Hints for Rahner sample essay questions.

Make sure that you have looked at the question and thought about it for yourself FIRST before you look at the hints.

Whenever you get a question you should do the following:

  1. Read the question more than once.
  2. Identify the topic (i.e which section of the course it is in).
  3. Identify the 'debate' (i.e. the two sides of the argument).
  4. Work out the main points that each side would make to support their case. Consider what evidence/reasoning they would use.
  5. Work out which side you agree with and why.
  6. Look back through your notes and find more material/details to include in an essay.
  7. Plan your essay.
  8. Write your essay.

To what extent does Rahner's teaching about the Church contradict the doctrine of extra ecclesium nulla salus?

The debate:

  • It does contradict it: Rahner says that you can be saved without being a member of the visible Church. The Church is not longer necessary for salvation. An exclusivist might argue this way.
  • It does not contradict it: You can be saved outside the visible Church but anonymous Christians are still members of the invisible Church so the doctrine still technically applies.

Go back to your notes:

Check that you know the following:

  • What the doctrine extra ecclesium nulla salus actually means (look back at the exclusivism page).
  • How to explain how/why the Church enables salvation (sacraments).
  • The difference between the visible and invisible Church.
  • The link between anonymous Christianity and the Church in Rahner's thought.
  • The four theses (especially thesis 4)

Plan your essay:

Points in red are those that I will counter/refute in my essay.

Introduction: Set up the terms of the debate and state your line of argument.

  • Paragraph 1: Explain the doctrine of extra ecclesium nulla salus with reference to relevant biblical teachings. You should refer to the idea of explicit FAITH and explain the role of the sacraments.
  • Paragraph 2: Exclusivists would argue that he does contradict the doctrine. Rahner teaches that it is not necessary to be a member of the visible Church to be saved. 
  • Paragraph 3: However, Rahner would argue that he does not reject the doctrine. He just redefines what is meant by Church. Membership of 'the Church' includes those who are implicitly members by their response to God's grace. The established Church is still important (see thesis 4).
  • Paragraph 4: (Analysis) Rahner's argument is convincing and coherent. It fits with Biblical teachings (like Paul at the Areopagus). Theologians like Barth might agree that the true Church is known to God alone. However, although his theory is coherent, it does go against traditional interpretations of the doctrine.

Conclusion: He goes against traditional interpretations of the doctrine, but his ideas could just be considered to be a re-definition of the doctrine.

'Rahner's Open Catholicism offer the best solution to the problem of the competing religious beliefs in a postmodern world.' Discuss.

Read the question:

The question asks you if it is 'the best' solution. This implies that you need to compare it to others and decide whether others might be better.

The debate:

Agree: Inclusivists are likely to argue that Rahner's open Catholicism successfully upholds Christian beliefs whilst still encouraging a positive attitude towards other religions - thus it is best.

Disagree: Pluralists would disagree and say that it is still arrogant and offensive. They would be more likely to support Hick's approach as best. Exclusivists would say that Rahner is too accommodating to non-Christian religions.

Go back to your notes:

Make sure you know that is meant by a post-modern world and why this might present problems for religion.

This is potentially quite a broad question so try to identify what things will be most important to include.

Plan your essay:

Introduction: Set out terms of debate

  • Paragraph 1: Set out the problem of competing religious beliefs in a postmodern world. I.e. multi-faith society, importance of tolerance etc. Different faiths living along side one another enables people to see the similarities.
  • Paragraph 2: Outline what open Catholicism is and link it to anonymous Christianity. Rahner would argue that his concept of anonymous Christianity does enable Christians to recognise the lawfulness of non-Christian religions. Accounts for the morally good non-Christians. (Explain four theses). Thus it enables Christians to live in a multi-faith society.
  • Paragraph 3: Pluralists would argue that Rahner's view is still too Christocentric and arrogant. Does not encourage real two way dialogue. (Link back to four thesis - especially the final thesis which hopes for a fully Christian future).

If you had time you could also contrast his views with exclusivism.

You might conclude that his approach is more suitable to a postmodern world than the exclusivist approach.

  • Paragraph 4: Rahner would reply that it has to be Christocentric to be a truly Christian response. He might argue that being theologically Christocentric does not make it impossible for Christians to demonstrate tolerant attitudes in their behaviour.
  • Paragraph 5: Rahner's response is plausible. However, given that it is ultimately impossible to know who is right pluralism is better. In a postmodern world all truth is subjective and thus all Christocentric claims must be abandoned.

Conclusion: Rahner's approach is not best due to the fact that it still makes absolute truth claims.

Assess the view that Rahner's inclusivist theology is not convincing because it is too dependent upon the belief that God is revealed in creation and history.

Read the question:

The question implies that there is something problematic about assuming that God is revealed in creation and history - so you need to identify why this might be problematic. 

The debate:

Agree: His inclusivism is founded on the assumption that God is revealed in creation and in history and thus can be known to non-Christians. However, as Barth shows, we cannot base certain knowledge of God on these ideas.

Disagree: He does use the idea that God is revealed in creation and in history, but is inclusivism is not ONLY founded on that. He also builds on the idea that non-Christians behave like anonymous Christians.

Go back to your notes:

Make sure you understand the link between God revealed in history and in creation would lead to inclusivism.

See if there are any other reasons he gives to support his inclusivism.

Consider what Barth or Hick or D'Costa might say in response to this question.

Look back over the four thesis and consider how you might use the material from that.

Plan your essay:

Introduction: Set out the terms of the debate and state your line of argument.

  • Paragraph 1: Explain what Rahner says about creation and history revealing God and explain how/why this leads to inclusivism. Link to the four thesis and explain that Christianity has a historical starting point in time.
  • Paragraph 2: Barth would argue that this is problematic because God is radically other and human attempts to 'find' God in this way are doomed to fail.
  • Paragraph 3: (Analysis/evaluation) It is correct to say that finding God in creation and history is problematic. Scientific discoveries have challenged the idea that God created the world directly. Problem of evil. God revealed in history is equally problematic.The idea of God 'taking sides' in stories like the Exodus is theologically problematic.
  • Paragraph 4: Thus if Rahner's inclusivism were solely founded upon these it would be unconvincing. But it is not. He also basis his inclusivism on the evidence of non-Christians living grace filled lives. (EVIDENCE argument)
  • Paragraph 5: He also has theological reasons for believing in inclusivism. He thinks that if God wants everyone to be saved then he must make it possible for everyone to be saved. (DEDUCTIVE argument)

Depending how much time you had you might choose to only include one of these points. 

  • Paragraph 6: (Analysis/evaluation) These points are more convincing. The theological argument is coherent if you already believe in a loving God. The evidence based argument is supported by the fact that different religions seem to produce the same type of people, have similar ethical values etc. However, many people would argue that it is still problematic because it assumes that people would not lead good lives without God.

Conclusions: Rahner's inclusivism is not solely founded upon the belief that God is revealed in creation and history - there is more to it than that. However, it is still not wholly convincing as his other evidence is also flawed.