pluralism

It’s been awhile since I’ve floated one of these Our Daily Journey devotionals. I’m trying to talk about pluralism in a positive, non-combative way. As always, any suggestions are appreciated.

read > Isaiah 43:1-13

“I, yes I, am the LORD, and there is no other Savior” (v. 11).

         My friend was telling me about her tour of historic churches in New England. These buildings housed congregations that once proclaimed the gospel but had long ago turned to unorthodox views. In one church the tour guide explained that wooden shutters concealed a beautiful stained glass window of Jesus. “We only open these shutters on Easter,” she explained, “because we don’t want to privilege any one religion over another.”

        These words strike most people today as common sense. Even many Christians feel uncomfortable saying that Jesus is the only way to God. A recent survey found that 47% of “white evangelical Christians” agreed with the statement that “many religions can lead to eternal life.” Another poll found that 20% of evangelical Christians believed that “If a person is sincerely seeking God, he/she can obtain eternal life through religions other than Christianity.”

        If these surveys are reliable, then between one fifth and one half of born again Christians believe that other people can be saved without being born again. Their primary motivation is love. They love their Muslim and Hindu friends and don’t want to exclude them for believing in the wrong God.

        But here’s the thing. The same arms that pull these religions in must also push Jesus out. We can’t declare that other religions have the power to save without also admitting that Jesus’ sacrifice was unnecessary. Augustine explained that if anyone can be saved apart from Jesus, then “Christ has died in vain.” Would Jesus have suffered his excruciating death on the cross if he didn’t believe it was essential for our salvation? When we suggest that people can be saved by sincerely following their religion, we imply that Jesus and his sacrifice are not important. What he did may be nice, but it wasn’t necessary. We can’t love Jesus and endorse other religions. We must choose.

more > Read 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. What does Paul assume people need in order to be saved?

 next > What would you say to a friend who asked you to accept her religion just as she accepts yours? Does respecting another religion require you to agree with it?

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  1. Mike,

    Isn’t it interesting that by “respecting” another religion we are usually defacto expected to reject our own in that Jesus himself made it clear that there is no other way to the Father.This bottom line Truth is not of our own making but is woven into the very fabric of the creation itself. If the Creator God has told us how we may have a relationship with him. who are we to think we can do so some other way?

    To let a believer in false religion think she is okay would be worse than knowingly affirming a person in their intention to head down a dead end passage when trying to exit a burning building. Most people would think that immoral if not criminal. Love requires the impassioned plea to head to the only way out. It would seem at least as unloving to knowingly let a person run down a passage that leads only to the eternal flames. (But I also know that many “evangelicals” cannot stomach this Truth either.)

    Larry

  2. If you want to get a gander at where all of this pluralism comes from you might take a look at Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope. NY: Macmillan pubs., 1965/64. There the major backers of pluralism in all areas of life are identified. Now they are beginning to invade the professing church (as they have in the past), and it is all a part of God’s plan: Draw the enemy on to ground where he thinks he can win (e.g., the cross) and there you defeat him. What is involved is a Third Great Awakening, beginning hopefully in this generation and continuing for a 1000 generations and a thousand thousand worlds.

  3. “If these surveys are reliable, then between one fifth and one half of born again Christians believe that other people can be saved without being born again.”

    How can you be born again and NOT believe that Jesus is ” … the way, the truth, and the life”? Wouldn’t you have to question whether that person is truly “born again”? How can someone claim to be born again, living with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, yet not believe the words of Jesus, ” … no one comes to the Father but through me”? It’s absurd!

    In our pluralistic culture, we need to set the gospel alongside all other religions, realizing with confident humility that Christianity has better answers to life’s major questions than any other belief system.

  4. I think you should avoid equating “white evangelical Christians” with “born-again Christians”.

  5. Re: the last question:
    Typically what most mean by “accept” is tolerate, not necessarily embrace so as to hold true an opposing belief. As with most terms in religious speak, we must carefully define terms and establish a common meaning for any meaningful communication.

    Many today hold that tolerance (aka “acceptance”) above all is the greatest and most important moral virtue. After all, to thrive in a socially, morally, religiously, and politically diverse society requires that tolerance be the summum bonum for any people group that claims a sense of civility. But what exactly is meant by tolerance? Consider the following (taken with some modification from Frank Beckwith’s Do the Right Thing: Readings in Applied Ethics and Social Philosophy).

