By Jonathan Dodson
In the previous post, we observed the tendency to answer this theological question through social experience. Many Christians conclude that there must be many ways to God (or act like this) because their social experiences introduce them to kind, respectable people who do not believe Jesus is the only way to God. In fact, many of our friends believe the opposite, namely there are many ways to God, a view called religious pluralism. In the next few posts, we will examine the claims of the religious pluralist.
Over the past four years in Austin, Texas (a case study city for Harvard’s Pluralism Project), I have had the opportunity to meet, know, and talk with both Christian and non-Christian pluralists. As I have reflected on these conversations, it seems that there are at least three reasons people drift to religious pluralism. They believe there are many ways to God, not just one, because it seems a more enlightened, humble, and tolerant. In the next three posts, let’s take each of these–enlightened, humble, tolerant–and examine these reasons more closely.
What Do the Religions Teach About God?
Is the belief that all religious paths lead to the same God more enlightened or educated? Well, all religions teach very different things about whom God is and how to reach him. In fact, there is a lot of disagreement between the religions regarding the nature of God. Buddhism, for example, doesn’t believe in God. Islam teaches an impersonal monotheism, Allah. The Koran states that God reveals His will, but not His person. Christianity teaches a personal trinitarianism, where God is three persons in relationship, Father-Son-Spirit that can be known and enjoyed. Hinduism is all over the map on this question, ranging from polytheism to atheism. The reason for this is because there is an absence of definitive revelation to clarify their “theology.” Instead Hinduism has multiple sources of revelation (Upanishads, Vedas, etc.) Contrary to Islam, Hinduism has no presuppositions about the nature of God. In short, religious views of God differ. If so, it would seen far from “enlightened” to claim that all religions lead to the same God, when their views of God are, in fact, radically different. The claim of the religious pluralist contradicts the tenants of the religions themselves.
What Do They Teach About How We Reach God?
Religions not only teach different things about who God is but also how we “reach him.” Buddhism suggests the 8-fold Noble Path, Islam the 5 Pillars (Shahadah, Prayer, Fasting, Charity, Pilgrimage) and Christianity the gospel of Jesus. Therefore, to say that all religions lead to God is not only unenlightened it is inaccurate. This is the thesis of Stephen Prothero, Boston College professor, in his new book God is not One. He write:
“And it is comforting to pretend that the great religions make up one big, happy family. But this sentiment, however well-intentioned, is neither accurate nor ethically responsible. God is not one.”
Prothero goes on to point out that just as God is not one, so also all religions are not one. They are distinct and make very different claims about God and how to reach him. In light of what we have observed regarding what religions teach about the nature of God and how to reach him, religious pluralism must be reconsidered. Subscribing to religious pluralism because it is more enlightened or a more “educated” view of world religions is not only unenlightened but also inaccurate.
This series was orginally posted here.
Jonathan Dodson is lead pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. Dodson is author of Fight Clubs: Gospel-centered Discipleship and Viral Hope: Good News from the Urbs and Burbs (and everything in between). For more information about the author, check out his bio.