violent act of interpretation, a linguistic invasion, and a dialogical oppression.

2. Direct Dialogue as an Imbalanced Dialogue

The second potential problem of direct dialogue is that it easily becomes an imbalanced, rather than mutual and reciprocal, dialogue.

Knitter points out, “Dialogue is a complex movement of ‘both-and’― both speaking and listening,.., both clarity and questioning, both firmness and suppleness.”[9] Indeed, a real dialogue requires a balanced interaction between dialogists. It is not “a matter of putting oneself forward and successfully asserting one’s own point of view,” but a mutual and reciprocal communication.[10] It demands that each dialogist weighs the counterarguements, while simultaneously holding his or her own arguments. If an interreligious dialogue is dominated by one dialogist (or one side) or proceeds as a unilateral discourse, it will become an imbalanced, arbitrary, and oppressive dialogue.  

Contemporary direct dialogue is an imbalanced dialogue, having two tendencies.[11] On the one hand, it tends to be dominated by Christianity. The topic, agenda, procedure, and dialogical candidates are always determined by Christians and designed to meet their needs, since most formal dialogues are held by them.[12]

On the other hand, it tends to degrade Christianity and to ingratiate non-Christian religions. Jürgen Moltmann, a theologian who has frequently participated in many direct dialogues, also finds the problem of imbalance in direct dialogue. He observes that dialogue always runs according to the following pattern: “a Christian theologian puts questions- a rabbi, a mullah, or a swami readily replies. But they ask nothing on their own account, because they are not interested in Christianity…Many mullahs reject interfaith dialogue, because self-criticism is foreign to them, and they are therefore not prepared to allow any criticism of Islam.”[13] It seems that Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, or Taoists do not desire to learn from or dialogue with Christianity or other religions. Nor do they intend to host or support religion dialogue.

In order to ingratiate non-Christian dialogists and appeal to them for participating in direct dialogue, some Christian dialogists radically criticize Christian tradition and exaggerate their admiration of other traditions in dialogue. In this situation, Christians may see the speck as the log in their eyes, but the log as the speck in the eyes of their dialogical partners.[14] If Christians alone desire to learn and know something from other religions in a dialogical meetings, a religious lecture is enough to meet their needs. Interreligious dialogue should be a mutual and reciprocal, rather than a unilateral or imbalanced one.

3. Direct Dialogue as an Incommunicable Dialogue

The third potential problem is incommunicability in direct dialogue. Many theologians regard direct dialogue as the best way for Christians to understand other religions and even Christianity.

Panikkar asserts, “[the] aim of the interreligious dialogue is understanding.”[15] Knitter also sates that religious dialogue becomes “a theological requirement” because theologians have to figure out what the role of other religions play in the history of God’s salvation.[16] However, Christian dialogists may not understand other religions through direct dialogue, and vice verse. Direct dialogue may easily results in misunderstanding because the religious language and notions of different religions may be incommunicable. 

George Lindbeck argues that different religions “may be incommensurable in such a way that no equivalent can be found in one language or religion for the crucial term of the other…[different] religions may have incommensurable notions of truth, of experience, and of categorial adequacy.”[17] For instance, the means for referring in any direct way to Buddhist nirvana are lacking in Western religions and the cultures influenced by them. In fact, nirvana (or more correctly, nirvāna), the ultimate goal of Buddhists, cannot be interpreted properly by any Christian notion or terminology, nor can it be translated into English.  There are no English words or notions parallel to nirvana and also many other key terms in Buddhism, such as sunyata (śūnyāta).

Likewise, Buddhists cannot understand Christian justification or salvation in their religious language and notions. Nor can Confucians or Taoists comprehend the word or the notion, “sin.” Because no Chinese word coincides with the word “sin,” it can only be translated, and thus understood, as “crime” in Chinese culture. However, how can Christians communicate salvation without the notion of sin and only by the notion of crime? Clearly, Chinese people cannot learn most central Christian ideas until they understand the biblical narrative and language. But can such understanding be expected, either in an international meetings or an occasional encounter?

