My Longest Post!
Folks, this will be my longest blog post EVER (5085 words)! I wrote it 3 years ago, but NOT for the internet; it was a research paper.
The following was submitted in candidacy for the degree of Master of Ministry. The class was Theology Proper and the Trinity: Theology 6323R. My professor was Dr. John Owen.
The subject was the “Real” of John Hick, the late philosopher whose religious theories still carry weight on many of the most elite campi of the world. If you’ve never heard of John Hick or his pluralistic view of God, it might do you good to read this post.
(FYI, I didn’t include the title page, content page, or page numbers.)
So, grab a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy some seminarian ponderings 😉
THE “REAL” OF JOHN HICK
John Hick (1922–2012) was considered by some to be “one of the most significant philosophers of religion of the last 50 years.” What made him so significant? Well, for one thing he was a man who asked, “Are Adonai and God, Allah and Param Atma, Rama and Krishna different Gods, or are these different names for the same ultimate divine Reality?” He was also a man who challenged the traditional Christian view of God and selectively defined Him in the way he wanted “without the control of any authoritative revelation.”
But most importantly, he was a man who developed a pluralistic theory that all religions, despite their seeming contradictions, actually worshiped the same transcendent Ultimate Reality, or as he called it, “the Real.” He impacted the teaching of theology around the world, leaving a pluralistic stain on Christianity. Therefore, this paper will examine Hick’s “the Real”, attempt to give reasons for the rise of such a concept, and present criticisms by several of Hick’s contemporaries in an attempt to show that the God of orthodox Christianity is not equal to the gods of this world.
John Hick was not always the champion of pluralistic thought. As a matter of fact, Hick was at one point considered to be a fundamentalist Christian. According to his autobiography, it was in 1940, while he was a law student at the University of Hull (England), that he experienced something of a conversion to Christianity. He said that for several days he was in a state of “intense emotional turmoil,” during which he became increasingly aware of a “higher truth and greater reality” demanding a response. He went on to say, “The reality that was pressing in upon me was not only awesomely demanding…but also irresistibly attractive, and I entered with great joy and excitement in to the world of Christian faith.” It was only later in life, sometime around the 1960’s, that it is generally believed Hick made a break from what was considered orthodox Christianity and sought after a more inclusive view of religion. Theologian John Cobb, emeritus professor at Claremont Graduate University in California (one of the places where Hick taught), said of Hick: “He was a Christian believer who cared about Christian truth, but he later moved from positions he thought were too narrow to more liberal ones.” Eventually, Hick came “to accept the need to re-understand our own faith, not as the one and only, but as one of several.”
People that knew John Hick thought of him as kind and caring toward everyone, even toward those who disagreed with him. One of his former students, Gavin D’Costa, who later became one his harshest critics, said, “He cared deeply about the issues he taught, and he taught with a care and conviction that helped set students like myself on fire.” The problem, however, is that even though Hick may have cared about people and faith, his caring may have led to the demise of his own orthodoxy. He exchanged the God of the Bible for a pluralistic world view and a non-exclusive deity of his own making.
In the following pages we will explore various attributes of the Real in an attempt to explain Hick’s theory and differentiate the Real from the God of Scripture. But before we examine Hick’s version of God, is would be very beneficial to look at some possible reasons such a theory even came about. What influenced the Real?
The first real influence on Hick’s theology was Christianity. As noted above, he admitted to what amounted to a “conversion” early in life. It must be understood, however, that Hick’s definition of Christianity was not orthodox. In one article Hick said, “I feel irrevocably challenged and claimed by the impact of the life and teaching of Jesus; and to be thus decisively influenced by him is, I suppose, the basic definition of a Christian.” But being “influenced” does not equate with confessing Jesus Christ as Lord (Rom 10:9). As a matter of fact, it will be presented later that Hick did not even believe Jesus to be divine.
