2: The Case against Exclusivism

Is There Only One True Religion or Are There Many?
by Schubert M. Ogden

2: The Case against Exclusivism

In Chapter 1, I attempted to clarify the challenge I of pluralism to the claim typical of much Christian witness, that Christianity is the only true religion. To this end, I considered in some detail the question that this challenge has now made theologically central and that I propose to address in this book: Is there only one true religion, or are there many? Pluralists, I argued, typically take the second position on this question insofar as they hold not only that there can be many true religions but that there actually are. They thus contend that the claim of more than one specific religion to be formally true, and, therefore, the norm for determining any other true religion, is a valid claim.

The issue before us in this and succeeding chapters is the correctness of this contention. To clarify this issue, I want to begin by looking more closely at the first position on our question against which the challenge of pluralism is directed.


Up to this point, I have spoken of this position simply as “religious monism” so as to contrast it explicitly and directly with religious pluralism. But in actual fact, pluralism is a challenge not merely to one but to two ways of answering our question, which are significantly different, even though they alike claim that the Christian religion is the only true religion. Therefore, ifwe are to clarify the issue before us, we need to take account of both of these other options and to understand the difference as well as the similarity between their two answers. We noted at the beginning of the first chapter that Christians have typically claimed that the Christian religion alone is the true religion. This they have claimed for the very good reason that, from their standpoint, no other religion even can be true in the same sense in which this can be said of Christianity. Although all religions make or imply the claim to be formally true, and hence normative for determining all other religious truth, the only religion whose claim to this effect can possibly be valid is the religion established by God in the unique saving event ofJesus Christ. Since only the Christian religion can be said to be thus established, it alone can validly claim to be the formally true religion. For many, if not most, Christians this kind of religious monism has been understood exclusivisti- cally in that they have denied the possibility of participating in the true religion, and thus obtaining salvation, to any and all non-Christians. The classical formula for such exclusivism is the dictum that goes back to the Latin church father Cyprian: extra ecclesiam nulla salus—"outside of the church there


is no salvation." Some interpreters have held that this formula strictly applies only to the Roman Catholic form of exclusivism, since Protestant exclu- sivists have typically claimed instead that there is no salvation outside of Christianity (Hick and Knitter, 16f.). But this seems to me to be a misleading way of stating the relevant difference, since in both cases salvation is possible only in and through the visible church and its proclamation. In the case of Roman Catholics, however, who have classically identified the visible church with their own institutional church, exclusivism has meant that there is no salvation, because no participation in the true religion, outside of the Church of Rome. In the case of Protestants, by contrast, exclusivism has meant that no one could expect to belong to the invisible church ofthe chosen except by belonging to the visible church of the called through membership in some true institutional church. In both cases, exclusivism is the option that not only asserts Christianity to be the only true religion, but also holds that Christians alone, as participants in this religion through their membership in the visible church, obtain the salvation that God established it to mediate. From late antiquity through the nineteenth century, Christians in the West typically exercised this option of exclusivism in one or the other of its different forms. Throughout this period, they widely believed that Christianity was destined to spread throughout the world, eventually displacing all of the other non-Christian religions; and firm in this belief, they increasingly gave themselves to the missionary outreach that led to modern Christian


expansion. But exclusivism has never been the only option open to Christians; and since roughly World War I, which in this as in other ways was the real end of the nineteenth century, there has been a growing movement away from it. This has happened in part, no doubt, because of increasing knowledge, as well as extensive first-hand experience, of other religious and cultural traditions, especially of the other axial religions. But ever since World War II and the breakup of the European colonial empires in Africa and Asia, many Christians have also become more and more aware of the negative impact of exclusivism on the non-Christian majority of the world’s population. Having served only too often to sanction the acquisitiveness and violence ofWestern imperialism, exclusivistic claims are now seen to be profoundly ambiguous if not yet totally discredited. The upshot is that for some three-quarters of a century, and increasingly during the last thirty years or so, Christians have been moving away from traditional exclusivism toward a more inclusivistic way of claiming that theirs is the only true religion. To a considerable extent, this has happened by their retrieving an alternative theological tradition that, ever since the New Testament, has made the possibility of salvation independent of participation in the true religion through membership in the visible church. In any case, clear evidences of the emergence of such inclusivism are to be seen on the Roman Catholic side in the theological developments leading up to the Second Vatican Council and its official statements about the church and the relation ofthe church to non-Christian religions; and on


the Protestant and Orthodox side in the parallel developments taking place in the World Council of Churches Subunit on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies.

