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John Harwood Hick
Full name John Harwood Hick
Born 1922
Yorkshire, England
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests Philosophy of religion, theology

Professor John Harwood Hick (born Yorkshire, England, 1922)[1] is a philosopher of religion and theologian. In philosophical theology, he has made contributions in the areas of theodicy, eschatology, and Christology, and in the philosophy of religion he has contributed to the areas of epistemology of religion and religious pluralism.[2]


John Hick was born in 1922 in England to a middle-class family. He developed an interest in philosophy and religion in his teens, being encouraged by his uncle, who was an author and teacher at Manchester University. Hick initially pursued a law degree at Hull University, but converted to Evangelical Christianity, and decided to change his career and enrolled to the University of Edinburgh in 1941.

During his studies, he was drafted to fight in World War II. However, he objected to the war on moral grounds, and instead enrolled in the Friends' Ambulance Unit.

After the war, he returned to Edinburgh and became attracted to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and began to question his fundamentalism. In 1948 he completed his MA dissertation, which formed the basis of his book Faith and Knowledge.[2] He went on to earn a D.Phil. from Oxford University in 1950 and a D.Litt. from Edinburgh in 1975.[3] In 1953 he married Joan Hazel Bowers; the couple have three children. In October 2009 he was accepted into membership of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain.


Hick's academic positions have included Emeritus Danforth Professor of the Philosophy of Religion at the Claremont Graduate University, California; Emeritus H.G. Wood Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham; and Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Research in Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Birmingham.[4]

He has also held teaching positions at Cornell University, Princeton Seminary, and Cambridge University.[5] He is the Vice-President of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion, and Vice-President of The World Congress of Faiths.[1]

Hick delivered the 1986-87 Gifford lectures[1] and in 1991 was awarded the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Religion.[6]

Hick has twice been the subject of heresy proceedings. In 1961 or 1962, he was asked whether he took exception to anything in the Westminster Confession of 1647 and answered that several points were open to question. Because of this, some of the local ministers appealed against his reception into the Presbytery. Their appeal was sustained by the Synod. A year later, a counter-appeal was sustained by the Judicial Committee of the General Assembly, and Hick became a member of the Presbytery (see Christian heresy in the 20th century).

Hick's philosophy

Robert Smid states that Hick is regularly cited as "one of the most – if not simply the most – significant philosopher of religion in the twentieth century".[7] Keith Ward describes him as "the greatest living philosopher of global religion."[8] He is best known for his advocacy of religious pluralism,[2] which is radically different from the traditional Christian teachings that he held when he was younger.[3]

Hick has notably been criticized by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who currently holds the position of Pope), when he was head of the Holy Office. Ratzinger had examined the works of several theologians accused of relativism, such as Jacques Dupuis and Roger Haight, and found that many, if not all, were philosophically inspired by Hick. Therefore, the declaration Dominus Iesus was seen by many at the time as a condemnation of Hick's ideas and theories.

Kantian influences

Having begun his career as an evangelical, he moved towards pluralism as a way of reconciling God's love with the facts of cultural and religious diversity. He is primarily influenced by Immanuel Kant in this regard, who argued that human minds obscure actual reality in favor of comprehension (see Kant's theory of perception). According to Richard Peters, for Hick, "[the] construal of the relationship of the human mind to much like the relationship that Kant supposed exists between the human mind and the world".[2]

It isn't fair to say that Hick is strictly Kantian, however. Peters notes "the divide between the 'noumenal' and 'phenomenal' realms (so far as nature is concerned) is not nearly so severe for Hick as it was for Kant".[2] Hick also declares that the Divine Being is what he calls 'transcategorial'. We can experience God through categories, but God Himself obscures them by his very nature.


In light of his Kantian influences, Hick claims that knowledge of the Real (his generic term for Transcendent Reality) can only be known as it is being perceived. For that reason, absolute truth claims about God (to use Christian language) are really truth claims about perceptions of God; that is, claims about the phenomenal God and not the noumenal God. Furthermore, because all knowledge is rooted in experience, which is then perceived and interpreted into human categories of conception, cultural and historical contexts which inevitably influence human perception are necessarily components of knowledge of the Real. This means that knowledge of God and religious truth claims pertaining thereof are culturally and historically influenced; and for that reason should not be considered absolute. This is a significant aspect of Hick's argument against Christian exclusivism, which holds that although other religions might contain partial goodness and truth, salvation is provided only in Jesus Christ, and the complete truth of God is contained only in Christianity.

