“Pluralism is desirable and tolerable only in those areas that are matters of taste rather than matters of truth.”- Mortimer Adler, Truth in Religion
Just recently, a Southern California seminary affiliated with The United Methodist Church is opening its doors to Muslims and Jews and offering clerical training for those of other Abrahamic faiths. The Claremont School of Theology believes it's doing a good thing in rubbing shoulders with Islam and Judaism, with the end goal (they believe) of having better cooperation and understanding between the faiths. You can read the full story here.
Without a doubt, every Christian should endeavor to have a better comprehension of other belief systems. Having an understanding of where someone is coming from, both philosophically and spiritually, only helps in witnessing to them about the saving power of Christ.
However, to actually cross the line between understanding other belief systems and equipping other faiths is, quite simply, un-biblical and should not be pursued. To do so is to yield to one of the major tenets of Postmodernism, which is philosophical pluralism.
There are three main 'strains' of pluralism. Empirical pluralism refers to the fact that we all live in a diverse society. For example, America is a country of many languages, ethnicities, religions, and worldviews, and in modern times it is far more accurate to speak of American cultures than American culture. Empirical pluralism encourages alternatives and makes it easy for an individual to make person choices that are agreeable to them. But it traffics in the areas of opinion and taste only.
Cherished pluralism takes empirical pluralism and adds an additional ingredient – approval. Missionary Leslie Newbiggin explains cherished pluralism as: “not merely a society which is in fact plural in the variety of cultures, religions, and lifestyles which it embraces, but pluralist in the sense that this plurality is celebrated as things to be approved and cherished”. Cherished pluralism says that a person must nod in agreement with a stance and in no way condemn something as wrong.
And then comes philosophical pluralism. Philosophical pluralism naturally flows from celebrated pluralism and says that no religion has the right to pronounce itself right or true and the other competing faiths false, or even relatively inferior. For those who espouse a philosophical religious pluralism, there is no longer any heresy, except perhaps the view that there are heresies. Those who hold to philosophical pluralism nod in agreement with Gandhi who said, "The soul of religion is one, but it is encased in a multitude of forms."
Such a position has a variety of problems. First, it simply refuses to think logically and submit to the plain fact that the opposite of true is false. Has the Claremont school jettisoned logical thought in embracing Islam and Judaism? For example, Christianity teaches that Jesus is God, was crucified on a cross, died for the sins of humanity, was buried, was bodily resurrected, and one day will come back as Judge over all. Islam teaches that Jesus is not God, didn't die on a cross, didn't redeem fallen mankind, was not buried, was not resurrected, and will be judged like everyone else. Judaism says that Jesus is not God, may or may not have been killed on a cross, was not resurrected, and is never coming back because he was just a man. Clearly, someone is right and someone is wrong, or perhaps all are wrong, but all cannot be true.
Second, it confuses matters of taste and opinion vs. matters of truth. In its pursuit of tolerance, it loses sight of reality. Pluralism prizes tolerance above truth because it does not recognize any view as being objectively true. But should society tolerate every view, belief and behavior? What about Nazism, racism, and other such beliefs? How about tolerating those who say 2+2=5? Should those be embraced and accepted? Claremont has failed to understand that, while all people have equal worth, not all ideas do.
Finally, it is very un-biblical and ignores the exclusivistic claims of the Gospel message. Does Claremont believe that the Apostle Paul would have established a school in the first century and then created branches of that school to train and equip evangelists of the various mystery religions of his day or the Judaizers? No doubt Paul engaged both of them in debate, but the author of Galatians would not have embraced them as valid faiths and wished them well in their evangelistic journeys. On the contrary, Paul wrote:
"I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!" (Gal. 1:6-9)
No, the inspired writings of Paul stand in stark contrast to the Claremont School of Theology's mindset. Christianity cannot be mixed with any other faith or belief system; its founder made that perfectly clear.
In addition, the practice ignores what John says in 2 John 1:10-11:
"If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching [the Gospel], do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds."
Back in John's day, religious teachers moved from place to place and depended upon their hearers for their support and lodging. In the above verses, John says not to bring a false teacher under your roof and don't assist him in his work. And this is exactly what Claremont is doing.
So it's not difficult to see that embracing and encouraging philosophical pluralism is un-biblical and very dangerous indeed, for the simple reason that consequences exist for being wrong. Or as Ravi Zacharias has said, "The fact is, the truth matters - especially when you're on the receiving end of a lie."