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Alvin Plantinga on religious pluralism: a Catholic appraisal.

The problem of religious pluralism de jure is one of the most daunting problems that Christians are now facing. (1) If the fundamental beliefs of Christianity are true, then any beliefs in opposition to them must be false. There can be no denying this obvious fact. If persons can be saved outside of Christ, then the church has obviously erred for centuries about its central belief in the one mediator between God and humanity, casting God's sovereignty into serious doubt. Another belief that is called into question by the problem of religious pluralism has to do with the traditional attributes of God. If God is benevolent and omnipotent, then why would God prevent so many individuals and even groups of people from hearing the Good News within their earthly lifetime? How could God fault these persons for not accepting Jesus Christ and send them to hell?

Alvin Plantinga is one of the most reputable Christian apologists writing today. Many Christians credit him with significant arguments that have helped to retrieve the discipline of apologetics. Although he has not spent much time in the field of interreligious apologetics, he has published a well-known article in response to religious pluralism. (2) He seeks to resolve the dilemmas of pluralists such as John Hick by addressing both moral and epistemological challenges to religious exclusivism. At the end of his celebrated essay, Plantinga boldly contended:
   A fresh or heightened awareness of the facts of religious pluralism
   could bring about a reappraisal of one's religious life, a
   reawakening, a new or renewed and deepened grasp and apprehension
   of (1) [belief in a theistic God] and (2) [namely, God has revealed
   Godself in Christ]. From Calvin's perspective, it could serve as an
   occasion for a renewed and more powerful working of the
   belief-producing processes by which we come to apprehend (1) and
   (2). In that way knowledge of the facts of pluralism could
   initially serve as a defeater, but in the long run have precisely
   the opposite effect. (3)

Thus, Plantinga holds that a reflection on the facts of pluralism might eventually make Christians more confident in their exclusivistic understandings of faith. Though he did not spell out the details of "belief producing processes" in regard to the debate between pluralists and exclusivists, the Catholic Church sheds light on the same idea. The Second Vatican Council put it this way: "All children of the Church should ... remember that their exalted condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ. If they fail to respond in thought, word and deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be the more severely judged." (4) For those who have been exposed to the truth, salvation becomes more demanding, not easier to attain. Religious exclusivism remains compatible with a certain type of exclusivism. Catholic doctrine insists that hearing the gospel is merely a sign that God is calling one to deeper relationship with Godself, not that persons outside the Church cannot be saved. Conciliar teaching is not in opposition to exclusivism as Plantinga has defended it, and it seems to relieve his worry that pluralism might serve as an undercutting defeater of religious exclusivism. (5) More importantly, it seems to vindicate his belief that exclusivism, if understood in a certain way, might increase one's confidence in the truth of Christianity. This essay also seeks to honor one of the greatest contemporary apologists by shedding some light on his philosophical insights within the context of an ecumenical dialogue with a Catholic theologian. (6)

Salvation: Outside and inside the Church

From the outset, I would like to posit a divine-accountability principle. This principle refers to the particular moral standard that God lays down within the depths of each person's conscience. The principle is not indiscriminatingly binding on every person but is relative from one person to the next. So, it is not as black and white as some may think, for only God knows each individual's circumstances and works in each person's life accordingly. Various factors contribute to the principle: life experience, upbringing, personality, culture, friendships, genetics, political environment, educational experiences, etc. Vatican II endorsed this theological principle in Ad gentes:
      This task which must be carried out by the order of bishops,
   under the leadership of Peter's successor and with the prayers and
   cooperation of the whole Church, is one and the same everywhere and
   in all situations, although, because of circumstances, it may not
   always be exercised in the same way. The differences which must be
   recognized in this activity of the Church, do not flow from the
   inner nature of the mission itself, but from the circumstances in
   which it is exercised.

   These circumstances depend either on the Church itself or on the
   peoples, classes or men to whom its mission is directed. Although
   the Church possesses in itself the totality and fullness of the
   means of salvation, it does not always, in fact cannot, use every
   one of them immediately, but it has to make beginnings and work by
   slow stages to give effect to God's plan. Sometimes aider a
   successful start it has cause to mourn a setback, or it may linger
   in a state of semi-fulfillment and insufficiency. With regard to
   peoples, classes and men it is only by degrees that it touches and
   penetrates them and so raises them to a catholic perfection. In
   each situation and circumstance a proper line of action and
   effective means should be adopted. (7)

