|Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven|
From The Divine Commedy, Illustrated, Completeby Dante Alighieri
(ed. Henry Francis Cary, 1892)
(PD-US, via Wikimedia Commons)
It [Sanders' book] has come none too soon, in that liberal theologians are jumping all over us for not making better sense of God's universal salvific will and are capitalizing on our vulnerability to mount outragous proposals of their own which deny the Incarnation and promote what they call theological pluralism but which is really only religious relativism (p. xiv).
Keep in mind that this was written 25 years ago -- back when a poor, humble Arkansas boy was running for President (ah, be still my neoliberal heart!). Still, it seems the "jumping all over" has continued apace. And I wonder what Pinnock would have made of DET and some of our liberal-pluralist-universalist-leaning friends (discretion restrains me from naming names, but you know who you are!). But wait, there's more:
Our position on the accessibility of salvation to the unevangelized gives liberals a window of opportunity to float really heretical notions. By sticking stubbornly to what Sanders calls restrictivism, evangelicals have made it ridiculously easy for liberals to attack classical theology (in particular, its christology). Scholars such as John Hick have been making mincemeat out of us, arguing all too convincingly that evangelicals have nothing to contribute to the discussion of religious pluralism (p. xiv).
In case you've forgotten, gentle readers, Hick was the British philosopher-theologian who argued, rather forcibly and persistently, that all cats are grey in the nightscape that is humankind's glorious religious diversity: The religions, he claimed, are pathways heading toward the one God, the transcendent Real that is the origin and goal of our lives and the source of our common ethical aspirations. In other words, Hick updated classical deism, and gave it a markedly English accent (wait, what? I suppose it already had an English accent, didn't it? Quite.) By "restrictivism," I assume Sanders means what the guild usually calls "exclusivism" -- the position that there is no salvation outside of an explicit, professed faith in Jesus Christ. As this blog post is due in half an hour, I don't have time to double check that.
To wrap up this post (no doubt to your great relief), some final words from Pinnock:
It has seemed for some time now, not only to liberals but to many evangelicals as well, that traditional theology is stuck in deep mud, having no new ideas to put forward and no defense to the serious criticisms made of it. Even the minority of evangelicals who are not restrivists have not been able to construct a decent full-scale defense of the inclusivist paradigm, only bits and pieces of which have been available in print. Well, they can breathe a sigh of relief now, for help has arrived (ibid.).
Note: The notion of having a defense vis-a-vis criticism is logically and existentially distinct from being defensive.
Pinnock himself, I understand, was fond of "new ideas." For example, he had the idea that, if you should want to know what your spouse is cooking for dinner, or whether the hurricane is to hit landfall this weekend, or what tomorrow's lottery numbers are, don't ask God, because He don't know. God perhaps also couldn't tell me whether my editor is ever going to let me anywhere near this website again.