Robert Smid states that Hick believes that the tenets of Christianity are "no longer feasible in the present age, and must be effectively 'lowered'".[7]

Moreover, Mark Mann notes that Hick argues that there have been people throughout history "who have been exemplars of the Real".[9][10]

Hick's position is “not an exclusively Christian inclusivism [like that of Karl Rahner and his ‘Anonymous Christian’], but a plurality of mutually inclusive inclusivism.” [11] Hick contends that the diverse religious expressions (religions) are the result of diverse historically and culturally influenced responses to diverse perceptions of the Real. He states that "the different religious traditions, with their complex internal differentiations, have developed to meet the needs of the range of mentalities expressed in the different human cultures." [12]

Hick's Christology

In several places, including his books The Myth of God Incarnate and The Metaphor of God Incarnate Hick proposes a reinterpretation of traditional Christology - particularly the doctrine of the Incarnation. Hick contends "that the historical Jesus of Nazareth did not teach or apparently believe that he was God, or God the Son, Second Person of a Holy Trinity, incarnate, or the son of God in a unique sense."[13] It is for that reason, and perhaps for the sake of religious pluralism and peace, Hick proposes a metaphorical approach to incarnation. That is, Jesus (for example) was not literally God in the flesh (incarnate), but was metahporically speaking, the presence of God. "Jesus was so open to divine inspiriation, so responsive to the divine spirit, so obedient to God's will, that God was able to act on earth in and through him. This, I (Hick) believe, is the true Christian doctrine of the incarnation." [14] Hick believes that a metaphorical view of the incarnation avoids the need for faulty Christian paradoxes such as the duality of Christ (fully God and fully human) and even the Trinity (God is simultaneously one and three).

Neither the intense christological debates of the centuries leading up to the Council of Chalcedon, nor the renewed christological debates of the 19th and 20th Centuries, have succeeded in squaring the circle by making intelligible the claim that one who was genuinely and unambiguously a man was also genuinely and unambiguously God.[15]

Problem of evil

Hick has identified with a branch of theodicy that he calls "Irenaean theodicy" or the "Soul-Making Defense".[16] A simplification of this view states that suffering exists as a means of spiritual development. In other words, God allows suffering so that human souls might grow or develop towards maturation. For Hick, God is ultimately responsible for pain and suffering, but such things are not truly bad. Perhaps with a greater degree of perception, one can see that the "evil" we experience through suffering is not ultimately evil but good, as such is used to "make our souls" better.

Major works


  • Faith and Knowledge, (1st ed. 1957, 2nd ed. 1966)
  • Evil and the God of Love, (reissued 2007)
  • Death and the Eternal Life (1st ed. 1976)
  • An Interpretation of Religion (reissued 2004)
  • The Metaphor of God Incarnate (2nd ed. 2005)
  • (Editor) The Myth of God Incarnate (1977)
  • (Editor with Paul F. Knitter) The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions (1987)
  • Philosophy of Religion (4th ed. 1990)
  • The New Frontier of Religion and Science: Religious Experience, Neuroscience and the Transcendent (2006)

See also

Footnotes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Full name, year of birth and other biography: Gifford Lecture Series website. Retrieved on March 5, 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Peters, Richard. "John Hick: Man of Many Mysticisms". Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Ed. Walter A. Elwell. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.) 552.
  4. "University of Birmingham". Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  5. Gifford Lecture Series - Biography - John Hick
  6. "Zondervan". Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Smid, Robert (1998-1999). "John Harwood Hick". Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology. Retrieved February 2008. 
  8. Keith Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Oxford
  9. Mann, Mark (1996-1997). "John Hick: Mann's Quick Notes". Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology.'s%20Quick%20Notes. Retrieved February 2008. 
  10. Here the author uses "Real" in the sense of how Hick defined it: "the referent of the world['s] religion." See Smid, reference 2.
  11. John Hick, A Christian Theology of Religion (KY: Westminster John Knox press, 1995), 23.
  12. John Hick, God Has Many Names (PA: Westminster Press, 1980), 21.
  13. Believable Christianity: A lecture in the annual October series on Radical Christian Faith at Carrs Lane URC Church, Birmingham, October 5, 2006
  14. John Hick, "A Pluralist View" in Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World eds. Dennis Ockholm and Timothy Phillips (MI: Zondervan, 1995), 58.
  15. THE MYTH OF GOD INCARNATE From N. F. Gier, God, Reason, and the Evangelicals (University Press of America, 1987), chapter 3.
  16. Stephen T. David, ed. Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy (KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 38-72.
  17. "John Hick -books out of print". Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  18. "John Hick's books in print". Retrieved 2008-02-25. 

External links

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