If we ignore certain differences in nuance and formulation, these developments have all led to a way of answering our question that is significantly different from that of exclusivism. According to this answer, the possibility of salvation uniquely constituted by the event ofJesus Christ is somehow made available to each and every human being without exception and, therefore, is exclusive of no one unless she or he excludes her- or himself from its effect by a free and responsible decision to reject it. Since salvation itself is thus universally possible, and in this sense is all-inclusive, there is also the possibility of all religions being more or less substantially true insofar as this salvation becomes effective in human beings, thereby transforming their self-objectification in the explicit forms of religion as well as in culture generally. Thus not only can all individuals be saved by the salvation constituted by Christ, but all religions also can be more or less valid means of this salvation to those who either are not or cannot become members of the visible church. At the same time, Christian inclu- sivists continue to maintain that Christianity alone can be the formally true religion, since it alone is the religion established by God in the unique saving event ofJesus Christ and, therefore, alone expresses normatively the religious truth that is represented at best fragmentarily and inadequately in all other religious ways. Thus, while, according to Christian


inclusivism, non-Christians can indeed be saved because or insofar as they accept Christ’s salvation as it is made available to them anonymously and unknowingly and through the means of their own religions, Christians alone are related to the same salvation explicitly and knowingly in the way which it is the abiding mission of the visible church to bring about in the life of each and every person. Notwithstanding its significant difference from exclusivism, then, inclusivism is, in its way, monistic rather than pluralistic in its understanding of true religion. For it, too, there not only is but can be only one true religion, in the sense that Christianity alone can validly claim to be formally true. Recognizing this, one of its most astute critics, John Hick, dismisses it as anomalous—"like the anomaly of accepting the Copernican revolution in astronomy, in which the earth ceased to be regarded as the center of the universe and was seen instead as one of the planets circling the sun, but still insisting that the sun’s life-giving rays can reach the other planets only by first being reflected from the earth!” (Hick and Knitter, 23).

We will return to a consideration of inclusivism in later chapters, especially the last. Meanwhile, having distinguished it from exclusivism, we have now taken account of all three of the usual options for answering our central question. In addition to the relatively new and challenging option of pluralism, there are the two older options of exclusivism and inclusivism, both of which are now being challenged in their monistic answers to the question.


Not surprisingly, pluralists are particularly keen to distinguish their position from that of inclu- sivists, which they consider anomalous and unstable. In their view, either inclusivists must fall back on the exclusivism from which they have turned away, or else they must push ahead to the pluralism that alone offers a consistent alternative. For all of their sharp criticism of inclusivism, however, pluralists are more than willing to accept its help in overthrowing the common enemy of exclusivism. In fact, the combined opposition that their alliance with inclusivists makes possible means that exclusivism has become an increasingly embattled position. Even so, the theological issue is whether this development is justified. Does exclusivism deserve to be overthrown? How strong is the case against it?

My judgment is that the case against it is exceptionally strong—as strong, in fact, as a theological case is likely to be. But an adequate defense of this judgment, such as I shall attempt in this chapter, requires that we first pay attention to what has to be done to make a theological case. The benefits of attending to this, of course, are not limited to the largely critical case to be made in this chapter, but also extend to the argument of the book generally, in its more constructive as well as its more critical aspects. I begin by recalling a reference made in passing in Chapter 1 to what I distinguished as theology in the generic sense ofthe word. Theology in this sense, I said, is a secondary form of culture consisting in


critical reflection on the validity claims of some specific religion. Whereas religion as a primary form of culture involves making or implying certain claims to validity, theology as a secondary form of culture involves critically validating or invalidating these same claims. Theology is not alone in doing this, of course, since philosophy, also, involves critically reflecting on the claims of religion, along with those of so-called secular forms of praxis and culture. But what distinguishes theology in the generic sense from philosophy, including what I refer to as “philosophical theology,” is that it is constituted as such by critical reflection on the validity claims of this or that specific religion (cf. Ogden 1986, 69-93, 121-33). This means that theology in the specific sense of Christian theology, which is our immediate concern here, neither would nor could exist at all but for the prior existence of the Christian religion, whose claims to validity it is constituted to validate.

