Alvin Plantinga Pluralism

download Alvin Plantinga Pluralism

of 14

Embed Size (px)

Transcript of Alvin Plantinga Pluralism

  • 8/12/2019 Alvin Plantinga Pluralism


    Journal of EcumenicalStudies,462,Spring 2011





    The Protestant philosopher Alvin Plantinga has maintained that exclusivism

    might help Christians to become more confident of the truth of Christianity in re-

    sponse to religious pluraliste such as John Hick. Although Plantinga has not spelled

    out the details of "belief producing processes," which must function properly in or-

    der for Christians to become more confident of Christian beliefs, Lumen gentium14

    sheds significant light on the dilemma by declaring that salvation becomes moredemanding for those who have been exposed to the gospel, not easier to attain. The

    author's explication and defense ofLumengentium 14withinthe context of contem-

    porary debates in the theology of religions resolves Plantinga's proposal by stressing

    and defending the importance of analogical thinking for the purposes of interrelig

    iousapologetics. Thus, a certain understanding of religious exclusivism does seem to

    increaseone's confidence in the truth of Christianity.

    Theproblem ofreligiouspluralism dejure isone of themost daunting prob-lems that Christiansare nowfacing.1 Ifthe fundamental beliefs ofChristianity

    are true,then anybeliefs inopposition tothem must befalse. There can be no

    'SeeAlvinPlantinga, "Christian Philosophy atthe Endofthe20th Century," m SanderGriffioen and BertM Balk, eds,Christian Philosophy attheCloseof theTwentiethCentury Assment andPerspective (Kampen, Netherlands Uitgevenj Kok,1995), 39,where hewrote "Fi-nally, pluralist objections tootrouble many Christians,especially Christian academics and others

    who are acutelyawareofsomeoftheother major religionsoftheworld Thisissomethingofa new

    orrevitalizedworry forthe Christian community,as aresultwehavejustbegun toworkat it andthinkaboutit ButI venture to predict that these pluralist objections willloomlargein the nextseg-mentofouradventure as Christians"

    Glenn Siniscalchi (Catholic)is aPhD student insystematic theology atDuquesne University,Pittsburgh, PA HereceivedanMA in theology from Saint Mary Seminary andGraduateSchoolofTheology, WicklifTe,OH,in2007, and holdsa A from WestVirginia University, Morgantown,WV Healsocompleted Certification inSpecial Education, Learning Disabilities, from the Univer-sityofNorthCarolina at Charlotte During Spring, 2011, heisan adjunct faculty member atSt Jo-seph's University, Philadelphia, PA Hetaught religion atNorthCatholic High SchoolinPittsburgh,200708 Hetaught previously as aparaprofessional orspecial education teacher at schools in

    Woosterand Cleveland, OH, Monroe, NC,and Deptford and Camden, NJ Hehasmade presenta-tionsat adozen conferences and professional societies since 2008, including the originalversionofthe present essay for the National Conference of the Evangelical Philosophical Society in Atlanta

  • 8/12/2019 Alvin Plantinga Pluralism


    230 JournalofEcumenical Studies

    denying this obvious fact. If persons can be saved outside of Christ, then the

    church has obviously erred for centuries about its central belief in the one me-

    diator between God and humanity, casting God's sovereignty into serious doubt.

    Another belief that is called into question by the problem of religious pluralismhasto do with the traditional attributes of God. If God is benevolent and om-

    nipotent, then why would God prevent so many individuals and even groups of

    people from hearing the Good News within their earthly lifetime? How could

    God fault these persons for not acceptingJesusChrist and send them to hell?

    Alvin Plantinga is one of the most reputable Christian apologists writing

    today. Many Christians credit him with significant arguments that have helped

    toretrieve the discipline ofapologetics.Although he has not spent much time in

    the field of interreligious apologetics, he has published awellknpwnarticle in

    response to religious pluralism. He seeks to resolve the dilemmas of pluralistssuch as John Hick by addressing both moral and epistemological challenges to

    religious exclusivism. At the end of his celebrated essay, Plantinga boldly con-


    A fresh or heightened awareness of the facts of religious pluralism couldbringabout a reappraisal ofone'sreligious life, a reawakening, a new or re-newed and deepened grasp and apprehension of(1)[beliefinatheisticGod]and (2) [namely, God has revealed Godself inChrist].From Calvin's per-

    spective, it could serve as an occasion for a renewed and more powerfulworking of the beliefproducing processes by which we come to apprehend(1)and (2) In that way knowledge ofthefacts of pluralism could initiallyserveas adefeater, but in the long run have precisely the opposite effect


