What’s true for you is true for you, what’s true for me is true for me.
All religious backgrounds have a piece of the puzzle.
All roads lead to the same goal.
Pluralism is rampant in our society. People want to affirm everyone’s belief. Tolerance is the buzzword. Few want to talk about the differences in worldviews. It’s easier to affirm everyone’s beliefs as having a place in the interchange of ideas.
Pluralism is the position that all religions are true. This can be qualified in a number of ways. Often, the views are not well-thought out and amount to little more than saying that all ways get to heaven. However, there are thoughtful pluralists with highly developed structures for affirming their professed pluralism. For example, John Hick, a well known proponent of pluralism, writes:
[T]he Transcendent in ‘its’ inner nature is beyond human description or comprehension… it is ineffable or, as I would rather say, transcategorical, beyond the scope of our human concepts. It is to this ultimate transcategorical reality that the religions are oriented and to which they are human responses. (Hick, 163, cited below)
Thus, for Hick and most other pluralists, all religions are oriented towards some kind of Ultimate or Transcendent, from which they derive all of their beliefs. Thus, these pluralists can affirm the notion that all religions are “true” in a qualified sense.
The problem with pluralistic claims is that in their gusto to affirm all religions as true, what they’ve actually done is said that all religions are false. Again, Hick realizes a problem inherent in qualifying religions–and specifically Christianity–such that they can all be true. The problem is that some claim to have stated actual truths about transcendent reality. In other words, when a theologian claims that God is Triune, they are making a claim about objective reality. But Hick’s proposed solution is to simply place such theological claims into the reports of experiences about the “Real”: “according to our hypothesis, the different traditions are not reporting experiences of the Real in itself, but of its different manifestations within human consciousness” (171, cited below). Unfortunately for pluralists, what this has done is create what I find to be the real problem for pluralists.
The problem is that the pluralist is the only one whose claims about the Real/Transcendent are true.
The presumption of pluralism is that it assumes the invalidity of all religious claims. Only the pluralist can see that all religious claims to exclusivity are false. The exclusive claims of individual religions are dismissed offhand. After all, if all ways are true, then none can be exclusive.
Again, look at the reasoning from Hick: the claims of theologians are not actually claims about the Real itself. Rather, the claims of the theologian apply only to the Real-as-experienced in human consciousness. In other words, those making truth claims about individual religions are only expressing claims about their own subjective experience of an objective reality: the Real.
Thus, the pluralist undermines the truth claims of all religions, while simultaneously trying to affirm them. Only the pluralist is able to look beyond the truth claims of religion and see that when the Muslim claims that Allah is the only God, he is mistakenly reporting his experience as opposed to a claim about reality. Only the pluralist can see that the Christian who claims that Jesus is the only savior, she is only reporting her conscious experience of the Real. The Buddhist who says there is no God is similarly mistaken: perhaps there is? Who knows? Only the pluralist can see that all of these contradictory claims about religious reality are in fact merely the reports of conscious experience of a supra-reality: one which stands above all religions and is the true religion.
The bottom line is that the pluralist has become the exclusivist. Only the pluralist knows the true way. Thus, their system must collapse in on itself. It either relegates all religious claims to become mere reports of human consciousness and thus affirms itself as the only true religion, or it must affirm blatantly contradictory claims like “God exists” and “There is no God” or “Shiva is a god, Vishnu is a god, etc.” and “There is no God but Allah.” The pluralist has presumed much.
If all ways are true, then none are. Pluralism has failed.
Can we evaluate worldviews?– I discuss how to evaluate rival worldviews and outline some criteria by which to do it.
A Vision for Christian Apologetics to World Religions– I outline a vision for Christians interacting with believers of other faiths. Integral to this approach is understanding others’ beliefs.
John Hick, The New Frontier of Science and Religion (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).
Christian Apologists seem to only rarely focus upon world religions. Perhaps that is because many Christian apologists feel uncomfortable interacting with other religions. It is easy to be weighed down by fears that one might say something wrong and be deemed either ignorant or bigoted. It may also be simply that Christian apologists don’t feel they have the expertise do operate in this area. It is my goal in this post to paint in broad strokes and provide areas of development for Christian apologetics and theology regarding world religions. Because I’m painting in broad strokes, I’ll be raising many questions I’ll leave unanswered for now. I’ve included links at the end of the post for those interested in reading more.
