RELIGIOUS PLURALISM: COMPARING JOHN HICK WITH PAUL KNITTER
Religious pluralism has always existed, and there has been a plurality of religions in the world. Christians have had to bear witness to them, and in doing so reflect theologically on the validity of their claims. Until quite recently, however, the many religions, like the many cultures of which they are a component, existed for the most part in mutual isolation. Only with the revolutions of the recent past, especially the technological revolution in transportation and communication, also due to migrations, forced displacements, by wars, and geo-political changes after colonialism, has this isolation finally been penetrated. Many religions and cultures are now compelled to live with one another as next-door neighbors in a single global village. This enforced proximity of each religion and culture to every other is a really new feature of religious plurality.
The practical reality that the world has become a “global village” brings people of other faiths and ideologies together. The study of history of religion and comparative religion has provided people opportunity to know and accumulate enormous amounts of knowledge of other faiths and beliefs. Translation of many of the world’s religious books into the language of common use, English, has given people access to the knowledge of different religions. Today we inhabit a religiously plural world.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (The Christian Faith, 1963) made a clean break with the claims that Christianity is the only true religion. He initiated a new era in theology, the era characterized by the liberal Christian theology. He initiated a shift in doing theology “from above” to doing theology “from below.” However, what seems to be new in the twentieth century, especially in this decade, is the growing number of Christians and theologians, such as John Hick, Paul Knitter, who are proposing a pluralistic theology of religions. Thus the challenge posed to Christian witness and theology is significantly new.
With a growing awareness of religious pluralism, a number of Christian theologians are contending for a pluralistic theology of religions. John Hick and Paul Knitter, as the primary contenders, are the subject of this paper. The pluralist stance taken by Hick and Knitter causes them to pose a central question for discussion: Is there only one way to the ultimate, or are there many? Challenging the claim of one and only in favor of many and not one, both Hick and Knitter suggest that all religions are authentic human responses to the one divine ultimate because the one divine ultimate is behind all the religions. There is commonality of revelation in all the religious traditions. This paper will discuss their theological approaches and compare them further.
German Protestant theologian Ernst Troeltsch, in his essay “The Place of Christianity Among the World Religions,” in Christianity and Other Religions (1980), and American philosopher William Hocking, in Rethinking Missions (1932), emphasized that Christianity can not be the sole container of salvation. Other religions also have equally salvific paths. Christianity can not claim that the sole revelation of God is in Christ. Hocking argued for a world faith and stressed that commonness in faith eventually brings all religions together while keeping their own identities.
These earlier pieces are important because they point to the fact that Hick’s pluralistic theology has roots in the theological relativism seen in works by Troeltsch and Hocking. Troeltsch laid the foundation for the pluralistic approach to religions by locating revelation universally within history generally and within human subjectivity in particular (1980:12-13). D’Costa (1987:195) argues that Troeltsch was to be the father of twentieth-century pluralism and Hick was definitely influenced by his theology. Both Hick and Knitter reflect Troeltsch’s notion of universal divine revelation in their pluralistic theology of religions. Knitter affirms, “Much of what we feel concerning religious pluralism is mirrored in Ernst Troeltsch” (1985:23).
The pluralistic theology of religion functions with a presupposition that every religion (particularly the major world religions) is the potential bearer of the knowledge of God. Two major proponents of the pluralistic theology of religions, John Hick and Paul Knitter, recognize the centrality of the nature of revelation to a theology of religions. However, they have not explicitly developed a doctrine of revelation. Largely due to their phenomenological approach, they choose not to make the doctrine of revelation a point of departure for constructing a theology of religions. Rather, in accordance with their approach, they reflect upon the nature and content of revelation only after they have considered the phenomena of the religions and of religious experience.
Nevertheless, in the final analysis, they do shape their pluralistic theology of religion with a particular notion of revelation. Knitter offers a somewhat vague definition of revelation “as the reality in which God and man come in contact, in which God communicates the depth of his being and love and man freely opens himself to the force of this communication” (1974:9).