Secondly, Hick was influenced by theodicy. When Hick looked at all the pain and suffering in the world, he could not sit by idly and not try to defend the existence of God. When atheists complained that suffering was proof that God didn’t exist, Hick responded with an Irenaean view that “God will eventually succeed in His purpose of winning all men to Himself in faith and love” (which could make one wonder if Rob Bell was influenced by Hick). He came up with the idea that God was “soul-making,” so suffering was really a good thing. He said that humans have been created as immature creatures who are gradually being brought unto perfection through their own freedom within a challenging world.
Observation of Others
A third major influence behind Hick’s understanding of God was brought about by his observation of religious experiences and worship. Even though he considered himself a Christian at one point, Hick quickly came around to believing that Christianity could not be the only true religion nor Jesus Christ the only way to heaven. What made him decide this was his observation that people from other religions also had life-changing experiences resulting in positive changes of behavior and worship which transformed. Hick said: “When you visit the various non-Christian places of worship in one or our big cities you discover – possibly with a shock of surprise – that phenomenologically (or in other words, to human observation) the same kind of thing is taking place in them as in a Christian church.” He believe that when we “extend our data base” and take all the world religions into account, we will see that other religious people also experience transformed lives and have limitless value.
Hick compared different hymns, noted the similarities, and concluded that, in the light of the phenomenological similarity of worship, “[w]e have to ask whether people in church, synagogue, mosque, gurudwara and temple are worshipping different Gods or are worshipping the same God?” One among many that Hick suggests is an example of a religion worshipping the same god as another, specifically the God of Christianity, is the following Sikh prayer:
There is but one God. He is all that is.
He is the Creator of all things and He is all-Pervasive.
He is without fear and without enmity.
He is timeless, unborn and self-existent.
He is the Enlightener
And can be realized by grace of Himself alone.
He was in the beginning; He was in all ages.
The True One is, was, [O Nanak,] and shall forever be.
Hick believed that if there is just one God who is maker and Lord of all, then these people “must all be worshipping the same God.” Another way to look at this is that Hick wanted to “allow for religion as a whole to be true,” not just human projections or wishful thinking.
Non-Exclusive Loving God
There are surely more, but for this paper a final suggested influence behind Hick’s theology would be the fact that he could not accept the idea that a loving God would be exclusive. Hick had to come up with a vision of God that would conform to his belief that “the God to whom the Christian Gospel bears witness is not the God of this or that bounded human group, but is the Creator and Father of the human race as a whole and in all the continents of the earth.” Hick often referred to orthodox Christianity as the “older theological tradition” that had at its center the conviction that Jesus – the Second Person of the Trinity – was God in flesh and come to be the only way to salvation. He believed that if God had really sent Jesus to be the only way that would obviously mean that others would not have hope, so therefore a teaching like this could not be true. Because of the knowledge now available about other religions (such as mentioned above with regards to worship), the idea of Jesus being the only way was “unacceptable.” According to Hick, the idea that God would limit salvation to only those who would believe in Jesus “conflicts with our concept of God.” Speaking of a loving God, Gavin D’Costa described Hick in the following way: “[He] argued to Christians that the God of love revealed by Jesus could not consign most of humankind to hellfire for something they experienced through no fault of their own. If we can only be saved by Christ and most people in human history have never even heard of him, a perverse God is at work in the world.” Hick said that in the course of all of his study and life, it has become “abundantly clear” that each of the world’s faiths constitutes a perception of and a response to the ultimate divine reality which they all in their different ways affirm; and also that within each there are to be found true saints through whom the Transcendent shines within the fabric of our human life.”
So, now that we have a better understanding of where John Hick may have come up with his ideas for the Real, let us examine some specific attributes of the Real.
