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In Defense of a “Christian” Pluralism

Author: Christopher Caroll Smith

About the Author
Chris Caroll Smith holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies (with a minor in Classics) from Fresno Pacific University, and a Master’s degree in Christian History from Wheaton College.  Chris has applied to doctoral programs in Religious Studies at several schools for Fall 2009.  His ongoing research interests include Mormon origins, a proto-Pentecostal revival in India in 1860, and a variety of other topics in religion. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Normative religious pluralism has been criticized as a neo-colonial force that invades Christianity from the outside and seeks to quash its distinctiveness.  In fact, however, pluralism arises from within the tradition.  Where it utilizes external resources, pluralism does so in continuity with long and venerable Christian practice in order to realize fundamentally Christian ambitions.  While pluralism does “deconstruct” the Christian tradition, this need not imply an external or destructive act.  According to Derrida, deconstruction is a process internal to the deconstructed system of thought and ultimately seeks to be constructive rather than purely destructive.  This model applies well to Christian pluralism, whose deconstructive tendencies arise from tensions within the Christian tradition itself.

1. Introduction
In a blistering attack on John Hick and other pluralist philosophers and theologians, evangelical apologist Alister McGrath complains that since pluralism demands an abandonment of certain core distinctives of Christian orthodoxy, pluralism represents “a failure to take the religions seriously as they are.”  McGrath goes on to link pluralism to the “totalizing and homogenizing agenda” of Nazism and the Enlightenment, calling it “profoundly oppressive” and “tantamount to intellectual Stalinism.”[1] Similar accusations have been leveled by other evangelical apologists; John Milbank feels that pluralism ossifies freedom and justice “in their liberal imperialist versions, which stem from the Enlightenment,”[2] and Kathryn Tanner argues that pluralists have adopted the major assumptions of colonialist discourse.[3]  Clark Pinnock, meanwhile, associates pluralism with Eastern monism and theological liberalism and alleges that it “just listens to culture and has nothing to contribute,”[4] and Harold Netland finds the origin of pluralist theologies in a “pluralistic ethos” arising from modernization and secularization.[5]  Further examples could be cited, but suffice to say that the popular perception of pluralism—especially among evangelicals—is that it is an invasive, external force that seeks to colonize or to overthrow traditional Christianity.

When I first encountered the writings of pluralist theologian John Hick as an undergraduate, I might well have agreed with his critics’ assessment.  Pluralism seemed much too relativistic for my tastes, and its implications much too threatening to my evangelical Christian worldview.  Even as I repudiated Hick, however, tensions in my worldview were pushing me toward a pluralist position.  It took half a decade, but eventually forces internal to my system of belief pushed me toward precisely the philosophical position that I had rejected when it came from the pen of an outsider.  My own experience thus leads me to believe that, far from being an invasive and external force, pluralism is actually the logical fulfillment of the Christian tradition itself.

In arguing that pluralism can be authentically Christian I do not intend to deny that it draws on resources external to the Christian tradition.  Rather, I hope to show that pluralism arises from a confluence of internality and externality in which the primary impetus is actually profoundly internal. I will also argue that the appropriation of external resources is actually a venerable and traditional Christian practice.  In a second section I will use the concept of deconstruction to illustrate how the pluralist critique of the tradition arises from and is driven by internal tensions and forces, and is finally constructive rather than destructive.

2. Internality and Externality
In order to determine whether pluralism is internal or external to Christianity, one must first have a clear sense of what constitutes “Christianity” and of where its boundaries are located.  This is no easy task.  If there were only one sect that claimed the name, we might adopt an organizational approach.  We might define as “Christian” those thinkers and theologies that are recognized as legitimate by the Christian institution.  Indeed, most Christians throughout history have approached the question in precisely this way, especially since biblical passages like Mt. 18:15-18 provide for the excommunication of unfaithful members and for the maintenance of institutional and theological boundaries.  The problem with such an approach is that it necessarily begs the question.  Precisely the point at issue is which institution—if any—is the one that has been authorized to “bind and loose” the boundaries of the church on earth and in heaven.  The question therefore cannot be settled by an appeal to the authority of a particular institution or sect.  The unfortunate fact of the matter, however, is that most other ways of addressing the question also involve this sort of special pleading, albeit less explicitly.  To define Christian theology as that which is rooted directly in the Bible would assume a Protestant understanding of spiritual authority; to define it as that which is rooted in the Great Tradition would assume a Catholic understanding.  To define it as that which is sanctioned by the gifts of the Spirit would assume a Pentecostal understanding, and to define it as that which produces holiness would assume a Wesleyan understanding.  These are, of course, gross generalizations, but the problem remains and does not appear likely to be resolved in the near future.[6]  If McGrath’s “Christianity as it is” really exists, it is doubtful that there will ever be broad agreement as to its identity.[7]