In this sense, we may disagree when Panikkar says that the ideal of religious dialogue is “communication in order to bridge the gulfs of the mutual ignorance and misunderstandings between the different cultures if the world, letting them speak and speak out their own insight in their own languages.”[18] Since we cannot properly understand many other religions (e.g. Buddhism) by our own language (e.g. English), is it possible for us to comprehend even through “their own languages (e.g. Sanskrit)”? How many Christian dialogists understand Sanskrit before dialoguing with a Buddhist? Would this kind of dialogue, proposed by Panikkar, result in more understandings or misunderstandings? If this kind of dialogue can benefit only the dialogists, who are proficient in at least two (religious) languages (e.g. English and Sanskrit), is it an exclusive (and elitist) or pluralistic dialogue?

If direct dialogue, as Panikkar claims, has “to be two-logoi” (duo-logue or two languages) encountering each other and if most religious dialogists can be proficient only in one (religious) language, then it is difficult or even impossible to overcome the danger of a double monologue during direct dialogue. As a result, direct dialogue becomes a soliloquistic or incommunicable, rather than a comprehensible dialogue.

4. Direct Dialogue as a Compromised Dialogue

The fourth potential problem in direct dialogue is that many dialogists compromise on their beliefs in order to make interreligious dialogue possible, pleasant, and smooth.

Knitter proposes that Christians need a more balanced “commitment” to Christ and “openness” to others in direct dialogue. On the one hand, he stresses that direct dialogue requires that “[we] both speak our mind… and we both try to persuade the other of the truth and value of what we believe.”[19] On the other hand, he argues that Christians “cannot grasp or unpack that fullness [the fullness of God’s truth]” unless they are opening and emptying themselves to the other. He also warns Christian against ranking the uniqueness of the Christian God and Jesus above all others.[20]

However, how can we empty ourselves and still desire to persuade others of what we believe simultaneously? How can we speak our mind and commit to Christian truth without proclaiming the Christian God and Christ above all? When we states, “all gods are authentic and equal,” “all religions provide valid ways for people to know truth and to be saved,” or “all traditions essentially say the same things,” how can we reconcile these statements with the central messages in the Bible and Christian tradition that emphasize the absoluteness, transcendence, and uniqueness of the Christian God and Christ in human salvation (e.g. Deut 6:4; Zech 14:9; Jn 17:3; Rm 16:27; 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:5-7; 1 Tim 2:5-6; 6:16)? And how can we justify the action of Christian missions and evangelism? This kind of dialogical view may make Christians more friendly and open to other religions in direct dialogue, but it may also make our dialogical discourses inconsistent with Christian belief and tradition.

On the other hand, if Christian dialogists, who do not believe in pluralism and universalism, commit on some exclusive beliefs (e.g. salvation by Christ alone, solo Christo) in direct dialogue, then the dialogical process may be unfriendly, unpleasant, and dreadful. But if they compromise on their beliefs, then the dialogue becomes fraudulent and hypocritical.

Indeed, the great challenge facing present-day direct dialogue is to avoid compromising or minimizing “the distinctive features of the major religious traditions through a well-intentioned universalism,” as Joseph DiNoia reminds us.[21]  Insistence on superiority and uniqueness of Christian belief may trouble direct dialogue, but compromise may result in losing Christian identity.

5. Direct Dialogue as an Unnecessary Dialogue

The fifth potential problem is direct dialogue as an unnecessary dialogue.

