It would be inaccurate to maintain the belief that Christian observance has been wholly abhorred historically. Contrary to popular notion in Ancient Rome, a time often notorious for its hostility towards Christianity, it was not illegal to worship the Jewish Messiah—provided that other gods were credited equal recognition with Him. In modern America, a similar perception is inspiring the concoction of major governmental legislations and legal documents. As in the culture previously noted, it is presently acceptable to recognize Jesus Christ—under the singular condition that He is reverenced alongside a myriad of additional ideologies. Prominent professors, UN ambassadors, and liberal politicians alike spout the singular demand: truth must be identified as indefinite and inclusive, and the virtues of Fairness and Tolerance venerated accordingly. Leading law instructor Kimberly A. Yurako resounds this maxim in pronouncing the validity of “legal and constitutional limits” upon parental instruction of “illiberal beliefs and values (Cramer)” The banning of religious and private schools with the enforcement of compulsory education epitomize a utopian achievement to the masses anticipating a universal, religious “co-existence.” Historically, orthodox Christianity has been associated with thwarting enlightenment due to its fixed adherence to Scriptural authority. Today, however, the division traditionally disparaged appears to be a waning sect; fewer believers can competently defend the claims of Christ for a lack of Scriptural insight and trust. A pluralistic worldview formulated by John Hick, a once-professing proponent of the Christian faith, propelled a philosophy which seemed credible to biblically illiterate generations. Therein, Hick proposed that all religious persuasions could co-exist as partial-perceptions of a greater Truth. The infiltration of this theory in many cases displaced the belief in scriptural authority with a mentality that all is truth; predictably, virtue ebbed from sight and moral choices between the Church and non-Church generated as hardly distinguishable. A review regarding John Hick’s formulation and apprehension of Reality with the rationale’s consequent denial of absolute principles would promptly reveal a return to biblical insight regarding the essence of truth and human nature in relation to Christ as necessary in defeating the moral ambiguity and ensuing chaos characteristic of the world today.
Though John Hick’s popularity would eventually spring from an objective to theoretically obscure all religious doctrines, the emerging academic initiated his undergraduate education by affirming a persuasion he would as passionately decry in days to come: Christianity. Declaring the Bible a source of his tutelage, the impressionable youth’s earliest aspirations seemed anticipative of the clergy. A presumably innocent habit formed upon returning to Edinburgh University, however—that of indulging company with faiths contrary to his own,—proved an irreversible spark of humanistic empathizing which elevated tolerance above conviction. An attempt to “equalize” the tenets and value of all religions would effectually displace all of the youth’s former fervor for biblical Christianity with the path of apostasy. Keith Johnson later illustrated his mentor’s emerging proposal through the largely-recognized “Elephant Model.” Hick’s vision of perceptional reality was conveyed therein by a subtly humorous image wherein blind men, probing the creature’s different parts, rightly recognize each separate division a facet of the whole, same creature. This representation sought to convey that likewise, every religious persuasion—every “divine persona”—singularly captured a dimension of actuality, and most accurately represented truth collectively. As the blind men recognized existing truth only within their sects, so, too, does every person perceive truth—limitedly, with inevitable prejudice.
According to Mr. Hick, Reality is transcendental and exclusively, divinely intelligible. Human perception in contrast is earthly and biased, capable of grasping only a slanted perspective of Reality‘s image. Each limited facet is equated with a perception of truth, including those perceptions within the religious realm of knowledge. No facet, it is emphasized, is without human bias. Perception is influenced and represented by culture, and is therefore always limited by it. Every doctrinal assertion, therefore, is deemed a mere “idealism,” an interpretation of Reality, rather than Reality itself. Hence, as every religion is structured perception—a product of human devising—no religion is purely and wholly divine.
The pluralistic philosophy is under-girded by several assumptions, and is sustained by an utterly naturalistic view of the world, the universe, and its constituents; the earthly is acclaimed while special revelation is discounted. Religious absolutism, the belief that certain religious dogmas are absolute and unchanging, is disapprovingly labeled as partial and even self-centered for its unabashed claims to certain theoretical axioms, and because it asserts a certain claim upon truth which adversely implies a contradicting non-truth. Religious sensory, on the other hand, primarily deduces truth through personal experience. Where religious absolutism is criticized for its selective assertions, religious, “sensory perception” is in contrast applauded. Certain truth constitutes that material which can be deduced here and now—the tangible and the existential. The concrete elements surpass the abstract in worth and order. An understanding of knowledge reverberates in which experience and reason are exalted, and absolute statements disregarded.
