The Protestant responses to the “Declaration on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church” recently issued by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s Office for the Doctrine of the Faith (ODF) have been mostly pained surprise, sometimes anger. Leaders in other world religions had a similar reaction. Even Catholics were taken aback by what seemed like a regressive document.
Three years ago, on the very first broadcast of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, the PBS program I host, we did a feature on a stretch of road outside Washington, D.C., that has been nicknamed the “Highway of Heaven.” Side by side, block after block, is an amazing variety of new places of worship for Vietnamese Catholics, Korean Presbyterians, Cambodian Buddhists, Ukrainian Ortho
When Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was asked in 1993 why he was attending a “parliament of the world’s religions,” he answered that we are told to “welcome strangers,” that many things are happening in the world which people of different religions need to confront jointly, and that Christians can find such a gathering a unique occasion to talk about Jesus.
Christians believe in a complex God, three coeternal persons living a single enduring communion. The divine life has varied dimensions and allows human interaction with the triune God to take different forms. God’s channels are open on many frequencies.
Imagine for a moment that we meet an angelic visitor who can tell us the future, and we ask whether some person we know will be “saved.” Suppose our visitor says, “No, she will not be saved; instead she is going to get everything she truly wants.” Suppose, on the other hand, that our visitor says, “Yes, she will be saved, though she will never come to know Christ o