Many advocates of direct dialogue, such as John Hick, think that even though there are a large number of conflicting truth-claims between different religions, those claims may be different manifestations of the one ultimate “Reality.” The great world traditions constitute different conceptions and perceptions of, and responses to, the same “Real” from within the different cultural ways. Namely, all religions are following different paths to the same goal and using different terms to point to the same religious experience and “Reality.” In order to respect other religions in direct dialogue, Knitter even suggests that “a better word “to describe Jesus and his work is “distinctive,” instead of “unique.” What constitutes Jesus distinctiveness should understood as his “preferential concern for the poor, for the marginalized,…for victims.”[22]

Here, the views of Hick and Knitter raise some problems, which reveal direct dialogue as an unnecessary dialogue. First, the ultimate concern or goal in each religion differs from the others. For instance, Christians hope for salvation and communion with God while Buddhists seek nirvana, the extinction of desire, roughly speaking. Grace, justification, salvation, resurrection, or “Truth” in the Christian sense is not what Hindus, Confucians, or Taoists are seeking nor desire to understand. Every religion may orientate life toward a completely different direction and destination. It is unnecessary for Christians in direct dialogue to persuade others of what they never want to seek or know.

Second, adherents of different religions do not diversely express the same experience. Rather, their experiences differ from one another. As Lindbeck argues, “there can be no experiential core.” The experience that religions evoke and mold are as varied as “the interpretive schemes” they embody.[23] For example, Christians, Buddhists, and Taoists are radically distinct ways of experiencing and being oriented toward self, neighbor, cosmos, and the divine. If their experiences are very different from one another, then why must they discuss (or make) those varied experiences like the same in direct dialogue? At this point, Panikkar is right in saying that the great danger today in direct dialogue lies in “eliminating all differences for the sake of reaching understanding.”[24]

Third, even if the ultimate goal, the fundamental ideal, and the religious experience were theoretically identical, then why do we need to persuade or learn from each other, through direct dialogue, about the things that we all know and have? Fourth, with regard to Knitter’s suggestion, every god and religious founder in every religion is distinctive. However, if Jesus is not unique but merely distinctive, and if most gods and religious founders all highly care for the poor and outcasts, then is it necessary for Christians to persuade others of Jesus’ distinctiveness in direct dialogue? If every religion is relatively and equally distinctive, how can we enrich with each other? These four problems in Hick’s and Knitter’s views indicate that direct dialogue is unnecessary, rather than indispensable. 

6. Direct Dialogue as an Ineffective Dialogue

The final potential problem is the ineffectiveness of direct dialogue.

Another reason Knitter advocates for direct dialogue is to solve the conflict between religions. He asserts, quoting from Hans Küng’s well-known phrase, that “there will be no peace among nations unless there is peace among religions. And there will be no peace among religions unless there is greater, more effective dialogue among them.” [25] The conflicts between religions may result from two causes: the doctrinal and non-doctrinal conflicts. However, doctrinal conflicts may not really result in breaking religious peace, while non-doctrinal conflicts may not be solved by direct dialogue. Thus, direct dialogue may not effectively contribute or lead to the religious or world peace.

First, the doctrinal conflict between different religions may not result in real hostility or breaking religious peace. Generally speaking, Christians will not feel affronted by a Buddhist’s warning that people will not attain nirvana unless they follow the Excellent Eight Paths taught by the Buddha, as DiNoia has demonstrated.[26] Likewise, non-Christians will not feel offended by Christian doctrines (even exclusive doctrines). Indeed, if they do not believe the Christian God as the only one true God, whose only son is Jesus, and if they do not understand (or do not believe) the notions of salvation, justification, or final judgment, and if their goals is to seek dharma, nirvana, wakenness, wisdom, or transmigration by yoga, meditation, asceticism, celibacy, or beneficent, then why would they be offended by what Christians claims as “truth?”

For example, most Taoists in Taiwan regard what Christians believe as superstitious. For them, Christian doctrines (e.g. the crucified Jesus as the only savior) are foolish ideas, rather than hostile truth-claims. This situation corresponds with Paul’s saying that Christian belief as “a stumbling block to Jew and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). Thus, the doctrinal conflict between religions would not offend one another, then it may not really disturb religious peace.