At its heart, the theory of religious pluralism boastfully denies discrimination against any mentality. Consequently, no perspective may be concluded as wholly true or false as such a conclusion would in turn warrant a biased and therefore undesirable assessment upon another view. Any personality attached to Reality presumably originates from the psychological “streams of consciousness” of the human mind (Cramer). While Hick professedly respected every perception, he personally denied the certainty of any particular creed. Universally-affirmed principles served the idealistic standard for every decision. Such principles ostensibly avoided unfair religious distinction, and presumably maintained general justice. Two interpretive options generally follow, however, whenever such a worldview culturally reigns: the doctrines of personal subjectivity and utilitarianism. Personal subjectivity deems each man the judge of his own ethical decisions. In this view, one deed may be ethically acceptable regarding one person and incident, and yet unacceptable concerning another individual under different circumstance and persuasion. Utilitarianism delineates “goodness” as that element which promotes the pleasure of the majority in a particular way. A pantheistic deism dominates in which everything is truth; consequently, religious literature is denied the credit of being divinely inspired, and sin is reduced to a matter of moral relativity.
Followers intent upon continuing Hick’s message and universalizing the world by dismissing individuality as “rivalry” destructive to “world peace” today insist upon the benefit of scriptural convergence. Religious literature in accordance with Hick’s worldview is dismissed as yet another demonstration of human perception, a product of man’s creative ingenuity, a hopeful contribution to an idyllic tolerance. Resultantly, all absolute declarations in the form of doctrine and religious literature are denied relevancy for all people and circumstances. Detested is the thought or even scent of partition or conclusive certainty. What Hick failed to anticipate, however, was the sheer vanity of his assumptions. True equality is futile in a fallen world inclined towards evil; morality, moreover, consistently degenerates wherever relevancy reigns in society. In today’s post-Christian world, sin is considered merely a mistake in judgment, an impulsive remnant of man’s prehistoric subconscious. When sectarian religious thought is denied—in particular, the biblical dogma concerning human depravity—only an ambiguous sense of human nature is disclosed; that is, only one deducible by the human eye. Thus, while evil is acknowledged, it is considered only in general terms, and is not attributed to human nature.
Though Hick admitted the concept of human imperfection, he viewed the concept of evil as more of a positive reminder than an innate destroyer. Sin, he resolved, existed in order that man might better know God and recognize His holiness. As Hick denied the absolute truth of Scripture, however, he overlooked a paramount fact; that is, that man cannot recognize or attain holiness apart from the redemptive work of Christ. In his vision, evil, like truth, was left largely to the eye of the beholder, and could manifest in faulty judgment, lapses in logic, or in conflict. It was never an inherent characteristic penetrable only by the atoning blood of Christ. Man could thwart whatever he perceived to be evil through the imitation of a perceived deity.
Despite his pronounced distaste for “definition,” an explicit understanding of morality nevertheless proceeds from Hick’s propositions—the maxim that truth is definitely indefinite. In declaring all to be reality, the hypothesis consequently depreciates the substance of truth. An ethical system which embraces multiple truths naturally follows. The predominating philosophy of relevancy has reduced truth to the subjective preferences of individuals; consequently, truth is anything and everything is truth. Consequently, murder may be labeled as varyingly as a reproductive “right,” a medical “procedure,” a liberating “choice,” or a “solution” to a “problem.” Such a worldview thrives upon relevancy—the belief that truth is dependent, rather than independent, of external factors, and leads ultimately to inconsistency and confusion as every man chooses an actuality for himself.
Few who scour nearly any region of the earth will refute the subsidence of a regular ethical system. Cannibalism and tribal revenge are hardly customarily authorized, after all; a general code of conduct binds most judicial systems around the world. To many, this universally-recognized moral obligation signifies a multiplicity, or pluralism, of truths. Where pluralists conclude each ethical system as an equal and acceptable manifestation of truth, however, Christians conversely infer a common Authority by Whom and through Whom everything obtains definition, sustenance, and consummation. As the Creator and Sustainer is eternal and permanent, so is every word which has proceeded from His mouth ( source). Knowledge and wisdom subsist immutably and subsequently in accordance with His presence. Biblical verbiage abstractly depicts Christ as Truth, and elsewhere interchangeably associates God incarnate with the written Word (John 1:1). A form of morality expectedly resonates from these statements. Founded upon a singular Origin and Standard, a singular face of truth consequently follows.
