Hans Küng 1928-
(Hans Kueng) Swiss theologian.
The following entry presents an overview of Küng's career through 1998.
Hans Küng is one of the world's most celebrated and controversial Christian theologians. A Roman Catholic priest, his criticism of Pope John Paul II and his questioning of some of the major tenets of the Catholic religion have caused him to be censured by the Church. Despite the controversial nature of his ideas, critics have praised him for his scholarly, well-researched, and ecumenical approach to questions of theology.
Hans Küng was born on March 19, 1928, in Sursee, Lucerne, Switzerland, to Hans and Emma Küng. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1954. In the 1960s, Küng was an up-and-coming member of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. During the reign of Pope John XXIII, Küng was appointed the official theologian to the Second Vatican Council and is recognized as its architect. Küng's relationship with Rome changed during the reign of subsequent popes whom he felt were reversing the important reforms set in motion by Vatican II. In 1979, in response to Küng's controversial examination of Catholic beliefs, the Vatican forbade Küng to call himself a “Catholic theologian” or to examine candidates for the priesthood. Küng was personally devastated by the Church's disciplinary measures, but his commitment to his faith and his career as a theologian continued to flourish. Küng is a professor of theology at the University of Tubingen in West Germany. He has also been a visiting professor at several universities throughout the world.
Küng has been particularly critical of Pope John Paul II and what he considers the pontiff's repressive policies. He has written several articles on the subject. Wozu Priester? (1971; Why Priests?) delineates Küng's conception of the leadership of the Church. As with many of Küng's works, this book raised eyebrows among conservative theologians by espousing that a lifelong, celibate, male priesthood is unnecessary according to the New Testament. In Christ sein (1974; On Being a Christian), Küng described what is common among the various Christian religions and discussed the reasons a person would choose to believe in Christianity. The book focuses on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and the nature of his divinity. Signposts for the Future (1978) is a collection of essays that reiterates the uniqueness of Christianity explained in On Being a Christian. It further goes on to discuss Christians' relationship with larger society and their relationship with the Church. Beginning with Christentum und Weltreligionen (1984; Christianity and the World Religions), Küng began to focus on the relationship between Christianity and the other major world religions. He collaborated with Julia Ching on Christentum und Chinesische Religion (1989; Christianity and Chinese Religions) in which they analyze the place of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Christianity in modern China. Kung's Theologie im Aufbruch (1988; Theology for the Third Millennium) asserts that the postmodern Church lacks direction and proposes a course that will cause it to flourish and bring it to a closer relationship with the other world religions. Projekt Welthethos (1993; Global Responsibility is a continuation of the ideas set forth in Christianity and the World Religions. Kung asserted three points in this volume: our survival is dependent on the development of a world ethic; we can have no world peace without peace between the religions; and there will be no peace between the religions without a dialogue between the religions. In his attempt to foster a greater understanding between people of different faiths, Kung has begun a trilogy tracing the foundations of the major religions, including volumes entitled Judentum (1992; Judaism), Christentum (1995; Christianity), and a proposed volume on Islam.
Even when critics disagree with Küng's assertions, they praise him for his intellectual courage and honesty. Andrew M. Greeley called Küng “a priest and scholar who is doing his best to live that life no matter what the cost in professional envy and institutional isolation.” Reviewers credit his work as scholarly and rooted in the Bible. Carl J. Armbruster asserted that “one of Küng's special merits as a theologian is that he takes the Bible very seriously.” Many reviewers note how Küng's work puts him at odds with liberal theologians and the Roman Catholic Church alike. The former because of his assertion that the typical responses to the evils of capitalism have failed, and the latter for his questioning of the basis of papal authority. Some critics have accused the theologian of going overboard in his criticism of Pope John Paul II, marring some of his otherwise laudable work. While most critics agree that Küng's goal of creating a greater understanding between the religions is a commendable one, there is some disagreement about the effectiveness of his approach. Some reviewers complain that in Küng's attempts to foster understanding and ecumenism, he does not put sufficient focus on the uniqueness of individual faiths and has lost the true meaning of his own religion. Specifically, some critics found Küng's Judaism to be dismissive and patronizing to Jews. Eugene Fisher and Jack Bemporad state, “At some risk of being insufficiently respectful of Küng's well-established reputation, we must report that Jewish readers—with good cause—are likely to find this volume, which purports after all to present their faith and their traditions, to be insensitive and inaccurate.” Robert P. Imbelli summed up Küng's virtues in his review of Küng's Christianity, stating that the book “bears all the marks of Küng's virtues: stunning erudition, moral passion, provocative honesty and sometimes unrelenting polemics.”