The problem with putting it this way, however, is that it is much too abstract. The claims in question are not really made or implied by the Christian religion, but by concrete human beings, as groups and as individuals, who think and speak ofthemselves as Christians in making or implying them. Consequently, the concrete data of Christian theological reflection are provided by the religious praxis, or, as I like to call it, the “witness,” of all of these human beings who profess to be Christians. Analysis discloses, I maintain, that any instance of such Christian witness expresses or implies two distinctive claims to validity. On the one hand, it claims to be adequate to its content and, therefore.


substantially if not formally true; on the other hand, it claims to be fitting to its situation. Actually, Christian witness makes or implies three claims, since its claim to be adequate to its content and hence also true itself involves two further claims: first, that what is thought, said, or done in bearing the witness is appropriate to Jesus Christ; and second, that it is credible to human existence. In the broadest sense, then, Christian theology as critical reflection on the claims to validity expressed or implied by Christian witness consists in critically validating all three of these claims: to be adequate to its content and, therefore, appropriate and credible, and to be fitting to its situation.

But the words “Christian theology” are also commonly used in a narrower sense to refer to the particular discipline of Christian systematic theology, rather than to the field ofChristian theology as a whole. Here, again, our immediate concern warrants our focusing on Christian theology in this narrower sense of the words. This means that, in the sense intended here, theology consists in critically validating the claim of Christian witness to be adequate to its content, the task of validating the other claim of witness to be fitting to its situation being the proper task of Christian practical theology. What has to be done, then, to make the theological case against exclusivism that I propose to make is to invalidate its claim to be adequate to its content and, therefore, substantially true; and this entails, of course, invalidating its two further claims to be appropriate to Jesus Christ and credible to human existence.


I underscore that making the case against ex- clusivism entails invalidating both of these further claims. There is no question that traditional Christian exclusivism has long since ceased to be plausible, much less credible, to many men and women both within the church and outside of it. On this ground alone, then, it is widely rejected as an untenable position, and Christian theologians commonly assume that it must at all costs be abandoned. But this, in my opinion, is to follow a defective theological procedure, and this would be so even if what is widely held to be incredible were to be critically invalidated as exactly that. Pending the critical reflection necessary to determine otherwise, one must allow, at least as a possibility, that Christian exclusivism’s other claim to be appropriate to Jesus Christ could be critically validated. In that event, of course, invalidating its claim to be credible would invalidate the constitutive assertion of Christian witness itself, since Jesus could not then be the decisive re-presentation of the truth about human existence that Christians attest him to be in asserting him to be the Christ. But concern to avoid this eventuality cannot excuse following a procedure in theology that is in principle faulty. On the contrary, the only way to make a theological case against exclusivism is to invalidate both of its claims—its claim to be appropriate to Jesus Christ as well as its claim to be credible to human existence.

To invalidate either claim naturally requires employing relevant criteria or norms. In the case of the claim to be credible, the relevant criteria are common human experience and reason. If


exclusivism is worthy of being believed, it can only be because it somehow has the support of what any human being can experience and understand. If, on the other hand, exclusivism is incredible, this must be because it is lacking in such support— whether because experience and reason clearly tell against it or simply because they are not sufficient to bear it out. To invalidate its claim to be credible is to show one or the other of these possibilities to be the actual situation.

In the case of its claim to be appropriate, the relevant criteria or norms are quite different. Like other religious traditions, the Christian tradition is heterogeneous in composition insofar as, through special acts of self-definition, it has specified certain of its elements as normative for some or all of the others. Thus, whether or not a given witness or theology is appropriate to Jesus Christ must be determined by whether or not it is in substantial agreement with these normative elements, and, ultimately, with the formal norm or canon with which all other elements must substantially agree. The difficulty in determining this, however, is that there has never been complete agreement among Christians about what elements are to count as formally normative, either in fact or in principle. To be sure, they have generally agreed during most of their history that it is the original and originating witness of the apostles that is in principle formally normative. But aside from the fact, evidenced by the history ofthe canon, that they have always disagreed about just what witness or witnesses can be validated as apostolic, exactly what apostolicity itself


is to mean even as a principle has also been profoundly controversial. Thus, while Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox have all traditionally accepted the same apostolic principle, they have understood it in sharply different ways—Protestants appealing to “scripture alone” as apostolic, Roman Catholics and Orthodox invoking alternative understandings of "scripture and tradition” as the real meaning of apostolicity. And as if this were not enough, the revisionary forms of witness and theology that have emerged in modern Christian history have challenged the very principle of apostolicity itself, replacing appeal to it with appeal to the so- called historical Jesus as the real principle of formally normative witness.

