Studia Swedenborgiana

Vol. 15 December,  2005 Number 1 

An Inclusivist Position on religious Pluralism: Moving Beyond Swedenborg

by Sage S. Currie Rohrer


IN THE SWEDENBORGIAN CHURCH there is a common belief that God is Divine Love and Divine Wisdom and that human beings are gifted the responsibility and the privilege of approaching this love and wisdom through living lives of goodness and truth. This is one of a multitude of teachings that come to us through the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, the 18th Century mystic/theologian who after living a full life as an accomplished scientist had the direct experience of God and extensively recorded his vision. In doing so, Swedenborg left an elaborately detailed picture of the design of existence as he witnessed it. It is upon this design that the Swedenborgian Church was formed.[1]

But by what hermeneutic do we understand this design? Do we look to Swedenborg’s design as a “real” picture of Divine workings shown to us through the lens of Emanuel Swedenborg, or do we understand this design as a revealed dispensation, unhindered by Swedenborg’s world view, applicable for all time and for all people? This question has often been present in the history of the church but has been rarely directly addressed. Swedenborgians tend to maintain an understanding that Swedenborg’s writings contain a complete, cohesive, understandable teaching that needs no interpretation. Because of the extensive nature of Swedenborg’s writings, Swedenborgians have been able to situate themselves comfortably in one part of his teachings while conveniently ignoring other parts. When hot issues are not on the table this usually does not cause problems; Swedenborgians tend to be accepting of a diversity of opinions. But when hot issues are on the table, doctrinal debates always go back to “what Swedenborg says” as the bottom line. But how much do we truly stand by what Swedenborg said?

It is my thesis that as Swedenborgians we are called to look to Swedenborg’s teachings not as a transcendent revelation fitting for all time and all persons, but as a unique vision of Divine workings as seen through the human eyes of one Emanuel Swedenborg. In this way we are called to responsibly interpret Swedenborg’s writings as they are affected by his human experience and challenged by our own experience. This kind of interpretation, while not always recognized, has already been happening in our church. The issue of religious pluralism is a good avenue for exploring how Swedenborgians interpret Swedenborg because it is an issue in which we have clearly, and in many cases collectively, deviated from Swedenborg.

Swedenborg himself had a much less accepting position in regards to religious pluralism than Swedenborgians today tend to profess. His theological view can be compared to the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, both men maintaining the inclusivist position that the world’s religions are included in the saving grace of Christ. There are many ex-Catholics who have become members of the Swedenborgian church specifically because of its acceptance of diversity. Swedenborgians have moved beyond Swedenborg by looking at prominent figures in the church today and throughout history, including Charles Carroll Bonney, George Dole, Wilson Van Dusen and James Lawrence. Their positions also offer an analysis of the interpretive lenses that they have each used to come to their theological positions. A goal of this thesis is to outline Swedenborgian hermeneutical tools of interpretation so that as a church community we can become more responsible interpreters of our tradition.

Swedenborg on Religious Pluralism: A Hierarchical Map of the Universal Human

Emanuel Swedenborg outlines, “The Faith of the New Heaven and the New Church in particular terms,” in the preface to his work True Christianity:

Jehovah God is Love itself and Wisdom itself, or Good itself and Truth itself. He came down in form of Divine Truth, which is the Word and which was God with God, and took upon Himself human form, so as to reduce to order everything in heaven, in hell and in the church. For at that time the power of hell was stronger than the power of heaven, and on earth the power of evil was stronger that the power of good, so that utter damnation stood threatening at the gates. This impending damnation was removed by Jehovah God by means of His Human, which was Divine Truth, and thus angels and men were redeemed. Afterwards He united in His Human Divine Truth with Divine Good, or Divine Wisdom with Divine Love, and so returned into the Divinity which was His from eternity together with and in His glorified Human.[2]

Swedenborg’s presentation of faith is one contingent upon the birth and death of Jesus Christ[3], the God of the Old Testament, Jehovah descending to earth in human form. In his vision of divine workings, God is Jesus Christ, and further, redemption is enacted through the uniting of the human and the Divine. For Swedenborg, Christ is not a mediator of God, but Jehovah God Him[Her]self descended to earth to enact redemption.[4] All of this is the action and substance of one God.