Christian historian Euan Cameron, after describing and then rejecting dogmatic and relativistic approaches to defining Christianity, proposes a sort of middle way.  “All historically visible Christianities,” he proposes, “are partial manifestations of an essence that is never seen in unmixed form, and can never be seen in its wholeness and entirety here on earth.”  This means for Cameron that no avowedly Christian group may be placed entirely outside the fold, although all of them will distort to a greater or lesser degree the common essence that they all express.  Cameron recognizes that we have a responsibility to try to identify and avoid these distortions, but also suggests that since we are historically-conditioned creatures we can never do so perfectly or definitively.[8]  Besides providing a possible route around the impasse, Cameron’s proposal is of interest here because of its general agreement with the suppositions of religious pluralism.  The pluralist merely extends Cameron’s principle, so that it is all religions that are expressing a common essence rather than merely all Christianities.[9]

Cameron’s solution—that is, the pluralist solution—has the distinct advantage of providing Christians an avenue for bypassing their historical divisions and for experiencing some ecumenical unity.  To be unified in heart and mind is a central admonition of nearly all the Pauline epistles,[10] and if the past two millennia have taught us anything it is the bankruptcy of efforts to build that unity around a doctrinal orthodoxy.

The present paper will not adopt Cameron’s solution wholesale, since it is not likely to be persuasive to all.  Rather, for the sake of argument it will treat the Bible and the historic, majority Christian traditions as the anchors for internality.  I cannot promise to draw only from the most orthodox centers of these traditions, since as one raised Pentecostal and educated by Mennonites that would hardly be true to my experience.  But I will avoid assuming the internality of the fringes, however tempting it may be to point to the Christian roots of the Enlightenment or to the ancient, orthodox provenance of Christian universalism.  It is hoped, in any case, that the reader will keep Cameron’s model in mind, and will recall that many of pluralists’ theological heroes self-identified as true—sometimes even as the only true—Christians (even if they were not universally acknowledged as such).

One contemporary discussion in which questions of internality and externality play an important role is the debate over whether Christian missions constitute cultural imperialism.  One of the most interesting arguments deployed by defenders of evangelical missions is that far from being an invasive, colonizing force, Christianity is a storehouse of resources that are adopted by indigenous populations in order to fulfill ambitions internal to their indigenous cultures and religions.  In his work on African Pentecostalism, for example, the late Ogbu Kalu suggested that the “new realities” offered by Pentecostal missionaries, “though seemingly from outside, come in to fulfill aspirations within the tradition and, then, to offer quite significantly the basis of self-understanding within the tradition.”   The domestication of global resources by local contexts for their own purposes Kalu called “glocalization”.[11]  Jehu Hanciles agrees, observing that “Islam and Christianity [in West Africa] were little more than ‘catalysts’” for changes that were “in the air anyway.”[12]  Similar arguments have been made for Latin America and for other contexts.[13]

This argument applies well to the appropriation of modern and post-modern resources by Christian pluralists.  It is a distortion to suggest that when pluralists preach the gospel of tolerance and affirm the findings of biblical criticism they are bending the knee to alien worldviews.  Rather, they are embracing the truths these perspectives have to offer and enlisting them into the service of authentically Christian ambitions.