    Thus, Plantinga holds that a reflection on the facts of pluralism might even-

    tually make Christians more confident in their exclusivistic understandings of

    faith. Though he did not spell out the details of "belief producing processes"in

    regard to the debate between pluralists and exclusivists, the Catholic Church

    sheds light on the same idea. The Second Vatican Council put it this way: "Allchildren of the Church should . . . remember that their exalted condition results,

    not from their own merits, but from the grace ofChrist.If they fail to respond in

    thought,wordand deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they

    shall be the more severelyjudged."4For those who have been exposed to the

    truth, salvation becomes more demanding, not easier to attain. Religious exclu-

    sivism remains compatible with a certain type of exclusivism. Catholic doctrine

    2Alvin Plantinga, "Pluralism A Defense of Religious Exclusivism," in Thomas D Senor, ed ,The Rationality of Belief and the Plurality ofFaith Essays in Honor of William Alston (Ithaca,

    NY and London Cornell University Press 1995) pp 191 215 The same essay has been repro

  • 8/12/2019 Alvin Plantinga Pluralism


    AlvinPlantinga on Religious Pluralism: A Catholic Appraisal 231

    insists that hearing the gospel is merely a sign that God is calling one to deeper

    relationship with Godself, not that persons outside the Church cannot be saved.

    Conciliar teaching is not in opposition to exclusivism as Plantinga has defended

    it,and it seems to relieve his worry that pluralism might serve as an undercutting

    defeater of religious exclusivism.5 More importantly, it seems to vindicate his

    belief that exclusivism, if understood in a certain way, might increase one's con-

    fidence in the truth of Christianity. This essay also seeks to honor one of the

    greatest contemporary apologists by shedding some light on his philosophical

    insights within the context of an ecumenical dialogue with a Catholic theolo-


    Salvation Outside and inside the Church

    From the outset, I would like to posit a divineaccountability principle. This

    principle refers to the particular moral standard that God lays down within the

    depths of each person's conscience. The principle is not indiscriminatingly bind-

    ing on every person but is relative from one person to the next. So, it is not as

    black and white as some may think, for only God knows each individual's cir-

    cumstances and works in each person's life accordingly. Various factors con-

    tribute to the principle: life experience,upbringing, personality, culture, friend-ships, genetics, political environment, educational experiences, etc. Vatican II

    endorsed this theological principle inAd gentes:

    This task which must be carried out by the order of bishops, under the

    leadership of Peter's successor and with the prayers and cooperation of the

    whole Church, is one and the same everywhere and in all situations, although,

    because of circumstances, it may not always be exercised in the same way.

    The differences which must be recognized in this activity of the Church, do

    not flow from the inner nature of the mission itself, but from the circum-

    stancesin which it is exercised.These circumstances depend either on the Church itselfor on the peoples,

    classes or men to whom its mission is directed. Although the Church pos-

    sesses in itself the totality and fullness of the means of salvation, it does not

    always, in fact cannot, use every one ofthemimmediately, but it has to make

    beginnings andworkby slow stages to give effect to God's plan. Sometimes

    after a successful start it has cause to mourn a setback, or it may linger in a

    state of semifulfillment and insufficiency. With regard to peoples,classes

    and men it is only by degrees that it touches and penetrates them and so raises

    them to a catholic perfection. In each situation and circumstance a proper line

    of actionand effective means should be adopted 7

  • 8/12/2019 Alvin Plantinga Pluralism


    232 Journal of Ecumenical Studies

    Notice that the Council Fathers still draw a distinction between objective

    truth and error, but the major point underscored by them has to do with the

    means by which the grace of God is appropriated to each person's life. It cannot

    be denied that God works in different ways in each person's life. According toVatican II, the reason why God works in different ways is due to the individual,

    unique circumstances that each person faces.No one is exactly like anyone else.