Notice that the Council Fathers still draw a distinction between objective truth and error, but the major point underscored by them has to do with the means by which the grace of God is appropriated to each person's life. It cannot be denied that God works in different ways in each person's life. According to Vatican II, the reason why God works in different ways is due to the individual, unique circumstances that each person faces. No one is exactly like anyone else. Given these radical contingencies and acute challenges, the only thing Christians can do in terms of the problem of religious diversity is to follow Christ's teaching to the best of their abilities. Part of following Christ's teaching consists in persuading others unto the gospel. As Francis Sullivan has pointed out:
      The second momentous change was the dropping of the statement
   that only Roman Catholics are really (reapse) members of Christ's
   church. Now, instead of saying that only Catholics are really
   members of the church, the text of LG 14 says that only those
   Catholics are fully incorporated in the church who are living in
   the state of grace. This change signifies a break with the idea
   that belonging to the church is an "either-or," "all-or-nothing"
   proposition. It introduces the idea of different degrees of
   fullness of incorporation in the church, applying this in the first
   instance to Catholics themselves. But if some Catholics are more
   fully incorporated than others, it would seem logical to
   acknowledge degrees of incorporation in the church on the part of
   other Christians as well, since baptism has always been seen as the
   sacrament by which one becomes a member of the church. (8)

So, not everyone who professes membership in another religion truly belongs to that religion but is somehow oriented toward Christ and is en route to salvation. Within this frame of reference, Catholics should recognize that many who will receive eternal salvation will consist of persons that many did not think would receive it. It is not unrealistic to think that there will be more individuals who will be saved who lived their entire earthly lives outside of the visible, canonical boundaries of the Church than those who spent their entire lives inside it. As Eugene Hillman has suggested:
   if there are degrees of holiness among Christians, then we would
   assume that these same degrees may be actual also among those who,
   because of their historical situation and through no fault of their
   own, cannot have explicit faith and historical belief in Jesus
   Christ. God truly wills the salvation of every member of the human
   race, not just those who happen to be born in the right time and
   place. (9)

Conscientiously informed Catholics are held to a much higher standard to live out their calling in Christ; they will be judged much more strictly. As long as implicit faith is found at the unreflexive level of consciousness, one can be saved despite one's ignorance of Christian faith on the propositional level. In this way, St. Augustine's evaluation of salvation extra Ecclesiam rings true to this day: "many who appear to be without are within, while many who appear to be within are without." (10) It is not to be overlooked that, if someone suspects that Catholicism is the one true religion, then the honest thing for one to do is pursue one's questions. Mental reservations or moral hesitations will not fool an all-knowing God. Vincible ignorance can certainly be overcome.

Let us now draw some conclusions in this section. Salvation is more demanding for those who have been exposed to Christianity. Those who have not been exposed to the gospel can still be saved, but they are not as accountable to live up to the standard that God has given them through nature and conscience. Corresponding with the demands of the divine-accountability principle within this lifetime are the different degrees of final rewards and punishments. On the one hand, some heavenly rewards are greater than others (Mt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6; 1 Cor. 3:8; Heb. 6:10; 2 Jn. 1:8; Rev. 2:23, 20:12-13, 22:12). Conversely, there are differing degrees of loss in hell (Mt. 11:20-24; Lk. 12:42-48; Heb. 10:2829; Jas. 3:1-2; 2 Pet. 2:20-22). (11) For those who overcome many obstacles, much more will be given to them (compare 1 Cor. 10:13). For those who fail to live up to the standards that God has placed in front of them, much more will be lost. In the final analysis, God is not as concerned with what sufferings we go through as much as with how well we go through them.

Exclusivism, Inclusivism, Pluralism, and Beyond

Probably the biggest difficulty for theologians who are working in the wider ecumenism is to balance four well-established tenets in a convincing manner to outsiders. These four tenets include the following: (1) divine revelation has been given in Christ on behalf of all persons; (2) everyone who will be saved in the end is saved through Christ; (3) everyone has a fair chance to be saved; and (4) Catholics must bring the Good News to every person insofar as this is humanly possible. (12) Depart from any of these longstanding beliefs in the Catholic Church, and one is no longer in communion with the Church. Added to this challenge is the Church's longstanding belief that it is the one true religion. (13)

But, why do some Christians set aside or depreciate at least one of the four tenets for the sake of the others? For example, many theologians settle for a "complementary" relationship between Catholicism and other religions, but they forget that "complementarity" merely applies to those who are invincibly ignorant of the gospel. (14) In other words, one can maintain a complementary relationship between Christianity and other religions, but the term "complementary" needs to be clarified without mining the impetus for mission work. In the hard sense of complementarity, God is working in the Church in one way. But, in the other religions God is working in another way. In the soft sense of the term, however, "complementarity" refers to Christianity and those who are being saved who are not accountable to accept Christ and the Church.

