Gavin D'Costa

                                                  Image drawn by Adrian John Worsfield

Prayer for D'Costa is characterised as 'gift', 'covenant' and 'Communion with the triune God.' We spend a day in prayer and silence tomorrow at college, so I will hold these words close.

The other day, I was struck by the testimony of a friend who recounted a friend's desperate need abroad for a small sum of money to the exact pounds and pence for a bus ride. She had no ability to access cash abroad. A neighbour, a Muslim had been praying  and God, he declared, had told him to knock on the former person's door and supply her with the exact amount of money she required. She accepted aghast, knowing that there was no way but supernaturally that this stranger could have discerned her need which she had not shared with anyone.

We are looking at Gavin D'Costa. I guess he is typically post-modern. I started a thread on facebook about him in October 2010 which got picked up and commented upon by Adrian who has drawn the picture above.

Tomorrow, in complete silence at college, I will have a long time to think about D'Costa and pray through my own thinking about inter-religious prayer, in particular, which is what D'Costa explores.

I have been reading 'The Meeting of Religions and the Trinity.'

S. Mark Heim, Samuel Abbot professor of Christian theology at Andover Newton Theological School, Newton, Massachusetts, USA, and a member of the WCC Faith and Order commission reviews the book at Beliefnet and describes it as dealing with the 'idea of 'religious diversity: pluralism, inclusivism, exclusivism'. D'Costa claims that 'this is two too many. All in truth reduce to exclusivism. Pluralism, which claims equal regard for all traditions on the basis of universal objectivity, proves to be only a cloak for the exclusive assertion of the tradition of Western modernity.

D'Costa believes 'it appears impossible both to avoid the use of forbidden means (the privileging of a particular tradition) and to deliver the conclusion claimed (the equality of religions).'

Helm, in his review, believes that for D'Costa the 'solution is Roman Catholic trinitarian faith...[D'Costa's book] attends primarily to pluralistic formulations in religions other than Christianity. Second, it develops the positive trinitarian theology of religions that D'Costa has outlined in earlier works. Third, it moves from theory to practice, in its concrete discussion of issues surrounding inter-religious prayer. All those interested in religious pluralism will find this book useful. Those seeking the fullest combination of openness to other religions, and exclusive commitment to their own faith, will find it essential.

I guess this is what I seek to do; maintain an 'openness to other religions, and an exclusive commitment to my own faith in Jesus Christ.' Perhaps D'Costa can help me with this.

D'Costa offers beautiful reflections on Thérèse of Lisieux in his chapter 'Praying together to the Triune God? Is inter-religious prayer like marital infidelity?'.

D'Costa wonders if entering into this covenant of prayer and into community with the trinity is compromised if one engages in inter-religious prayer. He uses the analogy of committing adultery. He wonders, however, if we are also denying 'community' when community defines the trinity by refusing to pray with others, limiting God to boundaries. I think he might be wondering if we can learn anything and he seems to persuade us to believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in other faiths, drawing people into relationship with God.

I wonder how we can approach this from an evangelical perspective.

It would seem, of course, that Jesus communicated himself with those of other faiths and none. However, he also made pretty exclusive claims about being the way, the truth and the life, although there are other ways of interpreting this claim so that it is not infected by our own sinful desire for exclusivity.

Brian MClaren warns us against our tendency to read Jesus' words in this way. If we do we twist them into something resembling what he offers below:

You should be very troubled, because if you believe in God, but not me, you will be shut out of my Father’s house in heaven, where there are a few small rooms
for the few who get it right.... Then Thomas said to him, “Lord, what about people who have never even heard of you? Will they go to heaven after they die?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the only way to heaven, and the truth about me is the only truth that will get you to life after death. Not one person will go to heaven
unless they personally understand and believe a clearly-defined message about me and personally and consciously ask me to come into their heart. (Not
John 14:1-6)

MClaren believes that Jesus’ words are 'not as an explanation or answer – certainly not an answer to a question about the eternal destiny of people who
never heard of or believe in Jesus,' He goes on '“No one comes to the Father except through me?” Clearly, taken in context, these words are not intended as an insult to followers of Mohammed, the Buddha, Lao Tsu, Enlightenment rationalism, or anybody or anything else. Rather, the “no one” here refers to Jesus’ own disciples, who seem to want to trust some information – a plan, a diagram, a map, instructions, technique..'

From MClaren to D'Costa, I think what D'Costa is trying to explore is our own tendency to near idolatry in supposing that there is only one way to pray. He says 'If the church fails to be receptive, it may be unwittingly practicing cultural and religious idolatry,' (p.115). However, he also explores the potential idolatry of praying with someone else to their deity who is not Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He deals in subtleties that challenge orthodox theology.

To be continued...

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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions