A Research Paper for Introduction to Contextual Missiology
Mth in Contextual Missiology
University of Wales
International Baptist Theological Seminary
Prague, Czech Republic. 2002
Submitted to Dr. René Erwich
From exclusivism to pluralism 3
Pluralism and reasons for its growing 5
Religious pluralism 6
Religious pluralism in Czech context 8
1.Limits of pluralism I: Religious – logical argument 10
2.Limits of pluralism II: Comparative argument 12
3.Grounds for articulation of Christ uniqueness 14
Essay question: How would you articulate the Christian understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in the light of religious pluralism?
During the last two years I was asked several times to speak at several high schools as well as colleges about the difference between Christianity and other religions. Students and teachers were quite positive about my lectures, unless I started to speak about Jesus Christ. Very often the first question after the lecture has been this: “Do you think, that Christ is the only way to God?” If I´d answer ´NO´ – I´d deny my Christian message. If I´d answer YES people will say that every religion claims to be the best way either to God or to some metaphysic reality. Their second question used to be this: “How you can be sure that the way to God through Jesus is the best?” Even though most of the listeners had quite a poor knowledge about Jesus, they did not like to hear about his uniqueness. It has been and it still is the same at every school. Even in the atheistic Czech Republic the name of Jesus is like the color red for bulls. Through many discussions with non – Christians I have finally realized what I have read and heard before – that the key point in discussion about other religion is the uniqueness of Jesus. It also can be the point of division.
This story shows that we are living in the world where Jesus is seen just as one Savior among others. In his annual speech P. Cerny (president of the biggest Czech evangelical denomination – Brethren Church) asked the following question: “What are we doing with the contemporary multi-religious pluralism? What about the dialogue with other religions? Where are the limits?”1. His question is not taken from a vacuum. It is real “hot potatoe problem” in Czech Church. And that is why I decided to deal with this issue.
The essay is basically divided into three parts. The first part is about pluralism – about the context in which we share the uniqueness of Christ. I will show the shift from exlusivism to pluralism, then I will describe pluralism and the grounds for pluralism. Then I will describe pluralism in the Czech Republic, especially “the herald of Czech religious pluralism” –Forum 2000. In the second part of the essay I write about the limits of pluralism and I will compare Christianity with the traditions of other religion´s. These two parts make a starting point for the third part where I will try to answer the question “How to articulate the Christian understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in a pluralistic world”. For formulations of pluralistic opinions I quote several well-known authors (Rorty, Ghandi, authors of The myth of Christians uniqueness and several leaders speaking at Forum 2000). For a formulation of an opinion Christ´s uniqueness I more or less directly relied on authors like J. Stott, R. Zacharias, H. Netland, L. Newbright, A. McGrath, P. Cerny. In the middle of their discussion I try to present my opinions and ideas.
From exclusivism to pluralism
The story above illustrates the tension Christians all over the world are facing as they are surrounded by growing religious pluralism of the West.
Paul Hiebert sees pluralism as one of the roots of the postmodernity. He writes “the social root for postmodernity is the growing pluralism of Western societies”. Then he continues claiming “that postmodern society is more than the act of pluralism. It is acceptance of pluralism as the ideal way to organize society.”2 Such reality leads him into logical question: “What is the motive for mission if we are to affirm their communities and their religious beliefs?” Philosopher Diogenes Allen connects pluralism with the crisis of the secular mentality: “Much of the distress concerning pluralism and relativism which is voiced today springs from a crisis in the secular mentality of modern western culture.”3 In the middle of such pluralistic society people try to answer the question – what is the truth? Or they ask – How can you believe that man can be saved ONLY by Jesus Christ?
When I prepared this essay I was basically confronted with three main perspectives concerning uniqueness of Christ or more generally uniqueness of Christianity: exlusivism, inclusivism and pluralism.4 It is important to distinguish between them. I will mention all of them but in the first part of the essay I will deal just with pluralism.