Second, most conflicts and wars between religions or nations that result from non-doctrinal reasons cannot be solved by direct dialogue. For example, the “rite controversy,” or the severe conflict between Christianity and Confucianism from the seventeenth to eighteenth century in China, was not solved by direct dialogue.  Many Christian scholars, such as John Cobb, think that the cause for this event was the doctrinal conflict or misunderstanding between these two religions. They also suggest that this kind of conflict could be solved by the direct dialogue, which is orientated by the pluralistic approach of theology. [27]

Nevertheless, this event, as many Chinese historians believe, was actually caused not by doctrinal conflicts but by political motives.[28] Therefore, even though many direct dialogues between these two religions were held in order to solve the conflicts during that time, the conflict became worse and worse. As a result, Christianity was prohibited in China. Such conflicts may never be solved by direct dialogue between religions. In this sense, direct dialogue can be seen as an ineffective or even impotent dialogue.

These six potential problems indicates that contemporary direct dialogue may lead to distorting other religious ideas in order to fit ours, to Christianizing other traditions, to exalting other religions or ours overly, to communicating without understandings, it to compromising our beliefs in order to make dialogue pleasant. Moreover, it may essentially be an unnecessary dialogue, and ineffective in solving the real problems in religious conflict or international warfare.  Hence, Christians should not put their efforts to engage in direct dialogue.


IV. Toward an Indirect Dialogue between Religions

However, opposition to direct dialogue does not mean disagreement with all kind of interreligious dialogue. In fact, Christians should be actively involved in solving social and ethical problems through indirect dialogue (dialogue between religions about non-religious issues), in order to obey Jesus’ teachings and fulfill Christian stewardship.

Why must Christians be Involved in Solving Social and Ethical Problems?

Many people around the world are suffering from social problems, such as unjust systems, inhuman policies, or poverty that result from some people taking advantage of other people. Humanity also faces an array of serious global ethical threats, such as terrorism, genocide, warfare, nuclear weapons, toxic waste, incurable disease, and the destruction of ecosystem. People are more closely related with each other in their interests in social and ethical problems than by the religious. Christians must be involved in solving social and ethical problems for two reasons.  

First, Christians must be socially involved in order to follow Jesus’ teachings. Jesus’ teachings can be summed up in two central notions: justice and love. Social justice can be briefly interpreted as freeing the oppressed (Lk 4:18). The oppressed include the people who live under any kind of oppression. Jesus’ life and ministry demonstrated that the divine has always been on the side of the oppressed. The history of God’s reign was, is, and will be a history of liberating people from oppressions, according to God’s promise. Love, in the Christian sense, can be understood as loving others as oneself (Mt 22:39). This love is not merely sympathy, but the sense of solidarity that makes all human life part of one’s life. If everyone loves others as oneself, there will be no more injustice or oppression in society. Without love, society abides in death. Undoubtedly, loving others as oneself is an indispensable goal for Christian life. Further, the central teachings of Jesus disclose his “preferential concern” for the poor and the outcasts (as Knitter point out),[29] rather than for religious ideas, about the social justice and love, rather than about soteriological theory.

Second, Christians must be ethically involved in order to fulfill their duties. According to the Bible, humans are given by God the responsibility of caring for all creatures (e.g. Gen 1:26-28). Christians should regard this duty as their stewardship of life. This duty urges Christians to actively prevent the damage or abuse of all creatures and protect their habitation, the earth. Therefore, to follow Jesus’ teachings and fulfilling the stewardship, Christians must be socially and ethically involved in liberating people from oppression, loving others as themselves, and caring for all creatures and the earth.

Why can Christians Solve Social and Ethical Problems through Engaging in Indirect Dialogue?