For an example of this dynamic in action, one need look no further than the use by liberation theologians of post-modern anti-colonialist discourse.  Liberation theology’s recognition that the Bible reveals a God who has a special place in his heart for the poor and disinherited has become fairly mainstream, even if its more radical Marxist rhetoric has not.[14]  In fact, some recent mainstream evangelical interpretations of Jesus depict him as one who radically opposed and confronted the political powers of his day.[15]  It is not surprising, then, that some thinkers who have embraced this critique of the powers should be suspicious of an exclusivistic orthodoxy that historically allied itself with imperial ambitions and that established its theological boundaries by such means as book-burning,[16] execution of heretics,[17] and even acts of genocide.[18]  Some, like John Howard Yoder, reject the Constantinian synthesis while yet remaining devoted to historic Christian orthodoxy.  But others perceive a causal relationship between rigid orthodoxy and Christianity’s violent history and so conclude that the revision of that orthodoxy is a Christian ethical mandate.  This is the position, most notably, of pluralist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether.  “Theologically,” Ruether observes, “anti-Judaism developed as the left hand of Christology.”[19]  The problem for orthodox Christology is further exacerbated by the fact that its full, normative realization of authentic humanity occurred in a white male, potentially legitimizing sexism and racism.[20]  Reuther therefore rejects the finality and atonement of Christ, preferring to treat him as a norm and/or paradigm of liberation and the cross as a political assassination and act of oppression on the part of the authorities. Ruether understands this view of Jesus to be deeply rooted in the historical content of his prophetic and liberating teaching, but also to arise in the encounter of that teaching with the ethical realities of our present existence.[21]  She is arguably therefore both deeply Christian and deeply postmodern.

Concerns like these have also led some pluralist theologians to appropriate one of the distinctive contributions of the modern era: biblical criticism.  Pluralists already tend to be people who are convinced of the reliability of reason and of the Christian mandate to be truth-tellers, and so are suspicious of deliberately confessional scholarship.[22]  But perhaps more importantly, pluralists have internalized the teaching of John 8:32 that there is a necessary relation between truth and liberation.  It is no surprise, then, that where fundamentalist theologians see in biblical criticism an assault on the foundations of faith, pluralists like John Hick and Paul Knitter see in it an opportunity.  In recovering Christ’s historic self-understanding, the Church may be liberated from the dogmatic and exclusive Christology of Chalcedonian orthodoxy.  It may be liberated to understand Jesus as a theocentric prophet who possessed a powerful consciousness of his divine sonship: a divine man but not a Divine Person.  It may be liberated to understand Jesus as unique but not exclusive, and to interpret his theocentric gospel in a way that admits of the universal and multiform revelation of the one God.[23]

There is nothing inherently unchristian about pluralists’ appropriation of external resources.[24]  Christianity has a long history of such appropriation, which can be detected even in the pages of the Bible itself.  Among other things, biblical authors borrow the concept of Logos from Greek philosophy,[25] the structure of Genesis 1 from the Enuma Elish,[26] and much of the wisdom literature from foreign texts like The Teaching of Amenemope.[27]  Indeed, an argument could be made that such borrowing is intrinsic to Christianity itself.  Euan Cameron is not alone in concluding that “historical change and development are of the very essence of the diverse and continuously unfolding Christian experience;” missiologist Andrew Walls has similarly suggested that “the incarnation of Christianity in new cultural settings may be said to display the essential character of the Christian faith itself.”[28]  Walls’ reference to incarnation is suggestive.  The fact is that we are all historically-conditioned beings, and all efforts to communicate the Christian message must make use of historically-conditioned forms.  If the church is to incarnate God’s love for a modern world, then even as it clings to and is defined by the essence of Christianity it must take on modern flesh and a modern soul.

3. Pluralism as Deconstruction
The notion of incarnation as applied to Christianity has far-reaching consequences, as the nineteenth-century German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher was perhaps more aware than any other before or since.  Schleiermacher believed, in effect, that all reality is an incarnation of the divine.  The Universe—a term that Schleiermacher used synonymously with God—intuits itself by becoming expressed in the infinite diversity of the finite world.[29]  The religions are a part of this diversity.  At the core of every religion is a different intuition of the Universe.[30]  This intuition can never really be communicated by finite forms and language.  True knowledge of it can only be obtained by direct experience.  What all this means for Schleiermacher is that the essence of each religion is something finally inexpressible that we are nevertheless obligated to express, however imperfectly and unsatisfactorily.[31] 

Schleiermacher therefore shared the conclusion at which we arrived in the previous section that Christianity must continually express itself in new language in order to be a living and relevant faith.  But this meant also that scripture, tradition, and dogma could never be for him definitive forms or expressions of the core Christian intuition.  They always remained imperfect and secondary to the experience of it.[32]  The particular intuition of Christianity, according to Schleiermacher, is the opposition and rebellion of everything finite against the infinitude it expresses—an opposition we call “sin”—and the need for mediator-figures.  Schleiermacher argues that because of Christianity’s awareness of this opposition, it is a “polemical” religion: polemical against all finite expressions of the infinite, including its own.  This awareness of its own deficiencies he feels is a boon for Christianity, since it means that the tradition has the ability to continually critique and renew itself.[33]  The interesting consequence of Schleiermacher’s view is that, far from being an invasive assault from outside, the modern and postmodern critiques of Christian scripture and tradition flow from the very essence of Christianity itself.  Indeed, they are in fact more faithful to the tradition than the orthodox defense of it.

