Religious Pluralism and Christianity
The purpose of this post is to help us understand the religious pluralism movement and its impact on Christianity.[i]
Religious pluralism teaches we need to have a positive attitude and acceptance to the diversity of religious belief systems co-existing in society. Perhaps you have seen the bumper sticker encouraging people to “coexist.” It serves as an example of the philosophy and teaching of religious pluralism.
We need to live in peace with one another. But, to have a positive, accepting attitude requires that we not tell others that their religion may be wrong. To accept other religions is to embrace them as being right, despite the consequences of the outcome.
Religious pluralism requires Christians to have a “nobody is wrong, and everybody is right” attitude. But we know such a position is impossible. Truth is not relative, but absolute. All religions may not be right. Only one religion may be right.
The call to be a Christian is a call to be loving. The Bible condemns Christians who harass, abuse, belittle, demean, or otherwise show a lack of respect for the dignity of others. We will never win arguments when we are unloving when we present the views of Scripture.
To smile and nod in affirmation while others say there is no such thing as a judgment, wrong religion, or moral absolutes is not loving. It is the responsibility of Christians to lovingly warn others of a final judgment and that God expects holiness from people. Imagine a doctor being afraid to tell someone bad news because it might hurt their emotional well-being!
Religious Pluralism and the Truth about Hell
A large component of pluralism is the objection of the existence of Hell and eternal damnation. For the salvation of all people to exist, there can be no corresponding damnation for any.
Pluralists use the nullification of hell as an appeal to attract people to their ministry. Eric Stetson[ii] uses this plea in the sale of his book, “Are you a Christian who is troubled by the doctrine of eternal hell? Do you wish God could be more loving and forgiving? Do you wish those who die in their sins or unbelief could have another chance at redemption?”
Some believe Hell is a fabrication of mankind. Pearson and Amirault[iii] propose that “translators added to some Bible translations the pagan teaching of a Hell of everlasting punishment. The word “Hell” comes from Teutonic mythology, NOT from the sacred Hebrew and Greek Scriptures”.
What the Bible Teaches
Religious pluralists and Christian Universalists have difficulty with the doctrine of hell. It is not surprising that we, as human beings, having a love for others, have a difficulty with the concept of hell. “If our hearts are never moved with deep sorrow when we contemplate this doctrine, then there is a serious deficiency in our spiritual and emotional sensibilities”[iv].
Sheol, the Old Testament term, is described as the opposite point from heaven (Job 11:8, Psalm 139:8, Isaiah 7:11). It is a place of no return (Job 7:9) and a place of contempt (Daniel 12:2). The New Testament describes hell as a place of judgment and a place of torment (Luke 16:28) and unquenchable, eternal fire (Matthew 18:8; Mark 9:48; Revelation 14:11; 19:3; 20:10). It is described as the place of judgment for fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4). Jesus describes it as a place of outer darkness which has weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12, 22:13; 25:30).
Despite the teachings of pluralists, eternal damnation in Hell is taught clearly throughout Scripture. The Bible teaches that all unbelievers will stand before Christ for judgment (Revelation 20:12). “Hell is the place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked” [v]. It is the place where those guilty from the judgment
Do People Choose Hell?
If there is a hell, how do people get in? Do people choose to go to hell? To answer these questions requires understanding the outcome of our choices. Those that sent to hell do so because they chose to be separate from God. Those with a hardened heart do not want God, so by default, they choose hell. God gives people what they deserve. God separates them from His presence (2 Thessalonians 1:9). God ultimately makes a judgment and does indeed cast people into hell (Revelation 20:15).
Dr. John Piper explains the choice of going to hell. He says, “What sinners want is not hell but sin. That hell is the inevitable consequence of unforgiven sin does not make the consequence desirable. It is not what people want—certainly not what they ‘most want.’ Wanting sin is no more equal to wanting hell than wanting chocolate is equal to wanting obesity. Or wanting cigarettes is equal to wanting cancer”[vi].
It seems insane to choose hell, as people do, but we must consider our own experience. We choose to sin daily. When doing so, we choose to reject God’s goodness. We choose evil consequences rather than God’s goodness. Our human experience shows that it is our nature to make evil choices. People choose to sin by their free will; and they choose Hell the same way.
“There are no second chances in hell. The lake of fire is the ultimate destination of everything wicked, and all those whose names are not recorded in the book of life because they did not place their faith in Jesus Christ. John’s vision does not permit any gray areas in God’s judgment. If by faith we have not identified with Christ, confessing him as Lord, there will be no hope, no second chance, no other appeal”[vii].
