Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
Thank you for the opportunity to address you tonight at this, the annual meeting of the Reformed Free Publishing Association.
Thank you, and may God, Allah, Buddha, Yahweh, Jehovah, Cosmic Consciousness, and “all that is,” bless you!
Before I am tarred and feathered, or worse—my brethren, lend me your ears!
This bizarre pronouncement of blessing from many gods is not, of course, mine. It was that of a woman who offered it as a conclusion to a letter to the editor of a certain paper, in which letter she had passionately promoted religious tolerance. She sought to convince the public that the religions of the world are, and ought to be, all one.
One Gregory Koukle, in an article of the Spring, 1997 issue of the Christian Research Journal about this view of the tolerance of many religions, calls the phenomenon of religious tolerance religious stew. He criticizes the stew and the view behind it as “an unexamined faith not worth believing.”
My goal tonight is to tell you of the RFPA about this religious stew.
I would have the RFPA and her writers duly warned: this religious stew has become very popular, but it is very poisonous! Religious stew is the latest of fast and easy theological food — approved, maybe, by the FDA, certainly by all of society, but not, indeed emphatically not, by God! We must be warned, therefore, also in our Christian publishing ventures, not to bite into this stew!
I speak also tonight to encourage the RFPA and her writers to continue to publish against such stew and to publish instead the Manna, the gospel of the truth as it is in Jesus and in Jesus alone.
What Is Religious Stew?
Religious stew is what is called today “pluralism,” religious pluralism.
What is “pluralism”? What is pluralism in the religious realm?
Religious pluralism is the belief that all the mainline religions mixed together are the true religion. No one religion is the true religion. But mix Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Shintoism, Judaism, and Christianity together, and voila!—there you have it, the true religion, religious stew.
Pluralism is the view that there is in the practice of most religions a (common) salvation. For pluralism sees in many religions this same good thing which it defines as salvation: “The transformation of human existence from self-centeredness to Reality centeredness” (D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God, Zondervan, 1996).
Pluralism. Salvation in many religions. Different religions, all leading to God. Many spokes on the same wheel, the hub of which is God.
Why the stir? What are some of the reasons why this new religion, this religious stew, has been made, and why religious stew is such a popular item on the ecclesiastical menu today?
D.A. Carson, in the book just cited, notes several reasons. Among the main reasons for this stew, this religious pluralism, and its popularity today are, Carson believes, other kinds of pluralism.
There is, for example, empirical pluralism. By this, Carson refers to the great diversity of culture, race, value systems, etc. in our nation and in the world generally today. This in itself has provided a great impetus for the pursuit and acceptance also of religious pluralism.
There is also what Carson calls cherished pluralism. There is today the desire for pluralism. It is such a desire that pluralism, the acceptance of many different religions, and many different whatever, has become a value in itself. “Choice” has become a value in itself, a priority of our time. As Carson notes: “To be modern is to be addicted to choice and change….” Ours is the era of “tolerance,” and therefore of pluralism.
Then there is philosophical or hermeneutical pluralism. This, according to Carson, is the idea that all interpretations of everything are equally valid; it is the view that no religion may claim superiority; it is the view that there is no objective truth. Truth is “relativized, democratized, trivialized.” The only dirty word, the only heresy among the pluralists, is calling anything heretical. Basically, such pluralism is the strident attempt to “gag God”—to silence the voice that there is only one truth, and that it is to be heard and honored.
Other causes for religious pluralism could be noted. I cite just one more which, I believe, is a great force behind the stew. It is this: the sheer pragmatism of our day. If it works, do it! And since “doing it” requires unity on all fronts, then let’s unite religiously! There is a great need for social equality and justice for all. Let us unite the religions of the world to promote this equality and justice for all! There are many poor among us. Let the church people and the temple people and all the religious people forget their differences, roll up their sleeves, pool resources, and feed the poor! There are the needs of world peace; saving the world from ecological disaster; preserving the family. So, religions of the world, unite! Tolerate. Honor. Join hands. Learn from each other. Do not judge. Stew. Good stew. For a good cause! Come and get it!
