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Pluralism: Are there many ways to God?

Rob Bell – Love Wins

  • “Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number 'make it to a better place' and every single other person suffer in torment and punishment forever? Is this acceptable to God?...Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?” (Bell, Love Wins, pg 1)



  • The soul of religion is one, but it is encased in a multitude of forms.” - Gandhi


What is Pluralism?

  • “Religious pluralism is the belief that every religion is true. Each provides a genuine encounter with the Ultimate. One may be better than the others, but all are adequate.” Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Pg 598.


The Rise of Pluralism

  • The discovery of new continents made people think that Christianity was larger confined to Europe and hence religion was cultural, and it seemed arrogant to say everyone else was going to hell.

  • People wanted peace and harmony from religious wars (especially between Catholics and Protestants).

Not All Religions are Aiming for God

  • Some are atheistic, some seek paradise not to be in the presence of God, so they are after mutually exclusive things.


Do all religions lead to the ultimate?

  • This claim is a bit ambiguous, for instance if atheism is true, then it would be the case that whether you followed Christianity, or Islam, or Hinduism or atheism for that matter, all would end up being no more, one’s existence and that of the universe is doomed to come to nothing.


Can different people simultaneously reach their own goal?

  • They are contradictory for not all can be right, so question is which one is more probably true than not?

An Argument for Pluralism

  • Some pluralists argue that if you were born in Pakistan you would have likely been a Muslim, hence one’s belief in Christianity is merely by chance.

  • But if the pluralist had been born in Pakistan he or she would likely have been a particularist – showing their position is self-defeating.


Are the world religions just like blind men touching an elephant?


Excerpt of Creed, by Steve Turner

  • “We believe that all religions are basically the same,
    at least the one that we read was.
    They all believe in love and goodness.
    They only differ on matters of
    creation sin heaven hell God and salvation.”


A Motivation for Pluralism

  • “The real problem raised by the religious diversity of mankind: the fate of those who stand outside the Christian tradition.” (Craig, On Guard, pg 271.)

  • 2 Pet 3:9 God wills that all be saved.

  • “If we make a free and well-informed decision to reject Christ’s sacrifice for our sin, then God has no choice but to give us what we deserve. God will not send us to hell-but we shall send ourselves.” Pg 272.


Is the problem that they never got a chance to hear the gospel?

  • Rom 2:7 could be taken to imply that people who don’t hear of Christ are judged basis on how they responded to the light of general revelation they were given.

  • If God has middle knowledge then it could be the case that he brings the gospel to all who would respond (i.e. Acts 10).


Does the punishment fit the crime?

  • Is it unjust to condemn people forever?

  • Solutions: 1) purgatory, 2) annihilation.

  • 3) Perhaps a finite sin only deserves a finite punishment but people never stop sinning and hence not stop accumulating more punishment.

  • 4) Else sin is of infinite gravity since it is against an infinite God.


The Problem (1)

  1. God is all-powerful and all-loving.

  2. Some people never hear the gospel and are lost.

  3. If God is all-powerful, He can create a world in which everybody hears the gospel and is freely saved.

  4. If God is all-loving, he prefers a world in which everybody hears the gospel and is freely saved.


The Problem (2)

5. God has created a world that has an optimal balance between saved and lost, and those who never hear the gospel and are lost would not have believed in it even if they had heard it.

  • As long as 5 is even possible then it shows there is no logical contradiction with God and some people being lost.

  • Acts 17:24-28


The Positions

Universal: Always get you to their desired end.

Pluralism: All legitimate religions are equally true. “Salvation” comes by way of faithful adherence to any legitimate religious tradition

Inclusivism: Only Christianity is true. One can appropriate Christ’s salvific work by faithful practice/ adherence to non-Christian religions.

Exclusivism: Only Christianity is true. Only through conscious faith in the triune God of Scripture.


What Does the Bible Say?

  • 1 John 4:16 God is Love

  • Rev 20:7-15; 22:14-15 indicates not all are in heaven.

  • 1 Tim 2:4 God desires all to be saved.

  • John 14:6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

  • Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved.”


How bad is humanity’s problem?

  • “The universality of sin and the uniqueness of Christ’s atoning death entail that there is no salvation apart from Christ.” (Craig, On Guard, pg 226).

  • John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV 2011)

If there was a God how would you get to him?

  • If God is loving would he just welcome all, regardless of what they have done?

  • If God was just would he have to punish those who have done bad things?

Charge: Christianity is intolerant

  • Attitude is not a determiner of truth; a person with a sour attitude / personality can still be right.

  • Christian’s should be gentle and loving is proclaiming the gospel.


Christianity is Judgmental

  • Who are you to judge, everyone can have their own opinion.

  • This phrase implies that others should adhere to this position of subjectivism – it is itself a truth claim, hence self-defeating.


Christianity can’t be true because it excludes billions of people…

  • There is a sense in which Christianity excludes no one – the Bible says that whosoever will may come: "The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost." (Rev 22:17)


Could there have been another way…?

  • "And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”" (Matt 26:39)

  • “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Tim 2:5-6)

  • “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, the Christ died needlessly” (Gal 2:21)


What of Infants?

  • The question is often raised about infants who have never had the chance to personally believe. This is not an easy question to answer for if we say all babies are saved, then could not have God saved everyone without making us go through this life. If we answer no, then that seems deny passages like 1 Cor 7:14 and 2 Sam 12:23. I am confident that God will deal rightly in this matter. I think we have reason to hope, but we should not make a major deal out of this exception clause.


Recommended Resources

  • Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. John Hicks, Clark H. Pinnock’; Alister E. McGrath; R. Douglas Geivett and W. Gary Phillips. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. 2010.

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