In my Introduction to Theology class the past several years, I have asked students to read a book that contains interactive essays that address questions related to Christian faith and religious pluralism (Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World). We then have several vigorous discussions about how we think of these different approaches. We focus on three from the book: “pluralist” (Christianity is not any more truthful than other religions; salvation is possible separate from Christianity); “inclusivist” (Christianity is the one true faith, but others may gain saving faith outside of Christianity in ways that ultimate do lead them to Jesus), and “particularist” (Christianity is the one truth faith; one finds salvation only by explicitly trusting in Jesus).
These discussions have stimulated me to reflect on my own understandings of these issues.
Religious pluralism as a fact of life
This issue of Christian faith in relation to other religions grows ever more challenging for Christians in our globalized world. Here in the United States, we can no longer avoid asking about different religions. Many of us travel around the world, doing business with people from many cultures and religious traditions, and, if nothing else, rub shoulders in grocery stores and ethnic restaurants with other-than-Christian religious folks.
I teach at a tiny Christian college in small, pretty isolated city in Virginia’s Shenandoah valley. I have had students who are Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist. Our favorite places to eat include restaurants operated by recent immigrants from Nepal, Vietnam, China, Thailand, Mexico, and Ethiopia. Our local public high school, in 2006, had students from 64 different countries who spoke 44 different languages—and surely represented numerous different faiths. Religious pluralism has become part of our everyday life, like it or not.
So, what do we think of the various religions of the world? How do we relate our own Christian faith to Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and so on? How does our understanding of the religions fit with our broader theological convictions? Continue reading “Christian faith and religious pluralism”