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Religious pluralism is intellectually bankrupt

pluralism.jpg

There are two main kinds of religious pluralism.  One is good and one is intellectually bankrupt.

Good pluralism: Numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups are present and tolerated within a society.

Bad pluralism: All religions are true and equally valid paths to God.

Pluralism can be a good thing if it means we should tolerate the beliefs of others.  Jesus, who was God in flesh, didn’t force anyone to convert.  So why should we think that we can?

Christianity should flourish in a society with good pluralism, as the Gospel can be shared freely and there isn’t pressure to fake one’s beliefs.  Sadly, we often get complacent in such atmospheres and Christianity spreads just as well or better in times of persecution.  It tends to weed out false believers and teachers more effectively.

Of course, there are some truths in each religion, but there are irreconcilable differences in their essential truth claims regarding the nature of God, the path to salvation, their view of Jesus, etc.

Here are some examples:

One of the following is possible when we die, but under no circumstance could more than one be possible:

  1. Reincarnation (Hinduism, New Age)
  2. Complete nothingness (Atheism)
  3. One death then judgment by God (Christianity, Islam, others)

Jesus was either the Messiah (Christianity) or He was not the Messiah (Judaism and others), but He cannot be both the Messiah and not the Messiah.

God either doesn’t exist (Atheism), He exists and is personal (Christianity) or He exists and is impersonal (Hinduism).

Jesus either died on the cross (Christianity) or He didn’t (Islam).  The Koran repeatedly claims that Jesus did not die on the cross (Sura 4:157-158). What evidence does Islam offer? One guy with a vision over 500 years after the fact. That is not what we base history upon, especially when scholars of the first century — whether Christians or not — agree that a real person named Jesus died on a Roman cross.

God either revealed himself to us (many religions) or he didn’t (Atheism, Agnosticism).

Jesus is the eternally existent God (Christianity) or He isn’t (everything else, including the Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness). In fact, in Islam it is an unforgivable sin to claim that Jesus is God, so there is no way to reconcile Christianity and Islam.

Some people hold the view that God will be whatever you conceive him to be in this life.  That is one of the most bizarre religious views I have heard.  I’m not sure how they came to the conclusion that every human gets a designer god and that at death it would be just as one wished.

Consider the view of Mahatma Gandhi and Hinduism in general:

After long study and experience, I have come to the conclusion that [1] all religions are true; [2] all religions have some error in them; [3] all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism, in as much as all human beings should be as dear to one as one’s own close relatives. My own veneration for other faiths is the same as that for my own faith; therefore no thought of conversion is possible. (Mahatma Gandhi, All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi as told in his own words, Paris, UNESCO 1958, p 60.)

Yet the exclusive claims of Christianity prove Gandhi’s worldview (that of Hinduism) to be false.  Among other things, the Bible claims at least one hundred times that Jesus is the only way to salvation.  It also commands us not to worship idols and that we die once and then face judgment (it does not hold to reincarnation).  Those are key elements of the Hindu faith.  So if Hinduism is true then Christianity cannot be true.  But if Hinduism is correct in stating that all religions are true, then Christianity must be true.  But Christianity claims to be the one true path, so if it is true then Hinduism is not.

Also, Hinduism claims that Christianity is true, so if Christianity is false then so is Hinduism.  Either way, the logic of Gandhi and Hinduism collapses on itself.

When I share the Gospel with people I do so as respectfully as possible.  But I always try to work in examples like the above to highlight that under no circumstances can we both be right about the nature of God and salvation.

I used to hold the position of religious pluralism.  We studied world religions about 15 years ago in an Adult Sunday School class and, sadly, didn’t dig very deep (I was attending church but not really a believer . . . at best I was “saved and confused”).  Most of us walked away thinking the religions were “all pretty much the same” and with no incentive to go out and make a case for Christianity. 

So why did I – and so many people today, including Christians – embrace bad pluralism? I think it is typically out of a lack of clear thinking on the topic.  When you examine the essentials of these faiths it is not that hard to show how they are irreconcilable.