Sound far out? Sound like a stew served only in the greasy spoons of the (religious) ghetto? Sound as if only hungry apostates would bite? Sound as if we who are orthodox and we who eat at Russ’ would certainly not be tempted?
Let us not be so naïve! There is, in fact, evidence that pluralism is the main issue confronting and corrupting the church today, and that it is making inroads, into the Reformed camp as well.
I could cite the fact that a recent survey of the next generation of Christians at several evangelical colleges revealed that only two-thirds believed Christ to be the only way to salvation. Or we could deduce from the fact that the 1990s is the only decade since the 1940s to show a decline in the number of missionaries sent out that it is religious pluralism, the belief that all religions are equally valid, which has dampened the spirit of the church to disciple the nations for Christ only.
But there is another, more disturbing fact, something which ought to alarm us, warn us, rouse us. There is another evidence that much of Christendom is opening its collective mouth to swallow the religious stew of pluralism. It is this: many so-called Christians and Christian churches today, though not buying outright the religious stew, have nevertheless concocted their own brand of mush
What is this mush? By “mush” I refer to contemporary Christianity’s inclusivism.
What is inclusivism?
Inclusivism is the teaching of various Christian leaders, and the stance of various Christian denominations, that though Christianity is the final and best and ultimate religion, yet it is not the only true religion. The Bible, hearing it preached, and believing its contents are not, therefore, necessary to a saving knowledge of the truth. Other people who may go by the name of Buddhist or Moslem are, in the practice of their religion, really “anonymous Christians,” to use the phrase of Karl Rahner. Though they have not the privilege of instruction in the gospel, God does not hold it against them, but saves them for the good practice of their religions, even and including their bowing down to idols, which are, after all, and ultimately, only so many expressions of the one God.
Inclusivism is the view, in other words, that though Christ is necessary for salvation, conscious faith in Him is not: He died for all, atonement was necessary, but some will become Christians only after the judgment day, who unconsciously were Christians in their practicing of religion according to the light given them.
Evidence of “mush” abounds.
I cite only the following:
First, I see as evidence of Christianity’s own brand of pluralistic mush a kind of “ethic of civility,” as someone has called it, among Christians and other religious folk. Nothing wrong with being civil! But there is a kind of civility today in which Christians are seeking to “dialogue” with those of other religions, and that is all. There is no attempt to preach and to evangelize, but only to respect and glean from those of other religions. Noteworthy in this regard is the ongoing dialogue with the Jews which Christian churches are having. In these dialogues it is assumed that Jews and Christians worship the same God. There is talk of a common Judeo-Christian ethic and heritage. There is unity and focus on the preservation of the family and advancing social causes. There are shared worship services, as a recent celebration of the Passover in a local fundamentalist church attests.
Then there are these evidences in the Protestant camp: an RCA minister declares faith that there are more ways to heaven than faith in Jesus; a Lutheran leader speaks of “the gospel of Jesus as not destroying but fulfilling other religions.”
Just one more evidence. This time Roman mush. The Roman Catholic Church in many ways has led the way in the promotion of mush. Mush is in fact Roman Catholic doctrine. For Vatican II, in section 16 of Lumen Gentium, states: “Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them, through the dictates of conscience. Nor does divine Providence deny the help necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, but who strive to live a good life, thanks to His grace” (quoted in an article entitled “Why Christianity of All Religions,” by Klaas Runia, in the November, 1996 issue of REC Theological Forum). Rome also speaks of God “smiling” upon the Moslems who, with Rome, share adoration of Mary (cf. the book Mary of the Koran: A Meeting Point between Christianity and Islam, by a Rev. Nilo Geagea).
Brief Critique of Inclusivism
Christian inclusivists attempt to justify their position from Scripture. But, at every point, there is a perverting and twisting of that which God calls us rightly to divide.
There is talk, for example, of the “faith principle” which all men, even non-Christians, can have in God. This is a faith in God, even though it may not be faith in Christ. It is a faith, nevertheless, acceptable to God. This “faith principle,” this “theocentric religion” which need not be “Christocentric,” is taught, say the inclusivists, in a text such as Hebrews 11:6: “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Just faith in God, not in Jesus, is necessary.