Hick’s view helped to further spawn the obsession with progression so prevalent in our contemporary society—the philosophy that asserts that truth is constantly subject to change—and sin, god, and man exist definitively only within our own judgment. Progressivism has consumed virtually every anticipation held by American churches, schools, and governmental stations, and presupposes the idea that everything in existence awaits humanity’s determinant, sovereign will. A truly moral society, however, presupposes a society built upon absolute morals—a philosophy which, in turn, is established upon a fixed God who never changes, and whose revealed character forms the basis for all other ensuing philosophies concerning Reality, human and divine natures, and legality. Reminders of the extent to which religious pluralism has infiltrated our society are omnipresent. From bumper stickers promoting “peace” at any and all expense, to public schools endorsing cultural integration, there can be little wonder as to why recent generations have presumed their Puritan predecessors to be little more than bigoted, narrow-minded fixtures. Yet, should pluralists lend any serious attention to their own theory, any anticipation for “equality” and “fairness” would be sorely disappointed. By declaring a limitlessness of truths, the previously noted apprehensions unintentionally yet essentially undermine and contradict their foundational claims; the obvious negation of such speculations involves the regular bias inevitably wrought by them. Personal subjectivity impinges upon another’s personal beliefs. The satisfaction of the greater margin still condones others’ values, however scant the opposing few might be. The briefest scrutiny of world religions and standards reveal obvious irreconcilable differences; personalities are simply too numerous and unique to prevent a difference of opinion or some form of inequity. An honest response would admit instead that the observance of a common, ethical law is insufficient in delivering an entirely fair code of conduct, or justifying the often complex situations within the sphere of ethics. Unconditional tolerance always requires compromise as it fundamentally prohibits total fidelity to any view. Total fidelity to any view, moreover, in some measure consistently discredits the allegations of another. In short, No utopian world of equality and harmony exists as the frequent display of humanity’s inclination towards wickedness and inconsistency indubitably verifies. Where legality and discipline cease to exist, hedonism dominates as man is naturally prone to enthroning Self (Romans 3:23).
In pronouncing Jesus as the Logos and personification of Truth, Scripture is simultaneously enunciating that the origin of understanding resides within His definition and domination. He is Authority in which humanistic autonomy has no place, and to which men are accountable. This emphasis upon law and truth presupposes a need for restraint which, in turn, presupposes the sin nature of man. Liberty is founded upon a proper measure of restraint; restraint is instituted by law, and involves a definite exclusion of certain behavior. While its message is no longer popularly articulated in contemporary pulpits, it is a chief characteristic of the Holy Spirit, and effectuates the opposite of what most people identify it as producing. While most commonly associate the term with constriction, or with limitation upon happiness; in a world basically hedonistic, such thinking could seem quite logical. Christ, after all, came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it in order that man might have life more abundantly (John 10:10). Restraint, legality, and truth all bring to surface reality and expectations; reality which reveals to man his spiritual condition, and his need for repentance, expectations which promote good behavior and penalizes the bad. Ambiguity has no place as principles and standards are spouted by a perfect, divinely-inspired Book (2 Timothy 3:16-17). As man’s heart is treated by reliance upon His Word, faith is effectuated, and new life is brought about which generates individually, and reaches collectively. Thus, a society is established which operates upon definite, absolute truths.
The Bible promotes virtuous morality as it recognizes the essence of the disease—the human heart—and treats it accordingly: through an internal conversion wrought by the Holy Spirit. The prerequisite to Christianity necessitates an averting of eyes from men’s philosophies and opinions. It demands the submitting of one’s hopes and very person to a seemingly blind faith, of sacrificing fixed persuasions to the infallible Word of God. The precedent to a reliable morality must first involve an honest review of the real nature of the human heart, and God’s attitude towards it. Scripture reveals an undeniable nature characteristic of every man, present from conception: depravity. The third chapter of Romans insists upon a depravity characteristic of every individual, and present from conception. Not only has sin infiltrated the human race generally—surfacing visibly to a person’s conduct from time to time—but it has disabled man wholly, tainting his ability to reason or discern morally and intellectually apart from the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Often, a purely naturalistic comprehension of human frailty situates man in a kind of caste system from which he is doubtful to recover; within, he is born either good or bad. Another typical understanding correlates with the present culture’s obsession with the psychological aspect of humanity; every man is evolving in an escalating fashion—yet nonetheless possessing a remnant of his prehistoric inclination towards savagery. However, these explanations succeed in only disabling, rather than enabling, individuals. A solution is proposed which succeeds only in disguising the true root of the problem. Man’s dominating crisis lies not in his inability to overcome by and through himself nor even chiefly himself. Rather, the predicament of humanity rests in a depreciation of Christ—an error which effectually initiated and continues from the Fall.