There are four reasons why Christian can solve social and ethical problems through engaging in indirect dialogue. First, the interreligious-dialogical meeting is a common means to solve social and ethical problems in the present time. In the religious-pluralistic world, many countries and global institutions now find the solutions to social and ethical problems through consulting different religious bodies in dialogical meetings. Unjust laws, systems, and structures can be reformed in many societies under the influence of proposals provided by formal meetings of interreligious dialogue. Thus, participating in this kind of meetings has become one of the most effective and necessary ways for Christians to being social and ethical change.

Second, the criticism and suggestions offered by religious groups through indirect dialogue have powerful influence in social and ethical issues. Because of its sacred authority, religion has played an influential role in forming people’s moral norms and values, in guiding their decisions and actions, and in solving controversial issues in society. Religion can urge people to recognize their duties as absolutely divine commands and to spontaneously practice morality and do good. People will be more willing and unquestioning to accept the unanimous suggestions offered by multiple religions through dialogue. Thus, indirect dialogue can be a strong support for solving social and ethical problems.

Third, indirect dialogue can help different religions work together to solve social and ethical problems. For example, the notion of love (Agape) in Christianity is similar to that in Confucianism. Christianity and Confucianism all highly value the love in sacrifice for others. They may not able to dialogue with each other about religious ideas (such as the notion of salvation, which cannot be found in Confucianism), but they may be able to discuss how to promote and practice this kind of love in the indifferent world. They can work together through indirect dialogue at urging people to reconcile one another, to care for the poor and outcasts, to overcome selfishness, or to defeat racism. Thus, interreligious dialogue may be not able to help different religions agree on a religious idea, but able to unite them together to deal with non-religious problems.  

Fourth, indirect dialogue is an indispensable step for establishing a global ethic, which can play an effective and decisive role in solving social and ethical problems. Many global crises cannot be solved only by or within a religious community, but through the cooperation of multiple religions in indirect dialogue. Crises manifest the urgency and necessity for different religions to work together for resisting any threat of creature’s lives.  Küng warns that the world and humanity have “a chance of survival only there is no longer any room in it for spheres of differing contradictory and even antagonistic ethics.”[30] Indeed, a global ethic cannot be elaborated or operated without the involvement of all religious, since almost all the moral norms, values, and principles are basically grounded on religious beliefs and traditions. Thus, all religions, especially Christianity, whose stewardship is to care for all creatures and the earth, should put their efforts to establish a global ethic through indirect dialogue in order to solve global crises and make the world a better place for humans and all creatures to live.

In short, indirect dialogue becomes a humanitarian and human existential imperative because of its ability to solve social and ethical crises and thus to reform human status quo. Christians, who regard the teachings of Jesus as absolute commands and the care for other as their duties, should be involved in dialoging with other religions in order to solve those crises.


V. Conclusion

Theology must critically examine every issue within and outside of Christian community in order to fulfill its task. This study tries to deal with the issue of interreligious dialogue, which can be divided into direct dialogue (for religious ideas) and indirect dialogue (for non-religious issues). After critically exploring, this study finds six potential problems in direct dialogue. Those problems manifest contemporary direct dialogue as a Christianizing, imbalanced, incommunicable, compromising, unnecessary, or ineffective dialogue. Christians must not put their efforts into a dialogue with other religions in order to meet their own interests. However, this study proposes that Christians must engage in indirect dialogue, which is one of the best ways to solve social and ethical problems, in order not only to obey Jesus’ commands and complete Christian duties but also to meet the needs of other, all creatures, and the earth.


[1] This study focuses on the issue of interreligious dialogue (or the dialogue between different religions). Therefore, it will not deal with the issue of intra-faith dialogue (or the dialogue among the religious communities that shared a same tradition. e.g. the dialogue between Protestant and Catholic) even though this issue may be more significant than the interreligious dialogue.

[2] Nicholas Lash, Theology on the Way to Emmaus (OR: Wipf & Stock, 1986), 12, 15-16.

[3] Lash, 12, 16.

[4] Paul DeHart, “Christian Theology: How is Theology Faithful” (Lecture Outline on Jan 23, 2006), 1.