Attributes of the Real
Beyond Comprehension and Inspection
In No One Like Him John S. Feinberg discussed various theories regarding “God as a Being.” Some people see God as an immaterial being, while others see God as material. Some see God as both an immaterial and material being. John Hick’s explanation of God falls under the category of immaterial, but with a twist. God, according to Hick, is at one time “independent of our minds” and any ability to describe him, but at the same time immanent in the perceptions God allows us to experience. God is “beyond comprehension and inspection” because the God that we experience is only the thing that we perceive, not the “thing-in-itself.” Hick describes the Real as “transcategorial,” which means that God is “beyond our humans systems of concepts or mental categories.” To put this another way, the Real is ultimate reality – it is what it is – but what it is in its true nature is beyond the ability of men to understand, talk about, or discover. The what is it we are talking about if we can’t talk about and understand God? Evidently, all we can know about the Real is what we gather from experiencing it. In other words, it is sort of like the wind – we cannot really see or touch or know the wind, but we can be keenly aware of how we each experience the wind. For one person the wind may be experienced as a cool breeze, but by another it can be a hot wind or a tornado. None of these experiences are the wind, per se, but the effects of the wind.
Hick proposes that there be a Kantian distinction between the noumenal and the phenomenal understandings of God. When one talks about something that is noumenal, that is something that is outside of experience. Phenomenal things, however, are the things we can experience. The Godhead (the Ultimate Reality) is unknowable, so that is the noumenal aspect of God. The phenomenal perceptions of God (the masks) are the experiences we have of the noumenal. Hick describes this as the “divine phenomena in distinction from the divine noumenon of which they are its appearances to humanity.” This is very similar to the idea of personae and impersonae, which is the distinction between the personal pictures of deity, such as Shiva, Allah, or Vishnu, and that of impersonal realities, such as Brahman, Nirvana, or Sunyata. The Real is totally transcendent. All of the gods that religions worship, according to Hick, are simply “masks” that give a face to what “is” while not really showing us what the “is” really is. Hick believed that “the heavenly Father of Christian faith, known through the distinctively Christian response to Jesus of Nazareth; the Allah of Islamic faith, known as self-revealed in the Qur’an through the prophet Muhammad; and Shiva known and intensely experienced within the Shaivite cults of India,” all pointed to the same reality. All the “masks” have been created by man in a response to the true reality of the Real’s “presence” and “reality.” Gerald Loughlin, however, has a real problem with this description of the Real. He believes that by saying anything about a noumenal reality based on phenomenal experience totally defeats the idea that the Real is unknowable. In other words, what are we even talking about if we cannot speak literally of the “presence” or “manifestation” of the Real? Aimee Upjohn Light called Hick’s attempt to synthesize all the world’s religions as a “meta-position” which in claiming to represent the world religions actually contradicts them. She said, “…any position claiming to collapse all religions into one common group enterprise misunderstands and misrepresent each of them…Meta-perspectives, by definition, contradict religions’ claims to uniqueness.”
Can be Distorted but True
According to Hick, one can indeed describe God in conflicting ways, yet still tell the truth about the Ultimate Reality. This has to do with the fact that so many religions have truth claims that contradict each other. For instance, in John 14:6 Jesus says that he is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that “no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” That would surely exclude any other god from coming along and saying the same thing and both are true. Yet, the way Hick puts it, one can’t get truth without distorting it. Does that sound crazy? Well according to Hick, concerning the different, and indeed often conflicting, belief systems of the religions: our earth is a three-dimensional globe, but when you map it on a two dimensional surface, such a piece of paper, you have to distort it. Just like the big wall maps that take a global view and spread it out, you have to cut it and make it flat. Hick notes that there are a lot of cartographers out there that know that the world is round, yet take different approaches to making detailed maps of the world. Some even have bumps and ridges, while others don’t. Yet, just because one make a map flat, while the other is round, this does not mean that the maps are wrong when one seems to contradict the other. Hick says, “If they are properly made they will all be correct, and yet they all distort.” What Hick is trying to convey, here, is that different religions may have different maps, but all are useful in helping us make our journey in life. The reality, however, is that if a map is incorrect one will wind up in a ditch. And what’s more, God is not a map, so saying He is no different than a distorted piece of paper is really a stretch.