Political correctness and fear contribute as well.  It is easy to deny the exclusivity of Jesus (or the truth claims of whatever faith one follows) if one wants to avoid controversy.  But as unpopular as it is to make truth claims, it is really a rather logical thing to do.  The one claiming all religions are true needs to back up that claim with their evidence and logic.  Just rattle off a list of religions, sects and cults and ask why they are all true.  Just be careful saying things like, “Hinduism has a lot of sects.”  If you say it too quickly people will have surprised looks on their faces.

Sheer laziness is another factor.  Knowing enough about one’s faith to defend it in the marketplace of ideas is hard work.  Religious pluralism is a great excuse not to evangelize.

I expect many non-Christians to say that all paths lead to God, but it really bothers me when Christians do so.  They should meditate on this passage, among others:

Galatians 1:8-9 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

 

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The Life of Pi and religious pluralism

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I just finished reading the Life of Pi, an enjoyable, well written book that will be coming out as a movie this week.  One of the sub-themes was how Pi, the main character, tried to simultaneously follow Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.  One humorous scene was when he is walking with his family and his mentors from each religion just happen to converge on them and his secret of religious pluralism is revealed.

The book doesn’t dig deeply into the contradictions of the religions, but I think that the movie will give believers a good opportunity to address the notion of religious pluralism and use it as a springboard to point out the following:

  • why these religions can’t all be true
  • why your preferred religion doesn’t become the one by which the real God will judge you just because you like it the best
  • why the evidence of history points to Christianity.

Do a little prep work and this may be your easiest evangelism of the year!

There are two main kinds of religious pluralism.  One is good and one is intellectually bankrupt.

Good pluralism: Numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups are present and tolerated within a society.

Bad pluralism: All religions are true and equally valid paths to God.

pluralism.jpg

Pluralism can be a good thing if it means we should tolerate the beliefs of others.  Jesus, who was God in flesh, didn’t force anyone to convert.  So why should we think that we can?

Christianity should flourish in a society with good pluralism, as the Gospel can be shared freely and there isn’t pressure to fake one’s beliefs.  Sadly, we often get complacent in such atmospheres and Christianity spreads just as well or better in times of persecution.  It tends to weed out false believers and teachers more effectively.

Of course, there are some truths in each religion, but there are irreconcilable differences in their essential truth claims regarding the nature of God, the path to salvation, their view of Jesus, etc.

Here are some examples:

One of the following is possible when we die, but under no circumstance could more than one be possible:

  1. Reincarnation (Hinduism, New Age)
  2. Complete nothingness (Atheism)
  3. One death then judgment by God (Christianity, Islam, others)

Jesus was either the Messiah (Christianity) or He was not the Messiah (Judaism and others), but He cannot be both the Messiah and not the Messiah.

God either doesn’t exist (Atheism), He exists and is personal (Christianity) or He exists and is impersonal (Hinduism, Buddhism).

Jesus either died on the cross (Christianity) or He didn’t (Islam).  The Koran repeatedly claims that Jesus did not die on the cross (Sura 4:157-158). What evidence does Islam offer? One guy with a vision over 500 years after the fact. That is not what we base history upon, especially when scholars of the first century — whether Christians or not — agree that a real person named Jesus died on a Roman cross.

God either revealed himself to us (many religions) or he didn’t (Atheism, Agnosticism).

Jesus is the eternally existent God (Christianity) or He isn’t (everything else, including the Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness). In fact, in Islam it is an unforgivable sin to claim that Jesus is God, so there is no way to reconcile Christianity and Islam.

Some people hold the view that God will be whatever you conceive him to be in this life.  That is one of the most bizarre religious views I have heard.  I’m not sure how they came to the conclusion that every human gets a designer god and that at death it would be just as one wished.  That fantasy doesn’t work for 10 seconds in this life, so why would it work for eternity?

Consider the view of Mahatma Gandhi and Hinduism in general:

After long study and experience, I have come to the conclusion that [1] all religions are true; [2] all religions have some error in them; [3] all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism, in as much as all human beings should be as dear to one as one’s own close relatives. My own veneration for other faiths is the same as that for my own faith; therefore no thought of conversion is possible. (Mahatma Gandhi, All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi as told in his own words, Paris, UNESCO 1958, p 60.)

