John Hick and Pluralism
John Hick was born in 1922 in England to a middle class family. He developed an interest in philosophy and religion in his teens, being encouraged by his uncle, who was an author and teacher at Manchester University. Hick initially pursued a law degree at Hull University, but converted to Evangelical Christianity from the fundamentalist Christian beliefs with which he was raised, and decided to change his career and enrolled at the University of Edinburgh in 1941. During his studies, he became liable for military service in World War II, but as a conscientious objector on moral grounds, enrolled in the Friends' Ambulance Unit. After the war, he returned to Edinburgh and became attracted to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and began to question his fundamentalism. In 1948, he completed his MA dissertation, which formed the basis of his book Faith and Knowledge (Peters). He went on to earn a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University in 1950 and a Doctorate in Literature from Edinburgh in 1975. In 1953, he married Joan Hazel Bowers, and the couple had three children. After many years as a member of the United Reformed Church, in October 2009 he was accepted into membership of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. Hick has twice been the subject of heresy proceedings. In 1961-1962, when he was teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary, he sought, as a Presbyterian minister, to join the local Presbytery of New Brunswick. He was asked whether he took exception to anything in the Westminster Confession of 1647 and answered that several points were open to question; for example, he was agnostic on the historical truth of the Virgin Birth and did not regard it as an essential item of Christian faith. Because of this, some of the local ministers appealed against his reception into the Presbytery. Their appeal was sustained by the Synod. A year later, a counter-appeal was sustained by the Judicial Committee of the General Assembly, and Hick became a member of the Presbytery (Furlong). In the mid-1980s, when teaching at the Claremont Graduate University in California, Hick sought to join the local Presbytery of San Gabriel. His application was strongly opposed by certain local ministers. After long discussion, the relevant committee told him that his application would be extremely divisive and invited him to withdraw it, which he did (Furlong). John Hick is often cited as one of the most—if not simply the most—significant philosopher of religion in the twentieth century (Cramer). His contributions to this field have been so substantial that they easily spill immense implications over into related fields. Clearly, Hick’s work has such implications for theology. Hick challenges theologians to transform Christian Religion to address effectively the modern world, which is now undoubtedly pluralistic. He both criticizes what he considers outmoded Christian in light of recent developments in religious epistemology, while simultaneously suggesting new possibilities for the enrichment of Christian experience as religious experience. While some of these suggestions are certainly open to debate, it is nonetheless certain that Hick, like Columbus, has discovered the "new world"—a new pluralistic world—which all future theology must take into account (although it is clear that, despite this recent discovery, the Indians—though this time the real Indians—have long since beaten us here as well). In light of his Kantian influences, Hick claims that knowledge of the Real (his generic term for Transcendent Reality) can only be known as it is being perceived. For that reason, absolute truth claims about God (to use Christian language) are really truth claims about perceptions of God; that is, claims about the phenomenal God and not the noumenal God. Furthermore, because all knowledge is rooted in experience, which is then perceived and interpreted into human categories...
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