This theme—that all historical expressions of the Christian message, including the Bible itself, are limited—is mainstream enough.  It rests primarily on the conviction of the transcendence of God, who is beyond all human speaking and knowing.  It was admitted by the late-medieval scholastic and mystical traditions, which held that the Bible was a witness to the Word rather than being the Word itself.[34]  A better-known proponent is Karl Barth, who held that when the Bible is read with faith it becomes a witness to the Word by the work of the Holy Spirit.[35]  Barth, of course, did not perceive in this doctrine the iconoclastic implications that Schleiermacher saw, but neither is Schleiermacher the only historical figure who stumbled upon this insight.  The spiritualist Anabaptists, too, made scripture radically inferior to a direct internal revelation of the eternal Word, and used this disjunction of Word and witness to challenge what they perceived to be the magisterial Reformers’ worship of the dead letter.[36]  Thus for example Sebastian Franck could say that although the revelation of the Word can be foreshadowed “from a distance in a kind of crude way” through scripture, scripture is “the milk of infants.”  According to Franck, “The solid food of the perfect does not come from Scripture.  It is the mind of Christ, who sends forth the Spirit of Scripture.”[37]

My own religious journey illustrates well how the spirit can challenge the letter.  As a Pentecostal, I was raised on a steady diet of biblical stories and theology and believed most or all of what I read.  There is also, however, in Pentecostalism a deconstructive tendency wherein the experience of the individual (or even of the community) threatens to turn on the biblical/theological boundaries and to challenge them.[38]  This is precisely what happened to me when in high school I had two spiritual experiences that suggested a pluralistic relationship between the religions.  The first was a dream in which a Mormon friend and my evangelical pastor argued some theological point with great vehemence, much to the disillusionment of all present.  At the end of the dream I realized that both had been saying the same thing, though neither had been willing to admit it.  The second came as a mental impression in response to prayer as to which church I should join.  The answer that burned itself into my mind was, “My [i.e. God’s] salvation is not limited by the bounds of church membership.”  Although I am now inclined to be skeptical that these insights were propositional revelations from above, they have nevertheless remained significant for my theological development.  At the very least, I seem to have understood at a subconscious level a truth that my conscious mind was not yet prepared to accept.[39]

My experience finds resonances in a postmodern paradigm that may perhaps provide an interpretive lens through which to understand the emergence of religious pluralism: namely, Derridean deconstruction.  Deconstruction has often been misunderstood to refer to an aggressive and destructive analytical method to be imposed on a text from the outside.  Derrida explicitly denies this.  Rather, he asserts that deconstruction is something that happens from within a text or system as a result of its internal tensions and contradictions.  The goal of this “auto-deconstruction,” moreover, is only destructive insofar as it seeks to clear ground for renewal and development.  It is not the systems and the structures themselves that Derrida opposes, but their dogmatism and inflexibility.  In fact, to allow this deconstruction to occur is not an act of hostility toward the tradition, but “a sign of love” for it.[40]  The curious result of this deconstructive renewal is that a system or philosophy uproots itself and becomes “independent of its own grounds.”  It is simultaneously a continuation of the tradition and a creation of something authentically new.[41]

As an illustration of what is meant by the principle of deconstruction, Derrida offers the suggestive example of law and justice.  Justice itself, he says, is something irreducible and incalculable.  Law, which is a human attempt to codify justice, is always an imperfect expression of it that continually needs deconstruction and renewal.  It is justice itself, in fact, that provides the motive and the impulse to deconstruct the law.  This means that “a judge, if he wants to be just, cannot content himself with applying the law.  He has to reinvent the law each time. If he wants to be responsible, […] he has not simply to apply the law, as a coded program, to a given case, but to reinvent in a singular situation a new just relationship.”[42]  If the implications for religion are not already evident, Derrida himself spells them out for us.  Faith, like justice, is something irreducible, which is codified in the various dogmas and institutions of religion.  Religion, like law, “not only can but should be deconstructed, sometimes in the name of faith.”[43]  Extending this principle to the case of religious pluralism, we may say that it is Christian faith itself that moves the pluralist to deconstruct and reinvent the Christian tradition—a reinvention that is at once continuous with the tradition and something authentically new.