John Hick is a main proponent of pluralism, a position maintaining that other religions also have salvific paths to one God. The Christian claim for “the only way” is rejected. This model has been developed during the past two decades quite creatively under the leadership of Hick, who aims for theocentrism. Paul Knitter says, “Hick is the most radical, the best known, and therefore the most controversial of the proponents of a theocentric model for Christian approach to other religions” (1985:147). Hick identifies pluralism with theocentrism. He develops theocentrism, which is pluralistic, on an analogy of the “Copernican view.” According to him the “Ptolemaic view” held the earth to be the center of the universe, so Christians have placed Christ or Christianity at the center of the world religions. Hick replaces this Ptolemaic perspective with the Copernican view. Just as Copernicus recognized the sun as the center of the earth, so God must be allowed to be the center of the world religions. This Copernican revolution brought a “shift from the dogma that Christianity is at the center to the realization that it is God who is at the center, and that all religions … including our own, serve and revolve around him” (Hick 1977:131).
Hick states that “in the great majority of cases–say, 98 or 99 per cent–the religion in which a person believes and to which he adheres depends upon where he was bom” (1980:172). Furthermore, he mentions that in various places of worship “the supreme being is referred to as God in a Christian church, as Adonai in a Jewish synagogue, as Allah in a Muslim mosque, as Param Atma in a Sikh gurdwara, as Rama or as Krishna in a Hindu temple” (1980:174). Phenomenologically it is true then that the worshippers in different religions are worshipping one God, but through different concepts or mental images (1980:178). All religions revolve around God, but they reflect God in their own different ways. According to Hick, “the different world religions have each served as God’s means of revelation” (1980:182).
D’Costa, in evaluating Hick’s theology, says that in Hick’s view the various religions are different revelations of God’s activity (1987:20). In other words, all religions have commonality of revelation. Differences in worship or referring to God by different names does not suggest a varying degree of revelation. Revelation is common to all religions given by one and the same God, but response to that revelation by each religion is culturally and historically conditioned (Hick 1973:106). Since there is commonality of revelation in major religious traditions, every religious expression is relative. That is to say, each religious expression is true in a sense that does not require other religious expressions to be untrue. Religions might have grown up in isolation from each other, but the one Divine Reality is behind them all.
Another important person in pluralistic theology, Roman Catholic theologian Paul Knitter, in many respects, has been influenced by Hick’s theology. Knitter, like Hick, functions with the same presupposition that there is a commonality of revelation in all religions and religious experience. The possibility of truth in all religions makes dialogue possible. This possibility is grounded upon a presupposition that there is a common ground and goal for all religions. This means for Knitter that “there must be the same ultimate reality, the same divine presence … animating all religions and providing the ultimate ground and goal of dialogue” (1985:209). Knitter further explains it when he speaks about the Christian belief in universal divine revelation. He says,
On the basis of the Christian belief in a universal divine revelation within all religions, Christians not only can but should hypothesize about a common ground and goal for the history of religions …. Does not universal revelation form the basis for the possibility of a common source and direction for all faiths? (Knitter 1985:209)
Knitter is more explicit and articulate than Hick in describing the nature of revelation and its implications for a pluralistic theology of religion. Knitter hypothesizes that the Christian belief in a universal divine revelation within all religions is warranted, presenting theological and dialogical arguments for the universal possibility of revelation in religions.
The theological argument for the universal revelation in other religions rests, according to Knitter, in the Christian belief in the universal love and the salvific will of God. God’s love is universal and God wills the salvation of all. He contends that “the realities of revelation and salvation cannot be confined to the Christian church or history” (1991:90). Since God desires the salvation of all, the universal divine revelation in other religious traditions is inevitable. Knitter’s logic of argument is this that there is a universal salvation because there is a universal divine revelation.
