Theology is a community exercise. It's been described by St Anselm as faith seeking understanding so that we have Christian theology, Muslim theology, Jewish theology etc. Each theology draws on its own resources and often the conclusions in one faith seem to contradict the conclusions in another. Can both Jesus and Mohammed be the final revelation of God? Are all religions legitimate ways to salvation? Perry's thesis was that theology has to come out from its own narrow self-definitions and take seriously the theology of other faiths. To do so it might be possible to discover that seemingly contradictory religious truths may be more compatible than first thought, even producing a synthesis of belief. Interfaith practitioners are used to the idea of passing over into another faith and coming back to one's own to see it in a new light. Plurality now demands that theology does this. Perry stressed that this will not lead to a unified world religion but should allow different theologies to take seriously eachother's truth claims and seek together for truth in a dialogic way that hopefully will reduce the potential for interreligious conflict.
But is this really possible? Well only if we trust the other and believe that truth is to be found in their faith. And if truth is to be found there then it has to be compatible with our truth since truth is one. This is not always obvious, so contradictory truth claims need to be researched to find out how and where compatability and even complementarity
might lie. This is the task of interreligious theology. And we were given practical examples of it.
Perry took us through an exposition of Jesus as the Son of God and Mohammed as the Seal of the Prophets to see whether it's possible to have a common understanding of these doctrinal beliefs that are compatible and complementary. Muslims of course do not accept Jesus as the Son of God. Understanding this in a literal and biological sense they see the deification of a human being as polytheistic and idolatrous, totally opposed to the transcedence of God which is so central to their faith. This critique, Perry suggested, is not a critique of Christianity but a critique of how Muslims understand Christianity to be denying the transcendence of God. And yet Christians believe in the absolute transendence of God and are also opposed to polytheism and idolatry. So how do they understand the sonship of Jesus?Well we know that there are many Christologies. In the letter to the Romans we are told that "all led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" which would suggest that Jesus' unique sonship is based on his devotion to the will of God and his openness to the Spirit of God. In him it's possible to see what God's rule looks like and therefore, for Christians, Jesus is truly the image of the invisible God, but not the whole of God. It might well be that these kind of interpretations open up possibilities for compatibility and complementarity especially when Surah 4:17 of the Qur'an sees Jesus as the Word of God and the Spirit of God which is a designation not given to any other prophets.
I know I'm explaining this in a rather simplistic way and leaving out much of Perry's exposition but I hope it gives a flavour of the possibilities in interreligious theology. I was excited by it and recognised that this kind of theological dialogue is an echo of the internal dialogue that goes on in the hearts of many people who engage in interfaith relations and are challenged by the faith and holiness they encounter in others. I'm sure you'll hear more of the Gifford lectures in the future.