Why “religious pluralism” fails to respect other religions

October 15, 2014

I’m leading a Bible study tonight on Paul’s Letter to the Romans in which we’ll tackle the deeply controversial idea underlying Paul’s words in Romans 2:28-29: “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”

Let’s not beat around the bush: Paul is claiming that those who belong to the new covenant in the Messiah are now entitled to the name “Jew.” One problem with this claim is the exclusivity it implies about Christianity. We modern people, even we more “sophisticated” Christians, are supposed to believe that Christianity and Judaism (and probably Islam and other religions) present parallel paths to the same reality that we name “God.” If we sincerely embark upon any of these paths, we wind up in the same place, ultimately.

The idea that all sincere religions are parallel paths to God—otherwise known as religious pluralism—sounds deeply respectful of other people’s religious beliefs, but not so fast. N.T. Wright puts the problem in sharp relief. He says religious pluralism is rooted in Enlightenment thinking, according to which,

all religions are inadequate approximations to truth, and, despite what many of them say, none has exclusive rights to it. The appropriate stance is therefore mutual tolerance. This is, of course, a covert way of saying, among other things, that (at least) Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are all actually misleading, since all of them make, at the very heart, claims that the others are bound to deny if they are not to lose their very identity. Nevertheless, this secularized agenda has seeped into both Jewish and Christian circles, often coupled with the laudable desire for humility and mutual respect, sometimes using that as a pretext for a highly arrogant liberalism that challenges all truth claims while pressing its own with remarkable intolerance.[†]

N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), 451.

2 Responses to “Why “religious pluralism” fails to respect other religions”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    I believe it is a geometry axiom that says, “A does not equal non-A.” Obviously diametrically opposing statements cannot both be true. Judaism and Islam make diametrically opposing statements about Christ to those made by Christianity, and that goes to the very heart of the respective religions. Therefore, “pluralism” is palpably false. Keep preaching the TRUE and “exclusive” Word!

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