Problems with pluralism (G.G.)

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Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me"... John 14: 6

To me, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the most staggering and terrible event in human history. It is also the most necessary.

Bruce Barton described the last hours of Jesus' life in his book, "The man nobody knows" from the early 20th century.

His spirit was torn with agony. He was young, 33. He cried out to God that the cup might pass from His lips, that He might have time to sweep away the charges of blasphemy and evil which His enemies had heaped on Him, time to build up the fragile stuff of His little band on whom the whole future of His message must depend. So He prayed in agony, and in a little while returned to find them sleeping. Even so short a vigil was too much for their feebleness.

Again He withdrew. Now the courage which had never deserted Him throughout the three years was clearing His soul, steadying His nerves. "If it be not Thy will that this cup pass from me," He prayed, "then, Father, Thy will be done." He went back and found the disciples asleep. For the third time He went a little way off. Now, with the calm peace of the conqueror, He could make ready for the end. Now it was full victory after battle. On rejoining them this time, He startled them all wide awake with the ringing word that the crucial hour was at hand.

The soldiers were already at the entrance of the garden. From the side of the hill He could mark the progress of their torches across the brook and up the path. He waited until the armed men stumbled into His presence and then rose and stood before them.

"Whom seek ye?" He demanded.

Startled, awed, they could only mumble His name. "Jesus of Nazareth."

"I am He."

Such calm, such dignity, went beyond the boundaries of their experience. Involuntarily they gave way and, rough veterans that they were, some of them "fell to the ground."

"I told you," He repeated calmly, "that I am He." And then His thoughts turned at once to those who had shared His triumphs and His sacrifices: "If therefore ye seek me let these others go their way." But He had no need to think of the disciples' safety. Already they had made their swift escape - the last of the deserters. First His hometown. Then His relatives. Then the crowd. Finally the 11. All had gone. He was left to face His fate alone.

On a barren hill beyond the city walls they nailed His body to the cross. Two robbers were crucified with Him. It was over. The rabble sickened quickly of its revenge and scattered; His friends were hiding; the soldiers were busy casting lots for His garments. There was nothing left of those external influences which fire men's imaginations. Surely the victory of His enemies was complete.

And yet -

The lasting victory was His.

"The man who loses his life," Jesus said, "shall find it."

Jesus must have experienced excruciating physical pain when those nails were driven through his body. He must have experienced terrible emotional pain to see his friends and supporters desert him at the hour of his death. But none of this could have compared to when he called out to his father God, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

Why did Jesus die? Surely, he could have accomplished our salvation another way?

Some Christians today claim that all religions lead to God with statements like "Christianity is true for me, Islam is true for him and Buddhism is true for you". Whether or not these Christians intend to or not, they are denying the necessity of the Cross. They are saying that the death of Jesus Christ was not required for a person's salvation and union with God the father. This teaching is called pluralism and is one of the most important issues in the Christian Church today, and it needs to be addressed.

There are three general belief's about Christianity and it's relationship to other religions.

Christian exclusivism - Salvation and eternal life with God only come through Jesus Christ. A person cannot be saved by faith in or membership of another religion.

Christian inclusivism - Salvation and eternal life with God come through Jesus Christ, however, if a person through following his conscience puts faith in or membership of another religion, he too is included in Christ's salvation

Pluralism - God can be approached from any religion

What does the Bible say?

Isaiah 53 tells about the atoning sacrifice of Jesus

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Jesus has made us righteous. We should have died and been cut off from God, but instead Christ has taken our place. And Christ told us that we must approach God the Father through Him (John 14: 6)

Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus would not have died if there was another way. Jesus prayed for another way to the Father in Gethsemane (Matthew 26: 39)

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.

But there was no other way. Jesus died so we might live.

Pluralism and it's problems

To say that all religions are equally valid is a nice sounding statement. It sounds tolerant. To say that all people can reach God in their own way sound pleasant. After all, if God is a loving God, then he'll make sure that all people are with him eternally, won't he?

Pluralists often make the following points

  • It is intolerant to say that the religion of another person is false
  • All religions essentially teach the same thing - they all promote peace and love
  • There's no such thing as absolute truth, everything is relative

It is intolerant to say that the religion of another person is false?

If it is intolerant to say that the religion of another person is false, then Jesus was intolerant. All of these Bible quotes would suggest Jesus was intolerant based on that logic

Jesus said, "I am the truth, the way, the life. No man comes to the father except through me." (John 14: 6)

Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent" (John 6: 28-29)

Jesus said to them, I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (John 6: 53)

When questioning salvation through Jesus alone we should not ask about tolerance, but about truth. Either Jesus was telling the truth and we need to come to the Father through Him, or Jesus was lying. A person can be completely tolerant and still believe in the necessity of Jesus for salvation. To be tolerant of another person's belief is to allow him to believe what he wishes and practice these beliefs openly without fear. It does not mean agreeing with his beliefs however.

Perhaps an amusing element to this complaint of tolerance is the inherent contradiction within it. On the website the following question was posed with an answer that perfectly shows this inconsistency..

Question Personally I think you should mind your own business about everyone's personal beliefs on religion. I think it is disgusting how you can even waste your time thinking of new ways to criticize a person's religion.

