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Why Is Religious Pluralism So Dangerous?

Pluralism sounds great, but what does it really mean? Does it lead to places we don't expect?

Contributing Writer
May 30, 2023
Why Is Religious Pluralism So Dangerous?

Pluralism states that all religions should, as the bumper sticker says, “COEXIST” because they are all true for the people who practice them. But does this work?

What Is Pluralism?

According to Lesslie Newbigin, author of The Gospel in A Pluralist Society, pluralism is defined as A great variety of cultures, religions and lifestyles which are included, but that this plurality is deliberately celebrated, approved and cherished.”

This sounds good on the surface, but in practice, it will undermine the distinctive aspects of the Christian faith.

Pluralism is the embrace and acceptance of the truth claims of all religions because no one religion has access to all truth. They are all blind men grasping at different parts of the elephant. This popular illustration has been used for decades to advocate for pluralism.

However, this story, according to Newbigin, Is told from the point of view of the king and his courtiers, who are not blind but can see that the blind men are unable to grasp the full reality of the elephant and are only able to get hold of part of the truth. The story is constantly told in order to neutralize the affirmation of the great religions, to suggest that they learn humility and recognize that none of them can have more than one aspect of the truth. But, of course, the real point of the story is exactly the opposite. If the king were also blind there would be no story. The story is told by the king, and it is the immensely arrogant claim of one who sees the full truth which all the worlds religions are only groping after. It embodies the claim to know the full reality which relativizes all the claims of the religions and philosophies.” (emphasis added)

According to Harvard University’s Pluralism Project, “Today all these rivers of faith are flowing through the landscape of America. Some have been here for centuries, and some are finding their way through a landscape that is relatively new for them. All of these religious traditions will continue to change in the new context of multireligious America. The history of religions is not over, but is an ongoing history, taking place today before our very eyes as new religious traditions begin to grow and flourish in the context of the United States.”

Pluralism assumes that every part of religion is subjective for each practitioner rather than founded on objective truth, such as the Bible.

Pluralism is rooted in individualism. Individualism is all around us, and calling it out can be painful. Individualism says I am free to do what I want as long as it doesn’t hurt those around me. This idea has become popular in western culture, even among believers. When this idea that sounds good to the American way of life is taken to its logical conclusion, pluralism will result because people’s religious beliefs will be seen as private. But does this idea line up with Scripture?

Is Pluralism Compatible With a Biblical Worldview?

Chad Miller gives a deeper look at whether pluralism can really work with the Bible’s view of faith: What is pluralism and how does it confllict with the Christian worldview?-Chad Miller from christianitydotcom2 on GodTube.

“Pluralism sounds wonderful for the American. It really does because it sounds like we’re all sitting at the same table listening to one another’s ideas on faith, but pluralism is not the acknowledgment of multiple faith systems coexisting together. Pluralism is the leveling of all faith systems, saying that we’re going to consider all things, which means nothing is exclusive. 

There’s only one problem with that. It’s called the Bible, and Scripture says Jesus saying about Himself, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except by me.’ The moment you go there, the moment you use the name Jesus Christ and begin to assert the claims of Christ, not your opinion on Christ, but what Jesus said of Himself, you have just drawn a line in the sand that is anti-pluralistic. 

Another thing to understand about pluralism is every Western society where pluralism has been embraced for the political discourse, pluralism is not an end. It’s a means to an end. And in those societies that have embraced a pluralistic worldview, if you will, and said, ‘This is who we are,’ Islam is now the major and dominant religion, and that does not require a careful amount of research to discover that. So pluralism is not an end, like, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ Pluralism is the leveling of all faiths, the elimination of the exclusive claims of Christ, and ultimately the diminishing of the Christian influence.”

(“Is Pluralism Compatible With a Biblical Worldview?” first published on on October 24, 2012. For more information about Chad Miller, visit:

What’s the Difference Between Pluralism and Universalism?

Pluralism is different from universalism because universalism says everyone will be saved in the end by Jesus. This may confuse some since the Unitarian Universalist Church strongly advocates for pluralism.

Pluralism has no concept of salvation because it focuses purely on the outworking of faith in this life. As a result, many people confuse the idea of pluralism and universalism. The frequently described “many paths up the same mountain” is the fundamental idea of pluralism, but this has no basis when examined biblically.

What Does The Bible Say About Pluralism?

John 14:6 should be a foundational text when thinking about pluralism. Jesus says he is the way, and no one comes to the Father except through him. Pluralism says the opposite: all faiths are different ways up the mountain. If pluralism’s ideas weave into our worldview, we lose a passion for sharing the Gospel with those around us because there’s no urgency to share the Gospel with someone if they end up in heaven anyway.

Scripture presents a model of what life in a pluralist society looks like. Many churches that Paul and others planted in the Roman world were in cities with many religions and gods. Looking at the Corinthian Church set for us helps to understand how to respond in a culture that is either hostile towards the Gospel or apathetic. For example, Paul’s motivation is to reach people with the Gospel. For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 Paul says that the message of the cross is foolishness to the Greeks. This is true in our society today as well. People find the idea of needing a savior foolish, so they prefer to focus on the comfort that faith brings them at the moment rather than the fact that Jesus is the savior of the world.

How Should Christians Respond to Pluralism?

Pluralism is all around us, and we must understand that despite what our culture says, it is not a true or biblically-founded idea. However, we do not need to fear it, because we have a savior who has overcome the world. Educating ourselves on the topic and responding to the culture around us with biblical truth is important.

Looking at how the early church responded to the pluralist society they found themselves in shows us how we can respond to the culture around us today. However, there are some important distinctions to make between the two. In the first and second century AD, Christians were a small minority and were confusing to the culture around them. Today, Christianity has provided the basis for much of Western civilization, including many foundational ideas that still inform our daily lives.

As Mark Sayers puts it in Disappearing Church, people in the West today want the Kingdom without the King. They want the benefits of Christianity without its call to come and die. This is one of the reasons pluralism can never truly succeed. Making Christianity compatible with pluralism requires casting aside the cross. The cross is the crux of the Gospel message. To set it aside is to abandon the historic Christian faith completely.

While Christians should not embrace pluralism, it is also critical not to withdraw into our Christian communities completely. We must engage with our culture meaningfully for the people around us without compromising our beliefs. The reality is that Jesus is the savior of the world. In pluralism, this idea is completely lost.

Great Christian Resources For Learning More about Pluralism

The Gospel in A Pluralist Society is an incredible work that talks about how to reach modern society in our day and gives a clear definition of pluralism.

This Cultural Moment is a great podcast about engaging with our culture today.

Strange New World by Carl Trueman is a great book to provide context to how pluralism became so pervasive in our modern culture.

Further Reading:

How Many Religions Are There?

What Is Christianity?

Can Christians Practice Religious Pluralism?

Is Religious Tolerance Biblical?

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Betka82 

Ben Reichert works with college students in New Zealand. He graduated from Iowa State in 2019 with degrees in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, and agronomy. He is passionate about church history, theology, and having people walk with Jesus. When not working or writing you can find him running or hiking in the beautiful New Zealand Bush.

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