Rechtfertigung: Die Lehre Karl Barths und eine katholische besinnung [Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection] (nonfiction) 1957
Konzil und Wiedervereinigung: Erneuerung als Ruf in die Einheit [The Coucil and Reunion] (nonfiction) 1960
Kirche im Konzil [The Council in Action: Theological Reflections on the Second Vatican Council] (nonfiction) 1963
Wozu Priester? Ein Hilfe [Why Priests? A Proposal for a New Church Ministry] (nonfiction) 1971
Christ sein [On Being a Christian] (nonfiction) 1974; also published as Die christliche Herausforderung, 1980
Existiert Gott? Antwort auf die Gottesfrage der Neuzeit [Does God Exist? An Answer for Today] (nonfiction) 1978
*Signposts for the Future: Contemporary Issues Facing the Church (articles) 1978
Ewiges Leben? [Eternal Life? Life After Death as a Medical, Philosophical, and Theological Problem] (nonfiction) 1982
Christentum und Weltreligionen: Hinfuehrung zum Dialog mit Islam, Hinduismus und Buddhismus [Christianity and the World Religions: Paths of Dialogue with Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism] [with others] (nonfiction) 1984
The Church in Anguish: Has the Vatican Betrayed Vatican II? [editor; with Leonard Swidler] (essays) 1987
Theologie im Aufbruch [Theology for the Third Millennium: An Ecumenical View] (nonfiction) 1988
Christentum und Chinesische Religion [Christianity and Chinese Religions] [with Julia Ching] (nonfiction) 1989
Theologie—Wohin? and Das Neue Paradigma von Theologie [Paradigm Change in Theology] [editor; with David Tracy] 2 vols. (essays) 1989
Judentum [Judaism: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow] (nonfiction) 1992
Credo: The Apostles' Creed Explained for Today (nonfiction) 1993
Projekt Welthethos [Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic] (nonfiction) 1993
Christentum [Christianity: Essence, History, and Future] (nonfiction) 1995
*Includes translations of Zwanzig Thesen zum Christsein, Was ist Firmung? and Jesus im Widerstreit: Ein juedisch-christlicher Dialog.
SOURCE: A review of Why Priests? in Commonweal, Vol. XCVI, No. 19, August 25, 1972, pp. 458-60.
[In the following review, Armbruster analyzes Küng's discussion of the priesthood in Why Priests?]
This latest book by Hans Küng is a fine piece of popularization. Not that it is unscholarly, for Küng's scholarly credentials in the area of ecclesiology have been established elsewhere. But he dispenses with footnotes and references in order to develop in broad strokes his “proposal for a new church ministry” (the subtitle). To those who are well-informed about current trends in the theology of the priesthood, the book offers no startling surprises. However, both for the specialist and for the general public it summarizes and locates the cutting edge of theological thought on the priesthood. It also pushes to the foreground questions which are ripe for discussion and argument.
What does Küng say about the priesthood? First he situates the crisis of the ministry within an ecclesiological context, namely, “a nuanced democratization of the church” (p. 24). The word “nuanced” is important here, for Küng stresses that it is an analogous, even ambiguous political concept that must be critically adapted in the light of the N. T. when applied to the church. Theologically, it means “an increasing co-responsibility of all members of the ecclesial community,” which should produce a community of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” This choice of the slogan of the French Revolution to describe what the new church should be strikes me as somewhat strained and even “old hat,” though the ecclesial realities behind these political terms are well described.