Yet the exclusive claims of Christianity prove Gandhi’s worldview (that of Hinduism) to be false.  Among other things, the Bible claims at least one hundred times that Jesus is the only way to salvation.  It also commands us not to worship idols and that we die once and then face judgment (it does not hold to reincarnation).  Those are key elements of the Hindu faith.  So if Hinduism is true then Christianity cannot be true.  But if Hinduism is correct in stating that all religions are true, then Christianity must be true.  But Christianity claims to be the one true path, so if it is true then Hinduism is not.

Also, Hinduism claims that Christianity is true, so if Christianity is false then so is Hinduism.  Either way, the logic of Gandhi and Hinduism collapses on itself.

When I share the Gospel with people I do so as respectfully as possible.  But I always try to work in examples like the above to highlight that under no circumstances can we both be right about the nature of God and salvation.

I must confess that I used to hold the position of religious pluralism.  We studied world religions over 20 years ago in an Adult Sunday School class and, sadly, didn’t dig very deep.  I was attending a theologically liberal church but was not really a believer yet.  At best I was “saved and confused” and became a believer despite the work of that church.   (What changed?  I read the Bible on my own and listened to lots of Christian radio and studied apologetics.)  Most of us walked away thinking the religions were “all pretty much the same” and with no incentive to go out and make a case for Christianity.  How convenient for us!

So why did I – and so many people today, including Christians – embrace bad pluralism? I think it is typically out of a lack of clear thinking on the topic.  When you examine the essentials of these faiths it is not that hard to show how they are irreconcilable.

Political correctness and fear contribute as well.  It is easy to deny the exclusivity of Jesus (or the truth claims of whatever faith one follows) if one wants to avoid controversy.  But as unpopular as it is to make truth claims, it is really a rather logical thing to do.  The one claiming all religions are true needs to back up that claim with their evidence and logic.  Just rattle off a list of religions, sects and cults and ask why they are all true.  Just be careful saying things like, “Hinduism has a lot of sects.”  If you say it too quickly people will have surprised looks on their faces.

Sheer laziness is another factor.  Knowing enough about one’s faith to defend it in the marketplace of ideas is hard work.  Religious pluralism is a great excuse not to evangelize.

I expect many non-Christians to say that all paths lead to God, but it really bothers me when Christians do so.  They should meditate on this passage, among others:

Galatians 1:8-9 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

Again, the Bible claims over 100 times directly and indirectly that Jesus is the only way to salvation and there are countless warnings not to worship false gods.  That isn’t what makes it true (his resurrection does that), but it does mean that anyone claiming the name of Christ should hold that view.  Run, don’t walk, from any church or “Christian” leader who doesn’t have the knowledge or the guts to make that simple claim.

Please be prepared to engage people on this important topic.  You don’t have to jump in with a direct assault on why their views are false.  For example, if I’m talking to a Muslim I may start by describing the views of a third religion, such as Hinduism, and point out that Hinduism and Islam can’t both be true.  Typically you’ll get quick agreement.  Then you can shift to the Koran’s claims about who died on the cross and how the Koran teaches that the Bible is the word of God and that God’s word can’t be corrupted.  Therefore, they should study the Bible.

That’s just one example.  Get the conversation going then point them to the Bible as quickly and thoroughly as you can.  Religious pluralism is demonstrably false and we can all be equipped to point it out in simple ways and to steer people to the truth.

World religions & evangelism videos

I came across this post from a couple years ago and thought I’d re-run it.  This is one of my favorite topics to teach, although I prefer not having to cram it all into one hour!  It works better as a 6-8 week series where you can go more in-depth.

—–

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I did a one hour presentation on world religions for a church group and decided to video tape it as an experiment.  I was pleased with the content of the presentation but learned some things about lighting, sound and pace.  That will make the next one much better. I was hoping it would be shorter but it is hard to cover all world religions and some evangelism basics in one easy session.