This is not the place, obviously, to try to eliminate this difficulty. There are simply different views on what is to count as formally normative both in principle and in fact, and none ofthese views is completely free of more or less serious problems. All I can do, therefore, is briefly summarize my own view on the question, and refer to discussions I have provided elsewhere that more amply explain and defend it (see, for example, Ogden 1982, 96-105; 1986, 45-68).

My view is that the answer to the question classically given in the Protestant formula, sola scriptura—"scripture alone”—is sound in principle even though it is no longer tenable in fact. It is sound in principle because there are the very best of reasons for acknowledging the unique authority of the original and originating witness ofthe apostles. With the emergence oftheir witness, although not before, the


Christian religion was definitively established; and it is solely through their witness, finally, that all others who have come to participate in this religion have been authorized to do so. Insofar, then, as the Protestant scriptural principle acknowledges the sole primary authority of the apostolic witness, it is and remains entirely sound. But what is no longer tenable is its identification of scripture, or the New Testament, as in fact apostolic witness. Given the methods and results of historical knowledge now available to us, we know that not a single New Testament writing can be apostolic in the sense of original and originating Christian witness, since their authors all make use of other Christian witnesses, oral and/or written, earlier than themselves. Consequently, to apply the apostolic principle today, in the light of such knowledge, is perforce to abandon the scriptural principle as such, in its classical Protestant form. It is to locate what is formally normative in fact, not in the canon of scripture, or in some “canon within the canon,” but in a canon before the canon—specifically, in the earliest stratum of Christian witness now accessible to us through the methods and results of our own historical knowledge, which is all that we can responsibly identify as apostolic witness.

In my view, then, whether or not a given witness or theology is appropriate to Jesus Christ must be determined, finally, by whether or not it is in substantial agreement with this earliest accessible stratum of Christian witness. Thus, if exclusivism validly claims to be appropriate, it can only be because it substantially agrees with this witness. If, on


the other hand, the claim of exclusivism is to be invalidated, this can be done only by showing its disagreement with the very substance of this witness, which is to say, the understanding of existence of which the witness as such is the formally normative formulation.

So much, then, for what has to be done to make the case against exclusivism. I now want to develop what I take to be the decisive objections against it. To this end, I shall first consider somewhat more closely just what it is that exclusivists today typically hold. I stress that it is with a typical position that my argument is concerned and that what I mean by exclusivists is simply Christians or theologians who hold this type of position, to whatever extent they in fact do so. According to the presuppositions of exclusivism, the predicament of human beings universally is a consequence of their sin, understood not merely as moral transgression, which is rather the result of sin, but as the deeper refusal of a human being to live, finally, in radical dependence upon God, solely by God’s grace. Thus, while each and every person is created good and in God's own image, all human beings so misuse their freedom as to sin in this deeper sense of the word. In thus deciding for existence in sin, however, they forfeit their original possibility of existence in faith; and they have no prospect of ever actualizing this possibility unless God acts preveniently to restore it to them. But it is just this that God has in fact done in sending Jesus Christ and in thereby establishing the visible church with its proclamation of salvation.


Anyone who is encountered by this proclamation is once again restored to the possibility of faith, sin notwithstanding; and actualization of this possibility through acceptance of the proclamation is salvation from sin and liberation from the human predicament.

It is just as true, however, that everyone else remains trapped in this predicament and without prospect of salvation. And this is the great difficulty; for it means, in effect, that the human predicament of some persons is radically different from that of others. Since the coming ofJesus Christ and the establishment ofthe Christian proclamation are events occurring at a particular time and place in history, only persons living after these events and somehow capable of being encountered by the proclamation have any possibility of being saved from their sin. But, then, the predicament of all other persons is not simply a consequence of their sin, in the sense of something for which they themselves, through the misuse of their freedom, are each individually responsible; it is also the predicament of having unfortunately been born at the wrong time or place, a matter of fate rather than freedom, in no way their own responsibility. To be sure, in the classical formulations of ex- clusivism in orthodox theology, this difficulty is considerably mitigated or qualified by a larger context of other theological claims. Thus exclusivists have traditionally been able to believe that the Christian proclamation of Jesus Christ was already present prophetically in the Hebrew scriptures, and hence to everyone included in the old covenant.


