In Scripture Jesus states that no one comes to the Father except through him. (John 14:6) But what about the other religions who disagree with this? We live in a multi-religious world and other religions also claim to provide the ultimate way to God. From a Christian standpoint, we need to defend our faith as we interact with people from different religious backgrounds. Typically there are three primary answers provided to this question: inclusivism, exclusivism, and pluralism. In this article I will be focusing on pluralism. This says all religions lead to the same God.
Religious Pluralism: All Roads Lead to the Same Destination
The earliest form of religious pluralism is seen in Nicholas of Cusa’s (1401-1464) work On the peace of Faith. Here he asserts that all religions ultimately lead to the same God. One of his well-known quotes is this “one religion in a variety of rites”. He is asserting that we all believe in the same God but in different ways.
Many people hold to this position. Bishop Michael Ingham, the author of Mansions of the Spirit: The Gospel in a Multi-Faith World, is one of the numerous advocates of this position. Ron Dart in Christianity and Pluralism, responding to Mansions of the Spirit writes, “Mansions of the Spirit was, in many ways, a popular rendition of the Primordial Tradition.” The Primordial Tradition takes the position that religions are separate and discrete ways to God. They cannot and should not be synthesised. In other words, all religions offer legitimate ways to God.
Some Africans hold to a form of religious pluralism even though they might not recognise ancestral worship as a form of religion
On a trip between Cape Town and Pretoria, I had an interesting conversation with a man who held this position. He said that the ancestors are a way to God, similar to Christ. This assertion is a common perception among Africans. Dr Mkhize, the founder of Umsamo African Institute and South African Healer Association says, “The Zulus have always believed that the closest human link that the living has with God, ‘uMvelingangi’, is through the connection they have with ‘amadlozi’, a Zulu term for ancestors.” This shows that some Africans hold to a form of religious pluralism even though they might not recognise ancestral worship as a form of religion.
God has Revealed Himself in the Bible
Christians are often accused of circular arguments – starting with presuppositions in order to prove our position. But is important to remember the words of Easton at this point: “The Bible consists of sixty-six different books, composed by many different writers… writing at various periods during the space of about 1600 years. And yet, after all, it is only one book dealing with only one subject in its numberless aspects and relations”. And incredibly this is without any contradiction in its witness. It is with good reason that we trust in the Bible.
Holding to pluralism requires believing in a God who contradicts himself and that is not the biblical God
This is why I appreciate Gordon Clark’s rationalism, attested by Norman Geisler in his Christian Apologetics. This is what Clark has to say about the Bible. “Scripture, the written words of the Bible, is the mind of God. What is said in Scripture is God’s thought.’ For ‘the Bible consists of thoughts, not paper; and the thoughts are the thoughts of the omniscient, infallible God…’ And, ‘as might be expected, if God has spoken, he has spoken logically.”’ There is no self-contradiction in God’s self-revelation of himself because he is by nature a logical God. Holding to pluralism requires believing in a God who contradicts himself and that is not the biblical God.
Christ and Religious Pluralism will Never Agree
If there is only one true God, there can only be one true way to him. Jesus claimed this when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) T. R. Phillips points out that among religious pluralists, “Jesus’ uniqueness is repudiated as imperialistic and contradicting God’s universal love for humankind.”
For Christians to hold to religious pluralism, they would have to deny the biblical revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God
For Christians to hold to religious pluralism, they would have to deny the biblical revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. If we maintain that Christ is God, as scripture says he is, then asserting that Christ’s uniqueness is imperialistic would be charging God with abuse of his power. Humans would be claiming autonomy from God’s reign, desiring to establish their own and hence rejecting his counsel.
We know that Jesus is God, his resurrection bears witness to that (Romans 1:1-5). The author of Hebrews has a chapter dedicated to bearing witness to the deity of Christ (Hebrews 1). This answers the question of Christianity being “imperialistic” in it’s claims. The charge only works if we deny the deity of Christ (Roman 9:5).
God’s Great Love for Humankind
The scripture is very direct. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) This statement shows that Christ’s work of redemption on the cross depicts God’s great love for humankind. For in Christ we see God’s love for people on display. God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son. There is no greater love than that. In no way is God’s love for mankind contradicted by Jesus being the only way to him. All of mankind is exhorted to repent and believe!
In no way is God’s love for mankind contradicted by Jesus being the only way to him. All of mankind is exhorted to repent and believe!
Two things are worth pointing out in our conclusion.
Christians cannot be Religious Pluralists
Firstly, it is true that religious pluralism is appealing. Yet for Christians to hold on to it they would have to deny the biblical witness of Jesus Christ. He who is the founder and finisher of their faith. Take for example John Hick’s God and the Universe of Faith. Here he advocates for religious pluralism. Faced with this problem of denying Christ he chooses instead to deny several key doctrines. I quote: “The weight and extent of the strain under which Christian belief has come can be indicated by listing aspects of traditional theology which are, in the opinion of many theologians today (including myself), either quite untenable or open to serious doubt.”
Hick lists 10 doctrines that he has problems with, two of which have been addressed in this article: the deity of Christ and the uniqueness of Christ as the only means for salvation. Yet we remember Paul’s caution in Galations. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8). We have to abide by the teachings of Scripture.
African Christians cannot Worship the Ancestors
Secondly, it is true that ancestral worship is often not seen as a distinct religion. However, we must address the theological claims made here. For example, Dr Mkhize in the article mentioned above also says the following. “In the modern world, it is very common for people who subscribe to Christianity to also hold very strong beliefs in amadlozi (the ancestors)…. God is always seen as the supreme being and creator of heaven and earth while the ancestors are seen to be spiritual intermediaries.” Dr Mkhize asserts that even some Christians see ancestors as providing an alternate way to God.
it is very common for people who subscribe to Christianity to also hold very strong beliefs in amadlozi (the ancestors)
As the African Church we have to address pluralism theologically. We have to stand firm and say Jesus is the only way to the Father, there is no other way but him. We can use the Bible to do this. For the statement “ancestors are intermediaries to God” categorically contradicts what Jesus says. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”