Although evangelical Protestants are at the forefront of the reactionary movement against the pluralist deconstruction of Christian exclusivism, deconstruction is not a phenomenon that should be alien to them.  The Protestant Reformation, after all, was essentially a deconstruction of the medieval Catholic synthesis; it detected a tension between tradition and scripture and allowed these forces to work radically against each other, thereby producing a new synthesis and a renewal of the tradition.  It was this Protestant act of deconstruction, in fact, that unleashed the powerful forces of humanist textual criticism upon the sources of theology, resulting at first in the very desirable unmasking of the pseudepigraphal Donation of Constantine, and later in the less desirable unmasking of pseudepigraphal texts within the Bible itself.  As long as these methods were directed against the distinctive sources of Catholic orthodoxy, they were hailed by Protestants as redemptive; now that they are leveled against the distinctive sources of Protestant orthodoxy, they are bemoaned as invasive and unchristian.  The truth, of course, is that the critiques of tradition and the Bible are merely two sides of the same coin; the latter is merely an extension of the former.  The Bible, as many critics of Protestantism have pointed out, is itself a product of tradition, and its authority is therefore undermined by the radical anti-traditionalism that was unleashed by the Reformers.[44]  There is, then, a real sense in which the liberal Enlightenment project of paring biblical religion down to find the essential kernel beneath the husk was a quintessentially Protestant one.

There are three crucial tensions in the Christian tradition that pluralists have deconstructed.  The first, the tension between God’s forgiving love and his holy vengeance, stands out as particularly significant.  There can be no question that the duality of love and wrath, of forgiveness and retributive justice, is apparent throughout both the Old and the New Testaments.  Yet there seems—particularly in the New Testament—to be a special emphasis on the more positive term in this pair.  Certainly love is presented as the ultimate moral mandate for finite beings, whereas such behaviors or attitudes as judgment, wrath, and vengeance are expressly forbidden.[45]  But love is not only for finite beings.  We are told, in fact, that God is love, and that for that reason “everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 Jn. 1:7-8).[46]  How is this emphasis on love and forgiveness to be reconciled with the themes of election, retributive justice, and eternal hell?  Despite many valiant efforts to alleviate the dissonance between these polarities, there has been no really satisfactory solution to the dilemma.  Pluralists see themselves as acting in accordance with the special emphasis of the New Testament when they resolve the conflict in favor of love.[47]  The natural implication of the pluralist solution to this tension is that God is at work in the religions wherever and to the extent that love is found in them.  John Hick’s argument for pluralism from the moral parity of religions relies upon precisely this sort of reasoning: since there is little discernible moral difference between the followers of the various world religions, and since God is the source of all moral goodness, God must be equally at work in every world faith.[48]  Thus, too, could the nineteenth-century pluralist Ernst Troeltsch say that “to apprehend the One in the Many constitutes the special character of love.”[49]

The second tension is closely related to the first: it pits God’s universal salvific will against his seemingly preferential election of some in the face of the eternal reprobation of all others.  According to 2 Pt. 3:9, God “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”[50]  Yet the theme of God’s sovereign election of a few is also amply represented in the pages of the Bible.[51]  This tension, like the last, has given birth to many ingenious but finally unsatisfactory attempts at reconciliation.  For the pluralist, for whom God’s universal love is primary, there simply cannot be a preferential election of any one people; God’s universal salvific will must translate into universal salvific activity, or it is an empty willing of the sort that the New Testament so roundly condemns.[52]  And of course we do, in fact, see the results of that activity in other religions.  Those things that the Bible defines as the fruits of the Spirit are more or less uniformly present in every religion and in every culture—we find them even among atheists![53]  The unavoidable conclusion, then, is that all of these are equal beneficiaries of the Spirit’s saving work.  Here again divine love plays an important role.  John Hick asks poignantly, “Is it compatible with the limitless divine love that God should have decreed that only a minority of human beings, those who have happened to be born in a Christian part of the world, should have the opportunity of eternal life?”[54]
The last tension, only tangentially related to the first two, is between the transcendence and personality of God.  This tension is found in the earliest documents of Christianity, and continues throughout the entire history of the Christian tradition.  In general, the emphasis on divine transcendence has tended to lead in pluralistic and/or universalistic directions, whereas the emphasis on divine personality has tended to lead to a strong sense of the particularity and unique sufficiency of the Christian tradition.  One reason for this is that an emphasis on transcendence relativizes all concrete symbols for and expressions of the deity, thereby making it less natural to speak of any symbol or expression as final or definitive.  Transcendence, moreover, lends itself to an emphasis on the omnipresence and omniactivity of God.[55]