As Raymond Brown has noted (America, May 20, 1972), one of Küng's special merits as a theologian is that he takes the Bible very seriously. His treatment of the N. T. ministry underscores its functional as opposed to its “official” nature, the model of flexibility it presents, the underlying concept of leadership as more basic than that of cultic priesthood, the centrality of charism, the functional rather than the historical understanding of apostolic succession, and the norm of service which Jesus proposes.
On one point, however, Küng seems too touchy, if not inconsistent, and that is his aversion to the term “office,” for he states that “church ‘office’ is not a biblical concept.” (p. 39) He prefers “function” or “service.” Yet he repeatedly refers to the ministry of leadership as a “permanent public responsibility” or uses...
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SOURCE: “God and Küng,” in Washington Post Book World, November 28, 1976, pp. H1-H2.
[In the following review, Breslin praises Kung's On Being a Christian, stating that “Kung provides a skillfully argued, theologically nuanced and personally appropriated set of arguments for the liberating power of Christianity.”]
Religious bestsellers in this country usually mean inspirational books by Billy Graham or slightly kooky tracts like Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth. And even when they sell zillions of copies, they don't make the standard bestseller lists because they're sold in bookstores that are not surveyed. They do things differently in...
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SOURCE: “Hans Küng: Embattled Teacher and Priest,” in New York Times Book Review, December 19, 1976, pp. 5, 16.
[In the following review, Greeley praises Küng's On Being a Christian for the author's scholarly and truthful approach.]
The controversial Swiss theologian Hans Küng has written the best defense of traditional Catholic Christianity to appear in this century. Christ Sein sold several hundred thousand copies in its German edition and was on the best seller lists in Germany for several months. It is unlikely, however, that so many American Catholics have the intellectual discipline to plow through a 720-page book on their faith, and more's...
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SOURCE: “A Passionate Participant,” in Christian Century, Vol. XCV, No. 28, September 13, 1978, pp. 832-33.
[In the following review, Logan asserts that Küng's Signposts for the Future shows the personal side of the author's Christianity.]
Usually a collection of essays such as [Signposts for the Future] (by a leading theologian covering a wide range of topics) is a disappointment. Either the essays were written prior to the publication of a major work which says the same thing better, or the essays are dribblings left over from a major work and simply offer the publisher an opportunity to cash in. In either case, the net result is redundancy....
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SOURCE: A review of Signposts for the Future, in Commonweal, November 24, 1978, p. 767.
[In the following review, Sloyan lauds Küng's Signposts for the Future.]
[Signposts for the Future] is a collection of essays, interviews, and one radio dialogue (with Pinchas Lapide) done by the priest of the diocese of Luzern who is professor of dogmatic and ecumenical studies at the state university of Tübingen in Germany. Like anything the embattled Swiss theologian writes, it is well worth examining. Primarily it shows a Catholic reminding fellow-members of his church in whatever station that their fidelity to the person and teaching of Jesus is their best...
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SOURCE: A review of Eternal Life? Life After Death as a Medical, Philosophical, and Theological Problem, in Theological Studies, Vol. 46, No. 2, June, 1985, pp. 361-62.
[In the following review, Devenish complains that Küng's Eternal Life? fails in comparison to the first two works of the trilogy.]
In this series of nine public lectures given in Tübingen and Ann Arbor, we have the final installment, [Eternal Life?] along with On Being a Christian and Does God Exist?, of K[üng]'s “trilogy” (xvi). His basic approach parallels that taken in On Being a Christian. In the first section, “The Horizon,” K[üng] sets the...
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SOURCE: “Rome's Blunt Renegade,” in Maclean's, Vol. 98, No. 46. November 18, 1985, pp. 5, 8.
[In the following essay, Bierman discusses Küng's contentious relationship with Pope John Paul II and the Catholic Church.]