Is Agape, and Agape is God
The Bible is clear about one truth: God is love (1 John 4:8). But nowhere in the Bible does it say that “love is God.” There is a big difference. On the other hand, John Hick tried to make the point that the very act of showing agape love was a manifestation of the Real. “Wherever men or women have lived in self-giving Love,” so says Hick, “there Agape has been incarnated in the human life.” Hick is literally saying, then, that we are all not only like Christ when we show agape love, but we literally are incarnations of Christ. Hick said: “Incarnation in this sense is self-evident metaphor. It means that some value or truth is lived three-dimensionally in a human life or lives within the flow of human history. Now in this sense divine Agape, love, was incarnated in Jesus. Agape became flesh and blood in Jesus’ life of healing and teaching.” So, if Jesus was incarnate Agape, then we can be just like Jesus if we show agape love (according to this interpretation).
Is not Jesus
John Hick said he was a Christian, but he was anything but a Christian in the traditional sense. The reason is because traditional Christianity teaches that Jesus is the Second member of the Trinity, God’s Son, Incarnate God, Divine God-Man, and the Savior of mankind. The Bible is very clear that the only way to the Father is Jesus (John 14:6). In Acts 4:12 we read, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Colossians 2:9 even says, “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” meaning that Jesus was not just a man filled with the presence of God, or Agape, but that He was God in the flesh. But John Hick could not accept the teaching of the Bible “as is.” He had to distort the Truth of the gospel in order to deliver his own version of the “good news” to those who chose to believe there were other ways to God. Hick said that whatever we say about God’s action in Jesus Christ…must cohere with what we say about God’s action in relation [to the world].”
When it simply came to the book of John, Hick was skeptical. That shouldn’t amaze anyone, however, for if the book of John was truly inspired, then that would mean the words of Jesus were not put in there by a man who wanted to distort Jesus’ words for his own gain, but that the words of Jesus were actually what he said. But when it comes to John, especially the verses found in chapter fourteen, fault has to be found somewhere, so why not in the text itself? Instead of taking the Bible at face value and then looking at the rest of the world through the lens of divine revelation, Hick has to try to discredit what would seem completely obvious and contradictory to every other truth claim in the world. Regarding John 14:6 Hick said, “Here, unfortunately, we have to enter the realm of NT criticism: and I say ‘unfortunately’ because of the notorious uncertainties of this realm.” He said that “it must be taken as all but certain that the pre-Easter Jesus neither designated himself as Messiah (or Son of God) nor accepted such confession from others.” But it should be noted that not all scholars agree with Hick about the book of John. Craig S. Keener argued:
Although pseudonymous works existed in antiquity, they stated their purported author rather than implied him; unless we want to argue for John’s implicit pseudonymity, the internal evidence supporting an eyewitness author should be allowed to stand. For this reason, I believe the Fourth Gospel’s claim to authorship by John is stronger than the claims for the other Gospels, which are ultimately dependent only on Christian tradition external to the text itself.
John Hick specifically stated: “The older theological tradition of Christianity does not readily permit religious pluralism. For at its center is the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth was God – the Second Person of a Divine Trinity living a human life.” He also says that this dogma, that Jesus was God in flesh, was generated in order to convince people that they needed to convert from other religions to faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. But, “That nerve is cut,” said Hick, “when we acknowledge the other great world religions as being also areas of divine salvation.” Hick believed that the story of the incarnation of God in Jesus was simply metaphor, and nothing else. The incarnation, as Hick put it, “can be seen as a poetic expression of his disciples’ relationship to Jesus as one through whom they have found salvation, liberation, newness of life in the presence of God.”
