It would be foolish to say that American Christians live in a vacuum, separated from the realities of the world. America, the melting pot of the world, where people come to settle and make their fortune is now a hugely religiously diverse country, maybe more than any other. As much as our country has been a melting pot of people and cultures, religions are not melting together. Each religion remains separate, holding to their own beliefs and practices, taking little notice of other religions unless there is conflict between them somehow, or they have a common enemy and join forces to fight a common enemy, yet still maintaining their diverse separateness.
This blog has lightly addressed religious pluralism before. Though there is no one definition accepted by all authorities of what religious pluralism is, I will address it from this perspective; that all, or most religions contain some element that is similar in some ways to Christianity and may appear to have come from the God of the Bible, in the Old Testament (Hebrew scriptures) addressed primarily as Yahweh, and the New Testament as God the Father, whether these religions recognize the God of Bible or not, or correctly. For instance, a religion may recognize love and mercy as a high calling and practice for its followers. That is an important element in Christianity, an important part of Biblical faith.
I have begun reading one of my son’s college textbooks, Neighboring Faiths, A Christian Introduction to World Religions by Winfried Corduan (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1998). One line in the introduction speaks my very heart. “The discussion in this book proceeds from an evangelical Christian perspective, which sees interreligious encounters as opportunities for sharing the gospel of redemption,” emphasis mine (page 15).
There may be certain things in other religions, non-Christian religions, and those things, such as love and mercy described above, certainly come from God, but, how they got there is the question. There is no religion as old as the worship of God. He created the world and the first humans worshipped him(Genesis 1&2), and other beliefs and religions didn’t come in until some point later, after sin entered the world (Gen. 3), and Adam and Eve’s children began to populate the earth with sin in their hearts.
Just because pluralistic religions possess certain Godly elements, does not make them true religions. A conscious faith is necessary for a person’s salvation (borrowing Corduan’s and Donald Nash’s words here). Or as the apostles spoke “Salvation is found through him alone ; in all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us” @Acts4.12, TEV.*
Jesus, the stone the builders have rejected, the Jewish leaders, is the only one, the only way. As Jesus said, “Jesus answered him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me’” @John14.6, TEV.
All these other religions, even though they contain some elements that we find in Christianity, that are taught in the Bible, that are recognizable as being associated with God in some way, are not the way to God. They don’t have Jesus. Salvation is in Jesus for all the world, obviously meaning, every person, everywhere, regardless of gender, nationality, financial status, social status, or anything else. Jesus’ salvation is meant for them.
Since Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost (@Luke19.10) and all the world is lost (@Romans3:12&23), that salvation in Jesus which brings people to God is for everyone.
What we find as common ground, belief about abortion, helping others, peaceful living, justice, etc, are the things that through the Christian’s faith, Biblical understanding and truth make opportunities for Christian believers to share the gospel of redemption that is in Jesus Christ alone.
*Today’s English Version of the Bible (aka Good News for Modern Man)