A New Kind of Christianity – The Pluralism Question

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I have rarely read a book where I went back and forth chapter by chapter, but McLaren has made me do just that. I felt like the last two chapters were awful and incomplete; but this chapter was excellent.

Far from advocating a form of “every religion leads to God” attitude, which McLaren has been accused of repeatedly, he advocates an attitude of respect. I would phrase it differently and say that the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to convict people of their need for Jesus and as long as you are willing to let us share the message of the Gospel, I am not going to persecute or ridicule you. Of course, I do not believe Jesus is just one way of many. He is the truth, the life and the way. And for that reason, I don’t need to attack you in order for His Gospel to come through. Convicting people of their need for the gospel is not my job. My job is to simply share the Jesus of the Bible.

Did I agree with everything McLaren said? No, his interpretations are still a bit of a stretch for me, although I think he hit onto quite a bit of truth in his exegesis of John 14.

Next week, I’ll probably write some kind of conclusion of the whole book. McLaren is one of the few writers who manage to disappoint and encourage me in the same books.

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    4 thoughts on “A New Kind of Christianity – The Pluralism Question

      • To be honest, I wrote this over a month ago, so I don’t remember the specifics. His basic premise was that we interpret John 14 as EXCLUDING people from God’s presence whereas Jesus intended it to be an invitation into God’s presence.

    1. You know, what I did appreciate about this chapter was that McLaren did try to take into account how we can relate to people of other faiths. I agree, some of his exegesis was questionable, but some of it I thought was good. For instance, I do believe that the Bible clearly advocates a form of “soft pluralism,” as Dallas Willard describes it, “that people of other faiths or of no faith at all may be right with God.” I believe texts such as Romans 2, Acts 10 and 17, as well as Matthew 25 gives clues of this concept. Should we bank on this and not preach the Good News of Jesus? Certainly not – I wouldn’t entertain such a thought, nor does McLaren or Willard. But, I think we need to be humble in our approach to the subject. We don’t have to be spineless and say “well, believe what you will, just be sincere,” or “we all essentially believe the same thing.” Such mindless statements are ridiculous and show no respect or regard toward religion(s).

      Jesus tells us there will be surprises on the Day of Judgment (Matthew 7 and 25). I hear Christians say (in effect) that you must be an adherent of the Christian religion (in essence – I know these are broad statements, but the general statement is maintained) in order to “get into heaven” (whatever that means). There are many biblical problems with such a statement (see above for a few examples). On a basis of reason and experience, this is difficult to believe as well. For instance, when we see one like Gandhi living in the way or spirit of Jesus, how do we reconcile this with typical theological statements? To make matters even more complex, it seems as if there are some within the church who have no interest in living like Jesus (I say ‘seems’ because I can’t judge their heart; though Jesus does say you will know a tree by its fruits) but just want Him as a ticket to heaven. Some in the early church believed their heroes of philosophy in the Greek world were in fact Christians, in essence. Based on Scripture, reason, tradition and experience, (thanks, Johnny!) I would be MUCH MORE inclined to believe that I would see Gandhi amongst the populous in the new heavens and new earth than one who is just looking for a free ride to heaven. I’d love to hear your perspective on this, Erik.
      PS – I know this is such a loaded post, with so many questions to be followed, but I will say that I firmly believe that faith is the basis of salvation, not works – I am not saying that because Gandhi was a good guy and some in the church are not that this means Gandhi is saved. It goes much deeper than that; just a little disclaimer.

      • Rich Nathan’s book Who Is My Enemy? cleared up a lot of the pluralism issues for me. He really broke the idea of in/out for me and helped me understand the faith in terms of movement toward/away. While I would still say that people need to come to a moment of decision to follow Christ or turn, I do not think the ‘moment’ is all tha matters.

        To put it another way, faith is not a safety net below the high wire of life.

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