    Given these radical contingencies and acute challenges, the only thing Christians

    can do in terms of the problem of religious diversity is to follow Christ's teach-

    ing to the best of their abilities. Part of following Christ's teaching consists in

    persuading others unto the gospel. As Francis Sullivan has pointed out:

    The second momentous change was the droppingof the statement that

    only Roman Catholics are really (reapse)members of Christ's church. Now,instead of saying that only Catholics arereallymembers of the church, the

    text of LG 14 says that only those Catholics arefully incorporated in the

    church who arelivingin thestateofgrace.This change signifies a break with

    the idea that belonging to the church is an "eitheror," "allornothing"

    proposition. It introduces the idea of different degrees of fullness of incorpo-

    ration in the church, applying this in the first instance to Catholics them-

    selves. But if some Catholics are more fully incorporated than others, it

    would seem logical to acknowledge degrees of incorporation in the church on

    the part of other Christians as well, since baptism has always been seen as the

    sacrament by which one becomes a member of the church.8

    So, not everyone who professes membership in another religion truly be-

    longs to that religion but is somehow oriented toward Christ and is en route to

    salvation.Within this frame of reference, Catholics should recognize that many

    whowill receive eternal salvationwillconsist of persons that many did not think

    would receive it. It is not unrealistic to think that therewill be more individuals

    who will be saved who lived their entire earthly lives outside of the visible, ca-

    nonical boundaries of the Church than those who spent their entire lives inside

    it.As Eugene Hillman has suggested:

    if there are degrees of holiness among Christians, then we would assume that

    these same degrees may be actual also among those who, because of their

    historical situation and through no fault of their own, cannot have explicit

    faith and historical belief in Jesus Christ. God truly wills the salvation of

    every member of the human race, not just those who happen to be born in the

    right time and place.9

    Conscientiously informed Catholics are held to a much higher standard tolive out their calling in Christ; they will bejudged much more strictly. As long

  • 8/12/2019 Alvin Plantinga Pluralism


    AlvinPlantinga on Religious Pluralism* A Catholic Appraisal 233

    this way, St. Augustine's evaluation of salvation extraEcclesiamrings true to

    this day: "many who appear to be without are within, while many who appear to

    be within are without."10

    It is not to be overlooked that, if someone suspects that

    Catholicism is the one true religion, then the honest thing for one to do is pursue

    one's questions. Mental reservations or moral hesitationswill not fool an all

    knowing God. Vincible ignorance can certainly be overcome.

    Let us now draw some conclusions in this section. Salvation is more de-

    manding for those who have been exposed to Christianity. Those who have not

    been exposed to the gospel can still be saved, but they are not as accountable to

    live up to the standard that God has given them through nature and conscience.

    Corresponding with the demands of the divineaccountability principle within

    this lifetime are the different degrees of final rewards and punishments. On theone hand, some heavenly rewards are greater than others(Mt. 16:27;Rom. 2:6;

    1Cor. 3:8; Heb.6:10;2 Jn. 1:8; Rev.2:23, 20:1213,22:12).Conversely, there

    are differing degrees of loss in hell (Mt. 11:2024; Lk. 12:4248;Heb. 10:28

    29;Jas.3:12;2Pet.2:2022).n Forthose who overcome manyobstacles,much

    morewillbe given to them (compare1 Cor.10:13).For those who fail to live up

    tothe standards that God has placed in frontofthem, much morewill be lost. In

    thefinal analysis, God is not as concerned with whatsufferings we go through

    asmuch as withhow wellwe go through them.

    Exclusivism, Inclusivism, Pluralism,andBeyond

    Probably the biggest difficulty for theologians who are working in the wider

    ecumenism is to balance four wellestablished tenets in a convincing manner to

    outsiders. These four tenetsinclude the following: (1)divinerevelation has been

    given in Christ on behalf of all persons; (2) everyone whowill be saved in the

    end is saved through Christ; (3) everyone has a fair chance to be saved; and (4)

    Catholicsmustbringthe Good News to every person insofar as this is humanlypossible.