The first viewpoint is known as Christian exclusivism. Historically, exclusivism has been the dominant position of the Christian Church regarding other religions.5 It is the view that though there are indeed truths and values in many other religions, there is only one saving truth, namely the gospel of Jesus Christ. This view is most naturally deduced from Jesus' statement: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me" (John 14:6). Moreover, early apostolic preaching asserted salvation only through Jesus Christ(Acts 4,12).
Others, less anxious to preserve uniqueness for the Christian faith, yet still desiring to hold an attitude of tolerance and acceptance, are committed to the viewpoint known as Christian inclusivism. In their opinion, though people of another religious conviction may be ignorant of Christ or possibly even have rejected Him, yet because of their positive response to what they know about God, or even due to their efforts to follow the dictates of their conscience, they are unknowingly included in the number of those who are recipients of Christ's salvation. The analogy is sometimes used of a person who receives a gift, but is unaware of who the ultimate giver of the gift may be. Vatican II embraced this view in its statement that Christ´s saving work holds goods ´not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way´.6
Some are saying that we must acknowledge that all religions are equally (or nearly equally) valid as ways to approach God. Though there may be superficial differences among the world's religions, at heart they are fundamentally the same. God revealed himself in all religions. Often the analogy is used of people taking different paths up the same mountain, but all arriving at the same top. Another analogy used is about the elephant and blind people touching different parts of elephant’s body.7 This is the viewpoint known as religious pluralism. Because of the theme of the essay it is necessary to deal deeper with this last viewpoint.
Pluralism and reasons for its growing
There is the new global consciousness. Face to face to the unstable world it seems to be more and more obvious that survival of the human race seems to depend on our learning to live together in harmony and to cooperate for the common good. Whatever divides us, including our religion, is understandably regarded with increasing disfavor.8 In a similar sense pluralism is described in the Oxford dictionary: “Pluralism is existence in one society of a number of groups that belong to different races or have different political or religious belief. Principle, that these different groups can live together peacefully in one society”.9 So pluralism is seen as one of the main philosophies for survival in our unstable world.
Hand-in-hand with peace goes tolerance. So a good synonym for pluralism is tolerance. If different races (see Oxford dictionary) will not be tolerant to each other, sooner or later there will be a fight and there will be no way to live peacefully and to cooperate for common good (see Stott). Our world will be even more unstable.
Another reason for pluralism is rooted in the view that there is no truth with capital ´T´. One of the best-known post-modern philosophers R. Rorty argues: "Truth is not out there waiting to be discovered."10 Through our contingent use of language, we construct statements, which we claim to be true. Rorty argues that there are no absolute standards such as "liberty, equality and fraternity"11, which can be proclaimed as universally appropriate for all humanity. Rorty depicts a world of many different societies, each claiming the loyalties of their members, each asserting its own moralities, and each distinguishing itself from others. Only recognition of our cultural limitations leads to a sort of tolerance for others. On the other side, to claim any uniqueness means to be intolerant. G. Veight states that those who reject that there are no absolutes are called as “intolerant”.12 My experience is very similar with Veith´s comment. To speak about uniqueness of Christ means to risk being called intolerant.
There is the new appreciation of other religions. Because of new communication networks (Internet, satellites but English as “the Latin of 21 century” as well), but also because of certain discouragement with Western life style and presentation of traditional Christianity there is a new openness for new “spiritual riches”. Religion is the area where pluralism is more evident than in any other area of today´s world. More than ever before, we are conscious of the existence of the world's many religions - not only the major religions, but also a host of smaller yet enduring religious movements. When contemporary man sees so many religions he or she has to ask a question – is´n it arrogant to claim that the only way to God is the person of Jesus?
The last reason is the new post-colonial modesty. “For four centuries the West dominated the world. Indeed Christianity´s attitude to other religions has been shaped by the colonial mentality.”13 Very good but at the same time sad text about Christian´s colonialism wrote Ghandi:
“I heard about well-known Hindu having been converted to Christianity. It was the talk of town than, that when he was baptized, he had to eat beef and drink liquor, than he had to change his cloth and that henceforth he began to go about European costume including a hat. Surely, A thought, a religion that compelled one of to eat beef, drink liquor, and changes one´s own clothes did not deserve the name. All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity.”14
But because the world has became one big “global village”, Christian nations, if we can still call European nations and USA as Christians nations, have no right to dominate any more. We are experiencing shift from superiority to parity. It is true about relationship between Christianity and other religions as well.
