Chinese Version of Four Views Book

Imagine my surprise when I received in the mail yesterday a book published in Chinese. Often I do get complementary copies of new books. But in Chinese? This does not happen every day. On close inspection it turned out to be a Chinese translation of the book Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, a Zondervan publication. Years ago I co-authored one of the four views for the original English edition of this book, never expecting that it would one day reach a nation with over 1 billion people! How strange to see my name written in Chinese characters. I didn’t know that was possible.



Chinese Edition of Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World—Published by CCLM

If you’re more proficient in Chinese than in English, I commend this edition book to you!


Book Cover-Four Views on Salvation


A useful summary and review of the book by Michael J. Vlach can be found here.




In Memoriam—John Hick (1922-2012)

John Hick, the eminent scholar in the world of religion, died at the age of 90 on Thursday, February 9, 2012. Many will mourn the loss of this gentle man and incisive thinker. But we will also count ourselves blessed to have known him, and celebrate his work among us for so many decades of fruitful scholarship.

I first met John Hick in 1985 or 1986 following a lecture he delivered at the Claremont Colleges, in southern California. I had just written my M.A. thesis (for Gonzaga University) on his treatment of the problem of evil. When I shared this with him, he said he would be interested in reading it. After he had read it, he wanted to meet. So we scheduled a get-together at the colleges and talked about my project. I will always remember two things he said to me at this meeting. The first thing he said, once we got down to business, was that, in my exposition of his position, I had gotten it right. He added that this was unusual for critics of his various views. This put me at ease immediately. We may have met for an hour. Toward the end John asked me what plans I had for publishing my thesis. I had no plans. But John urged me to seek a publisher for it, and offered his assistance.

This was indeed an auspicious beginning to a long-term friendship with one of the world’s foremost religious scholars of the 20th century. It led, eventually, to the publication of my first book, Evil and the Evidence for God: The Challenge of John Hick’s Theodicy (Temple University Press, 1993), with an Afterword by John himself.

A few years later, John’s book, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent (Yale University Press, 1989) was released. This book was the publication, in expanded form, of his Gifford Lectures, delivered at the University of Edinburgh, 1986-1987. The book earned him the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Religion. Shortly after its release, the Claremont Graduate School hosted a major conference, with scholars from various places around the world present to discuss his sophisticated defense of religious pluralism. I was a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Southern California at the time, and I was surprised by the invitation I received, with John’s support, to participate in the proceedings and present a paper of my own.

In this way I was drawn into the discussion of religious pluralism. Shortly after I was appointed to my first teaching post at Taylor University (Upland, Indiana), Wheaton College issued a call for papers for a conference on religious pluralism. I sent a brief proposal for a paper evaluating John Hick’s position. Because it was one of very few proposals for a direct discussion of Hick’s important contribution to the topic, I was told, I was invited to deliver my proposed paper.

Dennis Okholm and Timothy Phillips, who had hosted the conference, eventually developed the idea for a book that was to be called More Than One Way? Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World (first published by Zondervan in 1995 and later reissued under the moderately abbreviated title Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World in 1996). Again, I was invited to participate, and I was asked if I might contact John Hick to request his participation, as well. He agreed. The two other contributors were Alistair McGrath and Clark Pinnock. Gary Phillips was co-author with me for a chapter we titled “A Particularist View: An Evidentialist Approach.” John’s chapter was called, sensibly and simply enough, “A Pluralist View.” The most illustrious contributor, of course, was John Hick. And it’s very possible that the book remains in print on account of his contribution.

These are the only projects in which I partnered, after a fashion, with John Hick. But we had many get-togethers over the years. Most of these happened during the years he was at Claremont, where he held the Danforth Chair in the Philosophy of Religion from 1979 to 1992. At other times we would meet when we happened to be at the same professional conference. The second most memorable occasion of our meeting was long after he had retired and I visited him at his home at the end of Seeley Oak in Birmingham, England.

John Hick was a brilliant communicator, in print and with a microphone. He was a gracious scholar who respected would-be scholars 40 years his junior. He was tenacious in defense of his many controversial positions, and friendly and tolerant toward those who disagreed. Always fair-minded and even-handed in his dealings with me, he marked my life in ways no other scholar of similar repute has (or could have), and he steered me in ways he would never have known.