Few Christian thinkers have grasped the radical implications of the Christian doctrine of divine transcendence as fully as Paul Tillich.  Tillich held that this doctrine lay at the very core of the Christ event.  Jesus, he suggested, was a particular incarnation of the transcendent deity.  The crucifixion was the ultimate denial of this particularity; “What is particular in him is that he crucified the particular in him for the sake of what is universal.”[56]  Thus the defining insight of the Christian religion, according to Tillich, is that it must fight everything within itself that makes it a religion.  Thus, for example, the Hebrew prophets demythologize the God of Israel into the God of the Universe, and a similar process occurs in the early Christian church.  “In the depth of every living religion,” he suggests, “there is a point at which the religion loses its importance, and that to which it points breaks through its particularity, elevating it to spiritual freedom and to a vision of the spiritual presence in other expressions of the ultimate meaning of man’s existence.”[57]  Thus the critique of Christian particularity springs from the most essential core and object of Christian particularity itself.  This, as Caputo would say, is “deconstruction in a nutshell.”

4. Conclusion
Pluralism, in conclusion, can be deeply Christian, as it is for many pluralist thinkers.  Its critique of Christian orthodoxy is a critique that emerges from within rather than being imposed from without, and its core affirmations are those of the Christian tradition.  It is also quite capable of taking seriously the historical life and teaching of Jesus, perhaps even in ways that the orthodox tradition cannot.  Arguably, pluralism is an instance of the Christian tradition carrying its adherents beyond itself, to a recognition that its referent is broader and greater than previously imagined and cannot be definitively proscribed within the tradition itself.

I close with the caveat that is not my intention to suggest in this paper that pluralism is not in some sense outside or beyond what most people have in mind when they think of Christianity.  Pluralists have a responsibility to make this distinction clear: to differentiate themselves from Christian orthodoxy and to avoid using the “Christian” label in a way that will lead to confusion rather than clarity.  But pluralists are under no obligation to surrender the term entirely.  Indeed, for many pluralists—myself included—the name of Christ will remain the truest epithet for the source and aim of their deepest religious commitments.