Swedenborg’s vision of Divine workings is also centered on the Word, for him contained specifically in the scripture of the Bible.[5] Swedenborg holds that the physical words of the Bible contain the Logos or the Christ, this presence being manifest in an internal sense to scripture that is the means by which God is with us in the world. The Word is the connection point between heaven and earth. In the literal sense of the Word, right living is learned through the commandments. In the internal sense of scripture, which Swedenborg begins to exegete, Christ’s process of glorification and the human process of regeneration unfold. The physical, historical bible is given universal spiritual significance, making its historicity a renewed problem for Swedenborgians who center salvation in its pages.

For Swedenborg the Logos or the Word and the Christ are both manifestations of the one God. This position is close to many Christian conceptions of how God acts, but Swedenborg makes a unique contribution to this understanding with his concept of the Universal Human. The one God is continually with the world through the Word, was in the world and in the human through the life of Jesus Christ, and is heaven in the Universal Human.

From a human perspective the universal human is the Lord’s entire heaven. From the highest perspective, however, the universal human is the Lord himself. Heaven actually comes from him and everything there corresponds to him.[6]

For Swedenborg heaven is in the shape of a human being and this human being is the Lord Jesus Christ. A student of anatomy, Swedenborg sees the body of God in the physical details of the human form. “…Everyone who enters heaven is an organ or limb of the universal human.”[7] From one perspective the idea of the Universal Human is universally relevant for all religions, as all religions are human religions and the organs and operations of the human body are what create a common humankind. From Swedenborg’s perspective, however, this Universal Human is the body of the specific Lord, Jesus Christ.

For his time, Swedenborg’s revelation is remarkable and his treatment of the plight of non-Christians is quite liberal. In the following summation from Heaven and Hell, you can hear how he is responding to the Christian perspective of his time, as he understands it.

There is a general opinion that those born outside of the church, who are called the nations, or heathen, cannot be saved, because not having the Word they know nothing about the Lord, and apart from the Lord there is no salvation. But that these also are saved this alone makes certain, that the mercy of the Lord is universal, that is, extends to every individual; that these equally with those within the church, who are few in comparison, are born men, and their ignorance of the Lord is not their fault. Any one who thinks from an enlightened reason can see that no man is born for hell, for the Lord is love itself and His love is to will the salvation of all. Therefore He has provided a religion for everyone, and by it acknowledgement of the Divine and interior life for to love in accordance with one’s religion is to live interiorly, since one then looks to the Divine, and so far as he looks to the Divine he does not look to the world but separates himself from the world, that is, from the life of the world, which is exterior life.[8]

He makes the welcoming statement that all persons who live a good life according to their religion and who acknowledge a Divine will be accepted by the Lord and come into heaven.[9] Here ethical living becomes the main route towards salvation.

Ethical living is very much emphasized over correct belief in Swedenborg’s works. A figure of the eighteenth century Swedenborg is well aware of the hypocrisies and atrocities of the Christian churches, Protestant and Catholic, in the name of spreading “correct doctrine.” Swedenborg is a harsh critic of faith separated from charity, and his writing abounds with criticisms of Christians who do not live a life of charity.

The life of charity consists in thinking what is good in regard to another, and in willing for him that which is good, and in feeling joy within oneself that others as well are saved. But those people do not possess the life of charity whose will is that no others should be saved than those whose beliefs coincide with theirs, especially those who are indignant that the situation is otherwise. This becomes clear solely from the fact that more gentiles are saved than Christians. For people who have thought what is good in regard to their neighbour and have willed for him that which is good accept the truths of faith in the next life more readily than those who called themselves Christians; and they acknowledge the Lord more than Christians do.[10]

Not only can salvation be had by people outside the Christian church who lead an ethical life, or a life of charity, it is actually easier.

While this emphasis on right living lends itself to an acceptance of religious pluralism, there is still the problem that Swedenborg sees Christ as the sole actor in the universe and believes that after death all persons of all religions who have lived ethically will recognize Jesus Christ as Lord. Swedenborg holds that this right living that leads to heaven must be in accordance with the Lord and the Word, whether it sprouts from a natural knowledge of God or from Christian teaching.

