Dr. Nash attempts to present the three main views of salvation in relation to christology, starting with the pluralism made popular by John Hick in the last forty years. Nash is particularly well suited for this critique as an author and philosophy professor. Though this text covers the three main views: pluralism, inclusivism, and exclusivism this analysis will only cover the first section (chapters one through six) on pluralism. It is important to understand the different positions before launching into a discussion about the opponents to exclusivism, so Nash starts out introducing the three views and Hick himself. He gives a short biography of Hick’s regression from orthodox Christianity to his current view, which should not be called Christian at all. In this introductory portion Nash also gives a short defense of exclusivism from biblical authority, the New Testament, and theological considerations. However, as this book is mostly about the two opponents to exclusivism not much is said in defense of that view when compared to the amount of time spent analyzing the alternative views.
There is an important step that Nash points out in Hick’s fall from orthodoxy. That is, the rejection of the authority of the Scriptures. Once he rejected the authority of the Bible, Hick had no reason to hold on to any exclusive claims of Christianity.1 The Bible is not God’s message to mankind about His attributes per se, more like the writings of a group of men who, over the years, wrote about their methods for connecting to the Ultimate/Real. This also leads to a non-orthodox/heretical christology, as Hick treats Jesus like just another man, who happened to be in close contact with the Ultimate/Real. Jesus may have done some miraculous things as part of His connection with the Ultimate, but He certainly is not God incarnate. Hick particularly rejects the fourth gospel as something like a sermon about this ordinary man who was in contact with the Ultimate. In all this rejection of the Scriptures Hick does some outlandish mental gymnastics to try to make his point without contradicting himself.
Nash uses chapters two and three to cover two different stages of Hick’s pluralism starting from about 1970 to 1980 for the first stage and the 1980s for the second stage. This first stage of Hick’s attempt at building a pluralistic view Nash calls, “a dismal failure.” That is not to say that the second stage is any better, just that in this first stage Hick has not really thought through some of the things he claims. One particular critique that Hick seemed to have totally missed during this phase was the clear contradiction of an unknowable god, and yet describing that god as loving and kind etc. It should have been obvious to Hick that if god is unknowable, saying anything about god is contradictory, and yet his move to pluralism was somewhat founded on the idea that a loving god would not condemn people who could not have heard of him. There are numerous other problems with Hick’s pluralism in this stage, not the least of which is a hubris in calling his movement a “Copernican Revolution.” While it may be true that Hick has come up with some novel ideas that does not mean that he has discovered some truth that was previously misunderstood. Moving in a certain direction is not always “progress.” As C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” Hick’s “progressive” view is not progressive as it is on the wrong road and is no longer Christianity at all.
The second stage of Hick’s revolution in pluralism is not really much better. It seems that Hick started off with a strong orthodox Christian view, then after an emotional appeal seemed to cause him to reject the exclusive views of the Bible, he tries to start a revolution. After the abysmal failure in the 70s Hick’s newer version is even farther from traditional Christianity and more enigmatic than ever. Hick’s views sound like New Age/Buddhism sprinkled with Kantian philosophy. Hick’s concept of salvation has moved beyond anything even remotely Christian, to a version of enlightenment and self-actualization. Though it is not just Hick’s soteriology that has changed; he has also rejected any traditional view of God. Instead of the personal God of orthodox Christianity Hick now embraces a more pantheistic view of the “Ultimate-Universal-Real.”
Nash explores probably the most important problem in Hick’s exclusivism, that is the contradictory nature of claiming multiple truths. Nash pointed out in the introduction that exclusivism is not truly unique to Christianity and there are serious problems with anyone that says that contradictory exclusive claims are actually both true. Hick’s pluralism is simultaneously offensive to Christianity as well as every other religion. If Christianity is true, then other religions must be false. Hick’s pluralism runs into all sorts of logical problems, because the laws of logic dictate that two contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same way at the same time. Hick does an even bigger disservice to religion as a whole by relegating all religious claims to a form of mythological “truth.” All religions are myths and misunderstandings or partial understandings of the Ultimate as it is hidden behind a veil of Kantian logic that says we cannot experience the Ultimate/Real as it actually is. Not only has Hick repudiated the exclusivity of Christianity but of every other religion as well. The mental gymnastics required to discard the authority of the Christian Bible are nothing compared to the backflips Hick and other pluralists have to do to get around the logical contradictions of calling all religious truths, true, despite their direct contradiction to one another.
As has already been mentioned, Hick has a very low view of Scripture, not just that it forms the foundation of the Christian faith, but particularly so because it maintains the deep exclusivity in the Person of Jesus Christ. As such, Hick has to fight against the orthodox belief that Jesus is God incarnate. In order to repudiate the historical view of Christ as God, Hick attacks the incarnation as a myth. Though he puts a spin on it to get around the fact that the original authors of the Bible obviously did not write it as a myth, saying that the historical claims are myths that seem to be real to the original authors. Hick denies the resurrection, despite the strong claims in the Bible. He even goes so far as to claim that even if Jesus resurrected from the dead, that would not prove that He was God. In order to get around Lewis’ liar, lunatic, Lord trilemma, Hick, not wanting to destroy the reputation of Jesus by calling him a lunatic, and refusing to call Him Lord, calls Jesus in a sense … confused. This makes absolutely no sense in light of Scripture. Saying Jesus was some kind of man in close contact with the Ultimate, is a complete denial of both the Gospel of John and the Bible as a whole. Hick fails in so many ways, but in this he is clearly lacking in his ability to rightly divide the Word of Truth. The fact that Jesus called Himself God is abundantly clear in the Scriptures, not just the Gospel of John, in actuality Hick has gotten nowhere in his attempts to circumnavigate the liar, lunatic, Lord trilemma.
