10th March 2018

Pluralism: As a Fact of Life

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
1 Corinthians 9:20-22 (NIVUK)

The theologian Alister McGrath in a paper on pluralism (1) refers to making a distinction between pluralism as a fact of life and pluralism as an ideology.

Today we live in a pluralist society that consists of a variety of cultures, religions and lifestyles; this is simply a fact of life. In the first few centuries of the Christian church this type of pluralism was not regarded as an insoluble barrier to the spreading of the gospel message. The above scripture summarises the Apostle Paul’s overall strategy for spreading the gospel. For example Paul taught in Ephesus for about 3 years after which time a riot broke out instigated, not by religious leaders but by a silversmith who was losing income due to lack of trade in silver idols. After the riot had subsided it is interesting to note what the town clerk stated about Paul and his followers, “they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess” (Acts 19: 37). Clearly Paul’s gospel was a positive message about Jesus and he was prudent in what he said and avoided insulting the feelings and beliefs of those he was addressing.

Augustine of Hippo (396-430 AD) adopted a similar attitude toward the classical culture of his day. He expressed the view that the church should appropriate what is good and valuable in contemporary culture whilst disregarding what is dangerous and oppressive. This understanding was based on using the exodus as a model where Israel took with them the good things of Egypt, articles of silver and gold and clothing (Exodus 12:35) and left behind the idols and burdens.

Whilst we should pay due respect to cultures and religions other than our own it doesn’t mean to say that we should regard them all as the same or as equally valid. Whilst the opening scripture shows that Paul’s overriding concern was the spiritual welfare of others when spreading the gospel he was always mindful of being responsible to Jesus and viewed other beliefs through the lens of Christ.

Father, we pray that you will inspire us to present the gospel message as good news in whatever culture we live.

Study by Eddie Marsh

*The Challenge of Pluralism for the Contemporary Christian Church JETS 35/3 (September 1992) 361-373


About the Author:
Eddie Marsh attends Grace Communion International in Sheffield.

Local Congregation:
Grace Communion, Sheffield
Please email for Meeting Place

Meeting Time:
Saturday 10:30am

Local Congregational Contact:
Email: sheffield@gracecom.org.uk

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