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Religious Pluralism: Is There Really Only One Way to God?

Introduction

One of the essential tenants of Christianity is that Jesus is the only way to God. As it says in John 14:6 (NIV) – “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” However, the idea of religious pluralism has become so pervasive in our culture that many now believe that there are ‘many roads to God.’ All religions – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism – lead to the same God. They just take different roads to get there. This view is anchored in several misconceptions about logic, culture, and truth claims.

The Conundrum of Contradiction

Firstly, when it comes to pluralism, simple logic shows that this view is philosophically incoherent. Justification for this comes from the law of non-contradiction, which insists that contradictory truth claims cannot simultaneously be true. For instance, the religion of Islam teaches that God is a Unitarian being, while Christianity teaches that God is Trinitarian. Furthermore, Hinduism and Buddhism say we are reincarnated after death, while Islam and Christianity teach that heaven or hell is our final destination. Consequently, to state that all of these views are true at the same time is as inconsistent as saying that three plus three equals six and seven. The answers are mutually exclusive. It’s possible that they are both false, but it’s not possible that both are true.

The Barrier of Cultural Bias

A second line of reasoning some people like to assume is that the truth claims of all religions are equally false. Their objection goes like this: ‘All moral and spiritual claims are the product of our particular historical and cultural moment, and therefore no one should claim they can know the Truth, since no one can change whether one assertion about spiritual and moral reality is more true than another.’(1) This idea, centred in the theory of social constructionism, would have us believe that our understandings of God are merely social constructs influenced by history, geography, and the culture around us. For example, some may argue that ‘one is only a Christian because they have grown up in a context where Christianity is the prevailing worldview. However, if they were born in the Middle East they would have likely grown up believing the teachings of Islam.’ Sociologist Peter L. Berger notes that many have concluded from this fact that, because we are all locked into our historical and cultural locations, it is impossible to judge the rightness or wrongness of competing beliefs.(2) Yet, Berger goes on to say that if you infer that the social conditioning of a belief means ‘no belief can be universally true for everyone,’ that belief is itself a comprehensive claim about everyone and is also the product of social conditions meaning it also cannot be true, on its own terms. ‘Relativism relativises itself’(3) says Berger. Therefore, this argument is self-refuting.

The Paradox of Pluralism

The third logical failure, is the presumption within pluralism that undermines its own claims. The belief in one way to God – also known as exclusivism – affirms the possibility that one religion is objectively true and therefore, contradictory religious claims are false. “Pluralism says we must reject exclusivist truth claims about religion and instead embrace all religious views as equally true.”(4) The irony is, pluralism turns out to be exclusivist too – by excluding exclusivism. On that account, pluralism attempts to get others to abide by rules that it itself is not willing to submit to.

Conclusion

By examining the framework of pluralism under the lens of logic, considerations of culture, and the analysis of truth claims, it becomes clear that this way of thinking cannot stand up under scrutiny. First, the fact that all truth that is objective, is by its very essence exclusive, shows that Pluralism is simply incoherent. Second, if religion is defined to be a social construct and thus can be dismissed as false, then Pluralism must also be so classified and rejected as false. Finally, Pluralism excludes all those who have beliefs that are exclusivist, and as such fails its own test. This third point is in direct contrast to the message of the New Testament that claims the offer of salvation is available to all. Instead of being exclusive Christianity is actually very inclusive. Everyone is welcome to come to Jesus. It does not matter who they are, or what they have done. The Bible tells us, “…whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life” (John 3:16).” (5)

(1) Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Pg 9-12. Penguin, 2009.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Berger, Peter L. A Rumour of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural. Harmondsworth: Pg. 40. Penguin, 1969.

(4) Stonestreet, John, and Brett Kunkle. A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, Pg. 323. David C Cook, 2017.

(5) Morrrison, Jon. Clear Minds & Dirty Feet: A Reason To Hope, A Message To Share. CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2013.

Five reasons to believe Jesus rose from the dead

Five Reasons to Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead Pt. 6: Why It Matters – Adam4d.com

Over the last 5 days we have been examining 5 reasons for the resurrection as presented by Adam Ford of adam4d.com.

If you have missed any of the last 5 posts, don’t worry, take a look at Adam’s original piece.