The term ‘Church’ is not used because it is the place where the Word is and teachings drawn from it, or because it is where the Lord is known and the sacraments are celebrated. Rather it is the Church because it lives in accordance with the Word or with the teachings drawn from the Word, and seeks to make those teachings its rule of life.[11]

For Swedenborg there is one right doctrine. This doctrine of the Lord, of Christ’s saving action can be learned in his writings, it can be responded to through natural knowing from the Lord (to a point) and it will definitely be learned after death. Swedenborg makes the statement quite frequently that salvation is actually easier for non-Christian peoples because they are often in a perfect state to receive proper instruction about the Lord after death, while many Christians have perverted ideas about the Lord based on the false teachings they received in life.[12] While it is possible to be saved without knowledge of or faith in Christianity it is the action of Christ through the Word that will save you.

Ethical living may be at the core of our salvation, but Swedenborg understands correct doctrine to be integrally related to our ability to live ethically. This doctrine is tied specifically to Christ and specifically to the Word as the container of Divine truth that connects heaven and earth.[13]

The Lord’s Church on earth is like the [Universal Human] in heaven, whose heart and lungs are where the Word exists, and the remaining members and internal organs, which depend for their life on the heart and lungs, are where the Word does not exist.[14]

Swedenborg describes how the Lord’s universal church is in the form of the Universal Human of heaven. Where the Word is, i.e., Christendom, the heart and lungs of the body of Christ are. It is where the Word is taught and preached and lived that heaven and earth are connected. This truth diffuses out to heal, support, and affect the peripheral organs and members of the body of Christ, that do not have access to, or belief in, the Word. Persons of other religions may be saved but only because of the actions of Christ and the believing acts of Christians who read and live from the Word.

A critic of religion outside of church organizations, but heavily steeped in his Lutheran Christian heritage, Swedenborg believes that very few people in the world have a correct understanding of true Christian doctrine. He alone has access to this truth as can be seen in how he titles his most comprehensive theological work True Christian Religion. People of all religions certainly must be able to be saved or no one would be saved, as from Swedenborg’s perspective no one has access to “true Christian religion.” But Christianity, while criticized for perverted doctrines and not living out its ideals, is still the ultimate religion and the ultimate expression of faith.

For the situation with Christians and gentiles in the next life is that Christians who have acknowledged the truths of faith and at the same time have led a life of goodness are received ahead of gentiles; but such at the present day are few. Gentiles however who have led obedient and charitable lives one with another are received ahead of Christians who have not led so good a life.[15]

Not only are good Christians let into heaven ahead of good non- Christians, but once they get there the communities of heaven are organized based on the degree of truth contained in the person’s religion.[16] Only charitable Christians are able to ascend to the highest heavens.

Rahner on Religious Pluralism: Christ saves even “Anonymous Christians”

The manner of dealing with religious pluralism set forth in the mystical vision of Emanuel Swedenborg in the eighteenth century is not so unlike twentieth century theological models of Christian inclusivity such as that put forth by the influential and highly regarded Catholic theologian Karl Rahner. Even though the two are separated by two hundred years, surprisingly, Rahner is responding to some of the same Enlightenment concerns, perhaps the most important being the reasonableness of a God who offers a historical revelation that is only accessible, and meaningful, to a certain portion of the world’s population. A Catholic theologian working to reinterpret, but not contradict Catholic doctrine, Rahner is inside a tradition and a church institution and because of this works from a very different vantage point than Swedenborg.

Swedenborg saw himself as a critic of tradition outside of any religious institution. He sees all particular Christian institutions as flawed, and presents how all of these, and non-Christian peoples, are contained within a universal Church that as a whole is being reformed; Rahner speaks from within a church organization, the Catholic Church, that sees itself in a physically real sense as the one true church. Swedenborg faced the task of explaining how universal salvation could occur for non-Christians and Christians alike who are involved in false doctrine; Rahner faced the task of explaining specifically how persons not a part of the Christian church on earth are saved. Swedenborg argued that Christians were in the most danger of missing salvation because of their perverted doctrine; Rahner spoke from the position of the church that those who accept and worship Christ are saved, and those who do not are damned.

Rahner is a highly regarded theologian of the twentieth century whose incredibly comprehensive systematic theology brings Catholic Christian faith into dialogue with modern philosophical theory. Based on Catholic doctrine, Rahner describes these classical doctrinal points in philosophical and psychological language. One of the points that Rahner is most known for is his interpretation of Catholic doctrine that allows for salvation in non-Christian religions, a point highly influential of Vatican II.

