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Over the years and in our own time there have been many arguments for a universalism or at least a religious pluralism that questions the uniqueness of Christ for salvation. Some argue that it is arrogant and triumphalistic to believe that any one way is essential for salvation. Others contend that surely God is a God of love and mercy who will accept people into his presence who don’t believe in Christ. The mercy of God trumps all other characteristics of God.
Some contend that all religions are essentially the same, simply using different names for the divine and different emphases in following the divine path. Still others attempt to articulate a religious pluralism or universalism on biblical grounds, citing texts such as Colossians 1:18-19, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross,” or Romans 11:32, “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”
But perhaps the most significant factor for the growing belief in many paths to God is the pluralism of our social context. By pluralism I don’t mean merely the existence of multiple nationalities, races, ethnic groups, or religions in a society. More fundamentally, pluralism means that varying worldviews, belief systems, and moral frameworks exist side by side in a given culture.
With pluralism we now rub shoulders daily with people who put their world together in vastly different ways. There are varying perceptions of God, the good life, salvation, and human nature. There are varying ways of life reflecting these worldview assumptions. As we daily live with a plethora of worldviews, we experience these folks to be exceptionally fine people, who often reflect integrity, high morals, and outstanding contributions to our communities. For a democracy to work, we recognize that these multiple frameworks all need to have a voice in the public square, and all religious and moral frameworks need to be assured of essential rights under the law.
In the milieu of social and legal pluralism, it is quite easy to glide into a religious pluralism that questions the uniqueness or truth claims of Christian faith. When we experience people of other religions as good, moral people it becomes increasingly difficult to entertain any notions other than multiple paths to God and salvation. When we encounter the plurality of the public square, it becomes almost second nature to believe that such plurality must exist with regard to truth and paths to eternal life. Moreover, when we look around us, many who are exclusive in their beliefs often appear to be arrogant and intolerant. Religious pluralists appear to be kind, accepting, and exhibiting a tolerance needed for a pluralistic world.
The reality of this sociocultural pluralism makes it difficult to maintain a belief in and commitment to Christ as the only way to God. Our context of multiplicity tends to undermine the long-held belief that salvation is found only in Jesus.
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