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Is There Only One True Religion or Are There Many?

The author, a process theologian who teaches at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, addresses the title question in four short chapters that were given originally as the 1990 Samuel Ferguson Lectures at the University of Manchester.

Ogden reviews and rejects as inadequate the three usual options in a Christian theology of religions. Exclusivism, he says, "is an incredible theological position, being incapable of validation in terms of common human experience and reason, but also because it is deeply inappropriate to Jesus" (p. 53). Ogden discounts the authority of Scripture and makes no reference to any scriptural text except a passing comment about the two great commandments. The word "Bible" does not appear in the index. He maintains that "historical-critical study of scripture has undercut any claim that Jesus Christ was already proclaimed prophetically in the Hebrew scriptures" (p. 42).

Inclusivism, he says, allows that all individuals may be saved by Christ and all religions can be more or less valid means of salvation. Ogden considers this also an "extreme [conservative] position" because "Christian inclusivists continue to maintain that Christianity alone can be the formally true religion, since it alone is the religion established by God in the unique saving event of Jesus Christ" (p. 31). Thus it is another form of Christian monism, like exclusivism, which he rejects.

On pluralism in a theology of religions (a la John Hick), Ogden ends up "skeptical rather than negative," because "the position that there are many true religions is logically as extreme as the contrary position of exclusivism that there can be only one" (p. 79)

Beyond these three positions that are usually considered Ogden of offers a fourth option as "the relatively more adequate option open to us" (p. 82). He describes his fourth option as "pluralistic inclusivism," in contrast to "monistic inclusivism" (p. x), and calls it a "distinct alternative," a "neglected possibility for answering the question," a "complete break with Christian monism, whether exclusivistic or inclusivistic" (p. 82).

What characterizes Ogden's fourth option? Its difference from pluralism is only one word: whereas pluralism maintains that there are many true religions, Ogden says that there can be many true religions. His difference with the two monistic options is that they deny what he affirms, namely, "that religions other than Christianity can as validly claim to be formally true as it can" (pp. 83-84). Readers will likely be underwhelmed by the attractiveness of Ogden's option.
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Author:Anderson, Gerald H.
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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