Religion is the area where pluralism is obvious more than in any other area. What does religious pluralism mean? In 1987 The Myth of Christian Uniqueness has been published. Scholars, who wrote this book, describe themselves as having ´crossed a theological Rubicon´. They publicly rejected both exlusivism and inclusivism and accepted a genuinely pluralistic view of religion.15 In the preface we read, that authors “wanted to gather theologians who were exploring the possibilities of a pluralistic position – a move away from insistence on the superiority or finality of Christ.”16
Authors tell us about three ´bridges´ that have led them to make the crossing to religious pluralism.17
The first bridge is historic-cultural bridge or relativity. It means that Christian theology has to give up any claim to final truth. As M. Kaufman writes: “None of us – Christian or non-Chrisitan – possesses absolute or final truth. “God” or “Christ” are just central Christian symbols which must be given up entirely.”18 The man who described it by the best way is Ghandi (The following text could be named as a “magna charta of religious pluralism”.)
“I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal tolerance, but we accept all religions as true. As different streams having different sources all mingle their waters in the sea, so different paths which men take through different tendencies various though they appear; crooked or straight, all lead to God.”19
We see religious pluralism par excellence. All religions are equal, all lead to God; no religion has any right to claim that it has the final truth. And more than that – religions are just paths. EVERY path is good because every path leads towards the right goal – to God.
The second bridge is theologico-mystical or mystery. Here is the text of Indian theologian Stanley Samartha:
“Both the terms Brahman and God are culture – conditioned (see Rorty). One could as well use the term Mystery…In this case the two statements-namely, that ‘Brahman is sat-cit-ananda’20 and ‘God’ is triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – could be regarded as two responses to the same Mystery in two cultural setting…”21
Samartha sees God as a mystery. The most famous Czech priest Halik has a similar attitude. When he was asked if he sees Brahma and God the Father as the same, his answer was that Brahma and God the father are transcendent mystery. He does not say that that they are the same but he also does not say that they are different.22 The problem of both Samartha´s and Halik´s answer is that mystery is too broad a term and everyone can put under that term whatever he wants. Professor Smith writes, that “our theologies are only ´conceptual images of God´.23 But he goes further – ´For Christians to think that Christianity is true, or final, or salvific, is a form of idolatry´. For Christians to think that God constructed Christianity rather than he/she/it has inspired us to construct it, that is idolatry.“24 The third bridge is called ethico-practical bridge or justice. “Here is pluralism seen as a bridge for confrontation with the suffering of humanity and the need to put an end to such outrages.”25 For this is too big a task for any one religion to accomplish, there must be a worldwide inter-religious dialogue. Professor P. Knitter writes, that “a preferential option for the poor constitutes the necessity and the primary purpose for inter-religious dialogue.”26 In practice it means that criterion by which we should judge religion is their effectiveness in promoting human well-being. “Affirming religious pluralism within the context of justice shifts the focus of dialogue to the concreteness of human well-being.”27 Another criterion (beside promoting human well-being) by which to judge any religion must be ethical.
We could think of New Age as an expression of postmodern religious pluralism. It is not only mix of many religions, but it is mystical, personal and from the practitioners’ point of view, practical. Bosch describes New age as the cocktail of myth, magic, Eastern religions and systems of thought.28 F. Ridenour writes: “One of the key concepts of New Age is syncretism, the idea that all religions are one and they lead to the same play.”29
Religious pluralism in Czech context
One of the reasons why I decided to write about this theme is the contemporary Czech situation. Five years ago the uniqueness of Christ was not “a hot potato question” for Evangelicals. But in 1997 President Havel started meetings called “Forum 2000”. During the five years since it was first held in 1997, the Multireligious Assembly has become a traditional part of the Forum 2000 Conferences. It is a gathering where representatives of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism meet for a joint meditation. Every year this assembly took place in St. Vitus' Cathedral at Prague Castle. For a better understanding it is necessary to present a part of some of the speeches. I picked up just the most significant speakers.30
T. Halik, the main organizer stated:
“We have gathered here on this holiest of all sites in the Czech Republic to experience what has not been experienced throughout the history of humankind. And it is wonderful that on this occasion the spiritual content of this conference is compounded by the presence of the Czech public. We should like to feel here everything that is inside us, that has been part of our traditions, of our history. This mystery, as I call it, has got a different appearance.”