In a chapter titled “Anonymous Christians,” in his Theological Investigations, Rahner presents his position concerning the salvation of non-Christian peoples as grounded in the two dogmatic principles of, “the necessity of the Christian faith and the universal salvific will of God’s love and omnipotence.”[17] For Rahner the rational conclusion from these two principles is that all persons must be able to become members of the church. Recognizing the physical limitations of much of the world’s population to becoming members of the Christian church, Rahner proposes that there may be degrees of membership, the furthest out being an ‘anonymous Christianity.’ Salvation for the ‘anonymous Christian,’ occurs in a manner of acceptance of the self-communication of God:

In the acceptance of himself man in accepting Christ as the absolute perfection and guarantee of his own anonymous movement towards God by grace, and the acceptance of this belief is again not an act of man alone but the work of God’s grace which is the grace of Christ, and this means in its turn the grace of the Church which is only the continuation of the mystery of Christ, his permanent visible presence in our history.[18]

Rahner does not go so far as to say that all non-Christian’s are ‘anonymous Christians,’ but that every non-Christian who does not profess that there is no God, and who “testifies to him by the radical acceptance of his being,”[19] is an ‘anonymous Christian’ and can be saved.

Rahner’s concept of the ‘anonymous Christian,’ is grounded in his transcendental Christology. Rahner’s transcendental Christology holds that God is continually communicating God’s self to all human being’s freedom by grace. This transcendental self-communication of God, while occurring in all persons for all time, is located and manifest in the historical event of Christ’s birth and death.[20] For Rahner, non-Christians who respond to the self-communication of God in Christ, while not using this language, are saved through Christ and are therefore understood to be saved as ‘anonymous Christians.’

Very similar to Swedenborg’s position, non-Christians are saved because of their ignorance, and the truest expression of Divine workings is the Christian faith. Rahner argues that while salvation can occur for ‘anonymous Christians,’ that faith always strives to be articulated and expressed in a more explicit manner and so ‘anonymous Christians’ will knowingly or not be drawn to an explicit Christianity.[21] Rahner presents a theology that includes non-Christians in Christ’s saving action but does not encourage the ceasing of missionary evangelism, with the premise that non- Christians are still yearning for the Christian faith as an explicit expression of their experience of God’s self-communication.

Inclusivity in Swedenborg and Rahner

Inclusivity is a common way of characterizing Karl Rahner’s response to religious pluralism. Rahner includes non-Christians in the saving power of Christ. Christianity is the one true religion, the fullest expression of God’s saving action of humanity, and non-Christian religions are useful and salvific only in so far as the grace of Christ is operable within them. With this in mind, Emanuel Swedenborg’s theological vision of Christ’s universal saving action can also be characterized as inclusivist. Christ is God and all persons are contained, or included, in the body of Christ or the Universal Human, those with the Word and the correct interpretation of the Word farthest to the center, in the heart and lungs. Non-Christians, and Christians who do not correctly understand the workings of Christ, in the Word and in the world, are accepted into heaven in so far as they lead a life of charity and after death are able to accept Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth.

The concept of inclusivity as a response to religious pluralism is the most common Christian response today to religious pluralism, a shift from the church’s earlier exclusivism that held there was no salvation for non-Christians. But, it is a response that many post-modern thinkers do not think goes far enough.[22] John Hick, one of the leading theologians in the area of religious pluralism points out the dangers of a theology of inclusion as depicted in the correlation that exists between European colonialism and Christian inclusivism.[23] While inclusivism is certainly a move forward from exclusivism, it continues to offer a paternalistic view to non- Christian peoples and religions. Their faith does not have an internal validity of its own but is only accepted in so far as the Christian God offers grace within their traditions.

As a rule, Swedenborgians believe that inclusivism is not enough, and who, then take seriously the truth claims of non- Christians and non-Swedenborgians. It is important to be honest as a community about the theological position of Swedenborg and the priority he gives to Christianity. If the Swedenborgian Church wishes to count itself as a community that holds full respect for other spiritual traditions then it must be clear about where it grounds this theological position. The next section will illustrate how Swedenborgian thinkers have moved towards a more complete acceptance of religious pluralism. Though this acceptance diverges from Swedenborg’s system, one can see how this interpretive move is actually pointed to in his larger theological framework, in his metaphysics and in his own example as a spiritual seeker of truth.