Furthermore, it is a traditional teaching going all the way back to the church fathers that the gospel was first proclaimed to Adam and Eve through the so-called proto-evangelium of Gen. 3:15 and in this way was already made available to the whole human race. Finally, exclusivists have always been able to qualify their position by allowing for extraordinary acts of God through which individuals are given the possibility of salvation otherwise than through the ordinary means thereof that God has established in the visible church and its word and sacraments. But all of these other claims have long since ceased to provide a credible context for Christian exclusivism. Historical-critical study of scripture has undercut any claim that Jesus Christ was already proclaimed prophetically in the Hebrew scriptures. It has made clear, in fact, that this claim is the classic case of Christians in the present using such methods as are available to them for interpreting their past as will yield what is now called, by a revealing phrase, "usable tradition.” Still less plausible is any notion that the gospel was already proclaimed figuratively to Adam and Eve, so that all of their descendants originally had the possibility of faith restored to them. Such allegorical interpretation is totally discredited, and there is no evidence whatever of the gospel’s ever having been universally disseminated to all members ofthe human race. As for special saving acts of God, they are on the face of it arbitrary and ad hoc and are so far from providing any solution to the problem as to be simply another case of it.

Add to this, then, that the sciences continue to date the origins of human life ever earlier in the


history of our planet, and it is clear that exclu- sivists today face a difficult choice. Either they must so alter their original position that only Christians are saved as to allow for the salvation also of non-Christians, at least of participants in God’s covenant with Israel and, possibly, of persons included in other dispensations of God's grace; or else they can maintain their original position, but only by conceding that even those included in the old covenant, along with the overwhelming majority of the human race, could not possibly have been saved. Through no fault of their own, all but a tiny minority of the human beings who have lived and died have been allowed to remain in their sin, with despair of salvation the only realistic attitude to their condition.

Assuming now that this is the typical position of Christian exclusivists, I want to object, first of all, that it cannot be validated as credible in terms of common human experience and reason. In principle, at least, one could be so encountered by the Christian proclamation as to experience it as making one’s salvation possible, somewhat in the way in which one can experience the words or deeds of another person as enabling one to exist with a new sense of confidence and hope for the future, notwithstanding one’s faults in the past. On the basis of this experience, then, one could also make or imply the kind of assertion about the decisive significance of Jesus Christ for salvation that Christians have been wont to make or imply, beginning with the formally normative witness of the apostles. Moreover, this assertion would very definitely imply


an exclusivistic claim of sorts—that even as Jesus Christ is the one through whom God decisively acts to save, so the only God who saves is the one who acts decisively through Jesus Christ. Whether or not this claim were true, then, could be determined, again, at least in principle, by validating its necessary implications for both belief and action by following appropriate procedures of metaphysical and ethical verification. But nothing that even a Christian could experience would warrant holding that the way in which she or he and other Christians have been given the possibility of salvation is the only way in which it has been or can be given. In fact, even if one could say that Christianity is the only religion that can be formally true, because it alone is established by God in the unique saving event of Jesus Christ, one would still have no basis for saying that Christians alone are saved or that the possibility ofsalvation is given only by the Christian proclamation. And if one did say it, there would be no way, even in principle, of ever verifying it in terms of common human experience and reason, since no human experience could show that God has not given or cannot give the possibility of salvation in some other way.

In short, if exclusivism has any basis in experience at all, it can only be in divine experience, not in human. God alone could experience the Christian proclamation as the only way, or, at least, the only ordinary way, in which God gives men and women the possibility of salvation. But this means that exclusivism is indeed an incredible theological position, since human experience and reason are


insufficient to support it. Even if it were true, it could not be shown to be so in the only terms that would warrant our accepting it as worthy of belief.