    12Depart from any oftheselongstanding beliefs in the Catholic Church,

    and one is no longer in communion with the Church.Addedto this challenge is

    the Church's longstanding belief that it is the one true religion.13

    But,why do some Christians set aside or depreciate at least one of the four

    tenets for the sake of the others? For example, many theologians settle for a

    "complementary" relationship between Catholicism and other religions, but they


    St Augustine,DeBaptismo,27 381'Noone has argued more convincingly for the complexities of heaven and hell than S Mark

    Heim,in hisThe Depth of the Riches A Trinitarian Theology of Religious Ends(Grand Rapids,MI

  • 8/12/2019 Alvin Plantinga Pluralism


    234 Journal of Ecumenical Studies

    forget that "complementarity" merely applies to those who are invincibly igno

    rant ofthegospel.14

    In other words, one can maintain a complementary relation

    ship between Christianity and other religions, but the term "complementary"

    needs to be clarified without ruining the impetus for mission work. In the hardsense of complementarity, God is working in the Church in one way. But, in the

    other religions God is working in another way. In the soft sense of the term,

    however, "complementarity" refers to Christianity and those who are being

    saved who are not accountable to accept Christ and the Church.

    One common reason for the depreciation ofatleast one ofthefour tenets is

    that it is unfair for so many persons to be born in a time and place where the

    gospel will never be available to them.15

    The implication is that at least one of

    the four tenets must be compromised. Sometimes these theologians (or philoso

    phers) emphasize the salvific role that other religions have in and of themselves(which is simply not a Catholic option).

    Undoubtedly, the Church affirms that God can use whatever good means

    that God wants in order to save the lost. Other religions are not seen as unmiti

    gated systems of evil but retain elements of goodness in them. However, accord

    ing to Catholic teaching, the distinctive beliefs and practices of the other relig

    ions are not seen as divinely inspired truths (for example, the Qur'n is not a di

    vinely inspired book according to the Catholic Church). As Hillman wrote: "Re

    ligions in themselves, interpreted and administered as they must be by sinners,are instruments of grace, but at the very same time they are also manifestations

    of our need for grace. So each religion always requires purification of itself

    through the repentance of its most faithful followers."16

    Other religions may re

    tain spiritual values that God can use to save those who are invincibly ignorant

    of the gospel. God can save Muslims not through their beliefthatthe Qur'n is

    divinely inspired but as a book that contains truths that are accessible to all per

    sons,not as specially revealed religious truth.17

    One might argue that the elements from non-Christian religions that God

    uses to save persons incidentally coincide with the precepts ofthenatural morallaw.

    18Salvation can be found in other religions but is definitely not of these re

    ligions. James Fredericks has observed, "Nowhere in its documents does the

    council unambiguously recognize the other religions as actual mediations of the

    ,4For theologianswho allow themselves to be interpreted in thehard senseofcomplementary

    relationships between Christianity and otherreligions, see EwertCousins, "The Trinityand World

    Religions," . / S 7 (Summer, 1970) 476-498, HowardR Burkle, "Jesus ChristandReligiousPlu

    ralism," JES 16 (Summer, 1979) 457-471, Donald G Dawe, "Religious Pluralism and the

    Church,"J ES 18 (Fall, 1981) 604-615 (see especiallypp 617 and 620, of theresponses by Vir

    ginia Kaib Ratigan), and Roger Haight, "Trinity and Religious Pluralism," JES 44 (Fall, 2009)

    525-540 (especiallypp 538-540)l5

  • 8/12/2019 Alvin Plantinga Pluralism


    AlvinPlantinga on Religious Pluralism: A CatholicAppraisal 235

    saving grace of JesusChrist."19

    Other religions are seen as participated forms of

    mediation in the revelation that has been given to humanity in Christ.20


    over, the grace that comes through moral obedience to the natural law is chris

    tological (for, every act of obedience to the natural law is synonymous with

    obedience to Christ himself). All grace is christological, whether it comes

    through obedience to the natural law or through faith in Christ. Doctrines in the

    world's other religions that contradict Catholic distinctives are considered false

    and ought to be rejected as such.

    We see these unbalanced theologies of religion in many writings. Religious

    pluralists such as John Hick serve as the best example of those who flaunt the

    unfairness of God in the face of so many different and contradictory religious

    claims, denying the first tenet and depreciating the fourth.


