The Curious Case of John Hick

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, February 22, 2017 0 comments

by David Odegard

Either there is a self-revealing God or there is not. This is the primary question.

Whoever builds on the foundation that there is no self-revealing God will necessarily come to the conclusion that all religions are centered in man’s pursuit of meaning or his attempt to understand the universe. The origin and meaning of the universe can only ever be guessed at using current knowledge of physics and the other sciences, while at the same time recognizing that there are major pieces of cosmic history missing or otherwise unexaminable.

Whoever builds on the foundation that there is a self-revealing God will not be surprised if this God speaks and establishes a way for humanity to understand Him. Perhaps this knowledge will not be exhaustive, but it will be adequate to know what is expected of the creation. Questions of origins and meaning do not remain a mystery because the self-revealing God was there and He claims to be the originator of all of it. This is not a leap of faith for one who accepts the possibility of a self-revealing God; it is a logical conclusion that such a God would speak.

So these two foundations are completely different ways of looking at the universe and they cannot by synthesized. Either there is a self-revealing God or there is not. However one answers the “God question” automatically places that person in one of these two separate categories.

There has been much energy expended to synthesize these two conceptions of ultimate reality, but it has produced heat and friction and never any light. Each position tries to impose the rules of their concept on the other. The person who rules out the possibility of a self-revealing God cannot accept any evidence that suggests there is one, because that possibility has been ruled out before the evidence is examined. As Jesus said, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

I will refer to those who do not accept the possibility of a self-revealing God as the disbelievers, which may sound a little condescending, but it is accurate. The other side I will call believers.

I want to examine the case of John Hick because his experience is exemplary of a wide swath of religious liberalism. “I began my Christian life as a fundamentalist,” Hick says of himself (“A Pluralist View” in Four Views of Salvation in a Pluralistic World). Many atheists, agnostics, and disbelievers began as fundamentalists, and John Hick was no exception. His fundamentalism was typical in that it relied heavily on dogma. It built absolute theological structures with unyielding and non-scholastic certitude.

Because of its anti-intellectual nature, fundamentalism cannot seem to deal with real questions of the modern mind. Fundamentalists receive real truth, but in a dogmatic manner that does not allow for personal examination or critical thinking.

Imagine a nine-year-old listening to a sermon in which the pastor slaps the pulpit and declares that either the Bible is absolutely true and without the slightest imperfection or it is an utter lie; there is no middle ground whatsoever. The child looks up at his parents and sees them nodding their approval. Ten years later, the child encounters a new dogma in his freshman year from his college professor. This professor dogmatically asserts the same thing except he points out the scribal imperfections in the transmission of the Biblical text. (By the way, minor scribal imperfections have not reduced the reliability of the Scripture. We do not have the original autographs, but we have so many manuscripts that the variations do not change anything substantially.)

Next, the professor leverages his 30 years of experience over the child while his pastor and parents are miles away. Now he becomes the authority, after all he is the one who dispenses the grades. Because the child was never taught to think critically himself, he transfers loyalty from belief to disbelief. This is the inherent weakness of fundamentalism. Hick admits this is the case for him. He began to question whether the concept of hell was justified philosophically. A period of “cognitive dissonance” occurred for Hick wherein his fundamentalist mind underwent a conversion to the absolutism of philosophical naturalism. Still, his new disbelief was also an absolutist, unexamined dogma. There will always be a gap between the implications of philosophical naturalism and Christian morality and justice. This seems to be overlooked by Hick and others.

The concept of hell might be hard to deal with, but without hell, all those persons who have suffered injustice in this life have no final vindication; justice is never served. The law of the jungle would be without an appellate court if there is no one watching and granting justice. Without a hell, Adolf Hitler and Mother Theresa have the same reward, except Hitler conquered Europe and Theresa conquered only herself.

Hick says that a large portion of his fellow disbelievers experienced an “intellectual conversion” from Christian fundamentalism to disbelief in a self-revealing God. Hick hopes that all Christians will be able “sort out the intellectually acceptable and unacceptable [and be able] eventually to discard the latter.” Hick desires every Christian to commit apostasy as a way of selecting that which is intellectually acceptable as he defines acceptability. Sadly, many intellectual people (even one of my own professors in graduate school) do cease to worship God with their minds. Then they surrender to the disbelievers’ assertions and agree to play by the rules of their game. Once they accept a foundation that there is no self-revealing God, the game is over. Anything built on the foundation of disbelief in a self-revealing God can never accept the Bible, Christianity, or the reality that God exists or that there is a day of accountability coming.

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