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3 No Other Name: The Gospel and True Religions S. Mark Heim I would like to focus on three aspects of the word true in the question “Is Christianity the only true religion?” In one sense, we use the word true to mean “the real thing.” This is true coffee, not an imitation. That person is exhibiting true integrity, not a semblance of it. What is true is authentic. For a religion to be true in this respect means that at its origins and in its ongoing life, it is not hypocritical (carried out for reasons other than the ostensible ones), and it is no mere epiphenomenon of some other causal factor (as, for instance, if all religion were explained purely as a psychological pathology). In another sense, we use the word to mean verified or verifiable by experience. Analytical philosophers in the twentieth century regarded a proposition as meaningful only if one could specify a set of circumstances that would count as verifying (or, in other formulations, falsifying) it. For a religion to be true in this sense means that, so far as we can judge, those who pursue it actually achieve the states or conditions it promises. The true is the realizable. In yet another sense, we take true to mean descriptively accurate, at the furthest reach of our epistemological horizon. In this sense, it is not true to say that electrons are in orbits around the nucleus of an atom, analogous to those of planets around the sun, since their behavior is described much more precisely in terms of quantum mechanics. For a religion to be true in this sense would mean that its account of the world within which truth of the first two types are at play is the most accurate and comprehensive one. Keeping these three meanings in mind, I would say (1) that Christianity is not the only true (authentic) religion, nor is its authenticity necessarily of a different sort than others. (2) I do not believe that Christianity is the only true (realizable) religion. But I believe Christianity is the uniquely saving religion. 79 My faith does not rest in generic qualities of Christianity as a religion, but in the decisive saving significance of Jesus Christ for all humanity. There is full communion with God only in communion with Christ. (3) I do believe that Christianity is the most fully true (descriptive) religion. I further believe that one mark of the truest religion (or religions) is the capacity to recognize and affirm distinctive elements of truth in others. The adequacy of one’s own tradition is correlative with the ability to make room for what is valid in others. My religion could not be true if it had no means to recognize that others are as well, in various facets of these three dimensions. We generally use a typology—exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism—in the area of religious pluralism. Exclusivism is the view that only one religion is true and all others are false, inclusivism the view that the benefits of the one truest religion can be accessed from within others which are at least partially true. Pluralism is the view that all major religions are independently valid. But these categories are nearly useless, given the uncertainty of what we mean by “true.” In a concrete and straightforward sense, every religion is the only true one. There is no way to live a Jewish life except the Jewish way. Every other way is false in that it is not truly Jewish. Exclusivism is just common sense. In one sense, inclusivism seems obvious, too. No religion is without its commonalities with others. If honoring your parents has value in Christianity, then it must have value when practiced in another tradition as well. There is truth in both. At one level, pluralism is plainly right. If the question is about religion’s ability to perform certain descriptive social functions, then the answer is clear: many religions have demonstrated their independent ability to animate advanced civilizations, maintain moral systems, and provide meaning for human life. They are all true. The typology originates in an agreement between the most liberal and most conservative theologies of religion that there is and can be only one religious end, one actual religious fulfillment. The typology then chooses up sides on the means to that end: one way or many. The typology was originally formulated with an implicit focus on Christian salvation as its reference point, though not all religions share...


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