Chapter five of this book has been all about Hick’s pluralistic views and the rejection of the uniqueness and authority of Christian doctrines, as such it is the most interesting chapter so far, which is also why this analysis has been focusing on that chapter more than the others. Another method Hick applies to rejecting Jesus’ status as God incarnate is to claim that the Church made up the idea long after Jesus had died. Using bits of historical, form, and redaction criticism, Hick claims that the New Testament has been altered by the Church over the centuries to say what the leaders of the Church wanted it to say, not what Jesus actually claimed. Hick follows with the majority of liberal scholars in assuming, despite evidence to the contrary, that the early Church, long after Jesus’ death, made Him into a god. This denial of Jesus’ divinity is not new, many apostates/heretics over the centuries have made similar claims. What this view leads to is not difficult to see either, that is, the rejection of the uniqueness of the Christian faith. Jesus is unique, not that He is God incarnate, but that He is the only founder of the Christian faith. Christianity itself is unique, not in the claim that it is the only true path to God, but that it is the only religion called “Christianity.” Neither Jesus nor Christianity are unique in absoluteness or authority.
Not only does Hick cast off the traditional truth statements about the divinity of Jesus Christ, he rejects good New Testament scholarship that supports the traditional doctrines with textual criticism. Hick uses a type of historical skepticism in claiming that we cannot really know anything about Jesus historically because it all happened about two centuries ago. Apparently Hick is either ignorant of or consciously dogmatic in rejecting literally thousands of years of Christian scholasticism that has deeply analyzed both the texts of the New Testament and the historical context and confirmed the orthodox theology and the trustworthiness of the documents that form the New Testament. The rather outmoded style of form-criticism is just one of the views that Hick somewhat espouses in rejecting the authority of the Scriptures. Form critics have tried to insist, despite many statements to the contrary, the New Testament was largely just practical teachings of the Church’s view of Jesus. The Gospel has nothing to do with actual eyewitness testimony, they are little more than collected ancient sermons which the Church approved and collected. The redaction criticism is not much different in its conclusion, it just uses different phrasing to conclude that the New Testament writers were not writing as they witnessed, rather they simply collected, sorted, and inserted their views in the New Testament when it suited them.
In the most ironic twist, Hick levies the rules of logic against the Christian Theology of Kenosis, claiming that Christianity violates the laws of logic in claiming that Jesus is both God and man at the same time in the same way. Hick should understand these foundational theologies, but has apparently cast them off completely. He should understand the differences between essential and nonessential properties. He should understand the idea that being fully man does not entail a logical contradiction with being fully God. Though the theology of the Trinity is somewhat mysterious, it certainly does not entail any logical contradictions.
By way of summary Nash discussed the often misunderstood idea of tolerance. Much like Ravi Zacharias teaches, Nash points out that tolerance does not mean a plurality of truth. It does not mean that all statements, whether contradictory or not, are to be treated as true. Nash divides tolerance into two sections, moral tolerance and a form of relativism. The former says that regardless of a person’s views or opinions one must treat all people the same morally. The latter is much more strict in that one must never criticize any view as being wrong, ever. The conundrum being self-defeating; is the converse view that one can criticize other views as wrong, wrong itself?
Personal Conclusions Regarding Pluralism
It seems that Nash could be more critical of Hick’s pluralism. He seems to gloss over some of the obvious contradictions in the pluralist view. First off, Hick still seems to claim to be a Christian. But, if we analyze what Hick teaches we see that he really does not believe the Bible to be authoritative in any way. It is merely a collection of writings over thousands of years about how people have sought the Ultimate. It really is not, as it so clearly claims to be, a record of God’s various interactions with mankind as well as His special revelation of Himself to the world through the Incarnate Christ. Even the term “Christian” cannot apply to Hick as it means “little Christ,” or “follower of Christ.” Hick does not believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah sent into the world to save us, so how can he claim the title “Christian,” if he is not a follower of Christ? Nash does point that out in the chapter six concluding remarks on pluralism, but it could have been made more clear throughout the text. Just claiming to be one, does not make Hick a Christian. His teaching and various apostasies have made it clear that he no longer follows Christ.
Another point that Nash brings up but does not emphasize enough is the importance of a high view of Scripture. Without Scripture as a guide for truth, Hick has been floundering about in the sea of philosophies, gaining only a semblance of a foothold in the quicksand of Buddhism/New Age spiritualism and Kantian philosophy. After rejecting the authority of Scripture Hick has gone down a terrible path of complete uncertainty to the point where there is no such thing as religious truth in Hick’s views. It is of utmost importance to maintain a firm grasp on the truth of the Bible as God’s authoritative Word, which is applicable to all cultures throughout time. Probably the weakest and yet strongest argument against exclusivism is in the geographic and cultural validity of the Christian message. It is a weak argument in that, clearly truth is not determined by location. The truth that God came to earth as the God-man, Jesus Christ, does not change if you are living in a different area of the world. However, it is a strong emotional argument in that; how can God condemn to Hell people merely because they were born in a different area and have not heard of Jesus.
So far, the only clear conclusion that a Christian can come to, is that Hick’s pluralism cannot be accepted. To accept pluralism is to not be a Christian at all. Or at least, to be an mentally deluded, illogical person who claims to follow someone in whom they do not truly believe. It will be interesting to see how Nash deals with inclusivism in the next section of the text. Pluralism must be rejected but it seems that some form of inclusivism can still fall within orthodox Christian views.
- "A Pluralist View." In Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, edited by Stanley Gundry, Dennis Okholm, and Timothy Phillips, by John Hick, pg. 33. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1996.
- Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: MacMillan Pub., 2002.