Being the Body of Christ: rethinking Christian identity in a religiously plural world
Hillman, Anne Marie
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This dissertation develops a constructive theological interpretation of the Body of Christ metaphor in order to provide a distinct understanding of Christian identity to assist Christians in responding to religious diversity. Presently, two academic approaches guide contemporary Christian theological responses to religious pluralism: theology of religions and comparative theology. They offer resources and insights into Christian responses, but questions remain regarding the relationship of Christian identity to contexts of religious diversity. Revitalizing the Body of Christ metaphor through engagement with contemporary theologians, this dissertation interprets their insights about alterity and embodiment regarding religious difference. Focusing on concepts of embodiment, relationality, diversity and praxis, the Christian identity that emerges is neither exclusive nor contained, but open and interdependent. This provides a framing of Christian identity that assists Christians in relating to religious diversity with openness. Chapter one surveys contemporary approaches that have guided the Christian theological response to religious diversity. Turning to the Body of Christ metaphor in the New Testament writings of Paul, chapter two demonstrates the original power of the metaphor to shape the values and worldview of early Jesus-followers. Chapters three and four explore womanist, feminist, queer, and crip theologies for critiques and contributions to the theological significance of bodies. Offering warnings about the failure to attend to the realities of difference, they offer essential theological insights into conceptions of bodies, hierarchy, and difference. The content they provide for the Body of Christ metaphor shapes Christian self-understanding in a manner that opens the Christian community as it engages other religious bodies. The final chapter provides a constructive interpretation of the Body of Christ and points to distinctive practices that guide the Christian community into a new embodiment of this metaphor. The identity provided by the metaphor shapes Christian relationships with each other and the world through practices of discernment, re-membering, and partnership. It challenges Christians to value fluidity and porousness, putting them in tension with dominant conceptions of Western society, and, through relationality and appreciation for the other, it calls Christians to engage religious diversity with actions of social justice.