    In defense of hispluralist hypothesis, Hick wrote in theJournal of Ecumenical Studies:

    The main data that need to be understood are: (1) In the vast majority of

    casesthe religion to which anyone adheres depends on where they wereborn

    . (2) Each ofthe historical religionsseems,as far as we can tell, to produce

    equally good and equally bad human beings, an equal proportion of saints

    and sinners. (3) Each ofthe historical traditions has developed an explicit or

    implicit claim to be uniquely superior to all the rest. In thecaseof Christian-

    ity, for example, the claim (developed after Jesus'own time) is that he was

    Godthat is, God the Son, second person of adivine Trinityincarnate.This implies that Christianity alone was founded by God in person and so

    must be superior to all other religions.22

    Hick prematurely concluded that all religions are unequivocal, equal paths

    to salvation.23

    He and Paul Knitter have made "a move away from insistence on

    the superiority or finality of Christ and Christianity toward a recognition of the

    independent validity of other ways."24

    These pluralistsworkwith the assumption

    that advocates of Christian uniqueness must always affirm that God loves only

    those who accept God's love explicitly. Basing its teaching on scripture andLumen gentium, the divineaccountability principle bringsthis complaint to rest,

    which is now long overdue. Who affirmed that salvation was more likely to oc-

    cur for those who have been exposed to Christ?When the accountability princi

    l9James Fredericks, "The Catholic Church and the Other Religious Paths Rejecting Nothing

    thatIsTrueand Holy,"TheologicalStudies64(June,2003)2332

    Flannery, VaticanI1, Lumen gentium, no 62 pp4184192lPerhaps the most representative example of religiouspluralismto date(e,pluralismdejure)

    isfound inJohn Hick,AnInterpretation of Religion Human ResponsestotheTranscendent,2nd ed(NewHaven, CT YaleUniversity Press,2005)


  • 8/12/2019 Alvin Plantinga Pluralism


    236 Journal of Ecumenical Studies

    pie is explained, the strictly pluralist position is shown to rest on a false assump

    tion. The phenomenon of holiness in other religions simply does not constitute a

    challenge to the Catholic who is cognizant of the implications ofLumen gen

    tium,no. 14.The second group is traditionally described as the exclusivists. This group

    stresses the first tenet over the others (they tend to stress the fourth tenet as

    well): Revelation has been given on behalf of all persons. Exclusivists affirm

    that, unless one accepts revelation explicitly in faith, one will be lost forever.

    This group seems to forget the third tenet: Salvation is equally accessible for all.

    More important for our purposes is that exclusivists seem to forget that salvation

    is more demanding for those who have been exposed to the Good News, not that

    salvation comes more easily for believers. While exclusivists are quick to fault

    the formally unevangelized for not being born in a time and place to hear andrespond favorably to the gospel, they equally fail to recognize that God is calling

    themto accept Christ in a more personal and thus saving way.

    This leaves us with the last camp, which is known as the inclusivists. Now,

    if we frame the debate from within the typology of exclusivism, pluralism, and

    inclusivism, we must admit that inclusivism has been the Catholic Church's of

    ficial viewpoint.25

    Vatican II approved oftheworld's religions in the sense that

    they contain elements of truth that can dispose individuals to receive Christ if

    they explicitly hear the gospel. Thus, the Church's "revolutionary stance" at

    Vatican II did not lie in its affirmation that non-Christians could be saved but in

    its refusal to call non-Catholics "pagans," "heathens," "idolaters," and the like.

    Instead of openly criticizing views that are contrary or contradictory to Catholic

    doctrine, Vatican II sought to find what is good and holy in other religions in


    There is a distinction between the substance of what is believed and the

    way in which it is expressed. Vatican II did not override the content of tradi

    tional Catholic belief but more or less changed its language about non-Catholic

    religions. So, for the first time in conciliar history, a positive statement was as

    cribed to other religions (albeit positive ascriptions were made by Christian

    thinkers well before Vatican II).

    The problem with inclusivism is that it can be abused as a theological

    model, leading people astray from discipleship. For example, one can use the

    inclusive model as an excuse to destroy the underlying rationale for missions by

    positing what is known as "accessibilism" alongside of it, a highly speculative

    notion that insists that most people in the world will be saved in the end. But, it

    must be emphasized that the scriptures and the history of Christian thought sim

    ply do not allow Christians to know how many people will be saved.27

    For this

    reason, the debate should focus more on the tri-polar classification in light of thefour established tenets.