Why is it, then, that Jesus could not be God? It is because the Real cannot be considered to be exclusive. The Real is the Ultimate Reality, the God behind the gods, the God that all religions worship, even though they may worship different “masks” that have been overlaid on top of the Real in order to have something to relate to in an anthropomorphic sense. To say that Jesus actually was who traditional Christianity implied would be to say that other religions are wrong. This, according to Hick, just cannot be. He said: “We can revere Christ as the one through whom we have found salvation, without having to deny other points of experienced saving contact between God and man. We can commend the way of Christian faith without having to discommend other ways of faith. We can say that there is salvation in Christ without having to say that there is no salvation other than in Christ.”
As strange as it may sound after all that has been said so far, the Real can hear and answer prayer. In Who or What is God? Hick does admit his belief that the Real does answer prayers for protection and guidance and health and deliverance. He says that he essentially agrees with the common understanding of God that He (or She) is an infinite personal Being who has created the universe, is prayed to, and has the power to intervene in human affairs in response to human requests. But Hick also says that our view of God is “anthropomorphic,” which means we project onto God human qualities and characteristics which we feel are the highest qualities a person should have. This does not mean, however, that God does not answer prayers, though. The only problem goes back to the theodicy question of why does God answer some prayers and not others?
One of the reasons John Hick questions Christianity as the only true faith is because he doubts the words of Jesus as recorded in the fourth gospel, the book of John. As shown above, not all modern scholars agree with Hicks assumption that the book of John is flawed. Hick said that we “cannot rest anything on the assumption that the great Christological sayings of the Fourth Gospel…were ever spoken…” However, if John cannot be trusted, then why would Hick want to have anything to do with the Jesus of the Bible? But there are other scriptures which tell the same story as that of John. Even if the book of John was suspect, then what is John Hick supposed to say in response to these verses?
“Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matt. 1:22-23).
“And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:31-32).
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
“And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
It would seem that these verses alone bear witness to the words of Jesus in John. But if not these, then what about the other verses in the Old Testament? What about Deuteronomy 6:4 that says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD”? Jesus quoted this in Mark 12:29-30, “And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” Are these words of Jesus also questionable? Or are they clearly saying that there is only one God, and all the others are false? If language means anything, it would seem that other gods were forbidden.
It seems that John Hick had to come up with something like his concept of the Real to keep from saying any religion was wrong. He had to come up with the Real in order to make sense of his personal experiences, along with the experiences of others. It also seems that Hick wanted to keep a foothold in Christianity, but without exclusivity, which is why he said in a response to Gerald Loughlin that he had “a commitment to try to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as one who has revealed to many the possibilities of human existence in response to the ultimately Real.” He called himself a Christian, but in the sense the he tried to live out the example of “agape” love shown by the actions of Jesus, but he could never accept that Jesus was/is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He did all this and influenced others with his way of thinking, and that is a big problem.
There are many who attend universities and seminaries with the intention of learning more about the nature of God. Unfortunately, many are being taught a pluralistic view of Christianity that says all religions are equally true and that none have a better way. John Hick’s theories have come to be widely accepted and taught in many universities because Hick’s view of God is one that allows for anyone to believe what they want, just as long as they don’t say Jesus is the only way (John 14:6). But no matter how tempting it may be to follow along with the teaching of “the Real,” it must be avoided at all cost. There is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved except Jesus Christ. There is only one God, and that is the Trinitarian God of the only revealed Word of God, the Bible. Unfortunately, many pastors are coming out of seminaries with the ability to play the Christian game, but in reality believe a lie. They are dangerous and need to be exposed for what they are. That is why it is important that we learn what the “Real” of John Hick is and stand against it as a false god, not the Ultimate Reality.
 Alan Race. “Hick, John, 1922-2012.” Modern Believing 53, no. 3 (July 1, 2012): 243-253.
 John Hick, “Whatever Path Men Choose Is Mine.” Modern Churchman 18, no. 1-2 (December 1, 1974): 8-17.
 Gavin Decosta. “The New Missionary: John Hick and Religious Plurality.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 15, no. 2 (April 1 1991), 68.
 Race, 245.
 John Dart, “Hick, John, 1922-2012.” Christian Century 129, no. 6 (March 21, 2012): 15.