One common reason for the depreciation of at least one of the four tenets is that it is unfair for so many persons to be born in a time and place where the gospel will never be available to them. (15) The implication is that at least one of the four tenets must be compromised. Sometimes these theologians (or philosophers) emphasize the salvific role that other religions have in and of themselves (which is simply not a Catholic option).

Undoubtedly, the Church affirms that God can use whatever good means that God wants in order to save the lost. Other religions are not seen as unmitigated systems of evil but retain elements of goodness in them. However, according to Catholic teaching, the distinctive beliefs and practices of the other religions are not seen as divinely inspired truths (for example, the Qur'an is not a divinely inspired book according to the Catholic Church). As Hillman wrote: "Religions in themselves, interpreted and administered as they must be by sinners, are instruments of grace, but at the very same time they are also manifestations of our need for grace. So each religion always requires purification of itself through the repentance of its most faithful followers." (16) Other religions may retain spiritual values that God can use to save those who are invincibly ignorant of the gospel. God can save Muslims not through their belief that the Qur'an is divinely inspired but as a book that contains truths that are accessible to all persons, not as specially revealed religious truth. (17)

One might argue that the elements from non-Christian religions that God uses to save persons incidentally coincide with the precepts of the natural moral law. (18) Salvation can be found in other religions but is definitely not of these religions. James Fredericks has observed, "Nowhere in its documents does the council unambiguously recognize the other religions as actual mediations of the saving grace of Jesus Christ." (19) Other religions are seen as participated forms of mediation in the revelation that has been given to humanity in Christ. (20) Moreover, the grace that comes through moral obedience to the natural law is christological (for, every act of obedience to the natural law is synonymous with obedience to Christ himself). All grace is christological, whether it comes through obedience to the natural law or through faith in Christ. Doctrines in the world's other religions that contradict Catholic distinctives are considered false and ought to be rejected as such.

We see these unbalanced theologies of religion in many writings. Religious pluralists such as John Hick serve as the best example of those who flaunt the unfairness of God in the face of so many different and contradictory religious claims, denying the first tenet and depreciating the fourth. (21) In defense of his pluralist hypothesis, Hick wrote in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies:
   The main data that need to be understood are: (1) In the vast
   majority of cases the religion to which anyone adheres depends on
   where they were born ... (2) Each of the historical religions
   seems, as far as we can tell, to produce equally good and equally
   bad human beings, an equal proportion of saints and sinners. (3)
   Each of the historical traditions has developed an explicit or
   implicit claim to be uniquely superior to all the rest. In the case
   of Christianity, for example, the claim (developed after Jesus' own
   time) is that he was God--that is, God the Son, second person of a
   divine Trinity--incarnate. This implies that Christianity alone was
   founded by God in person and so must be superior to all other
   religions. (22)

Hick prematurely concluded that all religions are unequivocal, equal paths to salvation. (23) He and Paul Knitter have made "a move away from insistence on the superiority or finality of Christ and Christianity toward a recognition of the independent validity of other ways." (24) These pluralists work with the assumption that advocates of Christian uniqueness must always affirm that God loves only those who accept God's love explicitly. Basing its teaching on scripture and Lumen gentium, the divine-accountability principle brings this complaint to rest, which is now long overdue. Who affirmed that salvation was more likely to occur for those who have been exposed to Christ? When the accountability principle is explained, the strictly pluralist position is shown to rest on a false assumption. The phenomenon of holiness in other religions simply does not constitute a challenge to the Catholic who is cognizant of the implications of Lumen gentium, no. 14.

The second group is traditionally described as the exclusivists. This group stresses the first tenet over the others (they tend to stress the fourth tenet as well): Revelation has been given on behalf of all persons. Exclusivists affirm that, unless one accepts revelation explicitly in faith, one will be lost forever. This group seems to forget the third tenet: Salvation is equally accessible for all.

More important for our purposes is that exclusivists seem to forget that salvation is more demanding for those who have been exposed to the Good News, not that salvation comes more easily for believers. While exclusivists are quick to fault the formally unevangelized for not being born in a time and place to hear and respond favorably to the gospel, they equally fail to recognize that God is calling them to accept Christ in a more personal and thus saving way.

