How a Christian Can Confront Religious Pluralism

The Henry Center has just released a helpful essay on religious pluralism from missiologist and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor Harold Netland has just published his essay for the Christ on Campus Initiative, titled “One Lord and Savior for All? Jesus Christ and Religious Diversity”.  (I know, it’s Netland week here at!)  This essay, intended to help nineteen-year-old students in university settings, covers questions of pluralism and offers a thoughtful take on the exclusivity of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Netland interacts substantially with the views of prominent pluralists, including that of his doctoral supervisor, Dr. John Hick, professor emeritus of Claremont Graduate School.  (See the interview I just did with Netland for more on what that was like.)

In the end, Netland concludes that

“Part of what drives the agenda for religious pluralism in the West today is the widespread perception that any form of “religious exclusivism” undermines harmonious religious coexistence. Only ideological pluralism, it is said, can provide the framework for peaceful religious diversity. Monotheistic religions—especially Christianity—are regarded as contributing to the problem of religious tensions, not part of the solution. The church must take these perceptions seriously and show a skeptical world that Christians can be strongly committed to Jesus Christ while also working to promote peaceful relations among religions. Christians must take the lead and demonstrate through concrete actions that we do accept in appropriate ways the ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity in the West. But at the same time, we cannot abandon our commitment to Jesus Christ as the one Lord and Savior for all peoples. So even as we accept Buddhists and Muslims as fellow human beings created in God’s image, we must also urge them to be reconciled to God by acknowledging Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”

The free essay is readable, insightful, and calculated to strengthen the faith of Christian students who seek to meet the important intellectual challenges of the day, including religious pluralism, with the authoritative truth of the Word of God. I’m hoping that it will benefit readers and that it will go far and wide as a resource to strengthen faith and reassure conviction.  If you’re a college pastor, or if you work with college students, try passing this around to some of your more thoughtful students, and see what happens.

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  • Owen … Thanks for the challenge to be leaders in the promotion of peace among different religions [even if we are exclusive in our soteriology].

    I resonate with your challenge, yet I grieve when i think of the obstacles there are in the church to such a challenge. It’s difficult for me to imagine Christians taking the lead in promoting peace between different religious groups when we can’t even keep the peace between ourselves. I think sometimes the church is so inwardly focused that we make too much of our doctrinal differences with other Christians and spend too much time and energy debating amongst each other. The proliferation of protestant denominations has not helped the cause of gospel unity, but has continued to feed long-lasting tensions between Christians who differ on certain in-house issues. Moreover, certain evangelicals tend to literally build their identity around their criticism of other Christians.

    If we are ever to take the lead in promoting peace between people of different Religions, it seems to me that we must start by making peace amongst ourselves. Promoting peace without living it out in the context of our own religious communities seems to me hypocritical. I do agree we should take the lead in this, I’m not sure how many Christians leaders are in a place to lead such a peace-promotion.

  • owenstrachan

    Good comment. That’s challenging. It’s tough to balance standing for truth and speaking in love, and it seems even harder to maintain a love for unity while at the same time contending for truth. A very hard balance to strike, and oftentimes it’s easier to simply pick one side or the other (which is not ultimately helpful).