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Enjoying God Blog


We must acknowledge the fact that the vast majority of human beings in history have died without ever hearing the name of Jesus. What may be said about the eternal destiny of these millions of souls? Are they forever condemned to hell? If so, how can it be fair or an expression of divine justice that they entered eternity without having had the advantage or opportunity afforded those who live in a place or time where the gospel of Christ is preached? Or could it be that many, perhaps even most of them, were saved when they acknowledged the existence of God and cried out to him for mercy, even though they were entirely unaware of the person and work of Christ?

I will answer this latter question in another article, but for now we take note of the factors that have contributed in our day to the increasing popularity of religious pluralism, that is, the belief that there is equal saving power in all religions.

(1) The so-called “scandal of particularity” may well be the most volatile and urgent issue facing the church in the 21st century. What is this “scandal”? It is the notion embraced by most evangelical Christians that only through conscious faith in Jesus Christ can a person be reconciled to God (the “particularity” in view is wrapped up in my use of the word “only”).

We live in a world that is growing increasingly uncomfortable with this concept of religious exclusivism. The traditional Christian claim that Jesus Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and that salvation is available only to those who consciously put their faith in him is now regarded as both arrogant and offensive.

(2) A significant contributing factor is the increase of globalization. No longer can one live in isolation from the rest of the world. Television, ease of travel, and especially the development of the Internet have contributed to the interconnectivity of all peoples and cultures. The world has shrunk. Once foreign and strange cultures, religions, and people-groups are now but a mouse-click away from walking into our living rooms. Traditional national, cultural, and ethnic boundaries are eroding under the collective force of modern communication and technology.

(3) The reality of immigration must also be taken into consideration. Consider Chicago, for example. At the time I moved out of Chicago, in 2004, there were 100,000 Hindus, 150,000 Buddhists, and 250,000 Muslims. There are probably many more of each today. Such folk are no longer exotic or strange but part of the mainstream of American life. They are our next-door neighbors, making the exclusive claims of Christianity less attractive to those who are now faced with having to “get along” with those around them.

(4) There is also the redefinition of “tolerance”. The older “tolerance” referred to “accepting the existence of different views” (italics mine), whereas the newer “tolerance” has in mind the “acceptance of different views” (italics mine). Please don’t miss the distinction. It is the shift, notes D. A. Carson, “from recognizing other people’s right to have different beliefs or practices to accepting the differing views of other people” (The Intolerance of Tolerance, 3). Again, “to accept that a different or opposing position exists and deserves the right to exist is one thing; to accept the position itself means that one is no longer opposing it. The new tolerance suggests that actually accepting another’s position means believing that position to be true, or at least as true as your own. We move from allowing the free expression of contrary opinions to the acceptance of all opinions; we leap from permitting the articulation of beliefs and claims with which we do not agree to asserting that all beliefs and claims are equally valid” (3-4).

Thus in our “politically correct” society, the definition has now changed to include the idea that one must never say anything negative about another religion’s beliefs or practices, that one must never say or do anything that another person or religion should find offensive. To suggest that one religious view is correct and others are false or inadequate is deemed offensive, and thus intolerant.

(5) A related factor is the widespread, and seemingly “more loving”, belief that sincerity is more important than truth, that sincerity is enough when truth is absent.

(6) An emerging pragmatic view of religion is also important. People are less concerned with universal truth claims and more with what works, what brings fulfillment, what feels good and facilitates self-growth and sense of well-being.

(7) Harold Netland points to a growing sense of “postcolonialist guilt” (30). It is often believed today “that one way to atone for the past sins of colonialism is to embrace uncritically non-Western cultures and religions, refusing to make negative judgments about their beliefs and practices, and this sentiment naturally finds religious pluralism attractive” (30).

(8) The so-called “fulfillment” view of non-Christian religions is becoming more commonplace. This comes from the recognition of undeniable truth and beauty in other faiths, believing these to be incomplete anticipations of what had been definitively revealed in Christ. In other words, what was imperfectly and only partially revealed in other religions is perfectly and completely revealed in Christianity. The former are thus moving gradually to their consummate fulfillment in Christianity. Christianity does not replace, but fulfills, what is good and true in other faiths.