To summarize, Adam pointed out that there are 5 good reasons to think Jesus rose from the dead namely:

  1. The Empty Tomb
  2. The Post-Mortem Appearances of Jesus
  3. The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus
  4. The Boldness of the Disciples
  5. The Explosion of Christianity

Taken in isolation, any one of these events can be explained without having to revert to non-naturalistic explanations. For example, the empty tomb could be explained by the disciples stealing the body; or the Boldness of the Disciples could be attributed to an “experience/vision” of the risen Christ.

However, taken in concert, it is hard to see how any naturalistic explanation accounts for all of these facts. Such an explanation, is a veritable “Frankenstein’s Monster” of an explanation, being neither simple, nor plausible, but rather a monstrous and freakish mishmash of doubtful and tenuous theories. In fact, such an attempt to explain the previously mentioned facts seems to betray the strongly biased presuppositions of the proposer; namely an unwillingness to entertain the thought of a non-naturalistic explanation. Without justification, such a presupposition seems arbitrary and even irrational, why not be open to the possibility of a supernatural intervention?

However, that is not the question for today. Rather, in light of the evidence we have examined together, what are the implications for us today in the 21st century. What if Jesus rose from the dead? What if he didn’t? Let us turn again to Adam, and see what He says.

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reading

Four Gardens – Ravi Zacharias

RZIM has recently re-released a video about Easter:

In this classic message, Ravi Zacharias shares thoughts from the perspective of Easter as he delves into four gardens: the text, the context, the contest, and the conquest.
Ravi inspires with truths surrounding creation, the word, the cross, and the resurrection in presentations excerpted from the Jesus Among Other Gods group study. This presentation is a beautiful and thought-provoking reminder of all that Easter celebrates.

Have a safe and blessed weekend as you remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:6-11

Blood work

Free eBook this Easter

Hi everyone,

Here at Thinking Matters, we love free stuff, and here is something that is just that…FREE!

Reformation Trust is making the ebook edition of Anthony Carter’s Blood Work: How the Blood of Christ Accomplishes Our Salvation, completely free.

What does it mean to be redeemed by the Blood of Christ? Check out this book and see. It is true that this book is not on the subject of apologetics, however, it is still important as thinking Christians for us to understand our own faith.

Enjoy!

 

This post is courtesy of Ligonier Ministries.

Our Eternal Destiny: A Discussion about Universalism – Audio

Here is the audio from last month’s panel discussion between Joe Fleener and Bryan Winters on universalism and the Christian understanding of salvation:

[pk_icon_link icon=”download” icon_type=”dark”]Our Eternal Destiny: A Discussion about Universalism[/pk_icon_link] (please right click and save as)

The exchange took place at Bethlehem Community Church, Tauranga, with Bryan defending universalism and Joe defending the traditional Christian approach.

Special thanks to Rodney for organizing the audio. If you would like information on how to get a copy of the dvd, please contact him.

More about the speakers:

Bryan Winters has an Honours degree in Geography and Economics and has been a school teacher in New Zealand, West Africa and London. He now works in IT sales and consulting where he has worked in Australia, Singapore and New Zealand.

Joe Fleener holds a Masters of Divinity and has served as a fulltime Bible College lecturer in New Zealand in the areas of Old Testament, Church History, Apologetics, Christian Worldview and Ethics before entering his current role as Associate Pastor of Howick Baptist Church in Auckland. He blogs at the Kiwifruit Blog and you can follow him on twitter at @jfleener5.

Our Eternal Destiny: A Discussion about Universalism

Next month in Tauranga, Joe Fleener and Bryan Winters will be discussing universalism and the Christian understanding of salvation. Both will be offering different perspectives, with Bryan defending universalism and Joe defending the traditional Christian approach.

With the recent controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s defense of universalism and its place in evangelical orthodoxy, it should be an interesting event.

Our Eternal Destiny.  Who goes to heaven and who goes to hell?
Saturday 2nd July
7:00pm to 9:00pm
Bethlehem Community Church, 183 Moffat Rd, Bethlehem, Tauranga

About the speakers:

Bryan Winters has an Honours degree in Geography and Economics and has been a school teacher in New Zealand, West Africa and London. He now works in IT sales and consulting where he has worked in Australia, Singapore and New Zealand.

