Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy., M.A. Theology
- Religious pluralism says all religions are equally valid paths to God
- The Law of Non-Contradiction says two mutually exclusive claims to truth cannot both be true
- Religious pluralism fails this Law of logic
- Two mutually exclusive religious claims cannot both be true
THE VAST MAJORITY OF Americans believe in God or some “higher power.” God is a familiar concept even in twenty-first century America. The 2008 Religious Landscape Report by the Pew Forum, which addressed the religious beliefs of Americans, claimed that 71 percent of Americans were absolutely certain of the existence of “God or a universal spirit.” Seventeen percent were “fairly certain”(1). According to a Pew Research Center report dated May 12, 2015, the Christian share of population in the U.S. fell from 78.6% to 70.6% (2). In a 2019 interview, Robert P. Jones said, “If you go back to just 2008, the country was fifty-four percent white and Christian. When I wrote my book, The End of White Christian America, I was working on 2014 data. And that number had dropped from fifty-four percent to forty-five [which was] a significant drop… we’ve been continuing to track data since 2014, and that number [is] down to forty-one percent now” (3).
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and a plurality of religions have flourished as a result. Is this a good thing? It depends on what you are evaluating. For me, it is good that as Americans we are free to believe however we choose. Moreover, we are free from the tyranny of state-sponsored religion. The Church of England and Islam are two such institutions. Increasing globalization is importing beliefs, faiths, and philosophies along with goods and services. Unfortunately, this diversity has impacted Christianity, causing doubt, apostasy, and defection. The Pew Forum found that 57 percent of evangelical Christians believe “…many religions can lead to eternal life,” while 70 percent of the general public held this same belief (4).
Naturally, adherents to these various faiths claim that their beliefs are objectively true and essential for their spiritual growth and liberation (5). It is not surprising that religious pluralism has led many skeptics to doubt the concept of only one path to salvation. It appears to give much ammunition to militant atheists whose goal is to eradicate Christianity. When Christians, siding with others, decide religion in general is good and no one religion should claim objective (universal) truth, then the biblical worldview will not be taken seriously. Groothuis said, “Religious pluralism therefore poses a significant challenge to historic Christian apologetics, which claims that Christ alone is the way of eternal salvation and that other religions cannot reconcile sinful humans to God” (6).
“It is a daunting task to commend the Christian worldview as the one thing that matters most. To esteem Jesus as the unique and supreme revelation of God is taken by many to be theological chauvinism. The most powerful apologetic for Christianity will be ignored by anyone who simply—and probably ignorantly—accepts all religions as equally spiritual.Douglas Groothuis
We are not fond of being told our existence is not predicated upon our own authority; that we are not free to do as we please. Man has always detested admitting the need for spiritual redemption from his sinful actions; or, that, as a result of the price paid for his redemption, he must turn outward and away, looking to God rather than within. “How can this ‘god’ exist and operate outside the laws of nature?” “There can be no such thing!” These thoughts are the impetus of a gathering storm of disobedience, disorientation, and estrangement that began with the first act of defiance in the Garden of Eden. Such thinking has led to man looking away from God, desiring to be self-sufficient and self-determining, setting his own agenda; deciding the parameters of purpose and behavior for himself. Of course, this sentiment has an impact on one’s religious beliefs. Rampant moral relativism is causing a dilution of “religious proscription” regarding behavior. Religious pluralism has nearly nullified the concept of one way to salvation. Post-Christian culture suggests that Christianity is no longer the dominant religious belief; the citizenry gradually assumes values, culture, and worldviews that are not necessarily Christian.
Sociologists and anthropologists often use “Post-Christian” to refer to the loss of Christianity’s hegemony in historically Christian societies. Post-Christian culture in the twenty-first century has become increasingly hostile toward Christianity: threatening faith, theology, and the community of believers (see The Angry Atheists for more information). At the core of this post-Christian worldview is the idea that no written philosophical text exists (regardless of its affiliation) that contains ultimate truth, meaning, or purpose. Of course, refusing to fix ultimate meaning in this manner is to refuse God. The resulting secularization of knowledge removes God from the center of reality. Opponents of belief in God have become increasingly hostile toward Christianity, thereby setting the tone for personal attacks on those who hold a Christian worldview.
Although Christian apologetics involves demonstrating the basis for why a believer gives credence to the gospel as truth, it also involves explaining how faith must dominate reason. Faith is far from mere ignorance; moreover, it does not include dogmatic rejection of empirical truth. Rather, apologetics involves a defense of one’s frame of reference.
