You say: Thus when one says that many Indian Christians are pluralistic … it cannot be refuted simply by saying, well Christian doctrine fundamentally cannot be pluralistic — because all doctrine ultimately always gets interpreted at the level of the individual.
While it is indeed true that, in the last analysis, everything happens at the level of the individual, it is wrong to say that, therefore, claims about the Indian Christians cannot be refuted by referring to Christian theology.
The reason is not far to seek: Christian theology sets limits to the interpretations proposed by the individual believer. One cannot be a Christian — of any denomination — and say, for example, that Jesus is the incarnation of the Devil, or that any arbitrary dog is Christ, or that the Messiah has not come, or that God is a figment of the Human mind, or that Mohammed is the last prophet of God, and so on and so forth. Consequently, while latitude can and should be given to the ‘interpretations’ of received theological doctrines that a believer provides, it is false to claim that the individual, all on one’s own, decides about doctrinal interpretations.
Consequently, one can propose what a Christian can and cannot believe in and still remain a Christian. Deciding whether some or another Indian is a Christian is not an issue of undertaking a Gallup Poll, but one of taking recourse to Christian theology.
Here is where the Indian traditions differ fundamentally from the Semitic religions. In these cases, appeal to an individual’s interpretation does not settle the issue one way or another, whereas an appeal to theology does.
There is no way that one can take up the question, Who is a Christian? and answer it here. I have discussed this issue through many chapters in my book and I have no hope of being able to summarize it here. One of the reasons for it is that this question does not have one interpretation and one answer: it depends on who is asking the question to whom and for what purpose.
However, let me just say that you are not raising the issue of who a Christian is, but whether Christianity in India is different in some significant aspects because it has come into and grown in the Indian culture. In so far as you talk about the hypothetical Indian on a park bench, you are asking what the process of conversion entails. “Exclusivity” is not the fine print, but that you say it is shows the extent to which you (as an Indian, Hindu, and the heathen) have difficulty in understanding what religion is. That is what the title of my book says: as heathens, we are blind to the existence of religion, we do not see it. But one would not think that, if we were to listen to all the Indians pontificating on ‘Religion’, would one?
- Christological dilemma and “who is a Christian”
- On Will Sweetman’s Criticism—S.N.Balagangadhara