Contrary to the insistence of Buddha and countless others, sin is not a difficulty conquerable by mere self-will or self-denial; indeed, salvation is not ascertained by self at all. In contrast, Scripture depicts sin as a relentless disease effectuated both by intention and by innate character. Every life conceived bears the scar of Adam’s fateful choice in the Garden; this birthmark extends to the youngest heart, mind, and soul. In addition, this same individual will also, by deliberate resolve and choice, act upon his own evil inclinations, thereby proving himself an enemy of God and a slave to Satan (source). This bondage taints the soul’s eye view, and oppresses every transcendent member of the individual in such a way as to deprive him of any hope of pleasing God (Romans 3:23). Liberty, however, is presented in the deistic Messiah, in the reputed “Logos (John 1:1).” In the Greek, this Christological title refers to the concept of reason. As the self-ascribed Epitome of all Truth (John 14:6), Jesus declared Himself the Personification of Actuality—not in that He embodied all truth, but that He signified the Authority of its interpretation. All mortal reason was clearly to be compared first with the revelation given by God through the Old and New Testaments. Increasingly apparent should the fact be that we possess deceitful hearts which cannot be trusted nor apprehended at face value (Jeremiah 17:9).
It was once accurately stated that to believe everything is to believe nothing. Though unrestricted acceptance may appear at first thought superiorly loving, it is in factuality lethal and self-destructive. The briefest perusal of the modern world’s situation would disclose an atmosphere characterized by violence, sorrow, guilt and confusion. History has demonstrated extensively enough that whenever legality ceases to exist, man declines to barbarity. Francis Schaeffer, prolific philosopher and writer, rightly observed the Reformation as the source from which a system of “checks and balances” was introduced to society. The Reformation is commonly recognized as an era of innovation, in which spiritual and social slavery gave way to a spiritual and social liberty, Infiltrating and reforming the Church and subsequently branching out through the governmental system. The doctrine of human depravity underlined and shaped this flourishing of liberty. Recognized was the fact that even the best of men are hopelessly flawed, and tend towards greed for power. Because of this, limitations and standards are crucial.
Hick’s diagnosis of sin is a highly popular one: it exalts the ego, and condemns all attempts to wound it so that no one is wrong, and all are right. Knowledge is what one makes of it, and is confined to how one defines it. As a result, understanding is diminished to a grossly exalted vagueness, as unknowable and undistinguishable (Zacharias). In contrast, legality assumes imperfection and unruliness. It encompasses the two-fold responsibility of protecting the blameless and prosecuting the guilty, thereby causing the evil to fear (Romans 13). Unfortunately in the modern Church, the Church has nearly forgotten the mandate to restrain; this can be directed back to a sore disregard for God’s Word and, consequently, ignorance of human depravity and the importance of legal structure.
Morality is completely determined by some understanding of legality. Hick’s all-inclusive philosophy in the end only fruits moral anarchy; morality is possible only when standards exist—moreover, upon standards that are concise and unambiguous. One’s moral perception is subsequently formed by one’s perception of reality and truth. Where truth is ambiguous, random and unknowable, every following precept naturally resonates these characteristics. A recognition of the nature of truth in connection with the infallible inspiration of the Scriptures and the whole signification of Matthew 28:19-20 is alone capable of defeating the rise of Hick’s observation of Reality, and the ebb of morality inevitably following. Men stand not obligated to principles or legalities in and of themselves, hence, but to One who has personified perfection. Scripture attests to Itself as the Law of God which neither fades nor changes with time. Through It, men are dispensed the Way to liberty, the Path upon which the bondage of sin is released. Precedent to the Cross, the best of men’s intentions are as “filthy rags.” Through the Cross, however, men are brought to a new understanding in which they are enabled not only to discern between truth and falsity in a more profound way, but also to perform pleasing works through faith. Such deeds are underlined by a supernatural love for God, and rooted in a recognition of law. Furthermore, men are changed from lawless creatures to lawful creatures. It is only by establishing clear divisions, through plain distinctions between “right” and “wrong” that evil is restrained. Only until sin is perceived as it truly is can men recognize why and how to avert it.
~ Whitney Ann Dotson
Cramer, C. David. “John Hick.” Available online at: [http://www.iep.utm.edu/hick/]
The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Zondervan Publishers.1984
Johnson, Keith A. “John Hick’s Pluralistic Hypothesis and the Problem of Conflicting Truth-Claims.” Available online at [http://www.leaderu.com/theology/hick.html]
Schaeffer, Francis. “By Consent of the Governed.” Available online at:[http://www.theschaefferfoundation.com/footnote6_2.php ]