For Prague Archbishop Miloslav Vlk the highest value has been dialogue: “The value of a meeting like the one today lies in the fact that we have found the courage not to fight but to lead this dialogue. Large religions, however, feel that they can co-operate for the sake of the ecology of spirit. And that is also a reason why we are meeting here today.” Rabbi Friendlander pointed that we all are near and far away from God (but he did not add which God): “Give comfort and be comforted - surely that is a central insight of our religious faith when we are all so near to God and so far away from God. All of us are still in exile, but there is a highway - a path which we can walk together with the divine presence within us.” Prof. Mohammed Amine Smaili (Islam) claimed that religion or faith is inside us: “Every human being, religious by nature, has the right to enter this House of God. And no matter what difficulties there are God offers religion and we cannot live without it because we are all believers, although we sometimes do not know this because religion or faith is inside us. Archbishop of the Lutheran Church, Mr. Jonson of Sweden openly spoke about pluralism: “Through pluralism, which is a condition for peace and a shared future in the world, there is much more than a recognition of plurality and mutual respect. Pluralism is actively to make a home not only for oneself but also for one's neighbour in this multifaceted world. It is to worship God transcending all particular languages and images.” The most well-known speaker of Forum 2000 was the Dalai Lama. Here is the part of his speech: “All different various religious traditions which still exist on this planet teach us to be a good person. All teachings carry the message of love, compassion and forgiveness. So those people who believe in different religious traditions, please practice sincerely and make religious teaching part of one's own life.”
From these speeches we can see emphasis on dialogue, understanding, necessity of religion in general, respect and moral. But let´s look to the comment of Pavel Cerny - “Misleading multi-religious meeting gave the feeling that Christians share with Judaists, Muslims, Buddhists a Hinduists the same natural theology. Sad is that it is done with the agreement of Church leaders. On the graves of Czech Christians kings, in national cathedral it seemed, that Allah and the Lord are the same gods.”31 All leaders of the main Evangelical denominations in Czech have a very similar attitude. We have to ask a question: Isn´t their attitude too fanatical or fearful? To answer this question we have to see what they saw as misleading aspects: The first is common meditation and prayers to “one God”. The second is the place where it took place – St. Vitus, for many people symbol of Christianity. The third – not one of the Chrisian´s speakers mentioned person of Jesus. All of them presented Christianity without Jesus. The last problem is with the interpretation of that assembly. Not only common people, but for example TV news, interpreted this meeting as sign of religious pluralism. Even thought organizers of Forum 2000 probably had good goals, they underestimated the interpretation. The final picture of Christianity after that assembly is that Christianity is a peaceful, tolerant, humble, generous, loving religion. Because of that Czech people will see Christianity without its cornerstone – Jesus Christ. The question is this: is it still Christianity? Because of that situation, Evangelical leaders are more and more under the pressure to relativize the uniqueness of Jesus.
Forum 2000 showed me that religious pluralism is not only what we could see through definition. It can be when pluralism, dialogue, tolerance, justice and even love became higher values than truth. I do not think that these values must necessary go against truth, but they cannot stay higher indefinitely.