This leaves us with the last camp, which is known as the inclusivists. Now, if we frame the debate from within the typology of exclusivism, pluralism, and inclusivism, we must admit that inclusivism has been the Catholic Church's official viewpoint. (25) Vatican II approved of the world's religions in the sense that they contain elements of truth that can dispose individuals to receive Christ if they explicitly hear the gospel. Thus, the Church's "revolutionary stance" at Vatican It did not lie in its affirmation that non-Christians could be saved but in its refusal to call non-Catholics "pagans," "heathens," "idolaters," and the like. Instead of openly criticizing views that are contrary or contradictory to Catholic doctrine, Vatican II sought to find what is good and holy in other religions instead. (26) There is a distinction between the substance of what is believed and the way in which it is expressed. Vatican II did not override the content of traditional Catholic belief but more or less changed its language about non-Catholic religions. So, for the first time in conciliar history, a positive statement was ascribed to other religions (albeit positive ascriptions were made by Christian thinkers well before Vatican II).

The problem with inclusivism is that it can be abused as a theological model, leading people astray from discipleship. For example, one can use the inclusive model as an excuse to destroy the underlying rationale for missions by positing what is known as "accessibilism" alongside of it, a highly speculative notion that insists that most people in the world will be saved in the end. But, it must be emphasized that the scriptures and the history of Christian thought simply do not allow Christians to know how many people will be saved. (27) For this reason, the debate should focus more on the tri-polar classification in light of the four established tenets. (28) Thus, the debates surrounding the problem of who will be saved in the end (that is, the debate on restrictivism, accessibilism, and universalism, which is formally distinct from the tri-polar classification of exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism) are not helpful in discussing the credibility of Catholic beliefs in light of the four established tenets. Inclusivism does not have to be rejected because it is mistaken but because it can easily drive the conversation in a direction that is harmful on the practical level unless it is conjoined with the accountability thesis along with a proper understanding of faith, hope, and love. As Stephen Duffy has keenly pointed out:
   To maintain that Jesus is the decisive, constitutive bearer of
   salvation for oneself is to engage in soteriological, confessional
   language, a language comparable to love language. That one
   experiences transforming power and ultimacy in Jesus is not to
   disallow that one could experience it in other sources (though one
   may not, in fact) nor that, in fact, others experience it in
   figures and sources other than Jesus.... The language, again, is
   soteriological and confessional, and the normativeness is
   functional, not metaphysical. (29)

Response to Objectors

Let us now turn to the objections to the accountability thesis of Lumen gentium, no. 14.

(1) The first objection is related to the rationale for mission work. These objectors claim that, if persons can be saved outside of cognitive belief in the Savior, this will undercut the motivation for missions. (30)

It is understandable that some Catholics have wondered about the Church's underlying rationale for missions since Vatican If. However, one of the primary goals of missions in Catholic thinking since the Council is qualitative--to transform the quality of living in all societies. There is a quantitative aspect as well-to save persons. There are at least four reasons to engage in mission work according to the papacy. In the first place, we are commanded by Christ to engage in the Great Commission (Mt. 28:16-20). Second, it is only natural to become evangelical when one is truly born of the Spirit. As Pope John Paul II once said, faith increases (in oneself) when it is given to others. (31) Third, the Magisterium affirms that the fullness of revealed truth is to be found within the Catholic Church alone. Although the fullness of the truth is found within the Church, this would not mean that revealed truth from God is ever fully known. Correlatively, the human person is made for the entire truth, not just some of it. Fourth, God is glorified when Christians take up the missionary mandate. Persons remain rest less in their hearts until they are given the opportunity to know and live out the truth.

Positive communication of religious truth outside of Christianity is not seen as complementary (this is said in the hard sense of the term "complementary") or parallel to the revelation that has been given in Christ. Finally, the objection about undercutting the motivation for missionary work in face of the possibility that outsiders can still be saved seems to forget that the issue of missions is about what the Christian God is doing in the world, not what formal churches and ecclesiastical communities alone are doing. Yves Congar once wrote that
   the apostles were pressed, impelled, not so much by their love for
   Christ as by Christ's love which, imparted to them, dwelt in their
   hearts and reinforced their devoted lives, seeking through them to
   be spread over the world: "It is fire that 1 have come to spread
   over the earth" (Luke xii. 49). There is no need to look for
   reasons to justify love: it is in itself able to impart good. (32)

Added to all this is the divine-accountability principle: If we are being saved, then we would want others to know the Good News.