There is a term in computer science called metadata, which refers to “underlying” or “supporting” information for a photograph, text, or other graphic information often used to identify the time and place of its creation, and the origin of the data. Proponents of a post-Christian society speak out against metanarrative, which is a large-scale theory of transcendent meaning and upward progress of mankind throughout history. Postmodernism denies any single narrative that claims to support or explain reality. Interestingly, the postmodernist believes, instead, in a myriad of micronarratives, any or none of which may or may not be true. This concept reminds me of Sire’s definition of worldview as “a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move, and have our being” (7). The human heart is the location of one’s bias, preconception, misunderstanding, value, or conviction. Entwistle said, “What we see depends, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see” (8).
God set the tone for basic design as consisting of a unique distinctness between opposites: light and dark, good and evil, above and below, water and land, and so on. It was on the sixth day that He created the first man and the first woman to carry on with His act of creation. This is often referred to as God’s “cultural mandate.” Adam and Eve were to exercise dominion over the earth, subdue it, and develop its latent potential (Gen. 1:26-28). Indeed, this is the beginning of culture. Charles Colson believes there is scriptural justification for culture building, stating “it starts with Genesis” (9). Christianity is more than a private belief in salvation of the one. Yes, the believer is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but this is simply the beginning. Christianity is a comprehensive ideology that holds answers to all of mankind’s endless questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Does life have meaning and purpose?
A Matter of Epistemology
Where does knowledge come from? Hart says, “Truth is more than a matter of ‘the way things seem from where I stand.’ For in practice where I stand—the world as I see it—is also where everyone else stands” (10). He adds that the universal categories of human reason function to provide and underwrite an agreed upon perspective from which questions of truth and falsity may be posited and answered and claims of truth demonstrated. Hart indicates that secularism demands of the Christian that before any investment is made in a “claim to truth, or before we can reasonably expect them to do so,” (5) he or she must provide factual or logical evidence that renders such “belief” reasonable. From the vantage point of logical positivism, it is argued that only two types of statements can be true: (i) analytical statements, such as definitions, and (ii) factual statements that are empirically verifiable (6).
“I am convinced that for any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the worldviews of others but be aware of our own—why it is ours and why in light of so many options we think it is true.”James W. Sire
Reformed apologists like Alvin Plantinga have taken an epistemological approach to Christianity. Epistemology concerns itself with the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope; it is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion. Plantinga and others argue that secular thought has placed an undue burden on Christian apologetics. It demands that Christians offer proof for their beliefs to the point of being irrational (11). Sire writes, “Human beings can know both the world around them and God himself because God has built into them the capacity to do so and because he takes an active role in communicating with them” (12). The apologetics of Jesus included a well-established epistemology, crucial in supporting truth, that states non-contradiction (see above) is a necessary test for truth; that the truth Jesus reveals has experiential factors; that the imagination is a key for presenting truth (consider parable, allegory, metaphor); and that one’s ability to know truth is closely tied to one’s moral rectitude (13).
Prior to His ascension, Christ presented the church with the Great Commission, telling believers all authority is given to them; commanding them to go forth, making disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching as He did (Matt. 18:18-20). This involves every believer, regardless of calling, gift, talent, or church office. Christians are meant to be salt and light among the post-Christian culture of this world (Matt. 5:13-16). Indeed, the body of believers stands between darkness and light at the threshold between forward progress and cultural annihilation. Believers are instructed by Peter, “[I]n your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15).
Apologetics is necessarily paired with theology and evangelism. Because apologetics requires being able to defend what Scripture teaches, apologetics can only be effective when the apologist is well-grounded in Scripture. One cannot defend something without having a firm grasp on its tenets. Further, one would not want to defend something not supported by Scripture. Groothuis, noting the critical importance of being able to defend one’s beliefs whatever they may be (essentially, the investigation of significant truth whether in theology or philosophy) believes a good Christian apologist must be a good philosopher. He or she must possess solid logical and persuasive skills. But there is certainly more to Christian apologetics than giving abstract logical arguments (see Apologetics: Defending the Faith, Part One; and Part Two).
(1) Pew Forum, U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2008), 116. URL: http://religions.pewforum.org
(2) Pew Research Center, 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study. (Washington: Pew, 2015), 3-4.
(3) Robert Jones, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” Interview by Benjamin Marcus, The Religious Studies Project, Feb. 28, 2019.
(4) U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, Ibid., 58.
(5) Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 567.
(6) Groothuis, Ibid., 568.
(7) James W. Sire, Naming the Elephant, 2nd. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 19.
(8) David Entwistle, Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity, 3rd. ed. (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015), 93.
(9) Charles Colson, How Then Shall We Live? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 295.
(10) Trevor Hart, Faith Thinking (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1995), 43.
(11) Groothuis, Ibid., 64.
(12) James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 36.
(13) See Douglas Groothuis, “Jesus’ Epistemology,” in On Jesus (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 2003).