A Vision for Christian Apologetics and World Religions
It has been said that evangelicalism needs a theology of religions. What does the existence of other religions mean? Do they have truths? How do we interact with them? These questions must be addressed by Christians who desire to explore the reality of their faith. Christian apologists, in particular, must be learned enough to know what position they take on these issues before they seek to defend their faith.
The study of another religion should not be done superficially. It is a good start to have a general volume on “world religions” and then read each religion’s respective section, but it is not nearly enough for the Christian apologist to do if the apologist desires to interact with believers from these other religions. A study of another religion, particularly for those interested in witnessing to them, must be more in-depth. The holy book(s) of the other religion is(are) necessary reading. But one cannot stop there. Few religions are based upon one book. Christians can readily acknowledge this, having had much thought and belief defined through tradition, apostolic and patristic. Similarly, when a Christian studies another religion, he or she must be willing to delve into the religion, to understand it from an insider’s perspective.
It is not enough for the apologist to read books about other religions, seeking to find fast and easy ways to refute them. Rather, the Christian apologist must engage with believers of other faith, acknowledging shared truths where they exist and seeking to understand the differences. Certainly, apologists must know the areas of weakness in other religions so that they can point these out as they debate and dialog on the religions. What I’m suggesting is that this cannot be the only thing Christians know about other religions. They must not be satisfied merely by knowing a series of arguments against those from other religions. Rather, they must be willing and able to engage with those in other religions.
Thus, this vision for Christian Apologetics to World Religions is a vision not just of debate but of dialog; a vision of give-and-take. The Gospel will not be heard where it is beat into people. It will not be heard where the only avenues for its witness are arguments. Paul wrote,
Although I am a free man and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. (1 Corinthians 9:19)
The attitude of the apologist is a servant’s heart–one that seeks to understand. In understanding, he or she will win many. Thus, when apologists approach another religion, they must understand that religion enough to engage with those who believe it and who live it. The Christian apologist must not deceive, but rather seek to understand. In understanding, Christians will understand more about their own faith, and be better able to spread it to those of other faiths.
There are five major things to keep in mind when doing apologetics regarding world religions:
Going forward, it is time to turn to a method for Christian Apologists to learn about other religions.
This list is, of course, not comprehensive. It merely provides avenues for research.
What to do with the knowledge?
Christians must engage with those of other faiths. Seek out those who are willing to discuss their faith with you. You will find that many interesting discussions will follow and you will learn much about yourself and Christianity in the process. Never stop seeking truth. All truth is from God. If someone from another faith says something which challenges you, seek the answer. There are thousands of years of Christian writing out there just waiting to be tapped. Not only that, but simple searches online will turn up innumerable apologetic resources. Do not let the discussions turn into debates only. Debates are good when there is an audience of people who may be swayed one way or the other, but in individual conversation, your goal should be to spread the Gospel, not to win an argument.
Become a prayer warrior. Do not let a day go by where you do not pray for those with whom you are engaged in discussions about the faith.
Tap your fellow resources. There are many other Christians working in the areas of religions, and they are willing to help. Do not be afraid to ask for it when needed.
The vision for Christian apologetics and world religions I’ve put forth here is admittedly vague, but I hope it will provide a way forward for those interested in dialog with those of other faiths. This vision has followed five primary thoughts: know the other’s faith, read their book, know Christianity, preach the Gospel, and build a genuine relationship. The most important thing to remember is that as a Christian it is your duty to spread the Gospel. Do not let yourself come in its way.
Some argue that there is no real way to tell whether any religions are true. That is not the case. There are some very real ways to determine truth in a religious paradigm. Check out this post: “Can we evaluate worldviews? How to navigate the sea of ideas.”
What about the truth found in other religion? How do we relate that to Christianity? Kenneth Samples is an amazing writer in this area. Check out this post in which he provides a way forward for thinking about other religions from a Biblical perspective: “Thinking Biblically About the World’s Religions.”
I highly recommend Winfried Corduan’s book Neighboring Faiths.
What about some of those unanswered questions–what about the unevangelized? This is matter of considerable debate and there are numerous books on the topic. I would recommend “What About Those Who Have Never Heard?” for an introduction to these views. For those wanting to explore inclusivism further, see No Other Name by John Sanders. Those interested in exclusivism/particularlism, see Is Jesus the Only Savior? by Ronald Nash.
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