(2) This brings us to the next objection: Why would God allow some persons to know God more explicitly than the formally unevangelized? This objection certainly carries some unnecessary theological baggage. As mentioned earlier, not everyone is called to the same tasks within one's lifetime. Nor can every person perform the same tasks as every other, given the debilitating circumstances that each of us must face. "Such an objection" Gerald O'Collins rightly noted, "does not reckon with the way in which the love of Jesus resembles human love by not being exercised in an identical way towards all cultures, religions, and individuals. The risen Jesus lovingly interacts with the whole world, and that means he interacts in ways that are different." (33) There is, for instance, a difference of kind (not of degree) that God has for the church through the Risen Christ and the love God has as founder of each world religion. Hence, there is an analogy between God's love for the church and God's love for those who live outside its formal boundaries. (34)

Awareness of divine revelation reorders one's awareness of God's presence in one's life and clarifies what is already implicitly known. Moreover, the objection that holds that the formally unevangelized are at a disadvantage to experience God in Christ seems to smack of a fundamentalist understanding of exclusivism.

But, there is more than one way to understand Christian uniqueness (and its accompanying viewpoint, exclusivism). (35) Hence, asking why God would allow some persons to know God more explicitly than others seems similar to asking why God calls some to be professional theologians and other Christians to stay at home and work as homemakers in service to one's children. In other words, if these objectors are to remain consistent with their position, they would have to affirm that it is better to be a professional theologian than to be a homemaker. But, surely it is presumptuous to hold that theologians live with more approval in the eyes of God (simply because they might be more cognitively aware of church doctrine and practice) than Christian homemakers (I use these illustrations without wanting to affirm or defend universalism, the idea that all will be saved in the end). The point is that each person has a different function to fulfill within the plan of God, who works all things out for the greater good. It is not to be overlooked that the accountability thesis does not mean that holiness will always be greater within the canonical boundaries of the Catholic Church. Sometimes, holiness can be found outside its visible confines to a much greater degree.

Natural evil and the challenge of religious diversity pertain to those persons who have not heard the gospel because of natural forces that are beyond human control, but these natural evils do not outweigh an overwhelmingly great good: Some will be saved and eventually enjoy friendship with God in the greatest of all possible worlds in heaven. God has providentially ensured through grace that each person has the opportunity to be saved. Certainly, all people are held accountable at different levels for different tasks during their limited, earthly lives. Vatican II affirmed that men and women are the only creatures in the universe that God has willed for their own sake. (36) His love for humanity has indeed overcome all evils. Thus, hearing the gospel is merely an outward sign that God is calling its hearers to greater relationship with Godself, not that God loves those who hear the message more than those who are cognitively unaware of it. Given the nature of God's revelation, Catholics have the opportunity to point to something tangible within the sphere of history to substantiate God's love for humanity. As Dei verbum announces, Christ confirms divine revelation and gives it a historical, concrete expression. (37)

Moreover, a propositional awareness of the Savior seems trivial in light of this objection, given that all persons can receive eternal salvation. The formally unevangelized are just as close to the crucified Christ (see Mt. 27:46, for instance: "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?") and have an equally fair chance of receiving eternal life as any Christian who dares to claim the name of Christ. Not only does a personal relationship with God go beyond cognitive categories, but from the perspective of eternity the problem of cognitive ignorance will also become increasingly insignificant and shrink by the overwhelming joy of the greatest possible world (again, I say this without having to endorse universalism, the idea that all will be saved in the end).


Framing the challenge of natural evil and religious diversity from a perspective that insists that Christians are more fortunate to have heard the gospel (and, by implication, that they will have a greater chance to be saved than those who have not heard the gospel explicitly) is the wrong way to approach the dialogue in the theology of religions. If one is constrained by a "word-hearing-faith" paradigm, which is propounded by fundamentalistic advocates of exclusivism, it will obviously be difficult for them to accept the argument of this essay. A better paradigm was offered by Karl Rahner. (38) He held that the Logos is understood in relation to all of reality, not just in relation to hearing the gospel, verbally spoken. Logos does not lose verbal significance but is part of the totality of reality.

