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Theology Of Religions: Pluralism, Inclusivism, Exclusivism

English: Resurrection of Christ

Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Domenic Marbaniang

The term ‘theology of religion’ is to be understood here as the branch of Christian theology that attempts to theologically and biblically evaluate the phenomena of religion. Three important schools within this field are pluralism, inclusivism, and exclusivism. Each of them will be briefly examined here.

1. Pluralism

Pluralism is basically the belief that the world religions are true and equally valid in their communication of the truth about God, the world, and salvation. The chief expounder of this view is John Hick of Claremont Graduate School in California, who first propounded it in his book God and the Universe of Faiths (1973). His view is not different from the popular Hindu view capsulated in Krishna’s saying in the Bhagavadgita:

By whatsoever way men worship Me, even so do I accept them; for, in all ways, O Partha, men walk in My path. [IV.11]

This is the popular view that all religions lead to the same God and all ways lead to heaven. According to Hick, Christianity is not the one and only way of salvation, but one among several. To a pluralist such as Hick, Christianity is not the absolute, unique, and final way to God. While pluralists assert the validity of all religions, they also deny the finality of all religions. According to Hick, in the evolutionary scheme of things in which at isolated ages and places the early religions are succeeded by higher religions, it is the same message of God that comes distinctly to a particular group but as different from the others. Hick challenges the older view that Christ or Christianity must be seen at the center of religions. Rather, he says, God must be seen at the center of religions. The pluralistic contention is that all religions are fundamentally the same though superficially different.

‘The attraction of pluralism,’ says McGrath, ‘lies not in its claim to truth, which are remarkably elusive and shallow, but in its claim to foster tolerance among the religions.’ To an evangelical Christian, however, such pluralism only means the abolition of kerygmatic mission, i.e., the mission of evangelizing the world with the salvific gospel of Jesus Christ. However, the reasons for rejecting pluralism go beyond the cause of evangelization. Any sincere study of world religions expressly reveals that contrary to the pluralistic contention all religions look superficially the same but are fundamentally different. Each of them differs from the rest in its view of God, sin, salvation, death, and eternity. Obviously, the pantheistic notion of the world as God and the monotheistic notion of the world as creation of God are not the same. The only way to call them same is by jettisoning the notion of absolute truth itself; however, that would mean that no absolute statements about anything can be made, including the statement that all religions are the same.

Another point against pluralism is the counterfeit posture it assumes. Pluralism contends that it is different from exclusivism in that it accepts the validity of all religions. Thus, truth is both relativized and pluralized. However, one basic feature of truth is exclusivity. Truth by nature excludes everything else contrary to it. Thus, every statement in order to be meaningful must exclude all its opposite. Thus, pluralism by contending the validity of all religions against the segregated contention of each to validity excludes all other views contrary to it. For example, it excludes the view that ‘all religions are not true.’ Therefore, though assuming the form of pluralism, it is none other than a variant of exclusivism itself.

2. Inclusivism

Inclusivism is the belief that God is present in non-Christian religions to save the adherents through Christ. The inclusivist view has given rise to the concept of the anonymous Christian by which is understood an adherent of a particular religion whom God saves through Christ, but who personally neither knows the Christ of the Bible nor has converted to Biblical Christianity. This position was popularized by the Roman Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner (b. 1904).

One important issue that Rahner raises is about the salvation of those who have never had the opportunity to listen to the gospel Jesus Christ. To Rahner, then, people can be saved apart from allegiance to the Christian church. It is God in Christ who reaches out to the individual in his own personal religious history to same him. Rahner used the term ‘anonymous’ to denote people who experience the grace of God in Christ regardless to what religion they belong to. Inclusivism is based on two axioms: the first is that salvation is through Christ alone, the second is that God wills the whole world to be saved. Consequently, God saves people through Christ alone; however, he makes this possible through ways that extend to all humanity.

To Rahner, a non-Christian religion is a lawful religion for until its followers have a Christian witness it is a means by which non-Christians gain a right relationship with God. Also, the religion is included in God’s plan of salvation which God has ordained for the communication of His grace.