From Inclusivity to “Soft Pluralism”

The first, and certainly the most famous Swedenborgian to develop a theology of religious pluralism was Charles Carroll Bonney, a Chicago Swedenborgian who initiated and oversaw the first Parliament of World Religions in 1893.[24] Bonney saw the doctrines of the New Church[25] as containing the truth that made the first Parliament of Religions possible. Bonney draws on Swedenborg’s emphasis of charity and ethics over doctrine as the grounds for Swedenborgian support of inter-religious dialogue, and Bonney’s theology goes further. The following is an account from “The Genesis of the World’s Religious Congresses of 1893”:

Thus I came to know the distinguishing characteristics of various religious organizations; to respect their sincerity and zeal; to understand the reasons for their peculiar views; to learn that all creeds have meanings which only those who profess them can explain; that the church essentially consists in certain Divine things, and not in the every varying views of men respecting the eternal verities. Thus I came to feel kindly, not only towards the various religious denominations of Christendom, but also in regard to the different religions of the world. I came to realize that it is as allowable for a devout soul to rest on an apparent truth of Scripture, as for a rational mind to rest on an apparent truth in nature.[26]

In the last line of this account Bonney brings out an important aspect of Swedenborg’s metaphysical understanding of truth that has become an important interpretive tool of Swedenborg for Swedenborgians. Bonney brings out the idea of “apparent truths,” a concept in Swedenborg concerning the nature of truth. This understanding purports that only God is pure truth and that our perceptions come to us through appearances of that one truth. This occurs in how human beings interpret the words of scripture and in how we understand the workings of the natural world, as Bonney delineates. The following passage from Swedenborg’s Arcana Coelestia describes the nature of apparent truths:

But it should be recognized that no truths with man, nor even with an angel, are ever pure, that is free of appearances. Every single one is an appearance of the truth, but appearances are nevertheless accepted by the Lord as truths if they hold good within them. To the Lord alone do pure truths, being Divine truths, belong — for as the Lord is Good itself, so is He Truth itself.[27]

Bonney here emphasizes Swedenborg’s understanding of how truth operates to ground his commitment to a respect for religious pluralism. Bonney goes beyond Swedenborg’s own specific statements concerning the uses of other religions and applies Swedenborg’s metaphysical understanding of truth to develop a more radical theology of religious pluralism.

Swedenborg’s discussions on the way that truth operates have been highly influential in the history of Swedenborgian interpretation and have been highlighted again recently in James Lawrence’s article “All in the Family: Reading a Swedenborgian Pluralism in the High Christology of John 14:1–7.” Drawing from the contemporary labels of hard and soft pluralism, distinguishing hard pluralists as those who believe that many truths are possible and soft pluralists who understand that there is one ultimate truth expressed in a multitude of forms, Lawrence labels Swedenborg a “soft pluralist.”[28]

Like Bonney, Lawrence points to the foundations for an acceptance of religious pluralism in Swedenborg’s emphasis of ethics over doctrine and points to the concept of apparent truths to ultimately ground his argument for Swedenborg as a soft pluralist. Soft pluralism understands one ultimate truth (Divine Truth) interpreted in a myriad of ways (apparent truths). Lawrence concludes, “The foundations for pluralism are explicitly stated in Swedenborg.” [29] By including Swedenborg’s complete metaphysical system in their interpretations and specifically the concept of appearances of truth, Swedenborgians like Bonney and Lawrence are able to move away from inclusivity to a more radical acceptance of pluralism.