Limits of pluralism I: Religious – logical argument
From postmodern point of view it is obvious that exclusivism would be called as non-tolerant. As McGrath says, “given that there are so many religions in the market place, how can Christianity claim to be true?”32 Interesting answer brings R. Zacharias:
“One surprising illusion under which the modern critic of Christianity lives is the belief that Christianity is the only system of believing that is exclusivistic. In reality, every world-view is implicitly excluvistic.”33
The more we study world religions, the more we see differences. As I wrote, in common understanding tolerance goes hand in hand with pluralism. We have to ask a question if pluralism, which accepts all views as true and legitimate, is really tolerant. To say that all views are legitimate (see Rorty and Ghandi) is self-contradictory because the one who calls me “intolerant” does not accept my view as true. We can see that even Ghandi was not consistent in his claims. He did not tolerate for example atheism, historic Christian doctrines, violence against people.34 So in many aspects he was exclusivist.
My other problem with religious pluralism is that it goes against the law of non-contradictory. If someone will ask my wife if she is pregnant and she will answer yes, then my answer should not be no. Both answers cannot be true at the same time. The same is true about Christ´s uniqueness. If Christ claims he his the only way to God, then at the same time there cannot be more ways to God. Or there are more ways to God but Jesus is wrong. Or if one of the main goals of Christ´s work is to help humankind to be with His Father forever then at the same time, man´s goal is not to reach Nirvana. These concepts are so different that either one or the other is true or false. R. Zacharias says that “the truth by definition is exclusive”. Then he continues when he writes that “because of the exclusive character of truth “Jesus made a most reasonable statement when he claimed his exclusivity”35 Even Catholic theologian R. Pannikar (one of the authors The Myth of Christian Uniqueness) speaks about the exclusive character of truth in religion:
“A believing member of a religion in one way or another considers his religion to be true. Now, the claim to truth has a certain build-in exclusivity. If a given statement is true, its contradictory cannot also be true. And if a certain human tradition claims to offer a universal context for truth, anything contrary to that “universal truth” will have to be declared false.”36
´Eastern mystics´ or postmodern pluralists would probably disagree with this kind of argumentation. They will say that it is Western logic. An Eastern mystic knew he could not to escape the law of non-contradiction. He therefore opted for silence saying, “He who knows, does not speak, he who speaks, does not know.” But he spoke to tell us that!”37 When Jesus told us that he is the truth and if we will accept this law, it is fair to test His claims and teaching.
Limits of pluralism II: Comparative argument
Now I will compare Christianity with other religions. We will see again that the pluralistic view is very difficult to follow. I´m aware that I can choose just a few areas. Also my goal is not to describe all details but to show some general principles.
The anglican scholar, later Bishop Stephen Neill wrote, that in the debate with pluralism we have to hold to the centrality of Christ. It is obvious that the person of Christ is more than anything else what makes Christianity unique. So when I will compare Christianity and some aspects of world religions, Jesus will be the “cornerstone”.
There is a chasm between monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), and pantheistic religions (such as Hinduism, Buddhism). Muslims claim that there is only one God, Allah. “The biblical affirmation that “God is one” uses a Hebrew word for “one” which may allow diversity within the unity. The great Jewish philosopher and theologian Maimonides in his famous Thirteen Principles alters this forming a word for one which disallows any diversity within unity of God.”38 Some Hindus believe in impersonal absolute reality permeating all thingscalled Brahman, some believe that there are millions of deities (Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna) which are manifestations of Brahman. Some Buddhist scriptures do talk of some sort of divine beings called Brahma.39 Mahayan Buddhists speak about all-inclusive body of the Buddha essence.40 In Christianity man can see fullness of God only through His son – Jesus. And because of this, the relationship with God is possible. “There is nothing comparable to it in the other religions. The Buddhists do not claim to know the Buddha, nor the Confucianist Confucius, nor the Muslim Muhammad.”41 I would add – because they are dead, but Christ overcome death. Christians come personally to God through Jesus by the Spirit and this makes Christianity and Christ´s role unique.
