How Should I Respond to Religious Pluralism?

religious pluralismReligious Pluralism has become common in our daily lives. Not only do we live in a religiously diverse nation, one that claims to uphold each individual’s right of choose their faith, we also live in a culture that has adopted the belief that all religions are fundamentally the same.  I’m daily confronted with the reality that many people believe all religions are true, teach the same thing, and lead to the same place.

Yet any serious student of religions will quickly be able to see that religious pluralism as a belief system is contradictory and cannot sustain itself. Religions that make contrary truth claims on everything from the nature of God, the material world, morality, humanity, and eternity cannot be fundamentally the same; it’s impossible. Also, to claim that all religions are equal in their beliefs is to misunderstand and misrepresent the rich variety of religious observance.

Still, the belief that “all roads lead to Rome” is prevalent and for the Christian poses a unique challenge. How do we communicate what we believe, and why we believe it, in a way that remains true to the message of the Bible and at the same time respects the diverse worldviews that surround us? As I have thought through this question, I believe there are four principles that can help Christians explain their faith graciously in a culture that promotes the worldview of Religious Pluralism. These principles form the acronym DARE

Dig Deep into God’s Word

Ask Questions

Respond with Respect and Kindness

Expect God’s Truth to both be Resisted and to Bear Fruit

Dig Deep into God’s Word

For Christians, the most important thing we can do in preparation for responding to religious pluralism is to know what the Bible teaches and why we believe its message is true. If we don’t understand what we believe and why, we shouldn’t be surprised when those of differing faiths dismiss our attempt to share our beliefs with them.

In his book Encountering Religious Pluralism, Harold Netland identifies six key biblical truths that are foundational for shaping the Christian understanding and interaction with religions; they form our knowledge on the nature of God, the character of humanity, the way God interacts with us, and the way we should interact with others.

  1. God: Both the Old and New Testaments affirm that there is one eternal God who is holy and righteous in all His ways. He is morally pure, free from all evil, and      completely just. (Lev. 11:44-45; Ps. 77:13; Isa. 6:1-4; Acts 3:14; Rev. 15:3; etc)
  2. Creation: The one eternal God has created all things and when He did they were good. His creation includes human beings made in His image. Since He freely created our universe, this means God is distinct from His creation. In other words, the universe is not an extension of God, nor did it naturally emanate from Him. (Gen. 1-2; Isa. 40:28; 1 Cor. 11:7; etc.)
  3. God’s Revelation: God has graciously taken the initiative in revealing Himself to humankind  through various forms, including natural and special revelation. His      definitive revelation of Himself has come through the Scriptures and Jesus      Christ, which are the ultimate authorities for Christians and must shape how      believers understand God, themselves, and other religions. (Jn. 1:1-14; Heb. 1:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 1:19-20; etc.)
  4. Sin: God’s creation, including humankind, has experienced corruption because of sin. Every major religion begins with the assumption that something is fundamentally wrong in the universe and that the evil we experience is due to this problem. The Bible claims that the problem is sin, a heart condition that affects all aspects of what it means to be human, alienating us from God and from each other. Sin is not a popular concept, but you cannot fully grasp the message of the Bible and the hope of Christianity without understanding the seriousness of sin. (Gen. 2:16-17; Rom. 15:2; Rom. 3:1-18; Isa. 59:2; Isa. 53:6; Jn. 3:36; Rev. 20:11-15; etc.)
  5. Salvation: The hope of the Bible and Christian message is that God in His mercy has provided a way for sinful humanity to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection. The heart of the Gospel is that God, the Word, became flesh and that he himself provided the basis by which humanity can experience salvation. Because salvation is the work of God and not the result of human effort, it can only be received by an act of faith. No amount of human effort can carry out what God has already done. (Jn. 1:12; Jn. 3:16; Act 2:21; Acts 4:12; Rom. 3:21-26; Rom. 6:23; Rom. 10:9-13; Gal. 2:16; 1 Jn. 4:8; Eph. 2:8-10; Titus 3:4-7; etc.)
  6. Discipleship: The Bible makes it clear that those who have received the gift of God’s grace are to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others, including those who sincerely hold to other religions. This emphasis on introducing others to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in a relationship with him is especially controversial in the context of religious pluralism, so Christians need to honestly wrestle with the methods and ways in which they practice this command to make disciples. (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:45-49; Jn. 20:21; Acts 1:7-8)

Digging deep into these biblical truths will not only deepen our understanding of what we believe, it will equip us to better engage with the beliefs of others.

Ask Questions

The second principle is to ask questions. Asking honest and respectful questions lets those with differing beliefs know that we care about them as a person and honestly want to know what they believe and why. When we ask questions, we need to make sure to listen to what the other person is saying! Why does he believe that? Does it make sense? Does it contradict itself? How did he reach those conclusions? Asking questions not only affirms the other person, it gives us the credibility to share what we believe when asked about our faith. It demonstrates a humble willingness to learn and to work through our own reasons for the hope we profess.

Respond with Respect and Kindness

We need to avoid caricatures and simplistic generalizations when we interact with people of differing faiths. Don’t assume that because you have a basic understanding of, say Islam, you can or should begin telling your Muslim neighbor what she believes and why she is wrong. Seek to learn where she is coming from and how she has personally applied her faith. Seek to earn the right to question her beliefs and explain to her the message of Jesus Christ by treating her respectfully and with kindness. This kind of respect is exactly how we’re commanded to give the reasons for our hope in Christ (1 Pet. 3:15).

This point became personal for me about a year ago. At a large Memorial Day BBQ someone introduced me to a young woman who defined herself as a Buddhist Catholic. Her Christian friend introduced us by saying, “Hey, you like apologetics. Tell her why Buddhism is wrong.” While I don’t question the good intentions of her friend, needless to say, we were both put in an awkward place. The way we met immediately put us both on edge and did not encourage either of us to expect anything but hostility from the other person. The conversation did not go nearly as well as it could have if we could have begun our conversation about faith by asking respectful questions and listening. to what the other had to say

Expect God’s Truth to both be Resisted and to Bear Fruit

This last principle emphasizes that as Christians interact with religious pluralism, we need to keep in mind the reality that if Christianity is true, and the Bible really is the Word of God, many people will resist its message. Humanity has rebelled against God’s truth since the third chapter in Genesis. Therefore, we should expect the same thing to happen today. Yet the opposite is also true; if Christianity is real and the Bible is the Word of God, we should expect that it will have an impact on people and they will respond to God. He is in the business of giving sight to blind minds and opening hard hearts to His grace. People may resist what is true, but it’s still bearing fruit.

The belief that all religions are the same is common today, but that does not mean we need to back away in fear from sharing what we believe and why.  If we practice the following: dig deep into God’s Word, ask questions, respond with respect and kindness, and expect that God’s truth will be resisted and bear fruit, we can have confidence in our conversations with others.

What about you? What principles have helped you to interact graciously with those who do not share your faith?

*Cross-posted at The Christian Apologetics Alliance*

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2 thoughts on “How Should I Respond to Religious Pluralism?

  1. Religious pluralism is yet another way Satan deceives the masses by giving the impression of peaceful tolerance and that salvation will be provided to,all who are “religious”. Two questions to ask pluralists are, where is the atonement in your belief system? Who was the sinless deity that was sacrificed in your belief system for the corrupt condition of humanity? These type of questions can lead to the gospel being shared and expose why there is salvation only through repentance and faith in Christ alone.

    • Those are good questions, but I think there are times we need to step back even further, depending on who the conversation is with. My guess is many people who hold to some form of religious pluralism don’t understand what atonement is, or why a sinless deity would need to die.

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