Another interpretive move towards a more radical acceptance of religious pluralism, or as Lawrence characterizes it a “soft pluralism,” comes from Convention’s leading theologian George Dole. Dole draws upon Swedenborg’s emphasis on the variety of heaven to point to the necessary importance of religious pluralism. In his book Sorting Things Out, Dole quotes Swedenborg’s Divine Providence number 4.4. “A form makes a one the more perfectly in proportion as the things that enter into it are distinctly different, and yet united.”[30] From this statement Dole concludes that:

…The task of every church is to reconcile individuality and interdependence. Differences are “better” as they promote that reconciliation, and “worse” as they impede it — as they promote individualism at the cost of unity or unity at the cost of individuality. In more everyday language, the task of each organized church is to identify and make its own very special contribution to oneness.[31]

Dole then goes on to propose that the unique contribution of the Swedenborgian church should be to encourage persons of all religions to live the best lives they can by their own religions values. This interpretation has certainly come a long way from Swedenborg’s visions of a heaven with right thinking Christians at the center. Dole is proposing not only that salvation can be reached through religions other than Christianity but also that perhaps they should, that this variety is necessary for the Divine plan. This is again an example of Swedenborgian interpreters taking metaphysical theological points in Swedenborg and interpreting them back onto Swedenborg’s own positions.

Along with interpreting Swedenborg’s understanding of truth and the necessity of variety, back into his works, Swedenborgians have also interpreted the message of the writings through the life example of Swedenborg himself. Swedenborg was a lone spiritual seeker, informed by religious traditions but not participating in or giving allegiance to any one organized church. The most widely read author on Swedenborg in the twentieth century, Wilson Van Dusen, himself a mystic, draws on this aspect of Swedenborg when he discusses the applicability of his vision. In the following passage from the introduction to the latest reissue his, The Presence of Other Worlds, Van Dusen points to the journey of Swedenborg and to his mystical revelation as a model for others.

He says that it is perfectly appropriate for any person to ask and to seek to understand the whole of existence. The whole of existence, all the worlds, may be understood. But the root understanding, the fundamental of all the rest, is how we relate to each other. What good we do or what use we serve. Here Swedenborg comes to the fundamental understanding of all religions. Although Swedenborg was Christian, he spoke about the core of all religions.[32]

Van Dusen emphasizes the journey of Swedenborg to his revelation of Divine Workings, as proof not of his particular revelation, but of the possibility for all human beings to access this ultimate Divine truth. In pointing towards the journey to access Divine truth, Van Dusen arrives at a “soft pluralism” as well, but from the premise that all individuals have the possibility of accessing the truth of the Divine. Van Dusen offers here an important interpretive lens for Swedenborgians interpreting Swedenborg for application within a church organization. As a critic of religious organizations Swedenborg makes an interesting figure to found a religious organization upon. Swedenborgians have historically wrestled with the tensions of respecting their own individual access to Divine truth and the truth of Swedenborg’s revelation, and it is within this tension that we do Swedenborgian theology.

Apparent truth, the variety of heaven, and the precedence of personal mystical access to Divine truth are all ways that Swedenborgian interpreters have developed a more radical acceptance of religious pluralism. These interpretive methods go beyond the literal outlines of what Swedenborg believed about the particular topic of religious pluralism and critically address the question through the larger theological framework that Swedenborg presents. This is just a sampling of how this topic in particular has been addressed in a few locations.


Many interpreters of Swedenborg in the Swedenborgian Church have tended to take a more radical stance towards religious pluralism than Swedenborg himself took. Swedenborg’s personal understanding of religious pluralism was akin to Karl Rahner’s Catholic inclusivist position that says all of the world’s religions are included in the saving grace of Christ. Many Swedenborgians in Convention have moved beyond this perspective through theological interpretation of Swedenborg grounded in experience, in Swedenborg’s own metaphysical understanding of the operations of truth, in Swedenborg’s theological emphasis on the importance of the variety of creation, and in Swedenborg’s personal example. These interpretations have led to an acceptance of “soft pluralism” by many in the Swedenborgian community.

The disjuncture between Swedenborgian perspectives on religious pluralism and Swedenborg’s perspectives on religious pluralism points to the use of critical interpretative methods of Swedenborg’s writings within the Swedenborgian Church. Becoming aware of how we critically interpret Swedenborg is integral for our community to be a responsible theological voice in the world. These critical tools are used frequently but rarely identified. The theological evolution of our Swedenborgian community as evinced by its acceptance of the validity of religious pluralism can be tracked in part by the examples detailed above. The Swedenborgian Church has accepted the use of critical hermeneutical tools for interpreting the Bible but has not come to any consensus about how to use these critical tools for interpreting Swedenborg. Most people believe that the truth contained in Swedenborg is self evident, but then proceed to interpret him in a myriad of ways from their individual perspectives. To get at the uniqueness and importance of this particular vision it will be essential to use scholarly critical tools in our interpretation of Swedenborg’s vision.

