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Effectively Engaging Pluralism and Postmodernism in a So-Called Post-Christian Culture


Now Newbigin is ready to tackle difficult topics regarding Christian claims to exclusiveness in a world of diverse religious traditions and cultures. He rejects outright radical religious pluralism, the position that all faiths are more or less equally valid, vigorously defending the uniquely decisive significance of Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior (cf. John 14:6; Acts 4:12). He finds pluralists’ arguments circular and self-defeating—not to mention self-serving—as they attempt to erect a façade of human unity on the foundation of an absolute relativism. The “truth by which alone humankind can become one” is found in “the man Jesus Christ in whom God was reconciling the world.” Yet Newbigin encourages dialogue with non-Christian religions and acknowledges the “impossible possibility of salvation.” Graciously and mysteriously salvation is only through Christ but Christ is not only through Christianity. Avoiding equal and opposite errors of universalism (everyone ends up saved) or exclusivism (only a favored few end up saved), he challenges us to live in the tension between “these two poles: the amazing grace of God and the appalling sin of the world.” Accordingly, individual salvation, or what happens to a person after death, is best left in the hands of God while we focus on being faithful to our part in the overall human story God has given us. Again, for Newbigin all these intricacies will be eschatologically resolved. Meanwhile, Christians may see “signs of God’s grace” at work in religious others though other religions are not “vehicles of salvation.” Of course cultural and religious pluralism are not synonymous but they are often almost inseparably intertwined. Culture is a human construct of corporate behavior and is therefore “corrupted by sin.” We should equally avoid demonizing other cultures or idolizing our own. Interestingly, Pentecost points to God’s gracious acceptance of linguistic and therefore cultural diversity. Yet Newbigin suggests that God both accepts and judges culture at appropriate points. Accordingly, a process of discernment and mutual correction in light of the gospel becomes necessary.7

Newbigin is nothing if not thorough. Next he moves to look more closely at societal underpinnings of some of today’s troubling ideological assumptions. He is almost fierce in his denunciation of “individualism” and “privatization.” Basically, he rejects an Enlightenment view of “the absolute autonomy of the individual” in favor of a more communal and relational anthropology rooted in Scripture and also resident in many non-Western societies. Pentecostals (and Charismatics) will be perhaps surprised but possibly pleased too that he finds evidence for societies’ structural benevolence and/or malevolence in a radical reappropriation and reappraisal of biblical teaching on principalities and powers. Newbigin is equally fierce in his demythologization of secularism. Even some Christians erroneously accepted that a secular society would likely allow more religious liberty for all. Unfortunately, devout secularists repeatedly demonstrated that they had in mind an eventual elimination and outright eradication rather than liberation of religion. Fortunately, they were unable to achieve their dark dream. Proclamations that “God is dead,” and predictions that religion is soon to follow have proved to be premature. The idea that the human spirit can survive, much less thrive, without religious belief and experience is fatally flawed and has failed in that most ambitious of secular experiments: the United States. If anything, religion is on the rise. Even the natural sciences are not a haven of atheism. The Church, therefore, should understand itself as an entity outlasting “states, nations, and empires,” and as “that movement launched into the public of the world by its sovereign Lord” to continue his work until he comes again in glory.


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Category: Fall 2007, Ministry

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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