To many conservative Roman Catholics the action appeared treasonous. For many reformists, on the other hand, it seemed courageous. On Oct. 4 and 5, newspapers in Toronto, London, Madrid, Zurich, Hamburg and Rome carried the latest polemic of Dr. Hans Küng, Pope John Paul II's most celebrated and persistent Catholic critic. The two-part article was a 6,000-word onslaught on what Küng says is the reactionary and repressive policies of the pontiff and...
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SOURCE: “The Way Forward: Talking with Hans Küng,” in Commonweal, Vol. CXIV, No. 2, January 30, 1987, pp. 44-5.
[In the following interview, Küng discusses the current and possible future path of the Catholic Church in terms of reform and tradition.]
Last November Commonweal's David Toolan spoke with Hans Küng in New York City. Among other topics covered were issues of authority and dissent in the Catholic church today.
[Toolan:] What do you think of the Vatican's current actions?
[Küng:] If you want an explication of the context of Rome's present attitude, you have to see that the Catholic church in the Second...
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SOURCE: “Religions of the One God,” in Commonweal, Vol. CXIV, No. 5, March 13, 1987, pp. 143, 146-47.
[In the following interview, Küng discusses the similarities and differences between the major world religions and his attempt to create an understanding among different religions with his book Christianity and the World Religions.]
World religions was the major topic of conversation last fall when Commonweal's David Toolan spoke with Hans Küng in New York City. Küng's comments on authority and dissent within the Catholic church [appear above].
[Toolan:] How did you come to write your current book, Christianity and the World...
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SOURCE: A review of Theology for the Third Millennium: An Ecumenical View, in Christian Century, Vol. 106, No. 9, March 15, 1989, pp. 290-91.
[In the following review, Haggerty discusses Küng's retrospective look at Christian theology and the development of his own theology in Theology for the Third Millennium.]
We live life forward but understand it backward, Soren Kierkegaard observed. For Hans Küng, professor of dogmatic and ecumenical theology at the University of Tübingen and theological thorn in the papacy's side, the observation may apply equally well to theology. In fact, it may help explain why Küng has been at odds with Rome for so long....
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SOURCE: A review of Paradigm Change in Theology, in Christian Century, Vol. 107, No. 5, February 7-14, 1990, pp. 254, 256.
[In the following review, Crews discusses the exploration of pardigmatic studies by major theologians in Paradigm Change in Theology, edited by Küng and David Tracy.]
“Take my hand,” began a song in the 1953 musical Kismet, “I'm a stranger in paradise.” Those who have been off the theological planet for the past few years could substitute the word “paradigm” at the end of that phrase. Paradigmatic studies became coin of the realm in the '80s. To round out the decade, Hans Küng and David Tracy directed an...
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SOURCE: “Reflections on Hans Küng's Theology for the Third Millennium,” in Modern Age, Vol. 33, No. 2, Summer, 1990, pp. 157-64.
[In the following essay, Lambert outlines Küng's vision for the Church in the twenty-first century as expressed in his Theology for the Third Millennium.]
If Erasmus returned to the earth today would he be a Catholic or a Protestant? There is one who believes he would be a Küngian.
Hans Küng, Catholic theologian at Germany's University of Tübingen, whose books, On Being a Christian and Does God Exist?, provoked broad discussion in the seventies among both Catholics and Protestants, has brought...
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SOURCE: “The New Ethics: Global Responsibility,” in New Perspectives Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 2, Spring, 1991, pp. 44-9.
[In the following interview, Küng details his ideas for the future of religious understanding and a common world ethic.]
[Gardels:] Is this the last modern century?
[Kung:] I would be more radical than that. Strictly speaking, modernity ended in 1918. World War I shattered the belief in inevitable progress toward peace and prosperity, “the end of history,” as Hegel put it. And the hegemony of Europe—cradle of the Enlightenment and the secular ideology of Reason—began splintering with the breakdown of the colonial...
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SOURCE: “Credo in Unum Humanum,” in Times Literary Supplement, August 16, 1991, p. 27.