 [1] Alister E. McGrath, "Conclusion," in Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, ed. Stanley N. Gundry, Dennis L. Okholm, and Timothy R. Phillips (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 205-7.
[2] John Milbank, "The End of Dialogue," in Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered: The Myth of a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, ed. Gavin D'Costa (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990), 187.
[3] Kathryn Tanner, "Respect for Other Religions: A Christian Alternative to Colonialist Discourse," Modern Theology 9, no. 1 (1993): 9-12.  Tanner suggests that a Christian doctrine of creation, according to which all are created good, will produce respect for other religions where she predicts pluralism will fail.  Nowhere does she acknowledge the prominence of sin and depravity in traditional Christian doctrine or the various biblical writers’ hostility toward other religions.  The priests of Baal who were slain by Elijah would probably raise questions about whether a doctrine of creation leads automatically to respect for all people.
[4] Clark H. Pinnock, "Response to John Hick," in Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, ed. Stanley N. Gundry, Dennis L. Okholm, and Timothy R. Phillips (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 62,4.
[5] Harold A. Netland, Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith & Mission (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 14-6.
[6] The debate over what constitutes “Christianity” has intensified in recent years due to the growing visibility of Mormonism in mainstream American culture.  This debate has accomplished little more than to illustrate how truly irresolvable the problem is.  For a well-reasoned Mormon critique of evangelical efforts to exclude them from the Christian fold, I recommend Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-Day Saints (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992).
[7] The error of assuming that there is some easily identifiable “Christianity as it is” is one that McGrath probably inherited from his theological mentor, John Milbank.  Milbank very frequently predicates his arguments on what is more or less “Christian”, but nowhere does he address in any detail how the content of Christianity is to be determined.  This seems a curious error for ostensibly post-modern thinkers like McGrath and Milbank who aggressively deconstruct categories when it suits their purposes.  Cf. John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, 2nd ed. (Oxford, MA: Blackwell, 2006), 432.
[8] Euan Cameron, Interpreting Christian History: The Challenge of the Churches' Past (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 7, 236-40.
[9] Not all pluralists subscribe to what Paul Knitter calls the “common essence” model, but it does seem to be the dominant perspective, and in fact several of the other models Knitter names affirm the existence of a common essence, even while disagreeing about what constitutes that essence and whether it is knowable.  Paul F. Knitter, No Other Name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes toward the World Religions, The American Society of Missiology Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991), 37, 64, 148.
[10] Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God's Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Downers: IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 335-42.
[11] Ogbu Kalu, African Pentecostalism: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 186,9.
[12] Jehu J. Hanciles, "Conversion and Social Change: A Review of the 'Unfinished Task' in West Africa," in Christianity Reborn: The Global Expansion of Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century, ed. Donald M. Lewis (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004), 161.
[13] Paul Freston, "Contours of Latin American Pentecostalism," in Christianity Reborn: The Global Expansion of Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century, ed. Donald M. Lewis (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004), 255,60; David Martin, "Evangelical Expansion in Global Society," in Christianity Reborn: The Global Expansion of Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century, ed. Donald M. Lewis (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004), 279.
[14] For a biblical case for the “preferential option for the poor,” cf. Gustavo Gutierrez, The God of Life, trans. Matthew J. O'Connell (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991).  More mainstream treatments of this theme may be found in Stephen J. Pope, "Proper and Improper Partiality and the Preferential Option for the Poor," Theological Studies 54, no. 2 (1993): 242-72 and Donald B. Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2003).
[15] Cf. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B, Eerdmans, 1994), 21-59; Warren Carter, Matthew and Empire: Initial Explorations (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2001), 57-74.
[16] Haig A. Bosmajian, Burning Books (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006), 33-64.
[17] Although it is currently popular in historical circles to rescue the Inquisition from its perhaps unduly black reputation, the fact remains that very many heretics were flogged, imprisoned, hanged, and burned during the mid-to-late Middle Ages, many of them on orders from the Inquisition.  Justo L. González, A History of Christian Thought: From Augustine to the Eve of the Reformation, vol. 2 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1987), 226-7.
[18] David N. Bell, Many Mansions: An Introduction to the Development and Diversity of Medieval Theology, vol. 146, Cistercian Studies Series (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1996), 132-5.
[19] Rosemary Radford Ruether, To Change the World: Christology and Cultural Criticism (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1981), 31.
[20] Ibid., 45-56.
[21] Jeffrey S. Siker, Scripture and Ethics: Twentieth-Century Portraits (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 182-5.
[22] The Psalms and Proverbs are especially replete with passages that mandate truth-telling, including Ps. 15:2, 51:6, 52:3, 145:18 and Pr. 12:17-22. 
[23] Cf. Knitter, No Other Name?, 171-86.
[24] Or, in the words of Paul Knitter, “To propose a new understanding of the gospel and of the Christian tradition is not a novelty.” Ibid., 19.
[25] More precisely, the Fourth Gospel borrows the concept from Second Temple Judaism, which had put its own spin on what was originally a Stoic concept.  Cf. T. H. Tobin, "The Prologue of John and Hellenistic Jewish Speculation," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52, no. 2 (1990): 252-69.
