The First and the Last

George Sumner

As Christians become more engaged with the reality of religious pluralism, many find themselves torn between two worthy goals -- to be faithful to the lordship of Jesus Christ and to be open generously to possible truths found in other religions. In The First and the Last offers a constructive way forward, showing how Christian theology can bring these two goals together. At stake in the current debate over religious pluralism is the issue not only of evangelism and mission but also of the Christian claim to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Sumner outlines a distinctive new method for assessing from a Christian standpoint the claims and practices of neighboring faiths. The approach is what he calls "final primacy," a position that (1) sets non-Christian religions in relation to the unique mediating role of Jesus Christ and (2) relates the truth claims of other religions to the overall scheme of grace. He demonstrates the effectiveness of this position in practical terms, using final primacy as a frame of reference for a number of twentieth-century theologies -- namely, those of Barth, Rahner, and Pannenberg -- and as a way of examining both Indian and African theologies against their respective backgrounds of Hinduism and tribal practices. Additionally, the book serves as an excellent introduction to the history of interfaith thought: Sumner both surveys how religious pluralism has been handled in the past and illustrates how the position of final primacy at once redefines and promotes its most pressing issue -- interreligious dialogue.

George Sumner has also co-authored, Unwearied praises (2005), which is an introduction to Christian theology through a reflection on great hymns.