Pluralism, Christianity, and World Religions

I gave a talk recently on Christianity and the World Religions. My presentation focused on the three most popular world religions outside of Christianity: Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. As I prepared my talk, two things struck me.

1.     Pluralism doesn’t work

I’m defining pluralism here as the idea that there are various religious paths to the same truth and salvation/liberation. One problem with pluralism (there are others!) is that when one looks at the world religions one realizes that the religions point to different truths. For example:

  • Is there one God (Islam), many gods (Hinduism), or no gods at all (Theravada Buddhism)?
  • What happens after death? Is there a final judgment (Islam) or reincarnation (Hinduism and Buddhism)?
  • What is ultimate salvation/liberation? Paradise (Islam), absorption into Brahman (some forms or Hinduism), or Nirvana (which some Buddhists interpret as a cessation of existence)?

Clearly, all religions are not pointing to the same truth, nor do they aim at the same afterlife or final existence.

2. Christianity is unique

  • Jesus– The most obvious unique aspect of Christianity is the Christian view that Jesus is fully divine and fully human, and that Jesus died and was resurrected by God the Father. Some religious teachers view Jesus as special (perhaps a prophet, avatar, or bodhisattva), but only Christianity makes the claim that he is the incarnation of God who “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
  • Grace- Another unique aspect of Christianity is that salvation is received by grace. It is not achieved; not through good deeds, not through intense religious devotion, not through achieving good karma. Rather, even though “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” all can be “justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). Since our salvation is not based on our efforts, Christians don’t have to be anxious about whether or not they are good enough to achieve salvation. Rather, they can rest in the fact that salvation is a gracious “gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

1 Comment

  1. Good thoughts. I hope you will say more about this important topic. Pluralism is appealing to many people because it sounds tolerant and humble; but, when you consider it carefully, pluralism does not really escape the “arrogance” of claiming to know the meaning of other people’s faith better than they do.

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