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What is the Christian Response to Religious Pluralism?

Alex Tang

Christianity has to coexist with Islam, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Bahai’ism, and many indigenous tribal religions in multi-racial Malaysia. Each of these religions have their sacred books, their traditions, their civilizations which may be thousands of years old, and each claim to be the one true religion.

What should be the Christian response to religious pluralism? There have been a number of options in which Christians respond to religious pluralism. The commonest is withdrawal into a religious ghetto. Here we isolate ourselves from the demands of other religions, limiting our interactions with practitioners of other religions, and reserve our interactions with Christians alone.

The second option is to start a crusade and by violence make Christianity the dominant religion and wiping out all other religions. Where once practiced elsewhere in Christian history, that is not an option in Malaysia.

The third option is to re-examine our theology to see if there are room for other faith to come in. Rienzie Perera, research director of Life & Peace Institute, Sweden presented a paper, Religions, Cultures and Peace: The Challenge of Religious Pluralism and the Common Life in Asia, at the Asian Conference on Church and Society in 1999. He stated that Christians need to re-examine three theological statements if they are to deal adequately with religious pluralism in Asia. “They are: outside the Church no remission of sin, outside Jesus no salvation, and outside the Scriptures no revelation of God.” (italics author’s). It should not be considered heretical to re-examine these doctrines but should be “a distinctively Asian contribution to Third World theologies, that of rethinking Christian faith within the parameters of religious pluralism.”

Song, professor of theology in the South East Asia Graduate School of Theology comments, “Let us be clear, then, that it is not our business to protect the truth. Rather it is our business to serve the truth, wherever and whenever it is found…God’s salvation can no longer be explained in terms of a history moving forward along a straight line. To explain God’s salvation this way is to explain it away. God moves in all directions: God moves forward, no doubt, but also sideways, and even backwards. Perhaps God zigzags too. It does not seem God's interest to create neat and tidy landscapes in certain selected places. God goes anywhere a redeeming presence is called for- in Asia, in Africa, as well as in Israel and in the West.”

There is a great need to develop Third world theologies that will adequately address this problem of religious pluralism in the various Third world countries. With increasing migration, religious pluralism will be an issue in the First world in the coming years.

The fourth option is to deal minimally with other religions while maintaining our doctrinal purity. Albert Vun, an Anglican priest advises, “The challenge is to modify ethical behaviour so as not to give any occasion for stumbling to the church of God nor to create hindrances to the not-yet-believing to accept the gospel.”

The final option is to engage in dialogue with the other religions . This dialogue will deal with common grounds, with the intention to learn from one another. Yap Kim Hao, the first Asian Bishop of the Methodist Church in Malaysia and Singapore, comments, “Therefore, dialogue does not demand the avoidance of differences or the suspension of theological convictions. It is not a polite refusal of facing up to the essential things that divide us. Experience in dialogue reveals that the dialogue partners are very much interested in the differences of theological convictions. They are eager to try to understand the other person’s faith and beliefs even though they are contradictory to their own cherished ideas and practices. It is within the setting of dialogues that we witness to one another of our faith. We are called to approach with honesty and integrity”. The aim is to find ways to co-exist with tolerance and harmony through dialogue.

What do you think? Which option will be your respond?


|posted 8 May 2007|


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