    28Thus, the debates surrounding the problem of who will

  • 8/12/2019 Alvin Plantinga Pluralism


    Alvin Plantinga on Religious Pluralism: A Catholic Appraisal 237

    be saved in the end (that is, the debate on restrictivism, accessibilism, and uni-

    versalism, which is formally distinct from the tri-polar classification of exclusiv

    ism, inclusivism, and pluralism) are not helpful in discussing the credibility ofCatholic beliefs in light ofthefour established tenets. Inclusivism does not have

    to be rejected because it is mistaken but because it can easily drive the conversa

    tion in a direction that is harmful on the practical level unless it is conjoined

    with the accountability thesis along with a proper understanding of faith, hope,

    and love. As Stephen Duffy has keenly pointed out:

    To maintain that Jesus is the decisive, constitutive bearer of salvation foroneself is to engage in sotenological, confessional language, a language

    comparable tolove language That one experiences transforming power andultimacy in Jesus is not to disallow that one could experience it in othersources (though one may not, in fact) nor that, in fact, others experience it infigures and sources other than Jesus Thelanguage, again, issotenologi-

    cal andconfessional, and the normativenessisfunctional,not metaphysical2

    Response to Objectors

    Let us now turn to the objections to the accountability thesis ofLumengen-tium,no. 14.

    (1) The first objection is related to the rationale for mission work. These ob

    jectors claim that, if persons can be saved outside of cognitive belief inthe Sav

    ior, this will undercut the motivation for missions.30

    It is understandable that some Catholics have wondered about the Church'sunderlying rationale for missions since Vatican II. However, one oftheprimary

    goals of missions in Catholic thinking since the Council is qualitativeto trans

    form the quality of living in all societies. There is a quantitative aspect as well

    to save persons. There are at least four reasons to engage in mission work according to the papacy. In the first place, we are commanded by Christ to engage

    in the Great Commission (Mt. 28:16-20). Second, it is only natural to becomeevangelical when one is truly born oftheSpirit. As Pope John Paul II once said,

    faith increases (in oneself) when it is given to others. Third, the Magisterium

    affirms that the fullness of revealed truth is to be found within the Catholic

    Church alone. Although the fullness of the truth is found within the Church, this

    would not mean that revealed truth from God is ever fully known. Correlatively,

    the human person is made for the entire truth,notjust some ofit.Fourth, God is

    glorified when Christians take up the missionary mandate. Persons remain rest

  • 8/12/2019 Alvin Plantinga Pluralism


    238 Journal of Ecumenical Studies

    less in their hearts until they are given the opportunity to know and live out the


    Positive communication of religious truth outside of Christianity is not seen

    as complementary (this is said in the hard sense of the term "complementary")or parallel to the revelation that has been given in Christ. Finally, the objection

    about undercutting the motivation for missionary work in face ofthepossibility

    that outsiders can still be saved seems to forget that the issue of missions is

    about what the Christian God is doing in the world, not what formal churches

    and ecclesiastical communities alone are doing. Yves Congar once wrote that

    the apostles were pressed, impelled, not so much bytheir love for Christ asbyChrist's love which, imparted to them, dwelt in their hearts and reinforced

    their devoted lives, seeking through them to be spread over the world "It isfire that I have come to spread over the earth" (Luke xu 49) There is noneed to look for reasonstojustify love it ism itself able to impart good


    Added to all this is the divine-accountability principle: If we are being saved,

    then we would want others to know the Good News.

    (2) This brings us to the next objection: Why would God allow some per

    sons to know God more explicitly than the formally unevangelized? This objec

    tion certainly carries some unnecessary theological baggage. As mentioned ear

    lier, not everyone is called to the same tasks within one's lifetime. Nor can everyperson perform the same tasks as every other, given the debilitating circum

    stances that each of us must face. "Such an objection" Gerald O'Collins rightlynoted, "does not reckon with the way in which the love of Jesus resembles hu

    man love by not being exercised in an identical way towards all cultures, religions,and individuals. The risen Jesus lovingly interacts with the whole world,

    and that means he interacts in ways that are different"33

    There is, for instance, a

    difference of kind (not of degree) that God has for the church through the Risen

    Christ and the love God has as founder ofeachworld religion. Hence, there is an

    analogy between God's love for the church and God's love for those who liveoutside its formal boundaries.34

