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1 Can Only One Religion Be True?: A Dialogue Paul F. Knitter and Harold A. Netland Opening Remarks H Har arold A. N old A. Netland etland Given the bewildering degree of religious diversity in our world, the assertion that Christianity is the one true religion for all people strikes many today as hopelessly out of touch with current realities. The claim seems to display generous amounts of both intellectual naïveté and arrogance. Nevertheless, with proper qualification, I do believe that the Christian faith, as defined by the Christian Scriptures, is true and that this sets it apart from other religious traditions. But tonight I will not be arguing that Christianity is in fact the only true religion. Rather, I will be exploring what is involved in making such a claim, clarifying what is and what is not included in it, and considering in a very preliminary way how one might defend such a thesis. But first, some preliminary remarks. Like many people today, I would very much like for all religions to be true and for all morally good and sincere religious believers, of whatever faith, to be correct in their beliefs and practices. Life would certainly be much simpler if this were the case. But, as I have discovered in other areas, reality frequently has a stubborn way of not conforming to my desires. I suspect the same is true here. Given the very different, at times mutually incompatible, claims advanced by the major religions, I simply do not see how we can affirm them all as somehow being true.1 Let me clarify at the outset what is not included in the assertion that Christianity is the one true religion. Affirming Christian faith as the true religion does not mean that there is no truth or goodness or beauty in other religions. If the Christian faith is true, then any teachings from other religions 17 which are incompatible with essential teachings of Christianity must be rejected. But this does not mean that there are no truths embraced by other religions. Indeed, I think that the Christian faith shares some significant common beliefs with other religions, with some more so than with others. And surely we can and must acknowledge that there is goodness and beauty in other religious traditions as well. Nor, in claiming that the Christian faith is true, am I suggesting that Christians are necessarily morally better people than, say, Muslims or Hindus or Sikhs. Nor am I defending everything that the institutional church has done or represented over the past two millennia. Sadly, there is much in the history of the Christian church that betrays the teachings of our Lord. Furthermore, in claiming that Christianity is the true religion, I am not saying that Christians should not cooperate with other religious communities in a variety of ways to further the common good. Given the very real religious tensions in our world, I think that leaders of the major religions need to be especially vigilant in working to reduce conflict between religious communities and to cooperate together in addressing our many global problems. Nothing that I say tonight should be taken as in any way detracting from the urgency of such interreligious understanding and cooperation. In speaking of the truth of Christianity, we must also distinguish the issue of truth from the question of salvation. To affirm that Christianity is the true religion does not, by itself, commit one to any particular view about the extent of salvation. Christians, including Evangelicals, disagree over important questions concerning the extent of salvation.2 But this issue needs to be settled on the basis of criteria internal to the Christian faith itself, including questions of the proper interpretation of Scripture and the historical understandings of the church. There is no logical connection between the claim that Christianity is the true religion and any particular view of the extent of salvation. For example, it is no doubt the case that most who believe that Christianity is the true religion also believe that not everyone will be saved. Yet there certainly are those who believe that Christianity is uniquely true but who also embrace soteriological universalism (e.g., Origen, John Scotus Erigena, Jacques Ellul, and perhaps Karl Barth). Conversely, while it might be the case that many religious pluralists are also universalists, in the sense that they hold that ultimately all people will attain the desired soteriological state, there is nothing about religious pluralism as such that requires universalism...


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