We saw earlier that the same objection would need to be made to the Christian witness itself if ex- clusivism could make good its further claim to be appropriate to Jesus Christ. But if I am right, this claim, also, is invalid, and this is the second decisive objection against the exclusivistic answer to our question. Far from being appropriate to Jesus Christ, it is, in fact, deeply inappropriate to him in denying the understanding of God that he necessarily implies in explicitly authorizing Christian faith. Consider the following argument. According to the analysis of religion developed in Chapter 1, specifically Christian faith, like any other, may be characterized purely formally as an explicit self-understanding, or understanding of one's existence in relation to others and the whole. As such, however, it is the only explicit selfunderstanding decisively authorized by Jesus whom Christians assert to be the Christ, the point of their assertion being that it is at one and the same time the very self-understanding implicitly authorized as the authentic understanding of human existence by ultimate reality itself in its meaning for us. If we ask, then, for the material content of this self-understanding, the only appropriate answer, judging from the formally normative witness of the apostles, is that it is an understanding of ourselves and all others as alike the objects of God’s all-embracing love. It is precisely as himself the explicit gift and demand of God’s


love that Jesus is represented in this earliest witness; and to understand oneself as one is given and called to do decisively through him is to understand oneself as both loved by God and claimed by God's love.

Essential to this self-understanding is a distinctive double structure: it is both trust in God's love alone for the ultimate meaning of our lives and loyalty to God's love as the only final cause that our lives, and all lives, are intended to serve. Although in both aspects, faith is a human response to God's love, but for which it would not be possible, its first aspect of trust is relatively more passive, while its second aspect of loyalty is relatively more active. Moreover, the priority of the first and more passive aspect oftrust to the second and more active aspect of loyalty is irreversible. It is only through first accepting God's love in trust that we become sufficiently free from ourselves and all others to be truly loyal to God's cause. It is just as true, however, that if we truly trust in God's love, we cannot fail to live in loyalty to it. Therefore, while this second aspect of faith is and must be strictly posterior to the first, there is nevertheless but one faith with two aspects, each of which necessarily implies the other. To be loyal to God's love, however, is to be loyal not only to God but also to all to whom God is loyal; and this means, of course, everyone, all others as well as ourselves. But to be loyal to another necessarily involves—if, indeed, it is not simply another word for—loving the other, in the sense ofso accepting the other as to take account of the other's interests and then acting toward the other on the basis of


such acceptance. So it is that the faith that can originate only by our trusting in God’s prevenient love for all of us can eventuate only in our returning love for God and, in God, for all whom God loves.

But if the meaning of God for us is the gift and demand of unbounded love that authorizes trust in this love and loyalty to its cause as our authentic self-understanding, the strictly ultimate reality called “God” has to have a unique structure in itself. Just as it must be inclusive both of self and of all others and, therefore, completely universal in scope and function, so it must also be genuinely individual in being a single center of interaction, both acting on and being acted on by itself and all others. In all ordinary cases, of course, universality and individuality are distinguishing propei ties, the most universal things being the least individual, and vice versa. But ifthe kind oftrust in God’s love and loyalty to its cause that are Christian faith are, in fact, authorized by ultimate reality in its meaning for us, then the structure of this reality in itself, in its strictly ultimate aspect, must be as individual as it is universal, or as universal as it is individual, and hence the one great exception to the rule by which individuals and universals are otherwise distinguished. The same conclusion follows from the demand of God’s love as summarized in the commandments that we shall love the Lord our God with the whole of our being and that we shall love our neighbors as ourselves. Clearly, if it is God whom we are to love with all of our powers, God must be one individual distinct from all others whose interests we can take account of and act to realize. At the same time, if we


are also to accept our neighbors as ourselves and act so as to realize all oftheir interests, even while all of our powers are to be exercised in our love for God, God must also be completely universal in that there can be no interest either of ourselves or of our neighbors that is not somehow included in God’s interests.

The God implied by love for God as well as by faith in God, then, cannot be simply one individual among others but must be the one and only completely universal individual. This means that the strictly ultimate whole of reality that we experience as necessary in contrast to the radical contingency both of ourselves and all others must also be distinctively dipolar in its essential structure. It belongs to the very concept of an individual, and hence to any individual whatever, that it be a center of interaction that both acts on itself and others and is acted on by them. Consequently, even the universal individual called “God” must be conceived as having two essential aspects: a relatively more active aspect in which it acts on or makes a difference to both itself and all others and a relatively more passive aspect in which all others as well as itself act on or make a difference to it. Thus the uniqueness of God in comparison with all other individuals does not lie, as classical Christian theology has held, in God’s only acting on others and in no way being acted on by them, but rather in the completely universal scope of God’s field of interaction with others as well as with Godself. Whereas any other individual interacts with itself for a finite time only, God’s acting on Godself and being acted on by Godself has never begun nor will it ever end. And so, too, with


respect to interaction with others: whereas any individual other than God interacts with some others only, God interacts with all, not only acting on them but also being acted on by them.