By honestly assessing the foundations of the practical Swedenborgian theologies that we are all acting from and living out as a church, we will be more able to respond to the needs of the larger world. Swedenborg was a man working to reconcile modern philosophy and modern science with religious faith and Swedenborgians should continue to do the same. In a post-modern world where knowledge of the diversity of persons, beliefs, cultures, and traditions is increasingly apparent, this context challenges faith in different ways than the Enlightenment world in which Swedenborg operated. In our present context the Swedenborgian community is called to a critical engagement of our faith that responsibly addresses the world in which we live. Swedenborg accessed amazing truths about Divine operations through his observations of the natural world, critical engagement with the history of Christian and philosophic traditions, and his own personal mystical experiences of the Divine. I believe that we as a community should follow his example.

Rev. Sage S. Currie Rohrer received her Master of Divinity degree from Pacific School of Religion in May of 2005 and was ordained into the ministry of the Swedenborgian Church in July of the same year. She is currently a Chaplain Resident at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and serves as Sunday School Coordinator at the San Francisco Swedenborgian Church. Sage is a member of the Board of Directors of The Welcome Ministry, a service to the homeless and hungry in San Francisco and works as a researcher for the Progressive Christian Witness initiative of the Pacific School of Religion. She lives in San Francisco with her wife Megan Rohrer.

Swedenborgians commonly reference passages from Swedenborg by their number and abbreviate the titles of his theological works. In this paper TCR = True Christian Religion, AC = Arcana Coelestia, HH = Heaven and its Wonders and Hell.

[1] While there are several different Swedenborgian organizations including the British Conference and the General Church, I speak primarily for the General Convention of North America and Canada to which I belong.

[2] TCR §3

[3] Swedenborg’s manner of referencing to the God of the Old Testament through the King James translation that was available at the time of his writings.

[4] TCR §81–82

[5] Swedenborg believed that the whole bible (as it has been edited and compiled in the King James version) had an important literal sense, but he said that only certain books of the bible contain a continuous internal spiritual sense (following the Lord’s process of glorification and the human process of regeneration, the internal sense is the way God spiritually meets humanity) and those books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Revelation. See AC §10325

[6] AC §3637

[7] AC §3631

[8] HH §318

[9] AC §§2589–2604, 2861, 2863, 3263, 4190, 4197, 6700, 9256

[10] AC §2284

[11] AC §10761 [2]

[12] AC §2284, 4190, 6700

[13] TCR §267

[14] AC §9256 [4]

[15] AC §2590

[16] TCR §792–845

[17] Rahner, Karl. “Anonymous Christians,” Theological Investigations vol. VI. Translated by Karl – H and Boniface Kruger. (New York: The Seabury Press, 1974)

[18] Ibid., 394.

[19] Ibid., 395.

[20] See Rahner. Foundations of Christian Thought. Trans. William V. Dych. (New York: Crossroads, 1984) 178 –311.

[21] Rahner. “Anonymous Christians,” Theological Investigations vol. IV.

[22] Hick, John. “The non-Absoluteness of Christianity,” from The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Towards a Pluralistic Theology of Religions. Ed. John Hick & Paul F. Knitter. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1988)

[23] Ibid., 18 –27.

[24] Dole, George. “With Absolute Respect: The Swedenborgian Theology of Charles Carroll Bonney.” Swedenborg Studies/ No. 3 (West Chester, PA: Monographs of the Swedenborg Foundation, 1993) 1.

[25] The Swedenborgian Church was officially the New Church until the twentieth century, and is still commonly referred to as the New Church in some areas.

[26] Bonney., 78.

[27] AC §3207 [3]

[28] Lawrence, James. “All in the Family: Reading a Swedenborgian Pluralism in the High Christology of John 14:1–7,” Studia Swedenborgiana vol. 13, number 1, June, 2003: 36.

[29] Ibid., 36.

[30] Dole, George. 59.

[31] Ibid., 60.

[32] Dusen, Wilson Van. Presence of Other Worlds. (West Chester, PA; Chrysalis Books, 2004) .