Desiring the salvation of all, God makes universal divine revelation possible within ail religions. Salvation becomes possible through that revelation. The universality of salvation presupposes a universal divine revelation within all religions. In other words, salvation is common to all because all religious traditions share the commonality of divine revelation. That is why both Knitter and Hick contend that it is inconsistent, if not immoral, to assert the belief that God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) and yet restrict the possibility of that salvation to the context of Christianity (Knitter 1985:116). What kind of a God is this who offers a revelation that can never lead to salvation or to an authentic experience of the divine? (1985:16) So, if God’s universal salvific will is genuine and consistent, both Hick and Knitter will say, then a universal divine revelation is necessary. It is what Knitter calls a transcendental necessity.
According to Knitter, this universal divine revelation within all religions is based on a common source. The common source behind all religions is the Transcendent Reality (1985:210). This recognition of the common source behind all religions both affirms and relativizes one’s own religion and religious experience, making dialogue with other religious traditions possible.
CHRISTOLOGICAL RELATIVITY: THEOCENTRIC APPROACH
Hick’s Copernican revolution brings a paradigm shift and reopens the christological question. He admits that “this must be the most difficult of all issues for a Christian theology of religions” (1973:148). Through his Copernican model Hick moves away from a christocentric to a theocentric approach. This approach of Hick’s does not abandon Christ. It rather allows Christians to continue to adhere to Christ as their unique savior without having to insist that he is necessarily unique or normative for others (Knitter 1985:149). Christ is unique for Christians but not for others. This means Hick abandons the normativity of Christ for the relativity of Christ. This approach is based on his argument for the universal salvation of God. The all-loving God is at the center of all religions. This central view of Hick’s expresses itself in the title of one of his books, God Has Many Names (1982). Hindus are devoted to Krishna, Muslims call God Allah, and Christians find God in Christ. All worship the same God-known by different names. The argument for plurality is derived from the universal salvific will of God.
In order to construct a pluralistic theology of religions, Hick revises the traditional understanding of Christology. In his two other books, The Myth of God Incarnate (1977) and The Metaphor of God Incarnate (1995), Hick attacks the traditional understanding of the doctrine of incarnation, saying that incarnation should be taken mythologically and metaphorically rather than literally. Hick views the Christian belief in the incarnation and divinity of Jesus as mythic and metaphorical. By this he means that the early followers of Jesus tried to express what he meant for them. They encountered Jesus as “so powerfully God-conscious” that this experience led the early Christians to deify Jesus and designate him with titles such as Messiah or Son of God. Hick finds that the Jewish title “son of God,” though often used for the Messiah, could be applied to any extraordinary religious person; it indicated uniqueness, but not exclusivity (1973:115). As a matter of fact. Hick makes use of modern biblical scholarship to insist that Jesus did not designate himself Messiah or Son of God, or accept any such confession about himself from others (1980:184; 1973:113-14). Hick thus argues that,
the meaning of Christ-event was first expressed by saying that Jesus was the Messiah, to whom in the Old Testament God had said, ‘Thou art my beloved Son’; and then this divine sonship was later understood as his being of one substance with God the Father. This led in turn to the conclusion that Jesus was God incarnate, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. (1973:116)
Hick’s argument clearly indicates that the early followers were involved in the deification process of Jesus. The early church creeds and formulas drew heavily on Greek philosophical concepts and worldviews in “ontologizing” the mythical images of “son of God” and “incarnation” into absolute and exclusive categories (Knitter 1985:150). This process involved a significant transition from “‘Son of God’ to ‘God the Son,’ the Second Person of the Trinity” (Hick 1980:183-84). A metaphorical son of God became the metaphysical God the son, of the same substance as the Father. The process finally culminated in making Jesus as God and only Savior.