In both aspects, God as the universal individual is strictly unsurpassable; and only by being thus unsurpassable both actively and passively can God be the God necessarily implied by the distinctive double structure of Christian faith, and thus be both the ground of unreserved trust and the object of unqualified loyalty. We may trust in God without reservation only because God is unsurpassably active, ever doing all that could conceivably be done by anyone for all others as well as Godself. Likewise, we may be loyal to God without qualification only because God is unsurpassably passive, being ever open to all that could conceivably be done or suffered by anyone as something that is also done to God. It is for the best of reasons, then, that Christian theology has traditionally understood God to be both all-good and all-powerful. To be both unsurpassably active and unsurpassably passive in one’s interaction with others is to be precisely unsurpassably good and unsurpassably powerful, since goodness and power alike have both active and passive aspects as applied to individuals. An individual's goodness toward others is always, first of all, openness to their interests and only then action furthering their interests on the basis of such openness. Similarly, an individual’s power in relation to others is never merely the capacity to act on them, but is also always the capacity to be acted on by them. The great tragedy of traditional theology, of course, is


that this has been forgotten in thinking and speaking about God, whose goodness and power have been classically conceived one-sidedly as wholly active. Thus God's power has been understood as "omnipotence,” in the sense of all the power there is, as distinct from all the power that any one individual could have consistently with there being other individuals also having power, however minimal. The result is that classical Christian theology has been saddled with an insoluble problem of evil. If God's is a sheer monopoly of power, then it cannot be true both that God is also omnibeneficent or allgood and that evil of some kind or in some form is real or exists.

Once allow, however, that God's is not the only power, and the problem of evil is capable ofsolution. Such evil as is real or exists can then be accounted for by the decision or agency of other powers, and God can without difficulty be said to be all-good as well as all-powerful. This is so, at any rate, if allowing that there are powers other than God need not deny that God is unsurpassably powerful as well as unsurpassably good. But now what does all this have to do with the inappropriateness of Christian exclusivism? The connection, I maintain, is this: by establishing, in effect, a double standard for obtaining salvation, exclusivism creates a form of the problem of evil to which there can be no such solution. I say that exclusivism establishes a double standard, because, as I have shown, it implies that the human predicament ofthe vast majority of men and women is radically different from that of the tiny minority who


have been able to become Christians by being encountered by the Christian proclamation. Through no fault oftheir own, by far most human beings have been allowed to remain in their sin without any prospect of salvation. But this, clearly, is an evil; in fact, on exclusivism’s own presuppositions, it must be an evil of the first magnitude that all but a few persons are left utterly without hope and are finally lost. It is also an evil, however, that logically compels one to deny either that God is all-powerful or that God is all-good. For in the nature of the case, it is not an evil that can be accounted for by any decision or agency other than God’s own. In the case of other forms of evil—such as, for example, the evil of sin or the moral evil committed by human beings or by other beings created with moral freedom such a “free will defense” of the all-goodness and the allpowerfulness of God is at least available. But in this case, there is no possibility of arguing in this way; for, as we have seen, the fact, if it were a fact, that by far most human beings, having once forfeited their possibility of existing in faith, would then have no prospect of ever actualizing it would be due, not to their own decision or agency, but to God’s— specifically to God’s abandoning them to their predicament instead of so acting as to liberate them from it, as God would have done for at least the few human beings who are in a position to become Christians.

I conclude, therefore, that there is no escaping the problem of evil that is necessarily implied by exclusivism. If exclusivism were true, the only inference from the fact that by far most human beings


could have no hope ofsalvation would be either that God is not good enough to want them to be saved or that God is not powerful enough to do all that anyone could do to save them, except what they must do themselves. Either way, the understanding of God necessarily implied by Christian faith, as at once unsurpassably good and unsurpassably powerful, could no longer be upheld.

Recognizing this, we may confirm my judgment that exclusivism is deeply inappropriate to Jesus Christ and that, for this reason, also, the case against it is unusually strong. We may also insist over against it that, ifthe Christian understanding of God as unsurpassable in both goodness and power is really to be maintained, no woman or man can ever be without the possibility of existing in faith as soon and as long as she or he is a human being at all.