    Tolerance can only be exercised in the presence of disagreement; I can only be tolerant toward views I believe are mistaken. Never to disagree with anyone is not the mark of tolerance but intellectual suicide.

    It hardly makes sense to tolerate things you heartily approve! Therefore, tolerance presupposes a negative outlook toward an opposing view.

    If tolerance means I cannot judge a view as morally wrong, then that is no different from saying that I must be either indifferent to the opposing view or embrace it, in which case “tolerance” has lost its meaning.

    Tolerance is not the same as embracing a belief. Tolerance does not mean embracing everything and rejecting nothing.

    There is a clear distinction between accepting a person’s right to hold a belief and accepting the belief as true. Tolerating people and tolerating ideas are different.

    Genuine respect for and acknowledgment of another’s dignity demands a willingness to listen and take seriously his or her most basic religious commitments, no matter how foreign or opposed they are to yours. Surely the people we respect and treat fairly are not just those with whom we agree!

    Tolerance has its limitations. People may believe as they wish, but not behave as they wish.

    Much of what hides behind “tolerance” today is intellectual cowardice and laziness. It’s easier to hurl an insult than to engage contrary opinions with thoughtful, relevant dialog that encourages understanding and engages alternative views.

  6. Contrary to popular conception, I think most people (i.e., people who care little for conservative thinking) truly do not wish to engage in discussing contrary opinions. The notion that most people desire to have a “conversation” or a “dialogue” is fallacious thinking, especailly when someone with “conservative” ideas earnestly does desire to engage in dialogue. Without fail, however, conservatives are branded either as a right-wing nutjobs or “haters.” Hence, dialogue is next to impossible. So, when Romans speaks about God “giving over” certain people, it should come as no surprise that people will continue to believe what they want to believe, . . . no matter the illogic or absurdity of their opinions.

  7. Political pluralism- the belief that people of different faiths (or no faith at all) should have an equal legal right to their beliefs (within certain limits, such as disallowing human sacrifice)
    Theological pluralism- the belief that all religious (and/or non-religious) beliefs are equally true/valid
    I think the main problem comes when people confuse the two.

  8. Deof makes good point in his comments above. I would add though that if you take a look around you will see that the countries with the greatest heritage of freedom of thought are those who also have been heavily influenced if not shaped by the christian world view. I know this chafes many people but it is simply the truth. The gospel of Jesus Christ and the freedom it brings is unparralleled in human history.

    Many will right away point out the shortcomings and failings (which are many) but please remember that athieism gave us murder on an unimaginable scale. Islam has enshrined killing and murder as a way to greater reward and Hinduism/Budism has impoverished people by the hundreds of millions. The greatest freedom was known by those who followed the principles of the greatest religion, the religion of Jesus Christ. Sadly the forgetting of this truth has much to do with the gradual loss of freedom in the West.

    Larry

  9. On this date 54 years ago, Dec. 7, 1957 to be specific, I attended a Youth For Christ meeting in St. Louis, Mo which was held at the Lindell Bible Church. At the time I was a professing, practicing atheist, and I only went to the meeting because I had a date with a young lady who wanted to go. While I was setting there that night, the thought passed through my mind, “I would like to go forward.” Then I thought, “Why? I don’t believe any of this is true.” At that moment, I saw Jesus, whether in a vision or a hallucination I can’t say, standing about 15 feet in front of me, facing me, looking at me, with a hand raised like He was knocking at a door. I lost all desire to go forward. After the service, I went home, determined to tell no one. After all, it is very hard on one’s atheism, when the God he says does not exist shows up. In any case, about two blocks from home, I decided I would tell my mother and that led to my conversion. I asked the Lord to forgive me of my sins and felt a great burden lifted off of my heart, a burden that I did not know I had until that moment…except I was crying and I did not know why. Then, after the burden was removed, I cried tears of joy. Now, 54 years later, I still believe and have a sense of the reality of Christ and after attending 10 different schools above the secondary level, earning five degrees and credit on number six, teaching in three colleges, pastoring four churches…I still believe. My belief is more tied to facts and evidence than ever. I care little for a faith that degrades to the point of gullibility, and I do believe that God must give the faith that will recognize the facts and take its stand on them.

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