Inclusivism has a great appeal to people because of its sympathetic approach to religion. However, it ignores the fact of ungodly elements within religions. It would only be a contradiction in terms to conceive of a God who reveals that he is against idolatry and at the same time assert that he saves a person in his worship of idols. Jesus said it is by knowing the truth that one is liberated. When the apostles spoke of salvation by the name of Jesus, they never meant that people could be saved within allegiance to the lordship of Jesus; on the contrary, they expressly meant that only by a voluntary submission to the Lord could one be saved. The will of God for salvation of all men in 1 Timothy 2: 4  is qualified by His desire that all of them will come to the knowledge of the truth for which Paul testifies as being appointed a preacher. Thus, the Bible is clear on the point that knowledge of Christ precedes the reception of saving grace in faith.

Inclusivism is seen as arrogantly exclusivist, if seen from the perspective of other religions. It tells that Hindus are not saved by their dharma, and Muslims are not saved by their works, but all are saved unaware by Christ. This not only proves that the salvation doctrine of all other religions are false but also that people are not saved because of following the religious way of their religion. This is something like saying that the neighbor is living by my money though it is he who earns his livelihood and lives by it. The claim is unwarranted. Finally, Christ assumes a nebulous and abstract character and personal commitment to the historical Christ almost loses soteriological value as can be seen in the case of M. M. Thomas’ Christ-centered syncretism. Therefore, inclusivism cannot be accepted as Biblically warranted.

3. Exclusivism

Exclusivism is the theological position that holds to the finality of the Christian faith in Christ. The finality of Christ means that there is no salvation in non-Christian religions. Notable among the exclusivists of this century are Samuel Zwemer, Hendrik Kraemer, and Lesslie Newbigin.

Based on the Aristotelian concept of truth as one and not many, exclusivists regard all other religious claims as false and invalid since the Christian revelation is accepted as true. Exclusivists hold that salvation is through Christ alone. It is through a personal experience of commitment to Christ that one receives assurance of salvation. The non-believers cannot receive such assurance since they are neither aware of the uniqueness of Christ neither do they acknowledge His lordship. The exclusivist begins with the Bible as the source of all knowledge about spirituality and salvation. The Bible is the criterion of all religious truth. The Bible relates the history of redemption, gives a foundation to personal faith, is a guidebook of the Christian community, and tells us of the future of the world that links up all history, life, and service with meaning and purpose. Exclusivism, thus, establishes the uniqueness and identity of Christianity among world religions. Such exclusivism can take either an extremist or a moderate viewpoint. The extremist view regards all non-Christian religions as demonic and enemies of Christian truth. On the other hand, the moderate view sees some non-Christian religions as containing elements whereby a dialogue with them can be initiated. However, all exclusivists in general agree that salvation is exclusively only through Christ and received by a personal commitment to the Lord.

An exclusivist view is inevitable in any dialogue of truth. As has been seen, neither the pluralist nor the inclusivist could avoid being exclusivist at some point. Truth by nature is exclusive and any claim to truth is exclusive. The only way to deny exclusiveness of Christ is to deny the veracity of the Bible. The exclusivist view rightly sees the exclusiveness of the Bible in its proclamation of Christ as the only way of salvation. However, at the same time, it must be affirmed that the Bible also speaks of God involved in the history of the nations. Therefore, it must not be thought non-Christian religions are totally devoid of virtue. Thus, though being very vociferous in his attacks on Hinduism, Nehemiah Goreh could say that ‘Most erroneous as is the teaching of such books as the Bhagvadgita, the Bhagvata, etc., yet they have taught us something of ananyabhakti (undivided devotedness to God), of vairagya (giving up the world), of namrata (humility), of ksama (forbearance), etc., which enables us to appreciate the precepts of Christianity.’

Thus, of the various schools of approach to the study of religion, theologically speaking, moderate exclusivism proves to be the best, since it neither distorts the meaning of truth, as pluralism does, nor forces itself over the other religions, as inclusivism does, but remains true to its source of doctrine, viz. the Bible.

