Recently I went to see a new documentary about Pope Francis called “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” by German director Wim Wenders. It seems to me that there are two primary theological messages that the current Pope is pushing: 1) creation care, and 2) religious pluralism. The former I consider to be a legitimate, albeit not a central, area of concern for Christian theists. The latter, however, I consider to be outside the conceptual boundaries of biblical Christianity. Thus, while much could be said about why creation care is important for Christians to address, I would like to concentrate here on Francis’ apparent push toward religious pluralism. Here is one argument against religious pluralism.
Definition of Terms
I define pluralism as the view that any individual, who faithfully persists in her own religious tradition, regardless of that tradition’s propositional beliefs about Jesus Christ, will, due solely to her own integrity toward the tenets, principles and beliefs of that faith tradition, be saved into eternal life with God, even if that tradition does not hold to a view that identifies God as personal (e.g. Buddhism). Salvation for the pluralist is inherently moralistic in that it does not occur through faith in Jesus and His saving work, but is achieved through the religious and moral virtue displayed by the individual within his own religious tradition.
This is not to be confused with universalism, which holds that all people will be saved into an eternal life with God. It is also different from salvific inclusivism, which holds that some people, in spite of external persistence in their particular, non-Christian tradition, will nonetheless be saved by God’s grace and a corresponding internal response to that grace. In other words, the individual accepts Jesus in spite of persistence in the external forms of their non-Christian, religious tradition.
As such, belief in Jesus Christ in my version of the argument need not be initially propositional, but would be like an immediate awareness of Christ and his work that, if pressed, could be formulated into a truth claim with a truth value. In salvific inclusivism, individuals who persist in a false belief system, especially those who simply have never heard about Jesus, could be saved through a special revelation of God’s grace that ultimately is consistent with propositional claims of historical Christianity regarding salvation (see Romans 2:12-16).
Argument for salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone:
For any subject (S), S must hold a propositional belief (P) that correctly identifies Jesus Christ as the only means to eternal salvation and S must possess a concurrent passional state, whereby S is affectively oriented (A) toward Jesus Christ (i.e. S loves Jesus). Finally, belief in P and having A must persist over time from the initial moment S attains A at time tr, (the moment of spiritual regeneration), and the subsequent accompanying belief in P through to S’s natural death td . While there can be a strengthening or weakening of both confidence in P and intensity of A at any given time tn, some discernible form of belief (occurrent or dispositional) in P, and identifiable state A must persist for S to be ensured of eternal salvation. If P has once been held, but no longer is held, or if S now holds to ¬P, then regardless of persistence in A (an affection for Jesus) up to td , S will not be saved into eternal life with God.
Let P = some minimal, yet essential, potential truth-bearing content about the person and work of Jesus Christ (e.g. Jesus is Lord, Jesus saves). It is minimal in that it is minimally sufficient kind of saving belief in Jesus; it is essential in that it bears some necessary content about Jesus’ identity and his saving work; it is only potential, in that it can initially be held in a dispositional sense and not as an occurrent belief. It can be known non-propositionally but, if pressed, could be propositionalized into some simple linguistic form, e.g. “I believe that Jesus saves me,” or “Ich glaube an Jesus Christus.”
Let A = an emotional or affective state whereby S is oriented in her affections toward Jesus Christ, i.e. a state that induces feelings of love, desire, and deep longing for relationship with Him. Thus, when S states P, she does so authentically in concert with her desires.
Let tr = the moment of regeneration
Let td = the moment of natural death
Let tn = any time between tr and td
Deductive Argument against Pluralism
1) It is necessary to believe, dispositionally or occurrently, some P with regard to the person and work of Jesus Christ
1.1 P could be conveyed to S in a non-propositional manner (i.e. through a dream; or as an immediate, perceptional awareness of P)
1.2 If pressed, S could propositionalize (conceptualize and state) P in a way that P could be objectively analyzed
2) It is necessary to possess a corresponding affective feature A with regard to the person and work of Jesus, as He is known dispostionally or occurently in the holding of P
2.1 Moral agency requires that there be a free movement of the will and some affection for P, not merely a cognitive acceptance of the truthfulness of P (in the way one might accept the logical relationship of 2 + 2 = 4)
2.2 Since God is personal, salvation is personal. If salvation is personal then it has the essential property of “being an act of love,” since saving a person is loving.
2.3 Love is essentially relational, it is an activity and orientation between persons. Again 2 + 2 = 4 is a relation, but a non-personal one.
2.4 Our affections are oriented toward our beliefs, the content of our belief is what we love (or, in this case, the content about the person who we believe in is what we love).
3) It is necessary that S persists over a duration of time (tr…td) in P and in A in order to be saved (regardless of the length of this duration or level of intensity with regard to each point in time)
3.1 If at any point S believes ¬ P and/or fails to possess A, and S persists in belief ¬P until td then S is not saved
4) If there are no other conditions required to be saved, then temporal persistence in P and temporal persistence in a corresponding A with regards to P are sufficient for eternal salvation
5) There are no other conditions required to be saved
6) Therefore, P & A for tr… td (4,5) is sufficient for eternal salvation with God
7) Pluralism rejects the necessity of S holding some belief P about Jesus (1)
8) A alone cannot save S (since the object of S’s affection is not the Jesus that possesses the actual power to affect salvation)
9) Further, on pluralism, A alone cannot save S since if S rejects or fails to hold some essential belief P, then S’s affections are for ¬ P and not for P
9.1 Since A is an orientation of love, and love requires free-will, if S loves ¬ P, then S loves someone other than the real Jesus in the way S is required to love the real Jesus
9.2 If S loves a Jesus, for example, that does not save (e.g. a Jesus who is merely a prophet, or just a man), then S does not love Jesus as savior, and even more likely not as God
9.3. If S’s affections are not for the actual God, i.e. for Jesus, then S loves something else more than God
10) If S fails to hold either P and A at time td, then S is not saved
11) If S is not saved because S fails to hold P at td, then religious pluralism is false
12) S fails to hold P at td, and is not saved, therefore religious pluralism is false (10,11)
In sum, if Francis is suggesting that a Muslim, or Buddhist, or even an Atheist is saved in spite of non-belief in some essential truth about Jesus, a truth claim they have heard made, then he is suggesting that a Muslim, a Buddhist or an Atheist is saved even though they do not love God, and that by knowingly rejecting the truth about His Son, which again means they knowingly do not love God.
While I am not claiming with any certainty that this is actually what Francis believes, it does seem to come across that way in the movie. But, if a person is saved in spite of his persistent and willful lack of love or desire for God, then the only way I see salvation happening for that person is if God unilaterally forces that person to love Him after the person dies. But that hardly seems like a legitimate sense of what it means to love, or be free. Does it?