God is reaching everyone (pluralism) in Christ (exclusivism). (39) As Maurice Boutin stated in an earlier number of this journal, "God's grace is not bound to Christianity, but Christianity is bound to God's grace, which is for Christian faith Christ's grace as well. As such, explicit Christianity is the full realization of God's grace." (40)

This theological framework makes it possible to move beyond fundamentalist understandings of exclusivism into a paradigm of universal christological grace. Though Plantinga has not said whether his version of exclusivism is a strict exclusivism, meaning that no one can be saved outside of cognitive belief in Christ, his arguments seem to allow for softer interpretations of exclusivism that are compatible with the argument of this essay (which, in turn, help to fortify his concern about "belief producing mechanisms"). (41) As the late Clark Pinnock rightly observed:
   [O]ne could say that my proposal is exclusivist in affirming a
   decisive redemption in Jesus Christ, although it does not deny the
   possible salvation of non-Christian people. Similarly, it could be
   called inclusivist in refusing to limit the grace of God to the
   confines of the church, although it hesitates to regard other
   religions as salvific vehicles in their own right. It might even be
   called pluralist insofar as it acknowledges God's gracious work in
   the lives of human beings everywhere and accepts real differences
   in what they believe, though not pluralist in the sense of
   eliminating the finality of Christ or falling into relativism. (42)

I hope the present essay has resolved this issue for Plantinga by elaborating upon the importance of analogical thinking for the purposes of interreligious apologetics. A certain understanding of religious exclusivism does seem to increase one's confidence in the truth of Christian faith.

Christians should begin to wonder what they are doing to live a life of obedience in response to the gospel. Being a member of the church does not guarantee a person's salvation, nor does it make it easier for them to be saved. Cognitive ignorance does not constitute a deprivation of salvific grace, nor does cognitive ignorance entail a lack of divine fairness. We should not be so worried about the millions of people who have not heard the gospel message as much as we should be concerned about what God will do with us if we do not respond to God's grace and attempt to reach the formally unevangelized with the gospel to the best of our abilities.

(1) See Alvin Plantinga, "Christian Philosophy at the End of the 20th Century," in Sander Griffioen and Bert M. Balk, eds., Christian Philosophy at the Close of the Twentieth Century: Assessment and Perspective (Kampen, Netherlands: Uitgeverij Kok, 1995), p. 39, where he wrote: "Finally, pluralist objections too trouble many Christians, especially Christian academics and others who are acutely aware of some of the other major religions of the world. This is something of a new or revitalized worry for the Christian community; as a result we have just begun to work at it and think about it. But I venture to predict that these pluralist objections will loom large in the next segment of our adventure as Christians."

(2) Alvin Plantinga, "Pluralism: A Defense of Religious Exclusivism," in Thomas D. Senor, ed., The Rationality of Belief and the Plurality of Faith: Essays in Honor of William P. Alston (Ithaca, NY, and London:

Cornell University Press, 1995), pp. 191-215. The same essay has been reproduced in Phillip L. Quinn and Kevin Meeker, eds., The Philosophical Challenge of Challenge of Religious Diversity (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 172-192. An expanded version appears in Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief(Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 437-457.

(3) Plantinga, "Pluralism: A Defense," p. 215 (citations are from Senor, Rationality).

(4) Austin Flannery, ed., Vatican Council 11, vol. 1: The Conciliar and Pastconciliar Documents, new rev. ed (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1975, 1986, 1992, 1996), Lumen gentium, no. 14, p. 366.

(5) Plantinga, "Pluralism: A Defense," p. 215. See also Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, pp. 456 and 457.

(6) An earlier draft of this essay was presented at the National Conference of the Evangelical Philosophical Society in Atlanta, GA, on November 17, 2010. The meeting was specifically dedicated to honoring the work of Plantinga (who was present).

(7) Flannery, Vatican II, Ad gentes, no. 6, pp. 818-819.

(8) Francis A. Sullivan, ,Salvation outside the Church? Tracing the History of the Catholic Response (New York and Mahwah, N J: Paulist Press, 1992), p. 146; emphases in original.

(9) Eugene Hillman, "Evangelization in a Wider Ecumenism: Theological Grounds for Dialogue with Other Religions," J.E.S. 12 (Winter, 1975): 7.

(10) St. Augustine, De Baptismo, 27.38.

(11) No one has argued more convincingly for the complexities of heaven and hell than S. Mark Helm, in his The Depth of the Riches: A Trinitarian Theology of Religious Ends (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001).

(12) The best example that lays out these four tenets from an official Catholic perspective is Dominus lesus (2000). However, it should be noted that divine revelation has also been given to the Jews. Thus, revelation finds its fullest expression in Christ, but one cannot deny that God's self-disclosure to the Jews also constitutes divine revelation. For a discussion of tangential criticisms of Dominus lesus, see Vincent P. Branick, ""Dominus lesus,' and the Ecumenical Dialogue with Catholics," J.E.S. 38 (Fall, 2001): 412-431.

