Friday, December 14, 2012

An Overview of Netland's "Is Christianity the Only True Religion?"

Is Christianity the Only True Religion? 

How should we think about answering this question? 
Harold Netland’s approach is not to try and prove a “yes” answer to the question. He explains the necessity of assessing truth of religions, alerts us to good reasons to believe in Christian claims, and then offers an outlook toward recognizing God’s work in unexpected places .

I.                   Key Arguments

1.      First, we examine the religious landscape. We notice many religions, most with mutually incompatible truth claims (whether contradictories or contraries)[1]. It just is not tenable to believe that all religions are equally true.[2]
a.       The world contains a multiplicity of lifestyles, faith communities, and worldviews offering explanations of ultimate reality and what is sacred[3]—which are true iff they correspond to reality.[4]
b.      But could they be epistemically on par—that is, could none of them stand out in terms of likelihood for truth (as the epistemic parity thesis asserts)?[5] More on this below.
2.      2. Differences in three areas (religious ultimate, human predicament, and soteriology) lead to interreligious disagreement and varying lifestyles/values between adherents of different religions.[6]

Netland’s key argument #1: We cannot avoid assessing religions in terms of truth.[7] 

We cannot leave the question unanswered.

a.       A religion is true if its essential doctrines are true.[8]
b.      A religion is true if its diagnosis of the human disease is accurate and it offers the effective antidote.[9]
4.      The two key questions for determining whether the Christian diagnosis and cure are correct (making Christianity true) are (i) does the Christian God exist? and (ii) who is Jesus Christ?[10]

5.      Netland’s key argument #2: There are Good reasons for believing that God exists and Jesus Christ was God incarnate.[11]

 Natural theology aims to disprove the epistemic parity thesis by demonstrating that Christianity’s central doctrines are justified.[12]

6.      Netland’s key argument #3 (conclusion): Via  theology of religions, we remain firmly established upon the central claims of Christianity while being open to the possibility of God’s work outside of the religious bounds of Christianity.[13]

a.       Diverse religions reflect the beauty of God’s diverse creation and natural human longing for God (where religion is not misused or abused to promote one’s own culture/religious group).[14]
b.      In accordance with the Manila Declaration:
                                                               i.      Some may be saved outside of Christianity
                                                             ii.      None are saved apart from Christ.
                                                            iii.      God’s Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and always leads people to him. [15]

II.                Assessment of Arguments:

1.      Assessing a religion in terms of truth does seem to be a “forced option,” as explained by William James’ pragmatism.[16] To observe religion is to notice conflicting truth claims, which cannot all simultaneously be true, and one must decide which claims are true/false.
2.      Netland does not elaborate on what the reasons are. However, that is not his intent here. His goal, which he accomplishes, is to explain how a Christian should think about truth in other religions given the truthfulness of Christianity.
3.      The conclusion is two-fold: (1) Christianity (when it is consistent with traditional orthodoxy’s central claims) is God’s primary means of delivering salvation to the world. (2) Religious others, while not practicing “true” religions in the same sense, may still experience the work of God’s Spirit in the world, leading them to the one truth that transcends religion, i.e. Christ Jesus.

III.             Discussion Questions:

1.      What biblical case is there, if any, to be made for God working in people’s lives outside the bounds of Christianity?
2.      If we were to observe God “reaching” people outside of Christianity, what might that look like?
3.      Assess this statement from the Manila Declaration on biblical or philosophical grounds: “A diversity of religions—or, more accurately, a diversity of certain aspects of the religions—may be affirmed as part of the richness of God’s good creation….”
4.      Is Christianity the only true religion?

[1] Harold Netland, “Is Christianity the Only True Religion?” (presentation, Greer Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum, New Orleans, LA, 2009), 9.
[2] Ibid., 1.
[3] Ibid., 4.
[4] Ibid., 5.
[5] Ibid., 13.
[6] Ibid., 7-8.
[7] Ibid., 9.
[8] Ibid., 11.
[9] Ibid., 10.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid., 16.
[14] Ibid., 15
[15] Ibid.
[16] William James, “The Will to Believe,” in Ten Great Works of Philosophy, ed. Robert Paul Wolff (New York: Signet Classic, 2002), 570.

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