Evangelizing in a Pluralistic Society


Amidst many different cultures represented by an array of religions around the world, the question whether Jesus is the only way to God, might sound like a faded whisper in some areas.  More alarmingly, it could get one killed in quite a few places by preaching the very notion of it.  Suggesting that Jesus Christ is the only way to God can result in a variety of types of persecutions ranging from cultural intolerance, alienation, imprisonment and in some cases, capital punishment.  As society interconnects more now and in the years to come, eventually the global, cultural norm will be fundamentally pluralistic. 

Although there are some similar precepts in other religions like morality, rule of law, and empathy, the strikingly different aspects “between Jesus and say, Muhammad or Confucius or Buddha is that they never claimed nor showed themselves to be divine, unlike Jesus with his preaching and miracles.”[1]  Leaders of various faiths like the Dalai Lama have made comments like “the central doctrines of Buddhism and Christianity are not compatible.”[2]  Moreover, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6, NIV).  This is the crux that contrasts Christianity from other religions and completely excludes any inclusiveness for other faiths to know and comprehend God apart from their acceptance in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  “Jesus did not say he is a way or a truth, but the way, the truth and the life.”[3]

In a pluralistic society, claiming that Jesus is the exclusive path to God is often times heralded as intolerant towards other faiths and ideologies.  “In our day we have made tolerance of all views the ultimate virtue.”[4]  “It is characteristic of pluralistic societies that truth-seeking communities do not absolutize themselves, but that they recognize and delineate their important and indispensable contributions for the entire culture, and enable those contributions to be perceived in other contexts as well.”[5]  But preaching the efficacy of Christ in this context can almost seem like a daunting task for the average Christian, who isn’t versed in some type of apologetical ministry or in academia.  Regardless of whether one thinks it is proper to teach that He is the only way, would in essence be a theological non-sequitur, because Christians were explicitly commissioned to be Christ’s witness throughout the whole world (Acts 1:8), thus making them universal evangelists in a variety of contexts.  Granted, some Christians are given different gifts in how they would position themselves as evangelists, nonetheless, if we turn our attention back to the early church, we can see the undeniable consistency for their inability to buckle from the truth claims that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.   However, there is always a degree of care and forbearance to be taken in dialogue within a society that is predominantly pluralistic.  “Focusing on habits or practices rather than content, contexts, and methods allows us to develop a disciplined way of interacting with others that supports the message of love of the gospel. The ways we interact with others and the qualities of character and attitudes that radiate from our lives may be a stronger witness than the theologies and strategies evangelism we advocate.”[6]  This is catalytic to Servant Evangelism, and remains a central character trait for Christians to practice what they preach before they start preaching if they are going to have any effect on a largely, judgmental and pluralistic society who is watching their every move and how their behaviors measure up to the Gospel.

Footnotes:

[1] Lechner, Robert H. “Jesus Unique among Religions.” Bucks County Courier Times, Aug 20, 2007. , http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/392401657?accountid=12085.

[2] White, James Emery, Is Jesus the Only Way to God?, (Downers Grove Booklets, 2010, IVP), 13.

[3] Ibid., 7.

[4] Ibid., 8.

[5] Welker, Michael. “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” Harvard Theological Review 95.2 (2002): 129+. General OneFile. Web. 23 June 2016. URL http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA90990546&sid=summon&v=2.1&u=vic_liberty&it=r&p=ITOF&sw=w&asid=696aa1e9dad5886576d80c46738f5c1b

[6] Adeney, Frances S., Graceful Evangelism: Christian Witness in a Complex World, (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2011), 174-175.