Dickson clears some ground in this short chapter addressing a necessary question that if answered in the affirmative, would take the ground from under Christian mission. Don’t all religions lead to God? And if they do this proves a ‘monumental defeater’ of Christian mission.
You may recall that in our interview, Scot McKnight identified universalism as the big issue facing evangelicals in the years ahead.
More sophisticated pluralists like Marcus Borg propose that religions mediate spiritual reality by connecting people to the ‘sacred’– in this sense they are ‘sacramental’. They point to ultimate reality but are not ultimate reality themselves. In his own words (not in Dickson’s book)
“I don’t want to deny the uniqueness of Christianity. I want to speak of the uniqueness of Christianity, as well as Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and Hinduism. They are all unique in the sense that they are not exactly alike. But what I’m affirming is that beneath their differences is this common path of transformation. For me, seeing that all the major enduring religions know this path of transformation gives Christianity much more credibility than if it were to claim to know something that no other religion had ever known.”
Pluralism seems tolerant (all views are validated); it ‘solves’ the ‘problem’ of God’s judgement; it avoids the impoliteness and intolerance of evangelism and mission; it deals with the reality that (for example) vast numbers of people are born into religions other than Christianity; it is therefore psychologically satisfying.
Dickson points out the weaknesses:
– Views like Borg’s that all religions point to ultimate reality but none are true is simply asserted. Does Borg have some special revelation no-one else has?
– Pluralism is fantastically presumptuous: it claims to have access to a bigger ‘truer truth’ than all religions. In effect it is saying all religions are ‘true’ in a way that none of those religions would affirm or recognise.
– Pluralism seeks to avoid the unbearableness of God’s judgement, but it consigns pretty well all the world’s religions to wholesale delusion and error.
– Therefore pluralism promises more than it delivers
Dickson argues for taking religions seriously and for a robust tolerance that engages with people of different faiths with kindness, respect and humility.