Father Peter Phan, 61, is a Vietnamese born Catholic theologian currently teaching at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He is an internationally acclaimed intellectual, a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and a key advisor to the Asian Bishops.
Father Phan’s many books and field of expertise is the relationship of Christianity with non-Christian religions. He is considered by many a prophet who is pointing the way to a Catholicism more universal than Roman. Phan’s core theological concern is the transition from what he sees as a largley Western, Euro-centric mode of Christianity to a faith more throughly shaped by different global cultures, languages and values.
In a nutshell, Phan’s thesis is that God does not necessarily want everybody to be Christian. What follows from this is that converting people to Catholicism and Christianity should not be a top priority: “If people come to church, that’s great. But if they continue as Hindus or Buddhists, that’s great as well. Our concern is not to increase the number of Christians but to promote the kingdom.” Nor does he think God’s kingdom on earth is co-terminous with the Christian church. He believes that while Christ may be absolute and universal, the same cannot be said of the institutional Church.
It should come as no surprise that Father Phan is being investigated by Rome and the American bishops. He does not seem too worried. He says he is perfectly ready to sit down and respond to critical questions from the Vatican and the bishops but he inists on being paid for his time. Good on him, I say.
Four centuries ago missionaries streamed here from Europe to convert the native peoples. Should the Catholic church still be in the conversion business?