    Awareness of divine revelation reorders one's awareness of God's presence

    in one's life and clarifies what is already implicitly known. Moreover, the objection that holds that the formally unevangelized are at a disadvantage to experi

    ence God in Christ seems to smack ofafundamentalist understanding of exclu-


    Yves Congar, TheWideWorld, My Parish Salvationand ItsProblems,tr Donald Attwater(London Darton, Longman&Todd, Baltimore,MD Helicon Press, 1961 [ong Vaste Monde ma

    paroisse (Pans Tmoignage Chrtien)]), 131

  • 8/12/2019 Alvin Plantinga Pluralism


    AlvinPlantinga on Religious Pluralism: A Catholic Appraisal 239

    sivism. But, there is more than one way to understand Christian uniqueness (and

    its accompanying viewpoint, exclusivism).35

    Hence, asking why Godwouldal-

    low some persons to know God more explicitly than others seems similar to ask-

    ing why God calls some to be professional theologians and other Christians to

    stay at home and work as homemakers in service to one's children. In other

    words, iftheseobjectors are to remain consistent with their position, theywould

    have toaffirm that it is better to be a professional theologian than to be a home

    maker. But, surely it is presumptuous to hold that theologians live with more

    approval in the eyes of God (simply because they might be more cognitively

    aware of church doctrine and practice) than Christian homemakers (I use these

    illustrations without wanting toaffirm or defend universalism, the idea that all

    willbe saved in the end). The point is that each person has a different functiontofulfill within the plan ofGod,who works all things out for the greater good. It

    isnot to be overlooked that the accountability thesis does not mean that holiness

    willalways be greater within the canonical boundaries of the Catholic Church.

    Sometimes,holiness can be found outside its visible confines to a much greater


    Natural evil and the challenge of religious diversity pertain to those persons

    who have not heard the gospel because of natural forces that are beyond human

    control,but these natural evils do not outweigh an overwhelmingly great good:

    Somewillbe saved and eventually enjoy friendship with God in the greatest ofall possible worlds in heaven. God has providentially ensured through grace that

    eachperson has the opportunity to be saved. Certainly, all people are held ac-

    countable at different levels for different tasksduringtheir limited, earthly lives.

    Vatican II affirmed that men and women are the only creatures in the universe

    that God has willed for their own sake.36

    His love for humanityhasindeedover-

    comeall evils.Thus, hearing the gospel is merely an outward sign that God is

    calling its hearers to greater relationship with Godself, not that God loves those

    who hear the message more than those who are cognitively unaware ofit.Given

    thenature of God's revelation, Catholics have the opportunity to point to some-thing tangible within the sphere of history to substantiate God's love for human-

    ity. AsDei verbumannounces, Christ confirmsdivinerevelation and gives it a

    historical, concrete expression.37

    Moreover,a propositional awareness oftheSavior seems trivial in light of

    this objection, given that all persons can receive eternal salvation. The formally

    unevangelized are just as close to the crucified Christ (see Mt.27:46, for in-

    stance: "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?") and have an equally

    fair chance of receiving eternal life as any Christian who dares to claim the

    name of Christ. Not only does a personal relationship with God go beyond cog-nitive categories, but from the perspective of eternity the problem of cognitive

  • 8/12/2019 Alvin Plantinga Pluralism


    240 JournalofEcumenical Studies

    endorse universalism, the idea that allwill besaved in the end).


    Framing the challenge of natural evil and religious diversity from a perspec-

    tive that insists that Christians are more fortunate to have heard the gospel (and,

    by implication, that theywill have a greater chance to be saved than those who

    have not heard the gospel explicitly) is the wrong way to approach the dialogue

    in the theology of religions. If one is constrained by a "wordhearingfaith"

    paradigm, which is propounded by fundamentalistic advocates of exclusivism, it

    willobviously be difficult for them toacceptthe argumentof thisessay.A better

    paradigm was offered byKarlRahner.38

    He held that theLogosis understood in

    relation to all of reality, not just in relation to hearing the gospel, verbally spo-

    ken.Logosdoes not loseverbalsignificance but is part ofthetotality of reality.

    God is reaching everyone (pluralism) in Christ (exclusivism).39

    As Maurice

    Boutinstated in an earliernumberofthisjournal,"God's grace is notboundto

    Christianity, but Christianity is bound to God's grace, which is for Christian

    faith Christ's grace as well. As such, explicit Christianity is thefull realization

    of God'sgrace."40

    This theological framework makes it possible to move beyond fundamental-ist understandings of exclusivism into a paradigm of universal christological

    grace. Though Plantinga has not said whether his version of exclusivism is a

    strictexclusivism, meaning that no one can be saved outside of cognitive belief

    in Christ, his arguments seem to allow for softer interpretations of exclusivism

    thatare compatible with the argument ofthisessay (which, in turn, help to for-

    tify his concern about "belief producing mechanisms").41

    As the late Clark Pin

    For more on Rahner's theology of the anonymous Christian, seeKarl Rahner, "Christianityand NonChristian Religions," inKarlRahner,Theological Investigations, vol 5 LaterWritings, tr