Hick’s intention is to recognize the mythological nature of the chnstological language in order to make Christ relative. He insists that the statement that Jesus was “God Incarnate, or the Son of God, or God the Son,” is not a statement of a literal fact. Rather, it is “a poetic, or symbolic, or mythological statement” (1980:185). For Hick, the fundamental heresy is to treat the incarnation as a factual hypothesis (1980:186). He takes the Incarnation mythologically and not literally.
When Hick applies a mythological language to the Incarnation, it then becomes proper for Hick to argue that Christians no longer have to declare that Jesus is the only effective and saving point of contact with God. By this Hick means that Christians can declare that God is truly to be encountered in Jesus, but not only in Jesus. Christians can announce that Jesus is the center and norm for their lives, but without insisting the same for all other religions. Jesus, God incarnate, is unique to Christians, and therefore his uniqueness should be confined to Christianity. Jesus Christ should not become the criterion to judge or fulfill other religions.
Like Hick, Paul Knitter also demonstrates a paradigm shift from a christocentric to a theocentric orientation in Christian theology. In his classic book No Other Name? (1985), Knitter proposes a “theocentric christology.” Knitter in the Preface to The Myth of Christian Uniqueness (1987) describes the pluralist position as “a move from the insistence on the superiority or finality of Christ and Christianity toward the recognition of the independent validity of other ways.” The contributors to The Myth of Christian Uniqueness came to describe this kind of move as “the crossing of a theological Rubicon” (1987:viii).
Knitter admits that “Jesus is unique, but with a uniqueness defined by its ability to relate to-that is, to include and be included by-other unique religious figures” (1985:171-72). He sees Jesus “not as exclusive or even as normative, but as theocentric, as a universally relevant manifestation (sacrament, incarnation) of divine revelation and salvation” (1985:172). Knitter takes the New Testament accounts very seriously, and unlike Hick, he shows that his theocentric model of christology is faithful to the central teaching of the New Testament (1985:172).
Knitter claims that Jesus was theocentric, and his mission, message, and person “were profoundly kingdom-centered, which means God-centered” (1985:173). Knitter, like Hick, says that Jesus did not think of himself as divine. “Jesus never takes the place of God. Even in the three texts in which Jesus is proclaimed as God or as divine (John 1:1, 20:28; Hebrews 1:8-9), an evident subordination is preserved” (1985:174). Knitter further argues that even if Jesus claimed to be the Son of God or one with God, we know nothing of such claims from the New Testament record (1985:174). He, however, holds that the New Testament data do indicate that Jesus was aware of a special, unique relationship with God and his role in God’s plan (1985:174). This special intimacy or special sonship, Knitter argues, does not automatically imply exclusivity. The original message of Jesus was theocentric. But after his death and resurrection, the original message of Jesus was significantly changed by the early church, and “the proclaimer became the proclaimed” (1985:173).
How did Jesus’ original message of the kingdom of God come to be transformed by the early communities’ proclamation of Jesus as Messiah, Lord, Christ, Word, Savior, Son of God, and finally God the Son? To answer this question, like Hick, Knitter accepts the evolutionary model for the early Christian understanding of Jesus. Since Knitter’s understanding of the New Testament christology is evolutionary, he readily rejects the christological trajectories and titles as definitive or normative for all time. Although he admits that the New Testament presents Jesus in “one and only” terms.
This however does not mean, according to Knitter, that Jesus is the only mediator between God and humankind, the only One through whom one can receive salvation. Knitter says that this has to do with the nature of christological language in the New Testament. He echoes Hick in saying that these trajectories or images of Jesus in the New Testament must be understood not “as photographs, but as impressionistic paintings” (1985:180). Christological language in the New Testament is mythical or figurative, not literal.