[In the following review, Race asserts, “Hans Küng's Global Responsibility aims to provide a rationale for overcoming the tragic fissure between peace and truth, both within and between the world religions.”]
While the moral summons to peace ought to instil friendship between the religions, their neurotic desire for the absolute truth, as the respective traditions have symbolized and defended it, has driven them to war. If religions have historically placed a premium on truth over peace, then the declining state of the globe now cries out for a reversal of priorities....
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SOURCE: “Paradigms Lost and Found,” in Spectator, September 12, 1992, pp. 36-7.
[In the following review, Carr outlines Küng's investigation of Judaism in his book by the same name.]
Hans Küng is Professor of Ecumenical Theology and Director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Tübingen. The thesis of his long and learned book (90 pages of dense footnotes) is that religion, rightly conceived, offers humanity its last chance for peace and justice in what he terms the post-modern world. There can be
no peace among the nations without peace among the religions; no peace among the religions without dialogue between the...
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SOURCE: A review of Judaism: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, in America, Vol. 167, No. 13, October 31, 1992, pp. 332-34.
[In the following review, Modras asserts that Küng's Judaism will not change the course of Judaism or Mid-East politics, “But here is a book that religious leaders and theologians in all three Abrahamic communities can read with profit, a book that all interested laity can understand.”]
Publishers are known for hyperbole. When the dust jacket claims this is the “most important book written by a Christian about Judaism in this century,” it sounds exactly like that mix of audacity and gall known in Yiddish as chutzpa. But...
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SOURCE: “Opportunities Missed,” in Commonweal, Vol. CXX, No. 2, January 29, 1993, pp. 29-30.
[In the following review of Judaism,Fisher and Bemporad complain that “Jewish readers—with good cause—are likely to find [the work] insensitive and inaccurate.”]
When a scholar of great stature enters a new, albeit related field of endeavor to his own, it is an event of significance for both his usual followers and those in the field itself. For the potential for creative insights is great. So it is with anticipation that one approaches Küng's monumental volume on Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations. Küng attempts here a critical survey of all of Jewish...
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SOURCE: A review of Judaism: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, in Christian Century, Vol. 110, No. 9, March 17, 1993, pp. 299-301.
[Bryant is professor emeritus of constructive theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in New Brighton, Minnesota. In the following review, he praises Küng's Judaism for its scholarly merit and its accessibility to the general reader.]
Hans Küng, director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research at the University of Tübingen, is internationally recognized as a foremost participant in ecumenical dialogue. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on Karl Barth at a time when that topic was still unusual for a Roman...
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SOURCE: “The Christology of Hans Küng: A Critical Analysis,” in Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. XXX, Nos. 3-4, Summer-Fall, 1993, pp. 372-88.
[In the following essay, Williamson traces Küng's Christology and explains the difficulty of using such a Christology to further a Jewish-Christian dialogue.]
The purpose of this essay is to criticize Hans Küng's Christology in light of his intention to develop a Christology that will support a theological conversation with Jews and contribute to mutual understanding and cooperation. Upon analysis, Küng's is a historical-Jesus Christology, in which Jesus' identity is formed by locating...
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SOURCE: A review of Credo: The Apostles' Creed Explained for Today, in Christian Century, Vol. 111, No. 7, March 2, 1994, pp. 231-32.
[In the following review, Green calls Küng's Credo “worth the effort.”]
If Hans Küng's 21st book[, Credo: The Apostles' Creed Explained for Today,] were listed on a computer disk, its file name might be Küng.sea, indicating that this is a compressed file in the form of a “self-expanding archive.” Compression shrinks computer files to use less space on the disk. To make the files usable again, they must be expanded. One of contemporary Roman Catholicism's best-known theologians, Küng has created a compact...
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SOURCE: “The Promise of a Global Ethic,” in Christian Century, Vol. 111, No. 17, May 18-25, 1994, pp. 530-33.