© Domenic Marbaniang, 2007

About the Author

Dean of Post-Graduate Studies, Professor of Theology, Religions, and Missions, Author, Editor of Theological Journal, and Pastor

Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/Theology Of Religions: Pluralism, Inclusivism, Exclusivism

Note – Since this article was first published, there have been some changes to articlesbase.com. The original links have been left intact. 

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Peter, Paul and Women – Another look at the Early Church

Peter and Paul by El Greco via Wikipedia

Among Christians, St. Peter is often compared to St. Paul.

Peter is seen as the rule man. Paul, the innovator. Together, they are usually cited as the two most important early Christians after Jesus Christ, himself.

Women in Early Christianity

Feminists say the primacy of Peter and Paul is a male take on early Christianity. A male take in a male world—in New Testament times and, to some degree, now.

Women, in fact, performed essential work among the early Christians. Food preparation, laundry and other domestic chores were not accomplished through miracles. And there’s no New Testament record of manna falling from heaven. No, women usually took up these necessary duties.

Scholars also realize that women played key inspirational, pastoral and organizational roles within the early Church.¹

Read More

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Islamic and Jewish Views of Jesus

Image via Pixabay

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Although Judaism, Christianity and Islam all assert that they teach pure monotheism, only Christianity proclaims that Jesus was the Son of God; and a third of a Divine trinity (a trifold unity. Christians also believe Jesus was a Divine Messiah (Greek Christ) predicted centuries before by several Jewish prophets in the Hebrew Bible. Jews say the Messiah is always human.

In the Qur’an, Jesus is referred to in ninety three verses in fifteen surahs; and mentioned by name twenty-five times as “son of Mary” or “Messiah Jesus, son of Mary”.

Islam agrees with Christianity that Jesus was born to a virgin, was sinless, performed miracles, and was superior to other prophets. Both Islam and Judaism teach that Jesus was not in any way Divine. Jews think Jesus was only a Rabbi. Islam teaches Jesus was no more than a prophet.

Islam, denies the central teaching and belief of Christianity by denying Jesus’ divinity, crucifixion, and resurrection. Judaism denies divinity. Both religions deny original sin.

Jews and Muslims are both in fundamental agreement that neither Jesus, nor any other human, should be worshiped as a God or as any part of the one and only God.

But doesn’t the Qur’an state: “The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call the Messiah a son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (thus) they only imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say (pagans who believed their many Gods had many divine or semi-divine children). Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth! (Qur’an 9:30)

English: Baptism of Christ

Baptism of Christ via Wikipedia

Now there are a half dozen different places in the Qur’an where the Christian claim that Jesus is the son of God is refuted and denied. For example, “Jesus son of Mary, did you ever say to people ‘worship me and my mother as Gods beside Allah?’ and he will answer, ‘How could I say what I had no right to say?’” 5:116

Also, “Jesus in the sight of Allah is like Adam” 3:59. and “The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was no more than a Messenger of Allah…do not say :Trinity. Stop saying that.” 4:171 Jews agree 100% with these ayahs.

And general statements like “those who say, ‘Allah has begotten a son.’ have no knowledge about it, nor did their forefathers; this is a monstrous word that comes from their mouths. They utter nothing but a lie.” 18:4,5 and 5:72-75, and 19:30. Jews also agree 100% with this.

Indeed, the verse that follows 9:30 specifically applies to Jesus: They take their priests (Ahbar) and their monks to be their Lords in derogation of Allah, and (take as their Lord) the Messiah the son of Mary; yet they were commanded to worship but One God: there is no god but He. Praise and glory to Him: (Far is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him). (Qur’an 9:31)

Then how shall we understand the Qur’an’s statement: ‘The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah”?

Al-Tabari and Abdallah ibn Ubayd state that only one Jew (Pinhas) viewed Uzayr as the son of God. Ibn Abbas and Qurtubi say only four Jews, whose names they record, believed Uzayr was a son of God. Ibn Hazm said that just a small group of Jews in Yemen worshipped ʿUzayr as a son of God in some remote period.

