Question: "What is religious pluralism?"
Answer: Religious pluralism generally refers to the belief in two or more religious worldviews as being equally valid or acceptable. More than mere tolerance, religious pluralism accepts multiple paths to God or gods as a possibility and is usually used in contrast with “exclusivism,” the idea that there is only one true religion or way to know God.
While religious pluralism has been in existence since at least the seventeenth century, the concept has become more popular since the latter half of the twentieth century in Western Europe and North America. Specifically, the idea of religious ecumenism (religions working together as one) and the recently popularized interfaith movement have led to the increased acceptance of religious pluralism in popular culture.
Studies by the Barna Group and others have noted the growth of ideas related to religious pluralism in American culture in recent years. In many cases, even significant numbers of people identified as Christians believe there is more than one way to heaven.
Pluralism is more than the sharing of certain values or agreement on some social issues. Buddhists and Christians both agree that helping the poor is important, but such limited concord is not pluralism. Pluralism has to do with lending credence to competing truth claims and accepting diverse beliefs regarding God and salvation.
In addition, two or more religions can share some doctrinal beliefs yet remain fundamentally different as belief systems. For example, Muslims and Christians agree that there is only one God—yet both religions define God differently and hold many other irreconcilable beliefs.
What does the Bible teach about religious pluralism? First, the Bible acknowledges only one God (Deuteronomy 6:5). Therefore, religious pluralism is incompatible with biblical teaching since pluralism accepts multiple views of God or even multiple gods.
Second, the Bible teaches exclusivism in that there is only one way to know God—through Jesus Christ. John 14:6 notes that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. The apostles taught the same message in Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Third, the Bible frequently condemns other religions as following gods that are not really gods. For example, Joshua 23:16 says, “If you violate the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the LORD's anger will burn against you.”
Religious liberty guarantees that multiple religions can worship peaceably, and Christians appreciate such liberty, as it allows for open worship of God. In contrast, religious pluralism teaches that multiple religions are true or equally valid, something the Bible clearly refutes. We encourage religious liberty, but at the same time we communicate the Bible’s teaching of “one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
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