Another area relates to the fate of individuals after death. According to Islam, each of us will die once and then face judgment by Allah. Depending on Allah's sovereign power and our deeds man will spend eternity in heaven or hell. So for example “Muslims see the story of repentant thief on the cross as quite unjust. He had no opportunity to do good deeds which might overweight his previous sins.”42 Judaism teaches possibility of forgiveness but of course denies that Christ is Messiah (for example in Thirteen Principles) and that His death is the ground for forgiveness. In contrast, “many Hindus claim that we will live (and have already lived) many lives on earth. Hindus believe that the conditions of our past and future existence are determined by the cosmic laws of karma. Following death each of us is reincarnated into a different form (human, animal, etc.).”43 The form of our new life depends on quality of present life. Buddhism sees human problem in the desire as the root of suffering rather than in the sin, so the goal is the abolition of desire. Buddha´s last word before his death were “strive without ceasing”.44 Christianity is totally different. Our effort and good deeds, the quality of our lives are not a way to salvation (or in Eastern religions terminology to enlightenment) but response to salvation. And it became possible only through Jesus. Because salvation goes from God and not from our effort, we can speak about certainty of salvation and about motivation through thankfulness not by guilt or fear – which again makes Christianity unique.
Each religious tradition also identifies a universal problem that afflicts humanity. Eastern religions claim that the universal problem is an endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth (reincarnation) in which every person is trapped. “The root problem is not sin but rather a profound ignorance, blindness or confusion regarding the truth about reality.”45 Islam teaches that human nature is not corrupted. “Sin is more a weakness, defect or imperfection than a radical corruption of nature and will.”46 Thus humankind does not stand in need of a redeemer, but rather it needs to act to please Allah. Christianity is more realistic about human nature. The universal problem is separation from the God because each person has rebelled against God by violating his commands. There is no human solution to this problem. Man is totally deprived. Only through a relationship with Jesus Christ can the problem of sin and separation from God be overcome.
Another important area is the great difference between religious founders. In many places in the Bible is written that Jesus was God. We see it from his personal claims, his life, his titles, his acceptance of worship as God, his authority to forgive sins, his titles. For Islam and Judaism is the idea of God in human flesh unthinkable. Buddha himself was against worshipping him as God. Hinduism speaks about avatars (divine descents) like Rama, Krsna and others coming to the earth in which the god Vishnu is appeared. But there is a question of historicity. “Vishnu´s avatars belong to Hindu mythology. It is no importance to Hindus whether avatars actually happened or not.”47 Thomas Shultz compares Christ with other religious leader claiming that “Not one recognized religious leaders, not Moses, Paul, Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, etc., has ever claimed to be God; that is with the exception of Jesus Christ. Christ is the only religious leaders who has ever claimed to be deity and the only individual ever who has convinced a great portion of the world that He is God.”48
Grounds for articulation of Christ uniqueness
Paul writes, that Christ crucified is skándalon (1 Cor. 1,23). When we hear some scandal we are surprised, sometimes mad. Similar reaction can be expected from non-Christians who will hear about Christ´s uniqueness. But it does not mean that our message should offend people. There are still areas we can share and I see these areas as the starting point for sharing Christ´s uniqueness.
Christians should search for global harmony, tolerance and need for dialogue but not at the expense of Christ uniqueness. It is more honest to respect other religions but at the same time to search what religion is right than to say that all that all religions are equally valid as ways to approach God. It does not mean that Christianity is totally different from the other religions. There are truths and values in many other religions, in many aspects we share similar ethics but “in the midst of all diversity, however, there is a center: Jesus Christ.”49 (Bosch). McGrath in his polemic with the The Myth of Christian Uniqueness claims, that “´Christianity´ which is being related to be homogenous with all other ´higher religion´ would not be recognizable as to most of its adherents…it is a parody and caricature of this living faith. Dialogue turns out to involve the sacrifice of integrity. The identity of Christianity is inextricably linked with the uniqueness of Christ.”50 I do not think that Christians should accept all views or religions as equal but to distinguish between people and beliefs, which means respect and acceptance of the other people even when we do not accept what they believe.
Christians should get to know more about other religions. But it is not the same as to claim that Christ is just one of the many ways to God. I already mentioned the example with the blind people touching elephants. The story is told to affirm that none of the religions can have more than just a part of the truth. L. Newbright made an important observation. “The story is told from viewpoint of the king who is not blind and can see full reality of elephant. If the king would be also blind there would be no story.”51 The application of this story should be that there is the standpoint from which we can see the truth.
