Reflections on Religious Pluralism in our Culture

Truth is something that is a main theme around my blog and encompasses much of what I write about as well. Truth, or lack of it, can take many forms and many arguments, but there is an ultimate truth, or deception of the ultimate truth prevailing in our society today about salvation. This ultimately goes to answer the question, "is Jesus the only way of Salvation?" There are basically three options recognized by theologians today. Only one of them is found in the Bible, that of Exclusivism, the other two are heretical.

The two main heresies about salvation that run pervasively throughout our culture, are those terms referred to as Pluralism and Inclusivism. Below is a quick explanation of all three, then a brief reflection on the heresy called Pluralism (I will individually address the other two in posts at a later date).

Brief Explanation of Exclusivism

Exclusivism (when dealing with Salvation) is that eternal salvation of the soul found only through faith in Jesus Christ. Only those who are called and have trusted Christ are saved. They are declared to be right with God, and all their sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ's death on the cross. No one, who does not trust in Jesus Christ has any hope of salvation, but may only expect to be judged and condemned to everlasting Hell.

Brief Explanation of Pluralism

Pluralism can be defined as saying "all religions lead to God", at least all of the higher ones, for they are all in touch with the same spiritual realities. Each religion merely describes these realities differently. Thus, anyone who follows any of the “higher” religions may be assured that he really is in touch with God. This is the position of many Americans today. It is the unofficial position of most television networks and programs being produced, and is represented as the only morally sound position in many venues of public life.

Since this is so prevailing it needs no further explanation, but here are a couple of examples: “We [Muslims, Jews, and Christians] all worship the same God.” as said by Walter Abdur Ra’uf Declerck (quoted in The Fort Worth Star Telegram, Oct. 25, 2003). You can find quotes like this in hundreds of places all over local or national media, and the Internet is overrun with the same sentiment.

One of the leading voices in theological circles is from John Hick, a British Theologian who gives a very good example of this type of thought process.

The great religious traditions are to be regarded as alternative [salvational] “spaces” within which, or “ways” along which, men and women can find salvation/liberation/enlightenment/fulfillment.. . . The great world traditions have in fact all proved to be realms within which, or routes along which people are enabled to advance in the transition from self-centeredness to Reality-centeredness. . . . Accordingly, by attending to other traditions than one’s own, one may become aware of other aspects or dimensions of the Real, and of other possibilities of response to the Real. . .

Brief Explanation of Inclusivism

This, in some sense, is more damaging to the ultimate truth, giving someone a false sense of their eternal salvation when it just doesn't follow what Christ teaches in scripture. Satan's best work sometimes can be seen taking truth and falsity and mixing them together into a lethal combination of false doctrine and incorrect theology. The danger here is that this comes from so far inside "the church" that many people are led astray.

Inclusivism says that Jesus is the only Savior, but He will save some who have never trusted Him. We can affirm that Salvation is only in Christ, without affirming the need to tell others about Him as they need not have faith in Him anyway. This is the position of some Catholics, who believe that other religions are more or less able to save depending on how similar they are to Catholicism. Thus, other denominations, and religions which teach that there is one God, or those which teach a high view of ethics will lead their followers to salvation. This is the view of many mainline denominations, and most theologians today as well.

An example is seen in the Catholic Theologian Karl Rahner when he says:

It is. . . quite possible to suppose that there are supernatural, grace-filled elements in non-Christian religions.. . . A lawful religion. . . can be regarded on thye whole as a positive means of gaining the right relationship to God and thus for the attaining of salvation. . . The member of an extra-Christian religion. . . [is] an anonymous Christian.

Reflections on Religious Pluralism

Pluralism as described by John Hick, is now the mainstream of most media outlets and continues to invade our daily life, even in the church.  My personal experience with a pluralistic worldview has been mostly limited to the current media forms of our culture like the Internet, satellite broadcasting, and social networking entities, but more and more you can see this view prevailing in our government as well.  One can now see how easily a person can make the transition from the Truth of an exclusivist worldview, to being more inclusivistic, and then to pluralistic without perhaps knowing the transition has taken place.

Many who carry a pluralistic worldview today are not even aware that this is indeed the worldview that consumes their life, but it is the worldview that engulfs their life.  Just the fact that we live in a society where this view prevails puts many, if not most, of us in some type of pluralistic camp.  Author Ronald H. Nash wrote an excellent book on this topic titled Is Jesus the Only Savior? At the end of his section on pluralism Nash quotes John Hick from Jesus and the World Religions with the following propositions:

“If Jesus was literally God incarnate, and if it is by his death alone that men can be saved, and by their response to him alone that they can appropriate that salvation, then the only doorway to eternal life is Christian faith.  It would follow from this that the large majority of the human race so far have not been saved.”[1]

And Nash concludes the section on pluralism by saying

If I am a Christian exclusivist and discover after death that Hick’s version of pluralism really is true, I will have lost nothing except Hick’s good will during the life.  But if I am a pluralist and it turns out that Christian exclusivism is true, then the consequences for me will be very serious.

These two statements are fundamental to the pluralism argument today and the last statement shows how deficient pluralism can be.  In the media, where I have my personal experience with pluralism, I contend, is where most people in our culture have such a problem with an exclusivistic worldview when Hick says, “it would follow… a majority of the human race have not been saved. “

The media views what is or is not fair in two ways.  One, what is socially fair to all (they insist and desire that all roads lead to the same God), and two, how some said worldview of fair effects the profit margin of the product or service they are selling (if they don't say all roads lead to the same God, or wide is the road to salvation, they will immediately exclude some potential sales to those who don't agree, which we have said is most in the world today).  Exclusivism in the media’s eyes is not fair to all; therefore they will always tend to push their efforts to the pluralistic worldview.

A pluralistic worldview can be discussed or defended when dealing with a person or group one on one, but when dealing with an entity as large as a new media outlet or a prime time network program where pluralism is so ingrained in the essence of the production, you can not simply converse about Matthew 7:13-14.  In the case of the media, your only recourse in the end may be to refer to what drives the business, and that is profit (for the most part).  The sometimes not-so-simple task of refusing to do business with the group or funding them in any way would be one way of removing yourself from their pluralistic worldview, although it may not make a substantial difference.  Another way, as could be the case when dealing with the government, is to voice your argument to the appropriate person.

Unfortunately, Hick’s view that eventually all human beings will ultimately be saved from Hitler to Stalin and everyone in between is the prevailing view of our culture, even among Believers, and changing their mind will mean changing their hearts to see the saving grace of God Himself.

[1] Ronald H. Nash, Is Jesus the Only Savoir (Grand Rapids, MI: Zonervan Publishing, 1994), 69-92.