The sociological function of christology, says Knitter, reveals the basic nature of the exclusivist language about Jesus in the New Testament. For example, when Peter states that “there is no other name by which we can be saved” (Acts 4:12), or when Jesus is called the “one mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5), the intention here is not to make an absolute metaphysical claim which categorically rules out the possibility of other saviors or mediators. Rather, it is their confession to proclaim a personal relationship and a commitment to define what it meant to belong to Jesus. It is not the language of “philosophy, science, or dogmatics,” but rather “the language of confession and testimony” (Knitter 1985:185). It is not the language of scientists, but of lovers.
Exclusivist christologicai language is thus much like the language an adoring husband would use in speaking of his wife: “She is the most beautiful woman in the world. She is the only woman for me.” Such statements, in the context of the marriage relationship, are certainly true. But it would be absurd to assume that his wife could win any beauty contest she entered, or that absolutely no one on earth is as beautiful as his wife (1985:185). These statements simply point to the fact that for him she has no rivals; he is absolutely committed to her. Similarly, according to Knitter, “in describing Jesus as ‘the only’, Christians were not trying to elaborate a metaphysical principle but a personal relationship and a commitment that defined what it meant to belong to this community” (1985:185).
Knitter’s attempt is not to do away with christology. Rather, like Hick, he attempts to relativize christology in order to make room for other religious saviors and mediators. That is why he argues in his recent book, Jesus and the Other Names (1996), that confessing Jesus “truly” does not require proclaiming him “only.” Knitter says, “Christians can and must affirm within their own communities and before the world that all the marvelous things said about Jesus in the New Testament apply to him truly, but not necessarily solely” (1996:72). Christians can experience Jesus as truly the Son of God and their savior.
Their experience, however, does not assert that Jesus is the only savior. This experience is limited because they have not taken in the experiences and messages of other saviors and religious figures (Knitter 1996:72). The possibility of other saviors or mediators is no impediment to a faithful following of Jesus. Knitter, like Hick, argues that Christians do not have to know that Jesus is the “only” savior in order to be committed to this “truly” Jesus. “Discipleship requires ‘truly’; it does not seem to require ‘solely'” (Knitter 1996:73).
In an attempt to construct a relativistic christology, Knitter replaces an absolute adverb with a relative one. “Only” is replaced with “truly.” He then goes on to replace three absolute adjectives with three relative ones. Since Knitter understands Jesus in terms of “truly,” he thus argues that Jesus cannot be described or proclaimed as God’s “full, definitive, and unsurpassable” truth. Jesus is “a universal, decisive, indispensable” truth of God (Knitter 1996:76-79). These revised adjectives applied to Jesus suggest that Jesus is one among many. That is to affirm that “there are other universal, decisive, indispensable manifestations of divine reality besides Jesus” (Knitter 1996:79).
Since all religious traditions are in touch with the same ultimate divine reality, the logical conclusion is, then, all religious traditions will reach the same goal. Thus Hick and Knitter argue that different religions point to the same religious end. The end goal of all major religious traditions is one—salvation.
Hick believes that although, the major world religions have different views of the nature of salvation, they all share a common ethical ideal or a common soteriological structure, i.e. a “transition from a radically unsatisfactory state to a limitless better one” (1985:69). Hick suggests that salvation/liberation is the central concern of all the great world religions. These religions are not primarily philosophies or theologies but “primarily ways of salvation/liberation” (1995:18). Salvation, in Hick’s view, is “an actual human transformation, intended to begin now, from natural self-centredness to a radically new orientation centered in the Divine, the Transcendent, the Real” (1995:112,18). This process, Hick believes, is taking place not only within Christianity, but also, to a more or less equal extent, within the other great world religions (1995:18; 1985:86-87).
