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The Challenge of Religious Pluralism

by Kenneth R. Samples

from the Christian Research Journal, Summer 1990, page 39. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

The twentieth century has brought forth unparalleled challenges to the historic Christian faith. During this century, Christianity's relevance and ultimate validity have been questioned as never before. This assault on the central truth claims of Christianity has come from two distinct fronts: atheistic secular humanism and the growing climate of religious pluralism.

While secularism constitutes a significant threat, the issue of religious pluralism poses an even greater challenge. The technological advances of our century have resulted in a truly global society. America in particular is a nation of diverse ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. Our nation is founded upon the principle of toleration, particularly in the area of religion. We are guaranteed the right of free exercise of religion. This principle of equal toleration of religion is so strong, in fact, that the worst name one can be called today is an "intolerant religionist." What has happened, however, is that our idea of democracy has been applied to ultimate truth. Equal toleration of religion has been taken to mean that each religion is equally valid (i.e., all religions lead to God). This is a fatal non sequitur.

People who argue that all religions are equally valid (i.e., metaphysically true) either know little about the various religions or have given up reasoning in a logical fashion. A cursory study of the world religions reveals the fundamental and irreconcilable differences that exist. For example, some religions affirm monotheism (one God); others affirm polytheism (many Gods); still others affirm pantheism (all is God). And this is just the beginning of the contradictory statements made about God. According to the most basic laws of logic (e.g., the law of non-contradiction), these different views about God cannot be ultimately true at the same time and in the same respect. Logically, the three world views could all be wrong, but they could not all be correct. Again, if we are persuaded that our religion is true, then we are faced with this uncomfortable state of exclusivity. But could there be another alternative?

Some have argued that applying logic to religion is false or misleading. They insist that ultimate truth comes only through intuition. Their argument betrays them, however, because they must first presuppose the laws of logic to even attempt a refutation of them (indeed, one must utilize them to even speak or think). This is self-contradictory. To divorce oneself from these self-evident laws of thought is to resign oneself to irrationality. For most people, this price is too great to pay.

Could it be, however, that the contradictions among the world's religions are only apparent rather than real? Could we attribute the differences to man's inability to grasp the infinite reality of God? The Eastern analogy often used to illustrate this point is a group of blind men touching different parts of the same elephant. The point is argued that people experience the same reality differently because of their differing historical, cultural, or philosophical biases. This argument has much to commend it. However, Christian philosopher C. Stephen Evans, in his book Philosophy of Religion, points out two weaknesses. First, it seems to imply a radical skepticism concerning our knowledge of God -- the point being that no one can really know God satisfactorily. Second, it does not account for the exclusive claims made by Jesus Christ (Matt. 7:13; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Jesus claims to be the way, not a way. Christianity's belief in the Incarnation (God entering the world in the person of Jesus Christ) -- a direct and historical revelation -- is in an entirely different category than the speculative claims of other religions. Revealed religion is specific and understandable. If its claim to be from God and not man can be supported, then its teachings are authoritative and trustworthy.

Most people who believe the "all religions lead to God" are unaware of the insurmountable intellectual difficulties with this view. Therefore, the claim that one religion is exclusively true is often met with the charge that one is dogmatic, narrow-minded, or just plain arrogant. While people can act arrogantly and often do, to claim that one religion is exclusively true is not provincial or narrow-minded. As noted earlier, the only logical conclusion, in view of the multiple contradictions among the world's religions, is that one religious world view is true and the rest false, or that all the respective religions are false. As one philosopher put it, a world where all religions are simultaneously true would be a "cosmic madhouse."

Additionally, if a person believes that one religion is exclusively true because of special revelation, then his reason for holding to it is that he believes it is God's way, not his own. For Christians, it is the way of Jesus that saves, not our way. We merely repeat the claim made by Jesus Himself: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Accepting and proclaiming God's way is therefore not arrogance, it is genuine humility.

It should also be understood that a commitment to the veracity of Christianity does not imply that every feature of non-Christian religions is false. While salvific truth comes only in Jesus Christ (special revelation), other religions may derive general truths about God via natural revelation (i.e., nature or conscience). In this way, differing religions may, and in fact do, share common agreement on secondary doctrines and beliefs.

The challenge and danger of pluralism is found in its subtle and tolerant claims. Secular humanism boldly claims that Christianity is untrue and misleading. Pluralism, on the other hand, states that while Christianity is true, it is not the truth. Pluralism's claim is not that Christianity is a false religion, but that it is a religion. This subtle teaching may be the church's greatest apologetic challenge yet.

End of document, CRJ0074A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"The Challenge of Religious Pluralism"
release A, April 28, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.

Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.

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