I covered some foundational concepts that apply to all religions then addressed some key differences of Christianity versus Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Hare Krishnas, Wiccans and atheists (OK, that’s more of a world non-religion).

I shared experiences I’ve had in witnessing to people in these faiths and some things that helped navigate through conversations effectively.  You really can share the truth without starting a Jihad.

Go here to just see the PowerPoint slides.

Major thanks to Stand to Reason, where I learned much of this.

God’s terms and conditions

If you authentically seek God on his terms, you will find him.  If you “seek” a god of your own making, you will not find him.

That may sound obvious, but think about how so many people in our culture think that all religions lead to God.  Lots of false teachers in churches will tell you such things.

Consider if you went to a company for a job and demanded that they hire you on your terms.  Hey, go ahead and ask for a million dollar salary and unlimited vacation.  Ridiculous, eh?  But only a tiny fraction as ridiculous as thinking you are going to tell God how things get done.

What makes anyone think they get to dictate the terms of the universe and eternal life to the one true God?  Pride.  Satan (“Did God really say . . .?”).

God sets the terms, not us.  In fact, his first commandments make that explicit.

Be bold in prayer, but know that God still sets the terms.  Seek him earnestly, but on his terms.

Where do you find his terms?  In the Bible.  They are actually quite generous.  All you have to do is repent and believe.  No good deeds required – though in response to his mercy and grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit you’ll be inspired to do good deeds.  Better yet, not only are all your sins forgiven but God will credit Jesus’ perfect righteousness to your account.

If you “seek” a god of your own making, you will not find the one true God.  If you’ve been doing that, stop kidding yourself.  Eternity is a mighty long time.

If you authentically seek God on his terms, you will find him.

Acts 17:26–27 (ESV) And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,

Oprah’s Secret isn’t that secret, but it is a lie

The theme of the best seller The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne, is not a secret, it is the same old “you are God / you can become God” nonsense that has been around since Genesis 3.  The claims in the book are false and contradictory, but discernment in this culture seems to be at an all time low.  For example, one of the keys to The Secret is the law of attraction, which demands only this:

  1. Know what you want and ask the universe for it.
  2. Feel and behave as if the object of your desire is on its way.
  3. Be open to receiving it.

There are many flaws with this philosophy.  But one is completely fatal to its premise and nearly self-evident: What if two people want the same thing, such as marrying the same person, or opposite things, such as the farmer wanting rain and the family wanting a sunny picnic?

This flawed worldview is really tragic.  I know a person who is consistently miserable but holds tenaciously to the view that he creates his own reality.  Without me even having to ask, “So, uh, how’s that working out for you?,” he’ll concede that it isn’t working well at all.  He thinks he just has to try harder.  He is immune to logic.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason wrote an excellent and important article about the book.  I encourage you to read it all.  Oprah Winfrey’s worldview is based on The Secret and is one of the most popular in the country today.  It is basically a mix of the American prosperity gospel (“God wants you to be rich”) and Hinduism.  With just a little thought people should realize that the premise is ridiculous, but they want to believe it is true.

Oprah Winfrey is the “pastor” of the largest church in the country. “The Church of O,” Christianity Today noted, has a congregation of 22 million vigorous, faithful, evangelistic members, making Oprah Winfrey  one of the most influential spiritual leaders in America.” Oprah’s theology is based on a secret. That secret is in a book: The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne.

. . .

Generally, no spiritual lie is pure falsehood, but rather a clever example of truth twisted. There is always some legitimacy in even the darkest deceptions. That’s what makes them so appealing. It’s  also what makes them so nefarious. The Secret is no exception.

The smidgen of truth found in The Secret is this: If you mentally focus on some end, you are more likely to accomplish that end.

I’ll stick with the Gospel.  It isn’t a secret, but it is true and it has the power to save and transform lives, now and for eternity.  Living according to The Secret is a sure path through the wide gate.  As Koukl notes:

The Secret is a lie because what it teaches is false. It’s appealing because it takes something true (the ability to use thought and language to focus our wills to accomplish important goals) and twists  it into something poisonous by grounding it in a lie: You are God.

. . .