Hick affirms that the religions begin and end in the realm of the Real. The teachings of the various religions concerning the nature of salvation constitute variations within different conceptual schemes on a single fundamental theme: the sudden or gradual change of the individual from an absorbing self-concern to a new centering in the supposed unity-of-reality-and-value that is thought of as God, Brahman, the Dharma, Sunyata or the Tao. Thus the generic concept of salvation/liberation, which takes a different specific form in each of the great traditions, is that of the transformation of human existence from self-centredness to Reality-centredness. (Hick 1989:36)
Since the religious end or aim is one, Hick seems to suggest that the cessation of self in Buddhism, the realization of the actual self in Brahman which is “non-dual” in advaitic Hinduism, and communion with the triune God in Christianity are identical. They all point to the one and the same goal. Hick not only sees a common soteriological structure in all great religions, he also believes this common soteriological structure provides the pragmatic criterion for grading or evaluating the validity of different religious traditions.
The pragmatic criterion grades different religions higher or lower on the basis of “their success or failure in fulfilling the soteriological function” (Hick 1985:80). An authentic religion is soteriologically effective. It makes it possible to transform human existence from self-centredness to Reality centredness (Hick 1985:80). That is why Hick considers Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam as the great world religions. They are all concerned with salvation. They are all soteriologically effective. They all share a common soteriological goal and a common understanding of what constitutes salvation (Netland 1991:159-160).
Thus in Hick’s pluralistic theology of religions, soteriological structure is not only common to all major religious traditions, it also provides the pragmatic criterion for making distinction between authentic and inauthentic manifestations of the Real. Salvation is an evident reality of all major religions. All religious traditions teach and provide effective paths of salvation. The paths may be different, but they all lead to one and the same goal—”transformation from self-centredness to Reality-centredness.”
Knitter, like Hick, also contends that all the major world religions are concerned about the theme of salvation. Knitter revises his theocentric approach to theology of religions in favor of “soteriocentrism.” He says,
If Christian attitudes have evolved from ecclesiocentrism to christocentrism to theocentrism, they must now move on to what in Christian symbols might be called ‘kingdom-centrism’ or more universally ‘soteriocentrism.’ (1987:187)
Knitter moves from theocentrism to soteriocentrism precisely because he thinks that the theme salvation provides a crass-cultural and cross-religious basis in the context of interreligious dialogue. A theocentric model is limited to only a few religions. Whereas a soteriocentric model is accepted more universally. All religions and cultures deal with the theme of salvation in one way or the other. Thus he argues that it is the “soteria” that unites the religions in “common discourse and praxis” (1987:187). The basis and the goal for interreligious dialogue is not how these religions are related to Christ or to God, but rather,
to what extent they are promoting Soteria (in Christian images, the basileia)-to what extent they are engaged in promoting human welfare and bringing about liberation with and for the poor and nonpersons. (1987:187)
Knitter, unlike Hick, understands salvation in social terms, nevertheless both view salvation as singular. Knitter views salvation in social terms because his theology of religions is greatly influence by liberation theology since the publication of his influential book No Other Name? (1985). He proposes as the common ground for religious encounter not “Theos, the ineffable mystery of the divine, but rather, Soteria, the ineffable mystery of salvation” (1987:187). Knitter believes that
A soteriocentric approach to other faiths also seems to be more faithful to the data of comparative religions, for although the religions of the world contain a divergent variety of models for the Ultimate-theistic, metatheistic, polytheistic, and atheistic-the common thrust, however, remains soteriological, the concern of most religions being liberation (vimukti, moksa, nirvana) rather than speculation about a hypothetical divine liberator. (1987:187)
The common concern and the end goal of all religions is, then, Soteria. And Soteria, according to Knitter, is “a shared concern for the promotion of human welfare and the removal of human suffering” (1987:187; 1988:22). In other words, salvation is human welfare which is this-worldly.
Knitter believes that phenomenologically all religions seem to share a general common concern for salvation. This common soteriocentric core suggests that all religions identify some “dissatisfying or broken state of human affairs” and that all religions promise salvation from this broken state of affairs (1988:26). Thus it can be said that the goal of every religion is essentially to promote human welfare. Salvation conceived in all religions is a this-worldly concern.
