Saturday, March 03, 2007

* * Pluralism and Community

I have been doing a lot of thinking about Christianity and Pluralism lately. I'm taking a class right now appropriately called, "Christianity and Pluralism." So John's request fits in perfectly.

I don't know how much background I should provide; but there are three primary voices in Pluralism:

1) Exclusivism = Jesus is the only way to God
2) Inclusivism = Jesus is the only way to
God but Jesus is revealed in other religions
3) Pluralism = All paths lead to God

These are rough definitions and I don't want to get too bogged down laying it all out - There are plenty of good resources on the net for a foundation like HERE. I don't want to ramble on about my perspective or the different approaches. Rather, I'm curious as to what people think of these views - 1, 2, and 3. Specifically let me ask,

How would a community-minded exclusivist people ...
... engage the other two perspectives?

(I think there are some great thoughts HERE and HERE at "Reclaiming the Mission") (2007/02/37)
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Picking up on this discussion ...

I'm not much of an original writer on these posts but when I read something great I need to share! John commented on my previous post that to really engage pluralism and inclusivism we need to understand where they come from. Leslie Newbigin writes, "Arguments for Pluralism and Inclusivism usually begin from the paramount need for human unity..." (The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, 183).

I stop this quote short because I'm curious as to what others find problematic about the need for unity. Newbigin's writing appears to be counter to the Christian claims of love, respect, and harmony. I don't think that's his point; but I'm searching like the rest of you!

Is it possible that this "paramount need" could be destructive to the exclusivist claims of Christians? If unity is problematic (which is the first question to engage) then what does this mean for a community? Let's answer the first question first, I'm eager to be fed! (2007/03/03)


David said...

I've ran across some of this. Really thought provoking stuff that needs to be conversed about. I'm looking forward to reading, hearing, listening, and engaging in more of this...

John Lynch said...

Before I begin responding, brother, I just want to say thanks for kicking us off on this discussion. I especially appreciate your choice of the word "engage" in your question. If you had asked how to "respond", or something like that, I think we'd be talking a lot about love and grace. But that word "engage" is powerful and points to purposeful dialog. That's the very heart of what I believe we struggle with. Thanks again!

John Lynch said...

I think part of the answer has to do with understanding where inclusivist and pluralist impulses come from. I believe it is an issue of the heart, not the mind. As such, it could be:

1) Disappointment or lack of security growing up in which one's heart learns that nothing is reliable - including absolute truth
2) Self-condemnation so that anything that sounds "judgmental" is immediately rejected because of the pain it stirs up in one's wounded heart

3) An overfed worldview in which a person's heart is so distracted that eternal concerns are mere games - not to be taken seriously

Both distracted and despairing worldviews are self-centered, but the shell of that self-serving / self-preserving rebellion can be very thin or very thick. Response would differ depending on the core reason for adhering to pluralism and the extremity of one's self-serving rebellion.

It's not a full answer, but does it help move the ball down the field?

John Lynch said...


John Lynch said...

Great second post, brother. Thanks for leading on!

That Newbigin quote is awesome! It makes a lot of sense that pluralism and inclusivism would be appealing to people suffering lives of disconnected living devoid of real community.

You asked what people might find "problematic about the need for unity." I can't imagine anything wrong with the need for unity... only with our method of achieving it.

I'm struck by your question, "Is it possible that this 'paramount need' could be destructive to the exclusivist claims of Christians?" It forces us to ask what the terms for unity should be and makes me wonder if there is ever a price too high for an experience of unity?

In a very superficial sense, pluralism does bring people together into a kind of unity; but at what cost?

Islam believes in heaven for Allah's faithful and hell for all infidels. Eastern religions believe in reincarnation unto perfection. Unitarian Universalists believe all people go to heaven. Christians believe in spiritual rebirth and heaven for people who reconcile to God in a faith-relationship thru Jesus and hell for all who refuse that reconciliation.

Can all these people truly live in deep unity? Certainly there can be tolerance; but tolerance and unity are very different. Unity implies meaningful, deep, intimate, mutual, interdependent community. How can that happen among people who sincerely hold to contradictory articulations of truth with overwhelmingly significant consequences? I can only imagine pluralism bringing unity when people move to a common truth. Even the agreement that the things of God and eternity don't really matter is a common truth. That's the common truth Universalism embraces.

But the way to the fullness of unity is exceedingly more narrow. Just as there are "rules" that govern physical health (e.g. oxygen, food, exercise, etc.) there are also rules for authentic community. That word "community" is from two words: "common" and "unity". Without common truth, I can't imagine how unity can take place. Jesus says "I am the truth, no one comes to the Father but thru Me." One rule for real community is landing on the common truth of Jesus.

So I don't understand the need for unity as problematic, but our means for attaining it sure can be.

All this leaves me desparately wanting unity for those who are prevented from it by their lack of truth. And still I wonder what's the best way to engage pluralistic people in such a way that will help them to embrace the way to true unity and community in the Life-Giving truth of Jesus?

M Moore said...

I haven't left this conversation completely! I just stared at the past two entries and am not sure what to post next! There will be something up soon, hopefully!

David said...

Good comments John. It's something similiar that we conversed about after the radio program I did yesterday, which consisted of myself, and Episcipal Priest, and a Muslim.
Unity and Tolerance are two different things and you cleared up some fogginess for me.

John Lynch said...

Do you have a transcript or feed of the broadcast, David? I'd love to read or hear it!