An Evangelical Theology of Religions
It is unhelpful to cut off someone’s nose and then ask them to smell the flowers. Thus having a robust approach to an evangelical theology of religions is important in our pluralist context. First it’s important to define religion. Religion is a commitment people have which operates as an ultimate authority over all other commitments as well as provide a basic framework for living. An evangelical theology of religions is “thinking theologically about what it means to live with people of other faiths and the relationship of Christianity to other religions”. A solid evangelical approach to a theology of religions keeps in mind two axioms. First – God’s love is universal with global reach. Second, salvation is found only through Jesus Christ. This speaks to the exclusivist approach, as well as to the pluralist approach. Amos Yong in Beyond the Impasse makes the case that a pneumatological approach will make a richer theology of religions, because Scripture teaches that God is “universally present and active in the Spirit”, the Spirit gives breath to all humans, which means all relationship are “pneumatologically mediated”, and “the religions in the world, like everything else that exists, are providentially sustained by the Spirit of God for divine purposes.” Thus while holding to Christ, and empowered by the Spirit, we can engage in genuine dialogue with people of others faiths, trusting God’s Spirit of discernment to be at work in us and “the other”, wooing all to Christ, the culmination of truth.
While pluralism might seem the most tolerant or unifying to some, the primary difficulty with pluralism, whether of Hick’s “rough parity” idea, Paul Knitters “social agenda”, Pannikkers “unity-in-diversity” approach, Smarts “religious studies” orientation or Heims “Trinitarian” idea of pluralism, is that they all purport to hold the truth in an imperialistic and exclusivist way. But as Newbigin has said, “The very heart of the biblical vision for the unity of humankind is that its center is not an imperial power but a slain lamb.”