Universalistic Christians say that they simply cannot believe in a God that will allow some humans to be ‘cut off’ from him for eternity”[viii].
Those in favor of Christian Universalism (religious pluralism) create a definition of God that is not fitting with the Bible. “They want a ‘good’ God, according to their definition of ‘good.’ They think that God could not be a God of love and send someone to hell for eternity to be tormented. They fail to see that a God of love would not be a just God, if He did not punish evil”[ix].
When people present incorrect doctrine that contradict the Bible, the attempt is also made to define the nature and character of God. Doing so, presents God as inferior to reality and raises the level of the nature and character and opinion of people to a level for which we are not entitled.[x]
Redefining the image and character of God allows for the presentation of a gospel that people want to hear. We are in danger of saying God is somebody that He is not! In pleasing people, we will be displeasing God.
The purpose of God in condemning souls to hell is the exercising of His justice and His holiness towards those that reject His laws and His salvation through His Son. God extends great mercy and grace, even giving of Himself to die on the cross in our place. As the writer of Hebrews states, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3).
Paul’s answer to the question, “Is God unrighteous to inflict wrath on us?” is, “By no means!” (Romans 3:5-6). God judges impartially and according to our deeds (1 Peter 1:17). For God to not have a hell makes a lack of obedience to Him inconsequential. If God were not to execute eternal punishment, His justice will not be satisfied, and his glory will not be shown in the way He deems a wise.
Nothing God does is unjustified. Judging people to an eternity in hell is justified. Ecclesiastes 5:2 says, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you are on the earth.” As the Creator, and as God, He does and may do as He pleases (Ephesians 1:11).
Hell does not diminish the holiness of God. God’s holiness is what makes our salvation necessary. Those that see God face-to-face see His goodness, see His perfection, and recognize His justice will have no question with regards to the just wrath of God. Sin occludes our eyes and blinds us to the nature of our being and the perfection of God. Once the blindness of sin is removed, when we are glorified, we will see God for who He is.
Hell does not make God unloving. God is loving, and Scripture attests to this over and over. Our salvation is based on the love of God (Romans 5:8). It is based on love that God is a perfect, holy judge. God has not spared His very best (Romans 8:32) so that we, formerly enemies (James 4:4) of God by being friends with the world, can be reconciled to God.
If God did not judge the world for not receiving Jesus Christ as Savior, then, God would have to look upon Jesus and say to Him that His perfect sacrifice was for naught. For God not to have a hell would demonstrate He is very unloving toward the perfect Son of God. To not have hell is the most unloving thing God could do toward the most loving of all people.
Hell is real. It is a place of judgment. It is the responsibility of those who know the truth about hell to lovingly warn others of a final judgment. Understanding the purpose of hell is an important component of the Gospel. The fear (reverence) of God is the beginning of wisdom. To disregard God and to blatantly disobey Him is a foolhardy decision which results in eternal consequences.
We do not know how great salvation is until we know Jesus saves us from
[i] Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[ii] Stetson, Eric; 2009 (website accessed October 1, 2010); “The Christian Universalist Association”; http://www.christian-universalism.com
[iii] Amirault, Gary; 2009 (website accessed October 1, 2010); “What is Carlton Pearson’s ‘Doctrine of Inclusion’”; http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/Carlton_Pearson-Doctrine_of_Inclusion.html
[iv] Grudem, Wayne; 1994; “Systematic Theology”; Inter-Varsity Press/Zondervan Publishing; Grand Rapids, MI
[v] Grudem, Wayne; 1994; “Systematic Theology”
[vi] Piper, John; 30 October 2009 (Website accessed October 30, 2009); “How willingly do people go to Hell?”;http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TasteAndSee/ByDate/2009/4368_How_Willingly_Do_People_Go_to_Hell/
[vii] Tyndale House Publishers; 1992; “The Handbook of Bible Application”; §Hell; Second Edition; Parsons Technology, Inc., Electronic Edition STEP Files, Cedar Rapids, IA
[viii] Larkin, William; 2009 (website accessed October 2, 2010); “In Defense of Christian Exclusivity”; http://blog.echurchwebsites.org.uk/2009/08/08/in-defense-of-christian-exclusivity-dr-larkin/
[ix] Miller, Betty; 2009 (website accessed October 1, 2010); “What Does The Bible Say About… The Ultimate Reconciliation Of All?”; http://www.bible.com/bibleanswers_result.php?id=140
[x] Hand, Gary; 2009 (website accessed October 1, 2010); “The Gospel Of Inclusion And Carlton Pearson”; On Doctrine: Discerning truth from error; ww.ondoctrine.com/10pearso.htm