What follows below is part 2 of a post discussing how one scholar makes sense of world religions. This is my initial response to some of his arguments, making use of some other scholars’ responses also included in Salvation in a Pluralstic World (page #’s included below). See part one for the summary of John Hick’s view.
First of all, a comment about this type of discussion: in the world of ideas, it is easy to get caught up in the debate, easy to lose sight of the fact that you’re contending with a person — another human being, with sorrows and joys, with struggles and successes, a person with a story. I appreciate that John Hick began his article with his own story. I have to agree with him that the events and circumstances of our lives are powerful influences, and so often shape us into the person we are today, and the person we will continue to become. (Though, as to how much influence they have, Hick and I would probably part ways…)
And so, as I step into the discussion surrounding religious pluralism, I must admit I’m only a graduate student. Lord-willing, I have a lot of life left to live, and much much more to learn. There will be questions I’m not equipped to answer yet — because I’m learning too.
However, I believe that truth is attainable –and something worth striving after with all our beings. Though I cannot see his heart, I would like to believe that John Hick is seeking truth as I am. How two truth-seekers can approach the same situation and come to different conclusions is an uncomfortable reality for some of us. However Truth is also bigger than us, as Hick rightly observes along with some great Christian saints. Where Hick and I will disagree is that I believe we can grasp truth in some form, to some degree, even while not filling in all the gaps of the Big Picture. Mystery is as much part of our world as knowledge, and there are some things in life where we must learn to live with ambiguity.
I say this not because I believe that this particular debate is unanswerable, but to remind us that life in general is complex, and as we seek to make sense of it, we should approach it with the utmost humility — a humility that is, in the end, willing to accept the possibility that we just might not have all the answers all the time.
What follows below is not intended as a statement of my own perspective (perhaps that will come later). Rather, it is little more than a few personal comments as I reflected upon Hick’s perspective as he shared it. It is a two-page response, following the guidelines of my professor, and not intended as the final say to the reality we all face in our global society. So, without further ado, my response:
As I studied John Hick’s pluralist perspective, I struggled to find the logical arguments for pluralism in his essay. It seems, as Charles Pinnock so aptly observes (61), that Hick has formulated his belief system primarily on his personal experience. I grieve for him that the theological academic professors of his time failed to respect his questions of how to integrate theology with science (31). I grieve with him that the Church of his day failed to respond to the racial prejudice around them (38). I affirm his intellectual honesty in wrestling with the reality of seemingly moral people who come from all walks of faith. But I must disagree with him, if his criterion for the truthfulness of a specific religion is primarily empirical and experience-based.
It is, in fact, understandable that he believes himself to be justified in this type of rationale, if he believes that all theology is a human, historical, and cultural development. Nevertheless, it begs the question, “do you even believe in knowable truth at all?” For what is truth, if it is not based in this so-called Reality? But he states himself that all our religious worship of the Real is not worship of the Real itself because the Real cannot be known (50). There is a logical fallacy in his thinking – for he states as absolute fact that the Real is unknowable, but lacks any substantial basis for any kind of truth statement if the basis for truth is entirely indiscernible.
Moreover, I find Hick’s varied dismissal of the authority of Scripture without sufficient argumentation to substantiate his conclusions. R. Douglas Geivett and W. Gary Phillips support this critique (72-73). Hick states his perception of Scripture as being the mainline scholarly account (53), which reeks of a generalization and a stereotype. I know this both from my own studies in Biblical theology at Biola, and from scholars such as Alister E. McGrath (66). Furthermore, his purporting of the Gospels as not being eyewitness accounts is false. In fact, both Matthew and John walked with Jesus first and then related their accounts of His words and deeds. If Hick wishes to dispute the credibility of the accounts of Jesus in Scripture, he must do so with academic integrity. To discount the authority of Scripture is to give license to create human theology, which is what he in fact does when he redefines salvation, the Incarnation, and the Trinity – the three doctrines that pose a problem to his perspective! To state that only fundamentalists believe in the inerrancy of Scripture (53) is, again, a broad stereotype that allows Hick to sidestep all together engaging in that foundational debate over Scripture’s authority.
Finally, Hick knows he must address the Christian doctrine, of the Incarnation because it contradicts his pluralist perspective. Hick’s argument against it is that it cannot be spelled out sufficiently (56). The implication, as Geivett and Philipps so aptly identify, is that it therefore cannot be meaningful (74). One must ask, is that Hick’s criterion for truth – it must be significant to the hearers? Yet the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation, despite its mysteries, is wondrously meaningful to Christians! Hick must, in the end, return to discrediting Scripture in order to dismiss the deity of Christ (53) – for even if he successfully argues for the fact that Jesus Himself never claimed His own deity (which I and several scholars disagree with), Hick must also discount the rest of the New Testament’s testimony as merely human.
It appears to me that there is much more intellectual argument that Hick must engage in, if he is to fully substantiate his perspective. His easy dismissal of the authority of Scripture, and his generalizations, stereotypes and emotionally loaded descriptions lack the very academic integrity he claims to possess. Perhaps he has intentionally cut short the academic aspects in his defense because he believes he is writing to a less academically-oriented audience (53). However, I would contend that he has not given us the benefit of the doubt that today, there are orthodox Christians who do value intellectual integrity and can, in fact, provide sufficient reason for what we believe.
I would ask Hick to consider relinquishing his broad-sweeping generalizations of our world for a more defined and refined perspective.