Inclusivists have their way of getting around John 14:6 and Jesus’ words: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” The Roman Catholic inclusivist Paul Knitter interprets Jesus’ words as applying to Christians only. That is: only for Christians is Jesus the only way to the Father. John’s language, according to Knitter, is not absolute, applying to all everywhere, but rather is the language of one who knows of Christ and loves Him, and boasts of Him as a husband would of His wife, describing her as the most beautiful woman in the world. In fact, the woman may not be the most beautiful woman in the world, but to the husband she is; in fact, Christ is not the only way to the Father, but to those who know Him He is! John 14:6 is love language, not absolute language.
Acts 10:34,35 is a favorite text of inclusivists. There, with regard to Cornelius, Peter declares: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” Thus, according to inclusivists, Cornelius and others may be accepted of God before they are converted to Christianity, or apart from their ever being converted. As they practice their religion righteously, even apart from knowledge of the gospel, they are “anonymous Christians,” God’s people, doing the best with the knowledge given.
What do we say to all this?
In the first place, with regard to this “faith principle” thing, it is absolutely unbiblical. Faith in Scripture is ever faith in Christ—faith in God revealed in Christ. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). Eternal life is knowing God and knowing Jesus Christ whom God has sent (John 17:3).
John 14:6? If Jesus is saying here that He is “the way” to the Father just for those who like to think He is the only way—well then we have lost our Bible, and we have lost our ability to interpret it. There is no hint here of Jesus maintaining He is only “a way” for some, but not for all. There is no hint here that John 14:6 is only John’s interpretation of Jesus’ words, and not Jesus’ words themselves. Jesus is the way absolutely, as He says He is!
The inclusivist’s interpretation of Acts 10:34,35 must also be jettisoned. Peter is not saying, in flat contradiction to the rest of Scripture, that Cornelius or anyone else is accepted of God because of his own righteousness, or before faith in Christ. The teaching is simply that God has His people in every nation, not just in Israel, whom He will bring to faith in Christ. Thus this man of the Italian band (!) was brought out of darkness into the light and salvation of God in Christ to receive remission of sins through Christ’s name and through faith in that name (Acts 10:43).
Much more could be offered in critique of the inclusivist position.
There is, for example, its open denial of the sinfulness of sin. Inclusivism imagines people seeking God apart from Christ; denies the imputed guilt and inherited corruption of Adam; does not reckon with the wrath of God upon sin. With Anselm we say to the inclusivists: “Ye have not weighed the seriousness of sin!”
There is a perversion also of the doctrine of God.
Denying that Christ is the only way and that faith in Christ is the only way to the Father, inclusivists compromise the holiness and justice of God. God who is holy and just demands satisfaction for sin. Christ alone did this on the cross. Faith alone is the only way Christ’s merits are applied to God’s people. To say that one does not need faith in Christ to be saved is to say that Christ and the imputation of His righteousness to us do not really matter—to God or to people! The cross was not really necessary! Sin is not really so bad! God is not really so God!
There is latent in the inclusivist doctrine also a wrong view of the love of God. Crucial to the inclusivist doctrine of the possibility of salvation through other means than conscious faith in Christ is the teaching that God loves everyone. It is for this reason, His universal love, that salvation is made possible apart from Christ. God is so loving, say the inclusivists, that surely He would not let the mass of men perish simply because they heard not the gospel! But this idea of a universal love is foreign to the Scriptures. God loves His own. But the reprobate wicked His soul hates (Psalm 5:5; 11:5). One expression of God’s wrath is His not bringing the gospel to all men, but leaving many in darkness!
Further, there is, behind the inclusivist mush, error with regard to the truth of God’s revelation. Inclusivists say that there is a general revelation, a light in nature, a natural law by the light of which sinners, even apart from the preaching of the gospel, can be saved. But Scripture teaches that all that is revealed from God in nature to the wicked is God’s wrath (Romans 1:18ff.), and that, to leave the sinner without excuse! Salvation is not through the light of nature, but of the gospel, and the preaching of it: Romans 10:14ff.
… to be continued