A Brief Response to John Hick
John Hick is perhaps the most famous religious pluralist in the world today. Professing to have once been an evangelical, Hick is now vocal and prolific in his denial of the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. Hick contends that in spite of differences in language, culture, concepts, and liturgical actions, basically the same thing is occurring in all religions, namely,
"Human beings coming together within the framework of an ancient and highly developed tradition to open their hearts and minds to God, whom they believe makes a total claim on their lives and demands of them, in the words of one of the prophets, 'to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God' (Micah 6:8). God is known in the synagogues as Adonai, the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; in the mosques as Allahrahman rahim, God beneficient and merciful; in the Sikh gurudwaras as God, who is Father, lover, Master, and the Great Giver, referred to as war guru; and in the Hindu temples as Vishnu, Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu), Rama, Shiva, and many other gods and goddesses, all of whom, however, are seen as manifestations of the ultimate reality of Brahman; and in the Christian churches as the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And yet all these communities agree that there can ultimately only be one God!" (Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, p. 38).
The various concepts of "salvation" in all religions, says Hick, are "forms of the same human transformation from self-centeredness to a recentering in the ultimately Real" (44). They are, in other words, "more or less equally authentic human awarenesses of and response to the Ultimate, the Real [Hick's description of "God"], the final ground and source of everything" (45). Hick believes in universal salvation. All people, regardless of their religious or irreligious orientation in this life "will in the end, perhaps after many lives in many worlds, attain to" salvation (45).
One argument Hick uses in trying to make his point has been especially troublesome for a number of Christians. I want to cite it and then offer a brief response. Here it is:
"I have not found that the people of other world religions are, in general, on a different moral and spiritual level from Christians. They seem on average to be neither better nor worse than are Christians. Clearly in saying this, I am presupposing a common criterion, a general sense of what we mean by the human goodness that reflects a right relationship to God. This is the universally recognized sense of goodness as consisting in concern for others, kindness, love, compassion, honesty, and truthfulness" (39).
I have six things to say in response to Hick's argument.
(1) Is the morality of people in non-Christian religions truly "moral"? By what standard does he decide that non-Christians are "good"? Notwithstanding his claim that he appeals to a "common criterion" of goodness, I doubt this is the case. I suspect the standard by which the judgment is made is largely their own. I.e., to the degree they are faithful to their own ethical norms, he regards them as ethical. But if judged by biblical standards of morality their norms and behavior may well be of a different order.
(2) What about their motives? What does it say about the ultimate "morality" of any action if the motive or intent of the heart is not to glorify God?
(3) Not all who profess to be Christians are in fact born again. Hick is measuring those in non-Christian religions against those who "profess" to be Christians (more often than not, western "cultural Christians"), many of whom are in fact as pagan as the non-Christians with whom they are being compared.
(4) Common grace may well account for so-called non-Christian "morality". In other words, whatever "good" is truly found among non-Christians is due more to the gracious (but non-saving) operation of the Spirit than to any purported "saving power" their religions profess to possess. In other words, their "goodness" is in spite of their religious (and idolatrous) beliefs, not because of them.
(5) The proper comparison isn't between the morality of Christians and non-Christians but between the morality of a Christian "before" and "after" his/her conversion.
(6) Clearly the most "moral" thing one can do is to repent of sins against the one true God and to humbly yield in faith to the provision this God has made by which we may be reconciled to Him. In other words, rejecting the revelation of God in creation and conscience (which Paul deems "inexcusable"), not to mention the revelation of Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ, is itself an act of willful arrogance and calloused rebellion. It would be difficult to imagine anything more "immoral" than refusing to "honor" God (Rom. 1:21), refusing to "thank" God (Rom. 1:21), and "exchanging the glory of the incorruptible God" (Rom. 1:23) for a religious substitute of one's own making, even when that religious substitute is a version of one's own concept of "morality". To "suppress the truth" (Rom. 1:18) of God as he has revealed himself in creation is itself "unrighteousness" that merits death. To "exchange the truth of God for a lie" and to "worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator" (Rom. 1:25) is the very essence of immorality, no matter how nicely one may treat another human being or how civil one may otherwise behave.