Pluralism and theology A* grade summary notes


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The biblical basis of exclusivism

  • Exclusivism – only one religion is true and only members of it can be saved.
  • John 14:6 – Jesus said he is the way truth & life and that no one comes to the father except ‘through me’.
  • This seems to justify exclusivism, since Jesus is ‘the truth’. Pluralism can’t be right because it would suggest Jesus is only ‘a truth’, one truth among many – not ‘the’ truth. It is traditionally interpreted to suggest that only through faith in Jesus can a person be saved. 
  • It follows that only Christianity is true and only Christians can be saved.


  • Response: compatible with inclusivism
  • However, arguably Jesus was slightly ambiguous in his wording of ‘through me’. He doesn’t explicitly state that ‘faith’ is what enables someone to be saved through him. 
  • He could simply have meant that his sacrifice would enable all humans to be saved through him, since he died for the sins of everyone.
  • Inclusivists argue that although Jesus is clearly saying he is ‘the truth’, so Christianity is the only true religion, nonetheless we could interpret the verse as suggesting that non-Christians could be saved.
  • Perhaps by ‘through me’ Jesus meant that anyone who is a good person can be saved.
  • This interpretation would also fit with Jesus’ claims in the sheep and the goats parable, where he identifies those who are saved by their good acts, not their faith.

Further evaluation:

  • However, there are bible verses where belief is explicitly mentioned as a requirement for salvation, like John 3:18 which says “whoever does not believe stands condemned already”.

Optional final evaluation: 

  • In ancient Judaism, belief meant more than just intellectual assent. It meant to obey. 
  • So, ‘belief’ in Jesus could simply mean following his commands – doing good actions.
  • In that case, non-Christians could be saved if they do good actions, which again is compatible with inclusivism. 
  • So overall the Bible can be interpreted as supporting inclusivism.

Augustine’s ‘limited election’ version of exclusivism: 

  • Only some Christians will be saved by God’s grace
  • Original sin gives all humans an irresistible temptation to sin.
  • This means we can never be or do good enough to deserve heaven through our own efforts.
  • So, original sin damns us to hell by default.
  • It is only if God grants us his gift of unmerited grace that we could be saved.
  • Not all Christians will be granted grace – only some limited ‘elect’ will.


  • Pelagius argued that if we have original sin and are thus completely unable to avoid doing evil, it would surely be unjust for God to punish us for our sinful behaviour. 
  • It’s not ethical for all humanity to be blamed for the actions of Adam and Eve. 
  • This suggests an indefensible view of moral responsibility – that people can be responsible for actions committed by others which is of special absurdity in this case since the action occurred before they were even born. 

Augustine responds: 

  • God doesn’t punish us because of the actions of adam and eve – God punishes us because we are sinful beings – because we are born with original sin.
  • Augustine is not actually arguing that God himself blamed all humanity for Adam’s sin, he’s merely pointing out that it was a factual consequence of Adam’s sin that all future humanity, in Adam’s loins, became infected with original sin. 
  • It’s not God’s fault, it’s Adams’. So, Augustine argues that predestination is not unjust of God, since we are corrupted by original sin and so if we go to hell it is deserved.
  • This might seem unfair, but Augustine puts it down to the “secret yet just judgement of God”, indicating that it is inscrutable – impossible for us to understand – but we should have faith it is just. Augustine points to Psalm 25:10: ‘All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth,’ and concludes: neither can his grace be unjust, nor his justice cruel”.


  • Only one religion is true, but members of other religions could be saved.
  • Rahner: what about Christians who have never heard of Jesus, through no fault of their own? 
  • It seems to conflict with omnibenevolence for them to be sent to hell.
  • Some Rahner proposed that God must try and reach non-Christians by working through other religions and their conscience.
  • E.g. God works through Hinduism & Buddhism to try and save people in them.
  • If non-Christians respond well to God’s revelation in their religion then they will be acting like good Christians – Rhaner calls them ‘anonymous Christians’.
  • This could result in their being saved, despite not being Christian.


  • Universal access exclusivism – solves the problem of people who have never heard of Jesus without needing inclusivism. 
  • It proposes that those who never heard of Jesus could still be presented with the Christian message after death and given an opportunity to accept and have faith in Jesus.

Further evaluation: 

  • Hick would say that both universal access exclusivism and Rahner’s ‘anonymous Chrisitan’ inclusivism fail to go far enough.
  • They both still claim that some people go to hell (those who reject or fail to live up to being a good Christian).
  • An all-loving God could never send anyone to Hell.
  • Hick thinks only universalism is justified – the view that all people go to heaven.
  • For punishment to count as justice, it must be proportionate to the crime. 
  • No human can ever deserve infinite punishment because we can only ever do finite crimes.
  • Some might argue that people like Hitler surely don’t deserve Heaven, but Hick combined his universalism with his soul-making theory to conclude that people who fail to become virtuous must simply get another chance after death.


  • All religions are equally true and equal paths to salvation.
  • Hick was an exclusivist but changed his mind after living in multicultural birmingham, where he had a chance to witness different religions.
  • He observed religious worship in mosques, temples, Gurdwaras, etc. 
  • He came to the view that the same sort of thing was going on in different places of worship.
  • “human beings opening their minds to a higher divine Reality, known as personal and good and as demanding righteousness and love” – Hick.
  • Hick pointed to the ancient Islamic parable of blind men each touching a different part of an elephant. 
  • After describing what they each felt, they concluded an elephant was something different, just like religions say different things about God. 
  • However this was because they were too blind to see how they were really all touching the same thing in different ways. 
  • Hick claimed the same was true for religion as different religions are just different human interpretations of the one true divine reality. 


  • Hume argued that all religions cannot be true however since they make contradictory truth claims. 
  • Either Jesus was the son of God (like Christians claim) or he wasn’t (like Muslims claim). 
  • Hindu and ancient Greek/Roman religions believe in multiple Gods, whereas the Abrahamic religions believe in just one.

Optional counter-evaluation:

  • Hick responds that they can all be right. 
  • He argues that those particular theological details such as the divinity of Jesus or number of Gods are part of the ‘conceptual lens’ that different cultures project onto reality. 
  • Clearly Christianity can’t be right that Jesus is the son of God at the same time as Judaism being right that he wasn’t. 
  • However, Hick claims they can both be right in the sense that they are both pointing to the same higher divine reality.
  • Hick essentially discounts the contradictory truth claims of religions as cultural projections which are not true. 
  • Some of the claims of religion (like the ones that contradict other religions) are just cultural baggage – part of the ‘interpretation’ that religion has of the one true higher divine reality.
  • The interpretations may seem to conflict, but they are just different interpretations of the same higher divine reality.
  • What is true in all religions is the central element he identified in Birmingham of people opening their minds to a higher, personal and good, divine reality that demands righteousness and love.
  • Hick says that different religious beliefs “conflict in the sense that they are different … however this is not to say that they may not constitute different ways in which the same ultimate Reality has impinged upon human life”