[In the following review, George briefly outlines A Global Ethic, developed by the Parliament of the World's Religions and edited by Küng and Karl-Josef Kuschel, and briefly compares it to John Paul II's encyclical on Roman Catholic moral theology, Veritatis Splendor.]
“Come together in unity. Speak in profound agreements. May your minds converge (in deep consensus). May your deliberations be uniform and united in your hearts. May you be firmly bound and united in your intentions and resolves.” In this way a Hindu sacred text (Rig Veda...
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SOURCE: A review of Credo: The Apostles' Creed Explained for Today, in Theology Today, Vol. 51, No. 4, January, 1995, pp. 618-24.
[In the following excerpt, Currie states, “Earnest, eager to resolve doubt, anxious not to give offence, Credo is remarkable in its breadth of learning, yet is strangely non-threatening, hardly disturbing to either the faithful or the unbelieving.”]
[Daniel L. Migliore's The Lord's Prayer: Perspectives for Reclaiming Christian Prayer] delights in no small part because it invites us more deeply into the gospel and enables us to see connections there that cast new light on the world. Unfortunately, Hans Küng's book,...
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SOURCE: “A Jesus for Everyone, A Christ for None,” in Christianity Today, Vol. 39, No. 11, October 2, 1995, pp. 40, 42.
[In the following review, Bloesch calls into question Küng's historical focus on the life and teaching of Jesus, instead of Jesus's preexistence as a member of the Trinity, in Christianity, although he praises the book's comprehensiveness.]
In [Christianity: Essence, History, and Future], which the author presents as the culmination of a lifetime of study and reflection, noted Catholic theologian Hans Küng undertakes a comprehensive theological history of Christianity, showing its biblical roots and global implications. Küng...
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SOURCE: A review of Christianity: Essence, History, Future, in America, Vol. 173, No. 12, October 21, 1995, pp. 23-4.
[In the following review, Imbelli calls Küng's Christianity “a monumental, if flawed, achievement,” and goes on to delineate the book's problems.]
In the course of a theological career of almost 40 years, Hans Küng has performed singular service to Christian theology and ecumenical understanding. His early works of the 1960‘s on the church helped prepare and promote the reform movement of Vatican II. His major works of the 1970’s, On Being a Christian and Does God Exist?, attempted to set forth the meaning of...
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SOURCE: “Küng's Synthesis,” in Christian Century, Vol. 112, No. 37, December 20-27, 1995, pp. 1250-51.
[Ross is a lecturer in historical theology at the Catholic Theological Union of Chicago and Mundelein Seminary of the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois. In the following review, he asserts that Küng's Christology in Christianity derives from his desire to reconcile Christianity with Judaism and Islam.]
Hans Küng is both predictable and unpredictable. He is scholarly yet populist, fascinating yet shocking, hopeful yet desperate. And his latest book[, Christianity: Essence, History, and Future,] gives every indication of...
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SOURCE: A review of Christianity: Essence, History, and Future, in Theological Studies, Vol. 57, No. 2, June, 1996, pp. 363-65.
[In the following review, Galvin criticizes Küng's Christianity for “the thin description of the essence of Christianity, the general aversion to high Christology (even in John) and to trinitarian theology, the reticence in speaking of soteriology, and the frequent glossing over of complex issues through rhetorical questions and appeal to simplistic alternatives [which] prevent the work from achieving its objective of fostering deeper understanding of the Christian faith.”]
This massive volume[, Christianity,] is but...
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SOURCE: A review of Christianity, in Hudson Review, Vol. L, No. 4, Winter, 1998, pp. 697-98.
[In the following excerpt, Bawer traces the different shifts in Christianity which Küng's Christianity presents.]
Godsey, Taylor, and Borg seek to help readers move beyond narrow dogmatism to an understanding that the essence of Christianity is not about dogma but about spiritual experience. This is also a key part of the message of Hans Küng's Christianity: Essence, History, and Future. Küng, the Swiss architect of Vatican II who may be the greatest theologian of the century but who is currently persona non grata at the papal palazzo, has...
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