God is in many aspects mystery, he is not like a computer or mathematical example. But it does not mean we are not able to get to know him and that he did not reveal in Jesus the most important truth about himself and about human kind. We should not follow “theologia negativa”. “To say that he remains a mystery is not incomparable with affirming that he has revealed himself. It is somewhat extraordinary that the Myth contributors regard all Christians of all churches for two millennia who have been belied in the uniqueness of Jesus, as idolatries!”52 We could say that Christianity is idolatry only if it is human construct. But it is not. We can say, that we do not have exhaustible knowledge about God, but it is not the same as having no knowledge about Him.
An essential part of Christian religion is to serve to the poor but Christians are also called to bear witness to Jesus. We can cowork with other religions not only on social projects but also at political, environmental or cultural field. But it is not the same as religious syncretism or pluralism. To stop bearing witness to Jesus goes directly against the core of Christians message (great commandment).
We agree that all religions are in many aspects similar but it does not mean equality. H. Küng writes that “every religion deals with “the encounter with the holy”, with message of salvation, way to salvation, every religion is a believing view of lie, approach to live, it guarantees supreme values and unconditional norms.53 I agree with all of that, but similarity does not mean equality. We have to distinguish these terms. Because all men have some knowledge of God through general revelation there must be some similarities. As John Calvin wrote: One thing is to see God as a creator (universal knowledge) the second as a redeemer (a specifically Christian knowledge).54
I tried to show that just to know that we are living in a pluralistic world is not enough. We need to know the grounds for pluralism. These grounds can become a starting point for dialogue. I showed the limits of pluralism from rational and religious positions which show that the decision is more consistent than the claim that all paths lead to God. In the discussion with other religions we have to be aware of Christ´s uniqueness. I showed four unique aspects – personal relationship with God through Jesus, salvation through Jesus, universal problem of sin overcoming through Jesus and Jesus´s Deity. Finally - we can give some more or less good arguments concerning Christianity, Jesus Christ. The four areas I showed in chapter five could be good reasons to become Christian. Isn´t it great to live a guilt free life, to have a personal relationship with God – Creator, to refuse the confusion of pluralism? The problem is that any argument can bring only objective proofs (the word only is not th ought in pejorative meaning). In this case it is almost like science. But faith is not something “out there”, it is not just activity of the mind. Faith is also “entry into the promises of God, receiving what they have to offer.”55 It is the existential aspect of faith with means to put all my existence on what I believe. In my conversations with non-Christians I try to use all possible arguments but I also see that without personal experience with Jesus it will be an academic discussion. So we can share objective facts about Jesus but at the same time try to encourage people to come and see that He lives.
1 Cerny, P., ´Annual speech from conference of Bretrehen Church 2002´, (available in the bulletin “Vyrocni konference CB 2002). Pg.5. (my translation)
2 Hierbert, P., The Gospel in our Culture. Reader no.3a. for the Course on Contextual Missiology, IBTS Prague. Pg. 152.
3 McGrath, A., Bridge-Building. (Liecester: IVP, 1992). Pg. 149.
4 These categories were first employed by Alan Race in Christians and Religious Pluralism (Orbis, 1982) and were further developed by Paul F. Knitter in No Other Name? (SCM, 1985). From: Stott, J., The Contemporary Christian. (UK: IVP, 1992). Pg. 279.
5 Netland, H., Dissonant Voices, Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth. (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991). Pg. 11.
6 Stott J., The Contemporary Christian. Pg. 299.
7 McGrath, Bridge-Building. Pg. 154.
8 Stott, The Contemporary Christian. Pg. 298.
9 Oxford Advanced Learner´s Dictionary of Current English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989). Pg. 953.
10Guthrie, S., DelaRosa, M.,What price tolerance? Evidence from Hinudism and M.K. Gandhi that totlerance has its limits. http://sguthrie.net/tolerance.htm