(13) Flannery, Vatican 11, Dignitatis humanae, no. 1, pp. 799-800; Lumen gentium, no. 8, pp. 357-358; and Unitatis redintegratio, no. 8, pp. 460-461.

(14) For theologians who allow themselves to be interpreted in the hard sense of complementary relationships between Christianity and other religions, see Ewert Cousins, "The Trinity and World Religions," J.E.S. 7 (Summer, 1970): 476-498; Howard R. Burkle, "Jesus Christ and Religious Pluralism," J.E.S. 16 (Summer, 1979): 457-471; Donald G. Dawe, "Religious Pluralism and the Church," J.E.S. 18 (Fall, 1981): 604-615 (see especially pp. 617 and 620, of the responses by Virginia Kaib Ratigan); and Roger Haight, "Trinity and Religious Pluralism," J.E.S. 44 (Fall, 2009): 525-540 (especially pp. 538-540).

(15) John Hick, "A Brief Response to Aimee Upjohn Light," J.E.S. 44 (Fall, 2009): 691.

(16) Hillman, "Evangelization in a Wider Ecumenism," p. 9.

(17) For a short discussion of the different areas of agreement among the three great monotheistic faiths, see ibid., pp. 1-12; and Paul Mojzes and Leonard Swidler, "Common Elements of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam," J.E.S. 39 (Winter-Spring, 2002): 80--81. For additional confirmation, albeit from an evangelical perspective, see Michael S. Jones, "Evangelical Christianity and the Philosophy of Interreligious Dialogue," J.E.S. 36 (Summer-Fall 1999): 383.

(18) Miikka Ruokanen, The Catholic Doctrine of Non-Christian Religions according to the Second Vatican Council (Leiden: Brill, 1992), p. 70.

(19) James Fredericks, "Tile Catholic Church and the Other Religious Paths: Rejecting Nothing that Is True and Holy," Theological Studies 64 (June, 2003): 233.

(20) Flannery, Vatican 11, Lumen gentium, no. 62. pp. 418-419.

(21) Perhaps the most representative example of religious pluralism to date (i.e., pluralism de jure) is found in John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent, 2rid ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005).

(22) John Hick, "Brief Response to Light," p. 691. For Light's original essay, see Aimee Upjohn Light, "'Harris, Hick, and the Demise of the Pluralist Hypothesis," J.E.S. 44 (Summer, 2009): 467470.

(23) The term "pluralist" can be ascribed to orthodox theologians in a soft sense of that term. See Gerald O'Collins, "Jacques Dupuis's Contributions to lnterreligious Dialogue," Theological Studies 64 (June, 2003): 393.

(24) Paul F. Knitter, "Preface," in John Hick and Paul F. Knitter, eds., The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, Faith Meets Faith Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1987), p. viii.

(25) A major thesis that is defended in Sullivan, Salvation outside the Church?

(26) Ruokanen, Catholic Doctrine of Non-Christian Religions, pp. 102-103.

(27) Avery Dulles, "The Population of Hell," First Things 133 (May, 2003): 36--41.

(28) For a contemporary defense of the tri-polar classification of exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism, see Perry Schmidt-Leukel, "Exclusivism, Inclusivism, Pluralism: The Tripolar Typology-Clarified and Reaffirmed," in Paul F. Knitter, ed., The Myth of Religious Superiority: Multifaith Explorations of Religious Pluralism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005), pp. 13-27.

(29) This point is hugely important when confronting the challenge of mission work. See Stephen J. Duffy, "The Galilean Christ: Particularity and Universality," J.E.S. 26 (Winter, 1989): 170 and 171 ; emphasis added.

(30) William Lane Craig, "Politically Incorrect Salvation," in Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm, eds., Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World (Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), pp. 85 and 86.

(31) John Paul I1, Redemptoris missio, no. 2; available at documents/hf_jp-ii_enc 07121990_redemptoris-missio_en.html.

(32) Yves Congar, The Wide World, My Parish: Salvation and Its Problems, tr. Donald Attwater (London: Darton, Longman & Todd; Baltimore, MD: Helicon Press, 1961 [orig.: Vaste Monde, ma paroisse (Paris: Temoignage Chretien)]), p. 131.

(33) Gerald O'Collins, Salvation for All. God's Other Peoples (Oxford, U. K., and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 219.

