As I noted in my previous post, pluralism is not a new challenge for Christianity. Early Christianity addressed, and in large part, emerged victorious in the pluralistic age into which it was born. It is helpful to note the similarities as well as the the differences between the first century pluralism and today’s pluralism. Through recognizing and addressing these similarities and differences, I believe we can establish a paradigm for speaking truth into our culture (ironically, absolute truth is not a popular topic in today’s world. We’ll be dealing with the subjects of absolute truth, interpretation, and communication as it relates to our faith and contemporary society in the coming posts).
We will note the similarities between both instances of pluralism first. Both the first century culture and contemporary Western society are products of religious and philosophical pluralism. Both instances value highly the prevalence of a multitude of religious and philosophical views possible. Both instances emphasize religious tolerance. And both instances balk at the preaching of an exclusive faith.
Now, we’ll explore the differences between these two instances of pluralism. First century pluralism was intensely practical. In other words, religious practices and rituals were many and varied. Mystery cults, the Greek and Roman pantheon of gods, and emperor worship were common. Any and all were acceptable because ritual (or religious practice) was preferred and faith (belief within the religious system) was neglected or rendered unnecessary. Contemporary pluralism is more ideological in nature. Rather than rendering the beliefs within different faiths unnecessary, contemporary pluralism preaches tolerance and personalizes with intensity one’s religious beliefs. In other words, belief in this model becomes relative and not absolute.
In next week’s post, we will begin addressing the relativization of religious belief. We will briefly trace this process of relativizing (personalizing) religious belief through history (with roots in the Middle Ages, exponential development in the Enlightenment, and general acceptance in contemporary postmodernism).
For today, it is important to recognize that the ultimate solution to both expressions of pluralism is essentially the same–Christians must preach the exclusive historical message of the gospel to the world around them. The early church preached the scandalous message of the gospel, not because of its popularity, but because of the genuineness of their faith in the Christ of the message. The church’s hope for successfully addressing pluralism today is the same. We must genuinely believe in the exclusive truth of the gospel message and preach it with conviction and clarity to the world around us. Understanding our culture will help us engage people at the spiritual and ideological barriers that hinder their response to the gospel.
My hope for these posts and lessons in the Link Class is that we will more deeply appreciate the depth and veracity of our faith. I also hope that we will more clearly see the hindrances (personal, religious, ideological, intellectual) that inhibit people from responding positively to the gospel of Jesus Christ.