(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Hans Küng, born in Switzerland, is a Catholic priest and a prolific author. The appearance of On Being a Christian in English in 1976 brought a primarily academic theologian to wide public attention. At the time, Küng was a professor of theology at Tubingen, Germany. The book’s perspective, which can now be appreciated as expressing a moderate theological liberalism, added to the official Vatican concern about Küng’s 1970 book, Unfehlbar? Eine Anfrage (Infallible? An Inquiry, 1971). In 1979, he lost his license to teach as a Roman Catholic theologian but continued teaching at Tubingen until his retirement in 1996. In his retirement he has explored the concept of a “global ethic,” drawing on insights from all religious traditions.

In On Being a Christian, Küng’s first response is to turn to the world situation as he sees it, to a secular world apparently in the throes of great change, and to its social and political claims on human beings. He wonders if the Catholic Church, in the midst of all this, has lost its relevance, or more possibly, its soul. He begins with the claim that “to save man’s humanity . . . there must be genuine transcending, a genuinely qualitative ascent to a real alternative (to) one-dimensional thinking, talking and acting.”

Küng next moves to the question of the world religions. “Not only Christianity, but also the world religions are aware of man’s alienation, enslavement, and need of redemption,” he writes, and he sees in this shared knowledge a confirmation of the need for transcendence. However, he does not accept a universalizing “religion” in general: Similarities exist but serious differences must be acknowledged. The telling distinction is to be found in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He identifies the distinctions among the world religions and the various secular humanisms as follows: “Christianity only exists where the memory of Jesus Christ is activated in theory and practice.”

Küng then turns to...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Küng, Hans. Christianity: Essence, History, and Future. New York: Continuum, 1995. Examines Christian history through several periods from the eschatologically minded early Christian period to the contemporary ecumenical period. Diagrams, maps, and sidebars make skimming easy, but the full 936 pages are for the determined reader.

Küng, Hans. My Struggle for Freedom: Memoirs. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003. Küng’s account of his early life, vocational call, education, and faith development, written entirely in present tense. Concludes at the close of Vatican II. Illustrated.

Küng, Hans. Theology for the Third Millennium: An Ecumenical View. New York: Doubleday, 1988. An effort to create a pan-Christian theology to carry churches toward unity in the twenty-first century. Helpful but perhaps too hopeful.

Nowell, Robert. A Passion for Truth: Hans Küng, A Biography. New York: Crossroad, 1981. Written in response to the revocation of Küng’s license to teach Catholic theology, this work presents a defense of his life and work.