Answer I am assuming that you cherish the principle of religious tolerance, and that you believe that every person should be allowed to practice his religion according to his own conscience without being coerced or forced to change his convictions. I believe that too. However, it seems to me that you take the religious tolerance principle too far. You probably feel that every person should 'mind his own business' because it does not really matter what a person believes as long as he is sincere. You would probably accept a Moslem, a Hindu, a Protestant and a Roman Catholic and consider their respective religions as if they are equally valid even though there is total disagreement between them. Even so, you are inconsistent with your own principles. Don't you realize that you're intruding in my personal beliefs and religion? Since you are tolerant of other people's religious convictions, why don't you respect my convictions too?

All religions essentially teach the same thing?

Proponents of pluralism often assert that all religions promote peace and love and therefore teach the same thing. It is true that most religions do promote peace and love, and this a noble thing. We should recognize the virtues taught in other religions. It is wonderful that the Buddhist teaches very strongly against greedy desires, the Hindu about living together in peace, the Muslim about honesty, and the Christian about mercy. However, just because these religions have strong similarities on moral teaching it is simply not true to say that they therefore teach the same thing. I can simply appeal to the teachings of a few religions to make this clear.

Christianity - There is one God, in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He created the world and all humans. All people have turned away from God and not lived the way he wants us to - we have all sinned. God the Son became a man, and lived among us. He lived a perfectly life and died on the Cross, and was resurrected to life again. If we place our faith in Him, that he died in our place, for our sins, we have are made right with God again and have eternal life. There is no other way to God except through Christ. The Bible is God's word to us.

Islam - There is one God. He is in one person. There is no Son or Holy Spirit. Jesus was a prophet of God and he did not die on the Cross. Muhammad, was God's prophet and he brought the fullness of God's law to people, recorded in the Koran. We must be submission to God's will and obey his commands to have eternal life. These commands include praying to God 5 times a day, travelling to Mecca once in our life, and fasting in the month of Ramadan each year. Essentially if we perform enough good works through our obedience then we have eternal life.

Hinduism - There are many gods and the divine is within each of us. All religions are valid and true. After we die, we are reincarnated and our position is determined by karma - good deeds in a previous life lead to a higher position and bad deeds lead to a lower position.

Buddhism - Enlightenment (or Nirvana) can be achieved through meditation, and good religious and moral behaviour. Before reaching Nirvana a person is subjected to repeated lifetimes that are good or bad depending on one's actions or karma. Desire and the belief in the importance of self cause suffering. The founder of Buddhism was Guatama (Buddha)

A simple glance at these four faiths shows that they are not the same. On some points they are in total disagreement. According the Islam and Christianity there is one God only, but in Hinduism there are many gods. Christians say that Jesus was God and he died on the cross. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet and that he did not die on the cross. Buddhists and Hindus believe that we are reincarnated and live many lives on earth, Muslims and Christians believe we live only one life on earth. Muslims believe that we gain eternal life by obeying God's laws given to Muhammad, whereas Christians believe that we are saved by placing our faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Clearly the religions are not the same. Perhaps they do all promote peace and love. But they certainly differ on arguably the most important issue, eternity and eternal life.

There's no such thing as absolute truth, everything is relative?

To say that there is no absolute truth is an absolute statement. So by it's own argument, it either isn't true because it's an absolute statement, or it isn't true because there is no absolute truth. Despite the absurdity of this situation, some people will believe that absolutely everything is relative, and nothing will ever convince them otherwise. These people will say that morality is relative, and there is no real right or wrong. I think the Christian author C. S. Lewis put it perfectly in his book "Mere Christianity" when he said

But the most remarkable thing is this. Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining "It's not fair" before you can say Jack Robinson

I believe that it is neither biblical nor logical for a Christian to have a pluralistic belief. A Christian should have a tolerant attitude however. Just because I believe that Christ is the only way to the Father, I certainly don't expect everyone to agree with me, and I certainly would never want anyone to be forced into conversion - that would be a hollow conversion, and a great wrong. I believe that God has given us free choice, and we should all respect each others free choices. Yet we should not be silent about Christ...

If we acknowledge sin and separation from God, then the question of eternity takes on absolute importance. If we are Christians we will recognize that we are all sinners and need forgiveness. Jesus said that only He brings forgiveness and that no-one comes to God except through Him. How then can we just stand silently and not proclaim the Gospel with all our energy? Each person we meet needs Jesus, just like we do. Let's show that person Jesus. Let's pray that he accepts Jesus. However, let's also pray that we do it God's way, and not our way, that we treat each person with respect and tolerance, drawing him to God, not forcing God onto him and pushing him away.

This is an unfinished article by Graham Llewellyn Grove...

Some definitions at a glance


Salvation is through Jesus alone


Followers of other religions may also be saved through Christ's redemptive work on the Cross by following their conscience, even if they do not acknowledge Jesus


All religions are valid and lead to God

What beliefs do Christian have about other religions and salvation?

Conservatives - Exclusivism

Liberals - Inclusivism or pluralism

Do any denominations have official teachings about other religions and salvation?

Most Protestant (including Baptists, Lutheran, Anglican) and Pentecostal denominations - Exclusivism

Uniting Church - Recent official statements imply both exclusivist and inclusionist views

Catholic Church - Traditionally exclusivist, however, since Vatican II, inclusionist

Eastern Orthodox - No official view, however tend towards inclusivism


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