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S. Mark Heim teaches at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, MA. He’s written much on religious pluralism. Here is an abstract I’ve written over his article “A Trinitarian View of Religious Pluralism”:
Heim’s goal is to reveal how the Christian doctrine of the Trinity necessitates religious pluralism. He begins by arguing that all the varied dimensions of God belong to all the persons of the Trinity. Humans, as God’s image-bearers, are able to interact with God through any of these dimensions. They can “tune” themselves to one of these dimensions; and any of these dimensions can be a genuine avenue for a relationship with God. If the Trinity is real, various truths in other religions must be real as well, as these image bearers tune themselves to knowing God. There are three dimensions of human relations that “tune” themselves to the Trinity.
First, humans can impersonally relate to one another just as the persons of the Trinity impersonally relate to one another. Due to the complexity of both the Trinitarian God and the human being at molecular level, both are impersonal when encountered in solely this dimension. God manifested Himself in the Scriptures as wind, power, high voltage, etc. to prove this dimension of the Trinity exists. There are two sides of this dimension: withdrawal and identity with the world. God is impersonally withdrawn from His creation in that he makes space for its own being and freedom: even physics illustrates this reality due to it revealing that all enduring matter or immaterial realities seem to dissipate. On the other hand, God is impersonally identified with the world due to His aseity. Creation, including humanity, reflect this reality as they live their lives based on assumed immaterial realities that make human life possible. The Vedanta tradition of Hinduism expresses this reality powerfully. Brahman as an unshakeable reality still exists in all things; therefore, when this dimension is actively pursued, impersonal relationship with the Triune God is necessarily the outcome.
Second, humans have personal encounters with one another just as the Persons of the Trinity personally relate to one another. God also personally relates to humanity. In both Christianity and Islam God speaks and interacts with humans. God emphasizes human dependence on Him, and their purpose in becoming who they must be according to His own purposes. Christianity extends God’s personal relation with creation through the incarnated Christ and the doctrine of the One God eternally existing in three Persons.
Third, humans can have communion with one another just as the Persons of the Trinity indwell one another in holy communion. Humanity exists for community, and love springs forth from one individual due to the “indwelling” of another individual. Salvation is necessarily a corporate reality, a corporate communion with the Trinity through participation in Christ. The divine nature even is so great that God cannot encompass it except through sharing. Christians participate in all three dimensions of God through salvation; but this participation is a unity-in-difference, and therefore necessitates the concrete existence of these dimensions in other religions.
In conclusion, if God is Trinity, the above three dimensions are irreducible, and permanently coequal dimensions of the divine nature. Thus, any interaction with one of these dimensions by humanity automatically grants them the gift of God’s grace. Any pursuit of knowing God through one of these dimensions, even if the human does not hope to know God further, is still rewarded by God since humanity is responding to God’s self-given revelation. Christians will do well to let go of their distinct relations, communion, terminology, etc. for the sake of recognizing God’s active work and differing terminology as given and revealed in the various religions of humanity.
To begin, I don’t understand why Heim believes that all humans can “tune” themselves to the Triune God. The only source for the Trinity, the Christian Bible, argues that sin has marred man’s ability to hear God (Matt. 16:17). Sin has poisoned all things (Rom. 1); therefore, by definition, man cannot hear God rightly apart from the illumination of God the Holy Spirit, the 2nd Person of the Trinity (1 Corinthians 2:14). Heim picks and chooses various aspects of Christianity and looks for truth in other religions while ignoring the exclusive claims of Christianity. Jesus, in John 14:6 said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to Father except through Me.” Yet, Heim insists that humans in other religions have access to God apart from knowing Jesus Christ. They can get to God apart from going through the Way; they can know God apart from knowing the Truth; and they can have spiritual life in God apart from the Life. Heim’s arguments are contrary to Scripture; and he must necessarily call Jesus Christ a liar in order to make his argument.
Can one really pick and choose various aspects of all religions and connect them while denying the exclusive claims of these religions? Why believe in the Trinity if you’ve just plucked this truth out of Scripture while denying other truths that have at least as much proof biblically as the verses that back up the Trinity? Heim thus must necessarily play god in order to make his argument. He has found a canon within the canon; and worse yet, he has found a canon in sinful creation that directly goes against the Scripture that grounds his doctrine of the Trinity. If he is correct in his assumptions, then he is by necessity incorrect, for his own Trinitarian presupposition cannot stand on the Scripture that he has argued is inaccurate and full of lies.
What are your thoughts?
Source: Heim, S. Mark. “A Trinitarian View of Religious Pluralism.” Christian Century, 24 January 2001, 14-18.