Posted by: Billy Marsh | July 18, 2008

Fighting Pluralism with Pluralism?

How does that work actually? Apparently Dinesh D’Souza knows, but I’m not convinced. Actually, I’m rather disappointed and frustrated as to his attempt to do so. While I was catching up on my blog reading after being gone for a few weeks, I clicked on a post from D’Souza’s blog called “Is Christianity the Only Way?” As usual, I was curious to see what his answer would be, especially since he has recently been a somewhat unlikely defender of the faith inasmuch as he has mainly thrived in political circles rather than theological ones. The post started off great and I had little reason to be alarmed concerning his final conclusions. Yet, mid-way through, I was taken by complete surprise.

D’Souza, after recounting some statistics on the rise of theism in America, proceeded to tell a story of a recent debate he had with former opponent Christopher Hitchens and a Jewish radio host named Dennis Prager. Hitchens singled D’Souza out on the question of whether or not “good and descent Jews go to heaven“? His reply was, “I believe they can.” D’Souza first affirmed that his position was in no way “a denial of the central Christian position that Christ is the way to salvation.” I hope you caught the missing adjective in his statement; notice that he said “Christ is the way to salvation” instead of “Christ is the only way to salvation.” Still, he further explained that “Scripture and Christian teaching leave open the question of what happens to virtuous non-Christians who lived either before Christ or who have not had a chance to accept him.”

To extend clarification of his stance, D’Souza tried to distinguish between two different types of pluralism of which I’m not sure if “pluralism” serves as the most appropriate title for what he describes. Nonetheless, in a nutshell, the two sides of pluralism, as D’Souza sees them, are first, the kind where truth does not matter, and second, the kind where truth does matter, but humans are sober-minded with respect to the limitedness of the knowability and accessibility of truth. Ultimately, what he is saying is that he’s a “good and thinking” pluralist. Sadly enough, D’Souza’s position is not uncommon nor unfamiliar within the “evangelical” world. Even in my short life, I am constantly amazed by how many people, some of whom I respect like D’Souza, are willing to broaden the way to eternal life where there are entry ways other than Christ.

In his explanation, one could say that D’Souza does in fact believe that Christ is the only way to salvation, since it is his atoning sacrifice that still covers those who go through life without believing on his name for salvation. Yet, glancing on his position, it is obvious that he has some erroneous views concerning the nature of salvation in the OT or pre-Christ’s coming, the nature and extent of the atonement, and the necessity of belief in the gospel for eternal life. Another topic that seems to be misunderstood in D’Souza’s stance is the character of God insofar as he appeals to God’s merciful nature in view of those who have lived “morally” good lives without acceptance of the gospel. But with respect to his answer regarding the fate of Jews, his thoughts fall short due to the fact that there is probably a small chance that most “good and descent Jews” have not heard of Jesus Christ and have not willingly rejected his gospel.

I’m not going to try and refute pluralism, per se, by the typical arguments and Scriptures. There are plenty of books out there that have done it with extensive treatment. However, what I am most concerned about stems from issues similar to the ones I encountered from speaking out against The Shack’s unorthodox portrayal of the Trinity as well as its pluralistic tendencies. It seems that Christians are eager to water down the gospel. We get asked the tough questions that sound much harsher and non-sensical out loud than they do in our minds and on paper, and we scramble for something to say. Yet, we must not be surprised that the claims of the gospel seem so foreign to the secular mind. Didn’t Jesus say they would? I’ve been reading through the gospels the past few months and I am more aware than ever concerning Jesus’ promise that the world will hate his disciples. Wasn’t Jesus the one who said that the gospel would be like a sword, having the ability to make members of the same household enemies (Matt 10:34-39)?  Even Paul says that there is an “offense of the cross” (Gal 5:11). No one should accept it or consider it lightly. Jesus’ demands are not rules that are meant to be bent. They can either be kept or broken. This isn’t legalism, it’s obedience. That’s where true freedom lives.