Since the Jews of Yemen, who have lived there since the third or fourth century, do have an old tradition not to name their children Ezra, perhaps there was such a small, short lived, heretical sect that later generations wanted to forget.

English: child Jesus with the virgin Mary, wit...

Child Jesus with the virgin Mary, with the Holy Spirit (represented as a dove) and God the Father, with child john the Baptist and saint Elizabeth on the right via Wikipedia

But most Christians to this day, proudly proclaim that they do indeed worship Jesus, the Son of God. Jews however, have always vehemently denied that they worship any partner or other God except the one and only God. So how can we understand the difference between the two seemingly parallel statements in ayah 9:30?

There is a Hadith in Sunan Al-tirmidhi which says that the Jews worship their Rabbi’s. One of the companions said that this is not true. Then Muhammad said that they accept what their Rabbi’s say over the word of God; so in this way they worship them. This Hadith provides an important clue.

Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians actually do venerate and pray to both Jesus and his mother Mary; but only a small party of Jews figuratively venerate their rabbis as Muhammad says because, “they accept what their Rabbi’s say, over the word of God, so in this way they worship them”.

This Hadith is correct. Orthodox Jews believe in both a written Torah and an oral (unwritten) Torah which has been handed down for over 3,200 years, ever since Sinai. They often observe Judaism according to the rabbinic interpretation of this oral Torah.

For example, the Torah states that the new Jewish year starts: “On the first day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a day for you to blow ram horns”. (Numbers 29:1)

This one day holy day, was turned into a two day holy day some 17-18 centuries ago, when most Jews lived outside the Land of Israel and could not be sure exactly when the lunar new year calendar began. A similar issue exists for Muslims in determining the start of Ramadan, which is why in some years two different days mark the beginning of Ramadan in various parts of the world.

“Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622 via Wikipedia

Thus, different circumstances produce different rituals and legal systems, but basic theology can differ only in unessential details. As the sage of Konya, Jalal al-Din al-Rumi says, “Ritual prayer might differ in every religion, but belief never changes.” (Fihi Mafih 49)

The Qur’an also states 4:171 “O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ (Messiah) Jesus the son of Mary was (only) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (He is far) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth.”

The Qur’an credits Messiah Jesus as being a Word of God. What does this mean? The Qur’an also states 43:61: “And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment): therefore have no doubt about the (Hour), but you (should) follow Me: this is a Straight Way.”

Jews do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, son of David; because the Messianic Age of international peace clearly has not yet come about. But Jesus could have been the Messiah, son of Aaron or Joseph (Yusuf) who according to rabbinic teachings will be killed by the anti-Messianic forces (Romans) before the coming of the son of David Messiah, and the final judgement and resurrection.

Bernardino Luini – Holy Family with the Infant St John via Wikipedia

The belief in two different messiahs, one a moral political leader from the house of David (Davidson) and the other, a religious reformer from the house of Aaron (Aronson), and a special “end of days” prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah (Matthew 16:14) is also found in inter-testament literature.

A Dead Sea scroll states that the Qum’ran community must live according to the original discipline “until there shall come a prophet (Elijah) and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel” (Manuel of Discipline 9:11). There is also a rabbinic belief in a messianic figure from the northern tribes; a son of Joseph, Mary’s husband, who is killed by Roman enemies.

Rabbi Maller’s website is: www.rabbimaller.com. An ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as the Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California, Rabbi Maller has published over 100 articles about Islamic and Jewish connections on Islamic and Jewish web sites. His newest book is ‘Judaism and Islam: Synergistic Monotheisms.’ He is also the author of a book on Jewish mysticism.

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“I’m a – – – – Starboy”

Okay. I like this song. I like it a lot. I’m not sure if I like the censored version better than the uncensored. I mean, I am all for freedom of expression. Even as a Christian, I am not against the artist who put a cross in a bottle of urine (can’t remember the name offhand, and don’t really care to). On some level, that “art” might mean something worthwhile to someone.

Usually, I deplore censorship.

However, this tune raises some interesting questions.

The two main contentious words are the N-word and the MF-word (be forewarned if you follow the links from the above tweet).

