Current theology of religions discourse, particularly arguments for religious pluralism, has come to a standstill, since S. Mark Heim has critiqued John Hick, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, and Paul Knitter’s pluralistic theologies for being insufficiently pluralistic. It is my contention that Heim’s historical frame, a constitutive element of his more pluralistic hypothesis, is insufficiently historical. As a corrective to Heim, I propose the historical frame of Ernst Troeltsch, which I use to construct a soteriological theology of religions that is sufficiently pluralistic and historical.
Heim critiques religious pluralism for being insufficiently pluralistic, because it postulates a conception of salvation that is applicable to all religions. In contrast to this, Heim proposes a more pluralistic hypothesis, which results in the postulation of multiple salvations. I critique Heim’s historical frame (and thus his proposal that there are multiple salvations), on the grounds that it is insufficiently historical. His historical frame is insufficiently historical in that he utilizes a cultural-linguistic theory of religion, which argues that religion is bound to its grammar, as rendered by its founding story. Heim’s hypothesis is insufficiently historical because his theory of religion is essentialistic in nature and thus ahistorical.
As a corrective to Heim, I propose the historical frame of Troeltsch. The use of Troeltsch’s historical frame, however, requires me to address historicism (i.e., historical relativism), normativity, and theological construction. The viability of theological construction is dependent on the possibility of normativity within historicism since the workability of the faith-history-ethics triad is reliant on the possibility of deducing norms from history. I suggest pragmatic historicism, which offers a viable argument for normativity through the conjoining of historicism and pragmatism. The possibility of normativity, in turn, justifies the use of the triad to construct theology.
In lieu of Heim’s hypothesis, I propose a constructive Christian theology of religions that is an amalgamation of a soteriological theology of religions, a modified Kaufmanian humanization, and new ethnography. This combination constitutes a valid argument for religious pluralism because, contra Heim’s critique of religious pluralism, it is sufficiently pluralistic, and in making reference to my critique of Heim, it is sufficiently historical.