Christian faith and religious pluralism

Ted Grimsrud

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”

Changing Convictions About the Holy Spirit? 1996/2011 (2)

[How, if at all, have my views about the Holy Spirit changed in the past 15 years? This is the sixth of a series of six posts on how my faith convictions have changed (or not) since I have been a college professor. Not long before leaving congregational ministry to begin teaching I did a series of sermons describing in concise terms what I understood to be key Christian beliefs. I posted an excerpt from my sermon on the Holy Spirit here. Now I will reflect on my current convictions about the Holy Spirit. Here are links to the first four posts—the first two are on my views of God 15 years ago and on present-day thoughts about God. The third and fourth are on, first, my thoughts from 15 years ago and then some current thoughts on Jesus.]

Ted Grimsrud—July 17, 2011

When I addressed convictions about the Holy Spirit in my 1996 sermon, I followed what I imagine is a common pattern. I did that sermon not so much because of any deep-seated interest that I might have had in that particular topic but mainly because I assumed one shouldn’t talk about convictions about God and Jesus without also including the Holy Spirit.

We see this pattern as far back as the Apostles’ Creed. After statements on God and Jesus that contain significant, if tightly packed, content about those two themes, the Creed turns to the Holy Spirit with a statement remarkable for how little it actually says about the Holy Spirit: “I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.”

I did say a bit more about the Holy Spirit in my sermon than the Apostles’ Creed does. I like what I said, as far as it went. But more recently, I have some more substantial thoughts. I have been trying to think more deeply about what actually our understanding of the Holy Spirit might contribute to our broader theological perspective. Rather than being a kind of add on to a theology grounded in other motifs, what if we genuinely took our understanding of the Holy Spirit as one of our generative themes? Continue reading “Changing Convictions About the Holy Spirit? 1996/2011 (2)”

What’s really at stake in the debate about universalism

Ted Grimsrud—April 3, 2011

Years ago I met a guy who pastored in Canada in the Mennonite Church. He struck me as a good person, seemed pretty gifted, someone I could easily imagine being successful in ministry. But he told me (and this was confirmed by others later) that he had gotten in trouble pretty often, even lost a couple of jobs. What was the problem? He was a universalist. He believed all people would find salvation, and he was willing to state that openly.

Ever since that conversation, I have noticed that for whatever reason, universalism seems like about the worst heresy there is. It seems like, at least in circles I’m familiar with, that it is much more objectionable for Christians to be too welcoming than it is to be too strict.

I have been aware of this dynamic surfacing again in controversy among North American evangelical Christians over a new book by a young superstar pastor named Rob Bell (the book is called: Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived; here’s one long highly critical review and a here’s link to the Google page for “rob bell love wins”). Before Bell’s book was even published, some of his theological enemies caught wind that he argues for a view that struck these thought police as dangerously close to universalism.

This debate about Bell’s book is fascinating, and has stimulated me to reflect a bit more on the universalism controversy as I have experienced it over the years—and to think some new thoughts about what I think may actually be at stake. I think the real issues that matter are a bit different than those generally discussed. And, I think this in large part because of what I understand the Bible to teach. Continue reading “What’s really at stake in the debate about universalism”