    Karl Kruger(Baltimore,MD HeliconPress, 1966[ong Neuere Schriften (Einsiedein Benziger,

    I960)]),pp 115134,idem, "Jesus Christ in NonChristian Religions," inKarlRahner,Foundations

    ofChristianFaith AnIntroductionto theIdeaofChristianity,tr William V Dych (NewYork Se

    aburyPress [A Crossroad Book], 1978 [ong Grundkursdes Glaubens Einfuhrung in den Begriff

    desChristentums(Freiburg im Breisgau Verlag Herder,1976)]),pp 31132119

    For a secondary source on Rahner's theology of the "anonymous Christian," see Maurice

    Boutin, "Anonymous Christianity A Paradigm for Interreligious Encounter9"J E S 20(Fall,1983)

    60262940Ibid,p 612

    ""Referring to Plantinga's essay in defense of exclusivism, Keith Mascord wrote "Plantinga'sdefence of exclusivism leaves open the question of which version of exclusivism is being de-

    fended" (KeithMascord,AlvinPlantingaand Christian Apologetics,PaternosterTheologicalMono-

  • 8/12/2019 Alvin Plantinga Pluralism


    Alvin Plantinga on Religious Pluralism: A Catholic Appraisal 241

    nock rightly observed:

    [0]ne could say that my proposal is exclusivist in affirming a decisive redemption in Jesus Christ, although it does not deny the possible salvation of

    non-Christian people. Similarly, it could be called inclusivist in refusing to

    limit the grace of God to the confines of the church, although it hesitates to

    regard other religions as salvific vehicles in their own right. It might even be

    called pluralist insofar as it acknowledges God's gracious work in the lives of

    human beings everywhere and accepts real differences in what they believe,

    though not pluralist in the sense of eliminating the finality ofChristor falling

    into relativism.42

    I hope the present essay has resolved this issue for Plantinga by elaboratingupon the importance of analogical thinking for the purposes of interreligious

    apologetics. A certain understanding of religious exclusivism does seem to in

    crease one's confidence in the truth of Christian faith.

    Christians should begin to wonder what they are doing to live a life of obe

    dience in response to the gospel. Being a member of the church does not guaran

    tee a person's salvation, nor does it make it easier for them to be saved. Cogni

    tive ignorance does not constitute a deprivation of salvific grace, nor does cogni

    tive ignorance entail a lack of divine fairness. We should not be so worried

    about the millions of people who have not heard the gospel message as much as

    we should be concerned about what God will do with us if we do not respond to

    God's grace and attempt to reach the formally unevangelized with the gospel to

    the best of our abilities.

  • 8/12/2019 Alvin Plantinga Pluralism


    ^ s

    Copyright and Use:

    Asan ATLAS user, you may print, download, or send articles for individual use

    according to fair use as defined by U.S. and international copyright law and as

    otherwise authorized under your respective ATLAS subscriber agreement.

    No content may be copied or emailed to multiple sites or publicly posted without the

    copyright holder(s)' express written permission. Any use, decompiling,

    reproduction, or distribution of this journal in excess of fair use provisions may be a

    violation of copyright law.

    This journal is made available to you through the ATLAS collection with permission

    from the copyright holder(s). The copyright holder for an entire issue of a journal

    typically is the journal owner, who also may own the copyright in each article. However,

    for certain articles, the author of the article may maintain the copyright in the article.

    Please contact the copyright holder(s) to request permission to use an article or specific

    work for any use not covered by the fair use provisions of the copyright laws or covered

    by your respective ATLAS subscriber agreement. For information regarding the

    copyright holder(s), please refer to the copyright information in the journal, if available,

    or contact ATLA to request contact information for the copyright holder(s).

    About ATLAS:

    The ATLA Serials (ATLAS) collection contains electronic versions of previously

    published religion and theology journals reproduced with permission. The ATLAS

    collection is owned and managed by the American Theological Library Association

    (ATLA) and received initial funding from Lilly Endowment Inc.

    The design and final form of this electronic document is the property of the American

    Theological Library Association.