John was Irenaean as opposed to Augustinian in his theodicy, a universalist and a pluralist in soteriology, a kind of Kantian anti-realist regarding the existence and nature of God—all things that I am not. But there are two reasons why he could not be ignored. First, he reasoned his way to his positions with great care and he could articulate them with great clarity. Second, he had begun his theological odyssey as an evangelical of more-or-less the sort that I am, but had gradually and in nearly step-wise fashion moved further and further away from this starting point in his career as a professing Christian. His kindness toward me would naturally count as a third reason to engage and evaluate his work with the same care that he exemplified as book after book flowed from his pen.

When I last saw John Hick, I suspected that we would not see each other again. He had ceased traveling across the pond, and I had no immediate plans to return to England. But we remained in touch over many years. I will miss his Christmas cards. And I will miss him.

For more on John Hick:

I wish to thank Fred Sanders, writer for The Scriptorium, who encouraged me to post about my experiences with John Hick. See Fred’s post here.

Faith-Based Initiatives and Religious Pluralism

Government support for “faith-based initiatives” has been one of the most visible of George W. Bush’s initiatives during his two-term presidency.

This program was welcomed by many religious believers, especially Christians and most especially socially conservative Christians. Many of these Christians have been theologically conservative, as well. One implication of this is that many Christians in favor of faith-based initiatives object to religious pluralism.

Because so much support for faith-based initiatives comes from socially and theologically conservative Christians, some opponents of Bush’s policy have directed one particular argument against this constituency. They have argued that—under the government program—nonChristian institutions of faith must be allowed equal opportunity to participate in the program. They have then assumed that Christian entities in support of the policy would object to nonChristian participation. This would mean one that Christian supporters of the Bush policy have a double standard, one for themselves and another for nonChristian entities. And this is both offensive and non-viable in a socially and politically pluralistic environment such as we have in the United States. The alternative is for Christian groups to withhold support for faith-based initiatives. Without their support, one might imagine, the policy would die on the vine.

What should we make of this argument?

First, we must distinguish between religious pluralism, in the theological sense, and social and political pluralism. In the Christian theological tradition, “religious pluralism” is a term for broad approval of the view that salvation is available in the context of a variety of religions, rather than through Christ alone. Opposition to this kind of religious pluralism is compatible with acceptance of social and political pluralism; it’s even compatible with the sort of social and political toleration that is considered such a virtue.

In a modern democracy, there are bound to be many different kinds of religious communities, members of which have equal entitlement to participation in government arrangements. All have the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities. Christian advocates of faith-based initiatives are free to support nonChristian institutional participation in faith-based initiatives.

In fact, one expression of Christian charity would be to welcome the aid of nonChristian groups in the effort to assist members of society most in need of assistance.

We come to the second point. The objection to Christian support for faith-based initiatives, outlined above, may prove too much. It assumes that, apart from support by Christian conservatives, the faith-based Bush plan would lose traction. Let’s assume this is true. Why would that be?

I’m sure the answer is complicated. But part of the answer may have to do with how Christian institutions, among faith-based organizations, provide assistance to those in need. It may happen that a significant majority of faith-based assistance work is handled by Christian organizations. There are, after all, many more Christians in the United States than there are members of other faiths or secularists. But it would be of much more interest to learn about any differences there might be between Christian and nonChristian programs of assistance, in terms of theological motivation, organizational infrastructure, efficiency, lay participation, and so forth.

Christianity stresses “good Samaritan” behavior. It would be interesting to compare nonChristian faiths, and also secularism, on this point. Of course, organized groups of secularists are not faith-based entities, in the traditional sense. So, though they might support faith-based initiatives, in the interests of assisting by all means those in need, they would not qualify for participation in faith-based initiatives. At any rate, non-sectarian societies that exist to help others have long been supported in various ways with government aid.

We should recall another feature of the “good Samaritan” practice within Christianity. In his parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus instructed his audience to provide self-sacrificing assistance to those in need, even when those in need are not members of one’s own community—including one’s own community of faith. This perhaps explains why so many institutions (for example, hospitals and world relief organizations) have been the legacy of Christian social activism.

Studying the ways in which, and even the extent to which, different religious faiths conceive of their role in assisting the needy could contribute mightily to inter-faith understanding. It could also provide useful perspective for evaluating the objection to faith-based initiatives described above. Are Christian organizations the primary vehicles for the distribution of faith-based aid? If so, we might look to the social practices of nonChristian faith groups for a deep explanation.

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