I believe in retrospect that there are two basic reasons why so many Christians would have no problem saying “Amen” to D’Souza’s comments without a second thought. First, people just don’t know their bibles. I believe D’Souza probably is well-acquainted with his copy of God’s Word, but obviously not enough, or else he would at least be fully aware that “Scripture and Christian teaching” does not leave this question open; instead, the Bible has plenty to say on the matter, and Christian theology has not neglected dealing with this issue either. Christian history itself is packed full of theologians who have tried to answer this very honest question. However, though the issue in a broad stroke has to do with people not being immersed in God’s Word, I fear that the unfamiliarity is more so associated with people’s knowledge of the gospel, and not necessarily whether or not they can tell me how many chapters there are in Genesis or what’s their eschatological take on Revelation. I am always astounded by how unaware many Christians are of the nature and components of the gospel in which they claimed to have believed.

The second reason I believe is that people have a complacent and surface-level love for the person of Christ. I know this is a bad example, but in the movie Gladiator, Maximus tells Proximo that he will return to Rome with an army and will make good on his offer to kill the emperor so long as Proximo will give him his freedom. Maximus tells him, “I give you my word.” Proximo scoffs, and says that he knows that Maximus is a man of his word and that he would die for the honor of his ancestors and his family. Proximo, however, is being made rich by Maximus’ victories and refuses. Proximo’s observation of Maximus’ devotion to the honor of thosehe loves dearest is what I want to emphasize. A real love for God is one that will not tolerate any type of dishonor to his name. I cringe when I hear bad theology not becauseI’m a “heretic hunter”, but because what I hear contradicts the God whom I love more than anything in this world. If you remember, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar got in trouble with God because they spoke wrongly of him unlike his upright servant Job. If Jesus Christ has made the claim that he is the only way to eternal life, we should love him enough to defend what he has made plain. Be bound to God, and loyal to him above all else. This will make standing up for doctrines that come across as “hard” much easier.

I think it is time for us to reacquaint ourselves with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. So many people talk about the Christian life as walking the “straight and narrow road”. Yet this isn’t what Christ said. Instead, Jesus made it known that it’s not the road, but the gate that is narrow. He then goes on to say that “the way [road] is hard, and those who find it are few” (Matt 7:13-14).

(**This post does not affect my recommendation of D’Souza’s book, What’s So Great About Christianity?. As far as I can tell, he thoughts on pluralism do not appear in this monograph.)

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Responses

  1. Awesome post! Also, good job adding the comment on Matthew 7. I think there are many particularly from my generation and before that miss this point. As for the other, I have a friend that has been on the mission field for 25 years. He frequently makes the statement when he speaks that many Christians don’t have enough “spiritual spit” to stand up for what they believe in. To this, I believe you hit the nail on the head about the lack of real knowlege of the gospel. Else, how often does the average Christian jump at the chance to debate with a person of another faith? The inner belief may be there but the knowlege of the word is lacking. The scipture tells us to put on the WHOLE armour of God so that we may be able to stand.

  2. Hey biddy. We enjoy reading and know that it is a sweet gift from the father he’s given you to equip the body for service. I was glad to read that Gladiator still has a place in your heart. I miss you brother. I look to the day that he will give us together and until then he has given me the great joy to be before the throne on your and kim’s behalf.

  3. I like D’Souza too, and have a link on my blog to his, but he is squishy (a theological term) on some things. One other thing that he is squishy on is the muslim/jihad thing. I believe that he basically refuses to call Islam what it really is, evil. He tends to really downplay the islam part of terrorism.

    It seems like most people I have met that are even churchgoing folk, are pretty much universalists. As long as you are sincere and try hard then your good must outweigh the bad so God lets you into heaven.

  4. Ewok,

    Hey! I got your email the other day. I have to go back and look at your previous emails to see how I’m supposed to write to you before I reply. I’m so excited for yall to be there now and settling in. I can’t wait to hear what the Lord does! I’m glad you’re still able to get the blog. I hope you and Allison are blessed by it in some way. I miss ya and I’m working on getting a webcam so we can communicate through skype.

    Strength and honor.


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