(9) Harold Netland has argued that perhaps the greatest influence is the widespread loss of confidence in Christianity as traditionally defined. This comes largely from the influence of biblical criticism which has undermined our confidence that what we read in the Bible (the gospels in particular) is objective truth. Related to this is the growth of epistemological skepticism, often associated with postmodernism. Many now say we must be less confident in our ability to know anything with absolute and objective certainty. Without such confidence in our “knowing” we dare not suggest that we are right and others wrong when it comes to religion and matters of the spiritual and eternal world.

(10) There is then the emerging belief that the real enemy of Christianity is atheism and secularism, not other religious movements.

So, what are we to say to those who point to the “scandal of particularity” and insist on the equal legitimacy of all religious beliefs? The answer will come in a subsequent post.



To "John Calvin"

Having some trouble following you. You say:

..."critically evaluating the reliability of any and all claims regarding the existence of God is everyone’s priority." This makes some sense (especially if we include God's manifest trustworthiness in our evaluations). See the last chapters of the OT book of Job, where God answers Job's questions about His
wisdom, power, and goodness in the face of evil and suffering.

But who decided that human flourishing should be the chief goal of mankind? How would we arrive at that conclusion?

You appear to be waffling between the worship of the creature and worshiping the Creator (Who is blessed forever).
I was reminded of a quote from Craig Keener in his commentary on Revelation - "Much of society has absolutized relativism as the only nonnegotiable truth, in essence arguing that everyone is right unless one claims to be right."

Thank you, and I appreciate the time you took in researching and composing this article. Looking forward to the other article you referred to in paragraph 2.
While I support everyone’s freedom of belief, I am compelled to challenge the reliability of those beliefs which inform actions that negatively impact the well-being of other people. Since belief in God serves as a foundational belief for all religious dogmas which compel the faithful to adopt prejudicial, bigoted, and sometimes violent behaviors which are inexcusably detrimental to societal health, it is everyone’s responsibility to critically examine the reliability of all proposed reasons for believing theism is true. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples available which demonstrate where people will act against their own self-interest and the well-being of others because they believe it is what God expects of them. Voltaire put it best when he said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” This is why critically evaluating the reliability of any and all claims regarding the existence of God is everyone’s priority. If a God does actually exist somewhere, such an intellectually superior being would be embarrassed by the illogical and arguably dishonest tactics apologists deploy in order to convince themselves and others that such a God exists.

No philosophical argument alone will ever prove a God exists let alone reveal what such a deity would expect from us. What we can know is that our species exists together with other species on a planet with limited resources necessary for our survival. We can know that our lives on this world will not persist indefinitely, and there are validated ways to maximize our well-being during our brief time under the sun without negatively impacting the well-being of others. Believe in God if you choose, but be mindful in the process to think critically before acting on inherently uncertain theistic beliefs because you can be certain the consequences for those actions will affect your well-being, the well-being of other people, or everyone’s well-being in the life we know exists in the here and now. Otherwise, you must be prepared to justify how belief in a claim which is incapable of being demonstrated as true authorizes behavior that is truly detrimental to human flourishing? I submit to you that it will always be more prudent to ensure the well-being of an impersonal neighbor than the well-being of a personal God because we can know the human being living next door actually exists.
I find it very hard to make up my mind about which side to be on in this matter. Perhaps I don't have to be on either side and the middle-of-the-road
approach will be the best one, as often.
Yes, obviously Jesus says he is the truth, the way, and the life and I believe
that, but also I don`t want conflict but peace as we of all religions now live so close to each other.
I also appreciate bits of truth, and beauty in other religions, especially in their buildings (Hindu and Buddhist temples, mosques).
At the same time, I am a Bible believer.
It is all very contradictory.
Thanks Sam, I appreciate your willingness to tackle a tough question.

If any other religions / worldviews had someone like Jesus then they might have a case. As it is, He stands far, far above anyone else who has ever claimed to be speaking for God, let alone claiming to be God!

Looking forward to your next article, as we know with biblical certainty, that people were saved / justified by their faith apart from a specific knowledge of Jesus, before His coming. We need to ask "what changed" for those who live and die without hearing a credible account of Him, after His coming.

Kudos for addressing these questions. The righteousness of God is at stake.
The point of incomprehensibility is not that God would provide only one way to Himself, but that He would provide a way at all. Those aghast at Jesus’ words in John 14:6 are blind to the absolute holiness of God and the abject sinfulness of man. Either error inflicts a mortal wound to sound theology and both together are fatal. As never before, the Church must boldly and faithfully preach both the convicting Law of God and the life-giving grace in the Gospel of the propitiate sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Such is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16 & 1Cor. 1:18).

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