Rather, God is the Creator of the universe. God is the center of reality. We are His rebellious subjects. We are under His judgment. And unless we surrender, we are destined for an eternity of suffering and anguish that will never end, this at the hand of the real Master of the universe.

. . .

The truth is no secret. It is being proclaimed from the rooftops by Jesus’ faithful followers. There is rescue for rebels, forgiveness and eternal friendship with God for those who lay down their arms  and appeal for peace on God’s terms.

And the only “law of attraction” in operation is the one that flows from the cross: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32).

Sincerely held beliefs can be sincerely wrong

If you have ever flown internationally you are probably familiar with the little toiletry bags that most airlines provide with mini-toothbrushes, earplugs, etc.  Once on a flight from Europe the bag had a small container of shaving cream that looked remarkably similar to a tube of toothpaste.  Unfortunately, I was half-awake and didn’t notice this until I started brushing (“This toothpaste sure is creamy . . . huh? . . . ack/spit/ack/spit!”).

Many in our culture would concede that your view on what is in a physical container can be wrong, but they are quick to say that as long as religious beliefs are sincere that they are true for you.  But sincerity of belief has nothing to do with truth, whether it is religious or not.  If you sincerely claim that God spoke to you, for example, that claim is either true or false.  It may be true that you think God spoke to you but whether He really did or not is in the category of objective truths, not subjective.

Truth is that which corresponds to reality, whether the views in question are spiritual or not.

Even the belief that God hasn’t adequately revealed himself to us is a truth claim that must be defended.  The Bible is not subtle about claiming to speak for God (only ~3,000 specific quotes, plus other statements that the whole book turned out as He desired).  That isn’t what makes it true, but it is a clear and consistent theme that must be true or false.

Religious views aren’t just personal.  People who fly airplanes into buildings for the purposes of destroying life and property to advance their religious agenda are obviously quite sincere in their beliefs.  The question is whether their beliefs are accurate reflections of the one true God (Hint: They aren’t).

Despite what many poorly informed Christians claim, Christianity is a religion based on history and truth claims — namely that a real person named Jesus was God in flesh and that He lived, died on a Roman cross for our sins and was resurrected on the 3rd day.  I urge you to check “minimal facts” about Christianity, which are things that even non-Christian historians are in virtually unanimous agreement upon and that give great evidence for foundational Christian beliefs.

In my airplane experience I sincerely believed that the shaving cream was toothpaste, but I was sincerely wrong.  No amount of sincerity was going to change the composition of what was in the tube.  Religious views are the same. No amount of sincerity will result in your beliefs creating the traits of the one true God.  Therefore, you should follow the facts where they lead and make every effort to know the truth about God.

The pottery does not get to create the potter.  In fact, the potter hates it when the pottery makes up fake potters.

Eternity is a mighty long time.  Don’t mess it up by holding the irrational belief that you get to create your own god.  If you want to know about the real God – and you should – then read the Bible.  A lot.

Why aren’t more people evangelical?

Pastor Timothy had a good piece on a Penn Jillette video (see the YouTube at the bottom of the post).

Apparently, a man gave Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller fame, a Bible and it really moved Penn. No, he is not a believer. He is an atheist. But the kindness which the man showed towards Penn was enough to make him stop and think. Penn points out that if Christians really believe in heaven and hell the way that we say we do, then it is not very loving to not tell others about Christ. In other words, since we do believe those things, then we need to tell others of Christ. Realize, this is coming from an atheist. This should stir our hearts into action.

The man who gave Jillette the Bible did a good job of witnessing by his words and actions.

Let us also consider how logical it is for everyone to be more “evangelistic”, regardless of their worldview.  If you hold firmly to any religion or even to atheism, it seems logical to me that you’d want to share those truths with other people.  Of course I’m not saying that more than one can be true, because they all have mutually exclusive truth claims. 

But if you think atheism is completely true, wouldn’t you want to share that with others?  If you think Christianity is true, wouldn’t you want to share that?  Or Islam, or Hinduism, or whatever?  Eternity is a mighty long time, so if you are sure of your beliefs and think others are wrong then the loving thing would be to spread that truth in an effective manner.