        [5] Paul Knitter, “What About Them?” in William C. Placher, ed., Essentials of Christian Theology (Kentucky: WJK, 2003), 305, 311.

        [6] Raimundo Panikkar, The Unknown Christ if Hinduism: Toward an ecumenical Christophany (NY: Orbis, 1981, revised edition), 7, 14, 168.

        [7] Panikkar, “The Jordan, the Tiber, and the Ganges: Three Kairological Moments of Christic Self-Consciousness,” in The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, ed. J. Hich and P. Knitter (NY: Marynoll), 102. cited in Rowan Williams,  On Christian Theology (UK: Blackwell, 2000),170.

        [8] The tendency of Christianizing other traditions through direct dialogue can also be found in Rowan Williams’s view. For example, he suggests in his article “Trinity and Pluralism” that the goal of religious dialogue is “to find a way of working towards a mode of human cooperation, mutual challenging and mutual nurture,…, which is in some way unified by relation to that form of human liberty and maturity before God concrete in Jesus.” In this article, he also highly honors Panikkar’s notion “Christianness,” which is seen as a fundamental ground for pluralism. Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology, 170-171, 175. However, the way that unifies humanity in the triune God and the notion “Christianness” all reveal an attempt of absorbing others into Christianity. This kind of view may essentially be of “Christendom.” 

[9] Knitter, 305.

[10] Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, Trans. Joel Weinsheimer (NY: Continuum, 1989), 379.

[11] Panikkar also criticizes the problem of imbalance in interreligious dialogue. He says that “many present-day dialogues set the stage according to the terms of one of the parties alone.” Raimundo Panikkar, The Intrareligious Dialogue (NY: Paulist Press. 1999, revised edition), 140.

[12] For example, even though Taoism, especially Religious Taoism, are more popular than Confucianism in Chinese-culture regions, it is rarely invited by Christians to attend formal meetings of international interreligious dialogue. Some religions, (such as indigenous religions and Shinto) which do not have scriptures, also hardly become dialogical partners in those meetings.

[13] Jürgen Moltmann, God for a Secular Society: The Public Relevance of Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 234. 

[14] In fact, some Christian dialogists are more open to Hindus, Buddhists, or Confucians than to other Christian fellows, whose theological approach differs from theirs. They may be more willing to learn truth and salvation from non-Christians than from their Christian fellows (even though the term “salvation” or its notion cannot be found in most non-Christian religious traditions and make no sense for their adherents). They are more friendly and inclusive (or pluralistic) toward non-Christians, but more strict and exclusive toward Christians in direct dialogue.

[15] Panikkar, The Intrareligious Dialogue, 10.

[16] Knitter, 303.

[17] George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1984), 48-49.

[18] Panikkar, The Intrareligious Dialogue, 10.

[19] Knitter, 305.

[20] Knitter, 312.

[21]  Joseph DiNoia, “What About Them?” in William C. Placher, ed., Essentials of Christian Theology, 326.

[22] Knitter, 315-316.

[23] Lindbeck, 40.

[24] Panikkar, The Unknown Christ if Hinduism: Toward an ecumenical Christophany, 5.

[25] Hans Küng, Global Responsibility: In search of a New World Ethic (NY: Crossroad, 1999), xv. Cited in Knitter, 303.

[26] DiNoia, 321.

[27] John Cobb, “The Religion,” in Peter Hodgson, ed. Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1982),359-375.

[28] One main reason was that a group of aristocrats intended to overthrow the dominative courtiers in the China Empire at that time, who were closest to the emperor and were Christians. That group tried to disarm the power of those courtiers by raising an issue of religious conflict. They proclaimed what those courtiers believed was conflicting with the Chinese traditional value and Confucian belief and thus breaking the social harmony. As a result, that group won the emperor’s support and got the political power. Those courtiers lost their power; Christianity was prohibited in China.

[29] Knitter, 315-316.

[30] Küng, xvi.


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