[26] E. A. Speiser, Genesis (New York, NY: Anchor Bible, 1964), 11.
[27] J. A. Emerton, "The Teaching of Amenemope and Proverbs XXII 17-XXIV 22: Further Reflections on a Long-Standing Problem," Vetus Testamentum 51, no. 4 (2001): 431-65.
[28] Cited in Mark A. Noll, "Evangelical Identity, Power, and Culture in the 'Great' Nineteenth Century," in Christianity Reborn: The Global Expansion of Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century, ed. Donald M. Lewis (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004), 36.
[29] Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, ed. Raymond Geuss, trans. Richard Crouter, Texts in German Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 79.
[30] Ibid., 192-6.
[31] Ibid., 164-6, 69, 76.
[32] He went so far as to say that “every holy writing is a mausoleum of religion.”  Ibid., 132-4, 220; Friedrich Schleiermacher and Heinz Kimmerle, ed., Hermeneutics: The Handwritten Manuscripts, ed. Robert Ellwood, Jr., trans. James Duke and Jack Forstman, vol. 1, American Academy of Religion Texts and Translation Series (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977), 50, 73.
[33] Schleiermacher, On Religion, 213-7.
[34] Werner O. Packull, Mysticism and the Early South German-Austrian Anabaptist Movement, 1525-1531, Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1977), 28.
[35] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, trans. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, vol. I.2 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1956), 457; cf. also John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (London: Basil Montagu Pickering, 1878), 56-9.
[36] Packull, Mysticism, 29, 46, 54-6.  As Packull notes, Luther and most of the other magisterial Reformers reacted vehemently against the spiritualist understanding by arguing for a one-to-one correspondence between Word and scripture.  Modern evangelicalism has inherited this reactionary perspective.
[37] Cited in Steven E. Ozment, Mysticism and Dissent: Religious Ideology and Social Protest in the Sixteenth Century (New Haven--London: Yale University Press, 1973), 36.
[38] Thus, for example, some Pentecostal communities have allowed for women to participate in ministry despite biblical injunctions to the contrary because they do not feel justified in inhibiting the spontaneous work and gifting of the Spirit.
[39] World-famous psychologist Carl Jung was a pluralist who held that all religious experience has a common psychic origin in the subconscious.  The subconscious contains, in effect, the image of God.  Over the course of our lifetimes we confront and realize this image.  Religion is a non-rational accessing of subconscious “archetypes” that lead us to the image.  Revelation is a “laying bare” of the subconscious.  Cf. Knitter, No Other Name?, 55-63.
[40] Jacques Derrida and John D. Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 1997), 8-9.
[41] Ibid., 10.
[42] Ibid., 16-7.  The New Testament, arguably, deconstructs the Old Testament Law by appeal to the “spirit” of justice behind the Mosaic “letter”.
[43] Ibid., 21.
[44] Cf. Newman, Essay on Development, 60.  The typical Protestant rejoinder that the Church did not create the canon but rather received it begs the question in that it already assumes a qualitative difference between the early leaders of the church (from whom the canon was received) and later ones (from whom the Catholic tradition was received).  This supposed difference rests only on the authority of the received tradition itself.  Cf. Heiko Augustinus Oberman, The Dawn of the Reformation: Essays in Late Medieval and Early Reformation Thought (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1986), 274.
[45] Biblical evidence to this effect could be adduced at great length, but among the most emphatic passages are Mt. 7:1-5, 22:34-40; Lk. 6:37-42; Rom. 13:8-10; 1 Cor. 13; Eph. 4:26
[46] Pluralist theologian John D. Caputo refers to this extraordinary passage as his “true north,” and lays a great deal of emphasis upon the inevitable “slippage” by which the affirmation “God is love” becomes “love is God.”  John D. Caputo, On Religion (London--New York: Routledge, 2001), 5-6.
[47] This they do not by eliminating the concept of justice altogether, but by defining justice as love—i.e. in terms of right relation rather than in terms of reward and retribution for adherence to a divine code of honor or behavior.  This shift has occurred more fractionally in mainline evangelicalism, as well, so that talk of “social justice” and “restorative justice” are increasingly displacing talk of retributive justice.
[48] John Hick, "A Pluralist View," in Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, ed. Stanley N. Gundry, Dennis L. Okholm, and Timothy R. Phillips (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 39-42.
[49] Ernst Troeltsch, "The Place of Christianity among the World Religions," in Christianity and Plurality: Classic and Contemporary Readings, ed. Richard J. Plantinga (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 222.
[50] Other verses testifying to the universal salvific will include Jn. 3:17; 2 Cor. 5:15; 1 Tim. 2:4-6, 4:10; 1 Jn. 1:29, 4:14.
[51] Jn. 15:6, 17:6; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:3-6, 2:10; 2 Th. 2:13.
[52] “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (Ja. 4:17; cf. also Mt. 21:28-31).
[53] “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-3; cf. also Mt. 7:17).
[54] Hick, "A Pluralist View," 45.
[55] Most Christian theologies that emphasize divine transcendence over against divine personality owe a great deal to Middle- and/or Neo-Platonic influence and might best be described as panentheistic.  The Eastern tradition has leaned decidedly in that direction, whereas the Western tradition has mostly endeavored to limit transcendence and to wed it to personality.  Erigena and Aquinas are significant exceptions.  For an excellent—albeit hardly exhaustive—study of the history of panentheistic philosophies and theologies, cf. John W. Cooper, Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers, from Plato to the Present (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006).
[56] Paul Tillich, "Christianity Judging Itself in the Light of Its Encounter with the World Religions," in Christianity and Plurality: Classic and Contemporary Readings, ed. Richard J. Plantinga (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 281.
[57] Ibid., 282-7.

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