 John Hick, God Has Many Names. Philidelphia: The Westminster Press. 1982, 7.
 Gavin D”Costa. “Hick, John, 1922-2012.” First Things no. 223 (January 1, 2012): 21.
 John Hick, “Pluralism and the Reality of the Transcendent: How My Mind Has Changed; 15th In a Series,” Christian Century 98, no. 2 (January 21, 1981): 47.
 “…[Part] of natural theology which is concerned to defend the goodness and omnipotence of God against objections arising from the existence of evil in the world.” F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1609.
 Race, 247.
 John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 781.
 A response to Gerad Loughlin, 62.
 Whatever Path Men Choose Is Mine, 9
 Who or what is god, 3
 Whatever path men choose, 11
 Whatever path men choose, 10
 Loughlin, prefacing 40
 General introduction, 4
 Plurality and the reality of the transcendent 48
 Ibid., 48
 Ibid., 48.
 Remembering John Hick, 21
 Pluralism and the transcendent, 46.
 Feinberg, 45-55
 Feinberg, 49.
 Who or what is God, 4
 Who or what is god, 9.
 John hick and the master of religion, 39
 Badham: John hick and the human response 47
 Feinberg, 147.
 John hick and the mastery of religion, 41
 Aimee Upjohn Light, 468.
 Ibid, 468.
 Who or what is god, 9
 Who or what is god, 10
 General introduction, john hick, 4
 Ibid., 9.
 General introduction, 5.
 Whatever path men choose, 14
 Whatever path men may choose, 14.
 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Jn.
 Pluralism and the reality of the transcendent, 48
 Ibid., 48.
 General introduction, 9
 Whatever path, 15.
 Who or what is god, 1
 Whatever path men choose, 14
 A response to Gerard, 66.
Badham, Paul. “John Hick and the Human Response to Transcendent Reality.” Dialogue & Alliance 5, no. 2 (June 1, 1991): 43-51.
Cross, F. L. and Elizabeth A. Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. rev. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Dart, John. “Hick, John, 1922-2012.” Christian Century 129, no. 6 (March 21, 2012): 15-318.
D’Costa, Gavin. “Hick, John, 1922-2012.” First Things no. 223 (January 1, 2012): 21-22.
D’Costa, Gavin. “The New Missionary : John Hick and Religious Plurality.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 15, no. 2 (April 1, 1991): 66-69.
Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.
Grant, Colin. “The Threat and Prospect in Religious Pluralism.” Ecumenical Review 41, no. 1 (January 1, 1989): 50-63.
Hick, John. “A Response to Gerard Loughlin.” Modern Theology 7, no. 1 (October 1, 1990): 57-66.
Hick, John. “Christology In an Age of Religious Pluralism.” Journal Of Theology For Southern Africa no. 35 (June 1, 1981): 4-9.
Hick, John. “Pluralism and the Rreality of the Transcendent : How My Mind Has Changed; 15th in a series.” Christian Century 98, no. 2 (January 21, 1981): 45-48.
Hick, John. “Whatever Path Men Choose Is Mine.” Modern Churchman 18, no. 1-2 (December 1, 1974): 8-17.
Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Light, Aimee Upjohn. “Harris, Hick, and the demise of the pluralist hypothesis.” Journal Of Ecumenical Studies 44, no. 3 (June 1, 2009): 467-470.
Loughlin, Gerard. “Prefacing pluralism : John Hick and the mastery of religion.” Modern Theology 7, no. 1 (October 1, 1990): 29-55.
Lyden, John. “Why Only “One” Divine Reality? A Critique of Religious “Pluralism.” Dialogue & Alliance 8, no. 1 (March 1, 1994): 60-74.
Netland, Harold. “Religious Pluralism and Truth.” Trinity Journal 6, no. 1 (March 1, 1985): 74-87.
Race, Alan. “Hick, John, 1922-2012.” Modern Believing 53, no. 3 (July 1, 2012): 243-253.