Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Question 4: Is Jesus the only way to heaven continued

Critiques of Pluralism

I want to begin our discussion of pluralism by examining three points from Gulley and Mulholland’s book If Grace is True. I believe these points will also be compatible with those of John Hick discussed a couple days ago. They argue that if every person will be saved, we cannot believe Jesus is the way of salvation, thus negating the divinity of Christ. This is the point where I question the integrity of their theological speculations.

If you believe God loves and will save every person, you can’t claim redemption as an exclusively Christian experience…. I still claim Jesus has a special relationship with God and an important role in human history, though I am no longer convinced this requires his divinity.

My first critique is not that pluralism asks us to redefine the meaning of the trinity, the atonement, or the resurrection, but that in redefining these terms pluralism has claimed that Jesus is not divine. Instead, they argue that Jesus had a special relationship with God. However, this same statue applies to other religious teachers such as Muhammad, Buddha, etc. In the name of religious tolerance, pluralism has lost the significance of Jesus. Sometimes it even appears that Jesus is presented as the bad guy. We are too afraid to talk about our love for Jesus because we are afraid of offending someone.
The second critique of pluralistic universalism comes from Jerry Walls, in his book Heaven, the Logic of Eternal Joy. In critiquing the view of John Hick, he puts it like this, “[A view such as this] requires Christians, as well as adherents of other religions that make exclusive claims, [such as the incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and the Trinity] to give up what is distinctive to their faith and accept a generic substitute in its place.” Pluralism not only forces Christians to surrender the things that we hold dear to us, but those people who belong to other religions are forced to give us a belief in those things they hold to be exclusive. For example, Islam would have to believe that Muhammad was not the greatest prophet and that the Koran was just another religious self help book. I am not sure about you, but I do not see Muslims choosing this option.
In an e-mail, a friend told me that pluralism did not ask people to give up their beliefs. In fact, I think pluralism tries to convey the message that it accepts the beliefs of everyone. However, I believe its attempt fails. For example, in order for me to embrace pluralism, I would have to give up believing that Jesus is God and that the he is the only way to heaven. If a Muslim accepted pluralism, they would have to give up believing that Muhammad was the greatest prophet and believe he was on equal ground with all the other religious leaders in the history of the world.
The third critique is that Hick and other pluralist claim that we cannot know God for certain so we cannot judge which religion is the best revelation of God, so we should accept all of them. In stating this premise, pluralism is stating a truth claim about God, yet they do not believe we can know the truth about God. At best, they must conclude that we do not know that God is unknowable. Instead, pluralism is claiming to have an even greater knowledge than any of the world religions, since they claim no one religion gets it all right.
A fourth critique comes from the book Mere Christianity and is directed at Hick’s claim that Christians are no more moral than adherents of other religions. C.S. Lewis argues that we cannot judge the morality of Christianity for two reasons. (1) We cannot know for sure who is a Christian and who is not. He says that some people are not Christians yet, but are on their way while others claim to be Christians, but are moving in the opposite direction from God. (2) He also says that some people have better moral dispositions than others. For instance, one person, X, may have a bad moral disposition to begin with and when she accepts Christ, her bad moral disposition does not immediately erase. Person Z may not be a Christian, but may have been born with a good moral disposition. When you compare persons X and Z, person Z may appear to be more moral because this person was born this way. Instead of comparing X to Z, we should ask, “What kind of person would X have been without Christ?" Lewis argues that moral disposition does not change the fact that both X and Z need Jesus.
I want to suggest that this is not to say that Christians are superior in claiming that Christ is the only way of salvation. The gospel tells us that the entire world falls short of beign the people God wants us to. My claim is that Jesus Christ is superior in that he is the way, the truth, and the life. It is an exclusive claim in that Jesus is the means of salvation, but it is an inclusive claim in that Jesus’ offer of salvation is to the entire world.

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