Knitter defines salvation primarily in this-worldly categories. This is further confirmed by his implicit criticism of Christianity and other religions which focus on other-worldly salvation. In these religious traditions, Knitter says,
there is a flight from the world and from responsibility and concern for it, either through an eschatological vision of our true home in the next life or through a dualistic retreat into a spiritual-mystical center insulated from the sufferings of this vale of tears. (1988:27)
Since these religious traditions are primarily concerned about other-worldly spiritualities, Knitter suggests we choose “not to dialogue with such other-worldly religions” (1987: 199).
Knitter further argues that before the mystery of Soteria, no mediator or symbol system is absolute. “Our ‘Absolute’ is not Christ, or even God. It is, rather, soteria–human salvation” (1988:30). The end goal of all religions is to repair the broken state of affairs in which human beings find themselves. Here Knitter, like Hick, suggests that all religions diagnose the problem as essentially a self-centredness and in different ways seek to remedy this self-centredness by encouraging and giving direction for a Reality-centredness (1988:28; 1985:147-49).
By giving direction to people from a self-centredness to a Reality-centredness, Knitter contends that “all religions, therefore, can be seen as ‘forms of resistance’ to the confines of the status quo and as visions of liberation” (1988:28). Each religious tradition may have a different understanding of how to promote Soterra/liberation, but the aim and the goal of all religious traditions is one and the same—human welfare (1987:190).
Knitter contends that, while ail religions are potentially equal, not all religions are necessarily equal. Like Hick, Knitter also makes salvation the pragmatic criterion for grading and evaluating the authenticity of different religious traditions and figures. Knitter claims that the theme of salvation will provide a concrete basis by which religions can both validate their own claims and judge others: “From their ethical, soteriological fruits we shall know them—we shall be able to judge whether and how much other religious paths and their mediators are salvific” (1987:193). All religions and religious figures will be graded on the basis of their engagement in promoting human welfare in this world. The religious end of all religions is Soteria, Christians should, then, accept the fact that Jesus along with other saviors and mediators help fulfill this goal.
It is evident from the description of Hick and Knitter that they choose to universalize the scope of revelation and relativize the particularity of Christ. They have done this by departing from the insistence on the finality of Christ toward recognition of the independent validity of other ways (Knitter 1987:viii). They react against the traditional view of Christianity and argue that Christians have not considered carefully enough the validity of other religious traditions and their claims. If Christianity is uniquely true, why are there so many saints in other religious traditions? They also make use of critical historical scholarship to demonstrate that the “one and only” claims of the New Testament were used mythologically, not literally. Texts such as John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 were not actually said by Jesus. They were attributed to him. Thus they cannot be interpreted as supporting that Jesus Christ is the unique revelation of God and that salvation is available only through Christ.
Based on all these above and other factors, Hick and Knitter contend for a pluralistic theology of religions which affirms many independent ways to the Real. The commonality of revelation sets all religions on an equal footing. All religions are in touch with, and human responses to, the same Ultimate Reality. No one religion or religious figure can claim to be superior or normative over the others. All religions and mediators are valid paths for salvation for their respective believers. Jesus Christ thus loses his unique, universal title—”Savior of the world,” and becomes one among many. The “one and only” claim of the New Testament is changed to “many not one” claim to suit the pluralistic theology of religions.
The pluralistic theology of religions departs from christocentricity to theocentricity, and then moves from a theocentnc to a soteriocentric stance primarily to affirm “manyness” in favor of “onlyness.” Faced with the particularity of Christ, on the one hand, and the plurality of religions, on the other, the pluralists relativize the particularity of Christ in order to affirm the plurality of religions. The proponents, in favor of many saviors, dismiss that Christ is uniquely true and thus universally valid, and that salvation is possible only through him. Compared to the historical reality of dialectical tension, the pluralistic theology of religions, contending for many and not one, snaps the dialectical tension between the particularity of Christ and the plurality of religions, and thus falls into the either-or category.
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