(34) For more on the importance of developing an analogical mindset with respect to the tension between Catholic uniqueness and the universal benevolence of God (that is to say, tenets 1 and 3), see Cousins, "The Trinity and World Religions," pp. 481 and 483; Hillman, "Evangelization in a Wider Ecumenism," pp. 6, 8, and 9; Burkle, "'Jesus Christ and Religious Pluralism," p. 466; Dawe, "Religious Pluralism and the Church," pp. 618 and 619; Duffy, "The Galilean Christ," pp. 161, 162, and 170-173; Hugo A. Meynell, "The Conditions of Christian Uniqueness," J.E.S. 26 (Winter, 1989): 58-71; and Haight, "Trinity and Religious Pluralism," pp. 537 and 540.

(35) Paul Mojzes, "Universality and Uniqueness in the Context of Religious Pluralism: An Introduction," J.E.S. 26 (Winter, 1989): 6.

(36) Cf. Flannery, Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, no. 24, p. 925.

(37) Flannery, Vatican II, Dei verbum, no. 4, p. 752.

(38) For more on Rahner's theology of the anonymous Christian, see Karl Rahner, "Christianity and Non-Christian Religions," in Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations, vol. 5: Later Writings, tr. KarI-H. Kruger (Baltimore, MD: Helicon Press, 1966 [orig.: Neuere Schriften (Einsiedeln: Benziger, 1960)]), pp. I15-134; idem, "Jesus Christ in Non-Christian Religions," in Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity, tr. William V. Dych (New York: Seabury Press [A Crossroad Book], 1978 [orig: Grundkurs des Glaubens.- Einfuhrung in den Begriff des Christentums (Freiburg im Breisgau: Verlag Herder, 1976)]), pp. 311-321.

(39) For a secondary source on Rahner's theology of the "anonymous Christian," see Maurice Boutin, "'Anonymous Christianity: A Paradigm for [nterreligious Encounter?" J.E.S. 20 (Fall, 1983): 602-629.

(40) Ibid., p. 612.

(41) Referring to Plantinga's essay in defense of exclusivism, Keith Mascord wrote: "Plantinga's defence of exclusivism ... leaves open the question of which version of exclusivism is being defended" (Keith Mascord, Alvin Plantinga and Christian Apologetics, Paternoster Theological Monographs [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006 (orig., Paternoster Press, 2006)], p. 36). The other type of exclusivism referred to by Mascord is inclusivism (the idea that one religion is true and that formal outsiders to that one religion can still be saved). Plantinga's neglect in clarifying his position undoubtedly limits his contribution to more nuanced discussions: "Exclusivism, per se, is not problematic, but particular versions of exclusivism are. Doctrinally conservative Christianity, of which Plantinga himself is a defender, has traditionally, and almost universally, accepted proposition (3) [i.e., that explicit belief in Jesus is needed for salvation] ... Movements away from (3) are recent, and in my opinion, have been occasioned by difficulties associated with (3). Plantinga's failure to address these difficulties limits the value of his contribution to the religious pluralism debate" (Mascord, Plantinga and Christian Apologetics, p. 41). Mascord also noted that in a private email Plantinga wrote that he tends to accept inclusivism, not exclusivism as such.

(42) Clark H. Pinnock, A Wideness in God's Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a Worm of Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), p. 15.

Glenn B. Siniscalchi (Catholic) is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA. He received an MA. in theology from Saint Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology, Wickliffe, OH, in 2007, and holds a B. A. from West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV. He also completed Certification in Special Education, Learning Disabilities, from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. During Spring, 2011, he is an adjunct faculty member at St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia, PA. He taught religion at North Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, 2007-08. He taught previously as a paraprofessional or special education teacher at schools in Wooster and Cleveland, OH; Monroe, NC; and Deptford and Camden, NJ. He has made presentations at a dozen conferences and professional societies since 2008, including the original version of the present essay for the National Conference of the Evangelical Philosophical Society in Atlanta, GA, in November, 2010. Ten of his articles have been published by Ecumenical Trends, American Theological Inquiry, Journal of Interreligious Dialogue, Heythrop Journal, and Faith and Reason, and his dozen book reviews appear in Anglican Theological Review, Blackwell Reviews in Religion and Theology, Faith and Philosophy, and Evangelical Review of Theology. Another twenty articles and reviews are forthcoming. He has been an associate editor of American Theological Inquiry since 2009 and was moderator for the National Conference of the Evangelical Philosophical Society in 2009 and 2010.
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Author:Siniscalchi, Glenn B.
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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