Joe Fleener holds a Masters of Divinity and has served as a fulltime Bible College lecturer in New Zealand in the areas of Old Testament, Church History, Apologetics, Christian Worldview and Ethics before entering his current role as Associate Pastor of Howick Baptist Church in Auckland. He blogs at the Kiwifruit Blog and you can follow him on twitter at @jfleener5.

What happens to those who haven’t heard the gospel?

One of the hardest issues that the Christian can face is the fate of the unevangelized. At a time when we are aware of both the religious diversity in the world and the fact that many people have yet to even encounter Christianity, it can seem arrogant and intolerant to defend Biblical texts like John 14:6 (“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.””) and Acts 4:12 (“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved”). For many, the idea that God could condemn individuals who have not had the opportunity to hear the gospel is repugnant. And it is this revulsion at this traditional understanding that has made answers such as the one put forward by Rob Bell in Love Wins even more popular.

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Our Greatest Need

“If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.”

– D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Baker Book House, 1992) (HT: Of First Importance)

Is there salvation outside Christianity?

Wintery Knight has pointed out a helpful summary by Stephen Notman of the classic title in the Zondervan Counterpoints series on Christian theology, Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Edited by Dennis L. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips, the book surveys the different approaches in reconciling religious pluralism with the exclusive claims of Christ.newbookcover

Traditionally, the debate has been characterized by the positions of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism. The title includes a fourth position; agnosticism (defended by Alister McGrath). Here is a quick run-down of the positions in the debate:

  • Exclusivism/Particularism: This view maintains that the central claims of Christianity are true and only those who explicitly place faith in the Christ of the Bible are saved. Salvation cannot be achieved through the claims or structures of other religions. It is important to point out that exclusivists do not say that every religion is wrong in every respect, but that only where other religions contradict the self-disclosure of Christ, they are wrong. This is defended by by R. Douglas Geivett and W. Gary Phillips.
  • Inclusivism: This view can be broken down into different positions. Generally, inclusivists affirm the truth of fundamental Christian claims, but nevertheless appeal to the love of God and insist that God has revealed Himself, even in saving ways, within other religions.  All who are saved are in fact saved on account of the person and work of Jesus Christ, but conscious faith in Jesus is not necessary: some may be saved who have never heard of him, and may respond positively to the light they have received.
    • Soft inclusivism (Agnosticism): Unconvinced by the clarity of teaching of Scripture on whether those outside Christianity are truly condemned, advocates allow for the faint possibility that God may save some who have never heard of Christ – so long as these individuals respond to God’s grace in Creation and entrust themselves in repentance and faith. Some also go further in arguing that there is biblical reason to be hopeful and not simply agnostic about the possibility of salvation for those outside Christianity. Alister McGrath puts forward a version of soft inclusivism in the book.
    • Hard inclusivism: This view differs from radical pluralism in that it does argue for Christ as the absolute basis of a person’s salvation. But while Jesus may have been God’s principal plan of salvation for humanity, it is argued that salvation itself is not unavailable in other religions. Unlike exclusivism or soft inclusivism, this view emphasizes believing, but not believing in Christ. Jesus is therefore ontologically necessary, but not epistemologically necessary. Some hard inclusivists will also concede that God may yet use other religions as instruments of his salvation. Clark Pinnock argues for this position.
  • Religious Pluralism: This view relativizes every religious claim. According to it, no religion can advance any legitimate claim of superiority over any other religion. Every religion has the same moral and spiritual weight, and offers an equally valid path to salvation. John Hick has been one of the leading voices of this position, and he defends it in Four Views.

Read Stephen Notman’s summary of the debate in the book.

Although no longer recent, the book remains a significant effort to represent the strongest positions and the strongest advocates for those positions. R. Douglas Geivett and W. Gary Phillips put forward a convincing exegesis of the important texts (Acts 4:12; John 3:16, 18; Romans 10:9-15; and John 14:6; 17:20) and provide a robust defense of the traditional Christian position. For anyone who has pondered these questions, Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World is an excellent introduction.

For further reading on the topic, Ronald Nash’s Is Jesus the Only Savior? is a great book, or Paul Copan’s article If you had been born in another country, is it at all likely that you would be a Christian? The latest issue of Philosophia Christi also features a dialogue on religious pluralism with scholars Keith Yandell, Paul Moser and Paul Knitter.