So why can The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk can use these words, get about a billion hits at YouTube but if little ‘ol me were to use these words in this here blog, I’d run the risk of being sued?

Double standard?

As for the censored vs. uncensored versions, I admit that while out the other night with my FM/MP3 player, I really liked hearing the censored version on FM. Cutting out the heavy stuff just made it more spiritual.

Hearing the word “Starboy” after a string of synced scratches instead of the MF-word made the whole experience far more transcendent. Walking along a moderately busy road, I could almost envision that Star Child in 2001: A Space Odyssey watching over us, making sure we don’t blast ourselves to hell.

So what’s the story? Should this tune be “cleaned up” for radio?

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Panentheism – Nope… it’s not a spelling mistake…

Over at Earthpages.ca I’ve been doing some heavy duty revising. It’s my way of being a scholar and journalist at the same time. If only I got paid for it!

Oh well, better to try to do the right thing than to peddle products in the name of God. So many ‘squeaky clean’ Christians do that and, frankly, it turns me off big time.

For me, washing the inside of the cup is far more important than washing the outside (Matthew 23:26). Keeping both sides clean is best. But given a choice, the inside is what counts most.

What does this mean?

Usually when I hear Catholic homilies about this teaching they seem to fall short. Catholicism is great but, let’s face it, there’s a lot of worldliness too.

Some people gloss over it. Others repress it. But it’s there. I guess that’s why I’m not a priest or a monk. I would have liked to have been. But it’s just too much polishing up the outside while ignoring the inside.

Familiar patterns may be necessary. But they can also be used as a crutch to prevent real change. Inner change. Reel off the printed prayers, go to confession, give the ‘offering,’ and you get to heaven!

Hmm. I’m not convinced.

As any priest or preacher worth their salt will emphasize, what matters most is internal change. We have to dig deep into our own faults and not dismiss them as “weakness” but, rather, work toward eradicating them. Not easy. And it takes time. But anything else is just whitewash.

But I digress. My intent here is to introduce another entry about different ways people conceptualize God. Panentheism is not a spelling mistake. It’s just another variety in the endless chain of trying to make sense of something far bigger than ourselves.

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What is the difference between religion and spirituality?

A lot of folks say that religion and spirituality are different. Some go as far to say that people go to church merely for social, emotional or aesthetic experiences. But this is a gross simplification, one influenced, I think, by the new ‘religion’ of science, which has brainwashed many.

Would the Catholic Church, for instance, have lasted over 2000 years if it was just about club membership, laughing, crying, and pretty sights and sounds? Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s sociological study, Commitment and Community suggests that most cults dwindle away and die after their charismatic leader dies. Not so with Christianity. The death of the leader made Christians even more committed, to the point of willingly undergoing cruel death at the hands of the ancient Romans.

Contrary to what the materialists say, many real, living people report experiencing a purely spiritual indwelling at their church. They also report feeling a great sense of peace, transformation, and a unique kind of spiritual elevation. It’s not quite the same as going to the bingo hall, the dance club or the football game. The funny thing is, those adhering to the new ‘religion’ of science tend to ignore or reinterpret these real life reports of church-centered spirituality to make them ft with their materialistic way of seeing things.

Even some who critique science and lean toward a Gnostic (gnōsis is a Greek word for “knowledge”) type of spirituality often say that religion and spirituality are like oil and water. They’ll never mix.

But for me there’s an overlap among religions and spirituality. They need not be mutually exclusive. Moreover, we’re all different, with our particular needs evolving to suit different stages of our lives. So we hear stories about firm fundamentalist Christians trying to convert people in their youth, who later in life question their beliefs and begin to explore new interpretations of ancient scripture (e.g. Bart Ehrman). Or the Catholic Mother Superior who drops out of her convent to become a professor, where she hopes she will encounter less chauvinism and institutional hypocrisy.

I’ve talked with many people whose needs are always changing. And I’m one of them. Why should life be any different? We’re not sterile creatures locked up in a test tube. We’re living, breathing, organic creatures thirsting for meaning in an apparently meaningless creation.


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Jesus… myth, fact or a bit of both?