Rethinking the Trinity, Religious Pluralism, and Augustine 5—Jacques Dupuis (By Keith Johnson)

Rethinking the Trinity, Religious Pluralism, and Augustine 5—Jacques Dupuis (By Keith Johnson)

Post Series 
0—Preface
 
1—Introduction
 
2—Augustine’s Trinitarianism
 
3—Mark Heim’s Trinitarian Theology of Religious Ends

4—Amos Yong’s Pneumatological Theology of Religions
5—Jaquees Dupuis’s Christian Theology of Religious Ends
6—Raimundo Panikkar’s Theandric Spirituality
7—Conclusions and Reflections

Last week I returned my attention back to one of the most important books I’ve read in a while, Rethinking the Trinity and Religious Pluralism: An Augustinian Assessment by Keith Johnson. The book engages with four prominent proponents of rethinking the doctrine of the Trinity in light of religious pluralism. The last post examined Amos Yong’s proposal that the Holy Spirit offers a separate economy of salvation in non-Christian religions based on a sharp distinction and separation between Son and Spirit, which devolves into Tritheism. Today we examine a similar claim by Jacques Dupuis, a Catholic theologian. Dupuis “argues on trinitarian grounds that non-Christian religions mediate God’s saving grace. Because the triune-God constitutes the ultimate source of all genuine religious experience, different religions are able to convey differing—yet legitimate—insights into the divine ultimate reality.” (98) As one will see, Dupuis makes similar errors as Yong, yet the other way direction: instead of the distinction between Son and Spirit, Dupuis presents  sharp distinction between the work of the Father and Spirit.

Johnson helpfully begins by locating Dupuis’ position in the broader catholic discourse regarding other religions, which falls into two camps: 1) Salvation is found outside the Church, yet isn’t mediated through Non-Christian Religions; 2) Not only is salvation found outside the Church, “it is also mediated through non-Christian religions in such a way that non-Christian religions constitute the means of salvation.” (99) The second form is Dupuis own position, a curious position that Johnson ably refutes as a non-Christian position.

In arguing his position, Dupuis makes a sharp distinction between Jesus as absolute savior and constitutive savior. As Johnson explains, “By insisting that Jesus Christ is constitutive savior, Dupuis wants to open the door to other saviors who somehow participate in the universal mediation of Christ.” (99)  For Dupuis, the God the Father’s saving action is not limited to the Christ event particular to Jesus of Nazareth, but is rooted in the universality of Jesus the Christ. In this sense Jesus stands as the symbol for any and all Saviors as mediated through every religion.

Johnson goes on to explains, “Building on the foundation of Karl Rahner, Dupuis claims that non-Christian religions constitute ‘channels of salvation’ through which efficacious grace is mediated to their adherents. Salvation, therefore, does not reach human beings in spite of their religious traditions but in and through them.” (100-101) Finally, Dupuis argues that non-Christian religions share in God’s reign because they are authentic members of the kingdom by nature of their contribution to the common good. Furthermore, in the eschaton these non-Christian religious adherents will share in its fulness at the end of time. Thus, rather than viewing religious pluralism with suspicion, the Church should welcome it because “God has manifested himself to humankind in manifold ways.” (Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, 386) Ironically, this is Protestant liberalism through and through.

Johnson has three points of critique, especially in light of Augustin: “his proposal introduces subordinationism into the Father-Son relationship, undermines the unity of the economy of salvation, and severs the economic and the immanent Trinity.” (127) First, in order to allow other saviors from other religions, Dupuis subordinates the Son beneath the Father to such an extent that Jesus is only the constitutive Savior, not the absolute one. Only God (ie the Father) is the only absolute savior in that he is the primary and ultimate source of salvation. (127) Johnson supports this claim by revealing that for Dupuis, Jesus merely effects salvation, he plays an instrumental role, while God as Father of all religions is the one who wills it, especially irregardless of religious expressions. In rebuttal to this seemingly subordinationist perspective, “Augustine’s theology is that the Father, Son, and Spirit act with one will in the economy of salvation.” (128) Particularly regarding the Passion, in contrast to Dupuis, “Augustine argues that the decision leading to the Passion involved not only the Father but also the Son.” (128) Because Jesus Christ is God incarnate we must affirm, in opposition to Dupuis, the inseparable operation of the Son with the Father in willing and executing salvation.

Furthermore, Dupuis undermines unity of the the economy of salvation by arguing a distinction between the incarnate Logos and non-incarnate Logos. As Johnson explains, “Dupuis claims that an enduring work of the Logos asarkos continues following the incarnation: ‘There is a salvific working of the Word as such, distinct from that of the Word operating through his human being in Jesus Christ….’” (132) [As a side note, I was struck by the great continuity between Rob Bell’s view of Jesus in LOVE WINS and this view from Dupuis. Bell’s whole, Christ is in the rock motif seems to be liberal Catholicism as much as it is liberal Protestant existentialism!] In addition to the complete lack of Scriptural support for such a claim, Johnson points out the great discontinuity theologically with such Church fathers as Augustine, prompting a crucial question: “Does the work of the Logos asarkos constitute a second economy of salvation existing in parallel with the first?” (132) Johnson rightly notes that, although Dupuis would claim no, his use of ensarkos and asarkos to describe the activity of the Logos necessitates dual economies of salvation working in parallel: one by Christ in the Church and another not of Christ in non-Christian religions. As Johnson says, “From an Augustinian perspective no epistemic warrant exists for positing a second economy of salvation in parallel with that of the incarnate Word. Augustine is quite clear that the sending of the Son and the sending of the Spirit have one goal: bringing men and women into fellowship with the triune God by leading people in every nation to confess Jesus as Savor and Lord.” (133) Indeed!

Finally, Dupuis’ claims sever the unity of the economic and immanent Trinity. As Johnson points out, “he insists that authentic economic manifestations of the triune God can be found in other religious communities,” which is curious because “a number of these economic manifestations of the triune God are conflicting, and in some cases  even contradictory.” (134-135) For instance, Buddhists envision the triune God as “emptiness” while Muslims conceive of the triune God as a personal absolute. (135) Johnson argues this is problematic as it leads to a sort of “God-above-God” scenario in which the economic Trinity and immanent Trinity are undermined.

In the end, Johnson rightly says Dupuis’ proposal rests on a “deficient trinitarianism.” (135) Furthermore, that Dupuis would posit salvation outside of the exclusivity of Jesus Christ and faith in Him alone and in other “saviors” in other religions is deficiently Christian. There is not epistemic warrant in Scripture to posit such a case, and actually quite the opposite is true: every knee will bow before and confess the name of Jesus; there is salvation in no other name under heaven. Such examples from Scripture emphasize the absoluteness, rather than simply the constitutiveness, of Savior Jesus Christ and the salvation that He alone, outside of any pagan religion, brings to humanity.

I use the word pagan on purpose because in the ancient polytheism of their day, that’s how Paul and Peter and James would have viewed it. Take a look at Acts. After reading the likes of Dupuis and Yong and Heim, I am baffled that any Christian teacher wouldn’t view the polytheism of our modern day the same way. In many ways I understand why they don’t. That’s because of two words: religious experience. Ever since Schleiermacher flattened all religion to the feeling of absolute dependence—saying Christianity represented the most highly developed of them all—the conversation isn’t about faith in Jesus, but simply faith itself. No better is this seen than in Raimundo Panikkar’s theology of religious experience, our final examination.