Pluralism – Is Jesus the Only Way?
As culture has drifted from modernism into post-modernism, the objectivity that was the hallmark of the modern era is being replaced by subjectivity in virtually every thing. For this reason, the culture is becoming increasing pluralistic by accepting anything and everything as being equally valid. This is happening in ethics, politics, and even truth. This runs against the grain for a people who believe that there is nothing but one Truth, namely Jesus, and that one Truth is the only person that can bring about salvation.
There are number of verses that point to Jesus being the only way. John 14:6 is probably the most well-known of these verses, where Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Another such verse is Acts 4:12, which makes a similar claim. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 says that there is only one mediator, namely Jesus. 1 John 5:11-12 says that he who has the Son has life, and he that does not have the does not have life. The Old Testament commanded the exclusive worship of God (Deuteronomy 6:14, Deuteronomy 6:5, Psalm 81:9, Isaiah 46:9). The gospel itself implies that Jesus is the only way. Because all of sinned, nothing humans can do can make save them. It takes God reaching down to man so he can be saved, and this was done through Jesus. John 17:3 makes this abundantly clear – eternal life is known the one true God and Jesus whom he sent. Any other “gospel” that teaches another way then is excluded and some are mutually exclusive.
There are two basic forms of pluralism: Universalism which says that all ways are true and inclusivism, where one way accepts others ways as compatible options within that way. Inclusivists either adapts the beliefs another as being compatible or it says that other beliefs are a preexisting or incomplete manifestation of later more complete revelation comes. Whatever the claim may be, these often run contradictory to the claims in one or more system.
Sensibilities are perhaps the primary driver behind pluralism, but in these attempts to be sensible, pluralists create a conundrum for themselves. In their quest to be tolerant, they themselves become intolerant of the ones who they perceive to be intolerant, thereby undermining their entire quest. This is the “paradox of tolerance”, which is the general problem with any sort of pluralism. Consider this quote from Boston’s mayor Thomas Menino, “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.” In the name of anti-discrimination, he’s discriminating who can and cannot build on the Freedom Trail.
On the pragmatic side, similar to Pascal’s Wager, one could make a wager out of a pluralistic scenario. Suppose one had to choose between pluralism and exclusive Christianity. If pluralism is true (that is, all ways are equally valid) then both the pluralist and the exclusive Christian would receive a reward. If exclusive Christianity is true, then only the Christian receives the reward. Under this scenario, the only one in danger of losing is the pluralist. As it turns out, there is an inverse relationship between exclusivity and the probability of reward on pragmatic grounds. The more exclusive a belief system is to truth, the more likely it is to result in reward. Arguably, Christianity is perhaps better on other pragmatic grounds too, because it is simplest possible approach to salvation as it only requires one thing and it does not exclude prima facie who can receive the reward.
Often, those who are labeled intolerant will also be labeled as “backwards”, “ignorant”, or “hateful”. To be backwards is to be turned away from what is true or right. To be ignorant is to be uneducated or ill-informed. To be hateful is to express extreme dislike towards someone or something. None of these things necessarily describe Christianity. To the ones using such heated language, they may indeed be the one’s exhibiting these very allegations. Pluralism is ultimately a slippery, self-defeating paradigm that is not only inconsistent with itself, but also with Christianity. Christianity encourages sensibilities like kindness and love and also teaches that one may catch flak for following Jesus too. But in any case, be ready to give a defense, but do it with gentleness to hush the mouth of scoffers by one’s deeds (1 Peter 3:15-17).