Douglas Groothuis

Defending Christian Faith, November 30, 2004






I.          Religious Pluralism and Christian Apologetics


A.        Uniqueness, supremacy, and finality of Jesus


B.        Exclusivity of restricted access; scandal of particularism


C.        Problem of hell in Christianity (and Islam)


D.        Diversity of religious teachings; incompatible worldviews


1.         Religious ultimate


2.         Human condition


3.         Spiritual liberation


II.        Options for Addressing the Issue


A.        Normative Pluralism (John Hick).  See Harold Netland, Encountering Religious Pluralism (IVP, 2001).


B.        Christocentric universalism (Karl Barth, Jacques Ellul)


C.        Annihilationism.  See Clark Pinnock, A Wideness in God’s Mercy, (Zondervan, 1992), Seventh Day Adventists


D.        Post-mortem evangelism (1 Pet. 4:6)


E.         Inclusivism: salvation through Christ, but possible to receive outside of the knowledge of the Gospel. See Millard Erickson, How Shall They be Saved? (Baker 1996); Terrance Tiessen, Who Can Be Saved? (IVP, 2004); he calls his position “accessibilism.”


F.         Exclusivism/particularism:  salvation for responsible agents not possible outside of Gospel proclamation and explicit belief. See Ronald Nash, Is Jesus the Only Savior? (Zondervan, 1994)


G.        The problem of exclusivity in light of the overall apologetic enterprise


1.         Other evidence for Christianity still obtains


2.         One may be agnostic on this question, but within Scriptural limits


a.         No one can save herself


b.         All salvation is through Jesus Christ (somehow)


c.         Other religions are not salvific, even though they may contain some truths


d.         One who has not heard the gospel might cast himself on God’s mercy, not trusting in himself, not trusting in a false religion, in hopes of redemption


III.       A Brief Defense of Exclusivism


A.        Pluralism, universalism, annihilationism, and post-mortem evangelism are unbiblical


1.         See Matthew 25:31 – 46 on eternal punishment


2.         See Hebrews 9:27 on judgment after death


B.        General revelation makes all accountable to God (Romans 1 – 2)


C.        General revelation is insufficient to save (Romans 1 – 2; Ephesians 2:11 – 12)


D.        Salvation requires knowledge of the Gospel (Acts 17:30; Matthew 28:18 – 20; Luke 24:45 – 49; Romans 10:9 – 19; Ephesians 2:8)


E.         What is the number of the redeemed?


1.         Absolute number may be great (Revelation 7:9; Hebrews 2:10)


2.         Percentage of saved against lost (Matthew 7:13; Luke 13:22 – 30)


F.         The justice of God and the unreached (Romans 9)


Recommended Books Related to Religious Pluralism and World Religions


The letters following the entries mean the following: (B)=Beginning; (I)=intermediate (A)=Advanced.


1.         Adler, Mortimer. Truth In Religion. New York: MacMillan, 1990.  Argues that religions teach different things and thus cannot all be true. (I)


2.         Aldridge, Alan. Religion in the Contemporary World: A Sociological Introduction. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2000. (I)


3.         Anderson, Norman. Christianity and World Religions: The Challenge of Pluralism. Downers Grove: IL: InterVarsity, 1985. (I)


4.         Berger, Peter L., ed. The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999. Challenges the idea that the modern world is becoming increasingly secular in accordance with sociological forces. (I)


5.         Clark, Andrew and Bruce Winter. One God, One Lord: Christianity in a World of Religious Pluralism. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1992. Essays by Richard Hess and Bruce Demarest, of Denver Seminary. (I)


6.         Corduan, Winfried. Mysticism: An Evangelical Option? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.  (I)


7.         Cox, Harvey. Fire From Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-first Century. Reading, M: Addison-Wesley, 1995. Cox changes his tune from hailing the “secular city” to appreciating global Pentecostalism (but still from a theologically liberal mindset). Compare this book to Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom. (I)


8.         Crockett, William and James Sigountos, eds. Through No Fault of Their Own: The Fate of Those Who Have Never Heard. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1991. (I)


9.         Edwards, Paul. Reincarnation: A Critical Examination. New York: Prometheus Books, 1996. Edwards is an atheist, so some of his arguments against reincarnation (such as, the mind cannot exist apart from the body) also cut against Christian beliefs in the afterlife. Nevertheless, the arguments specifically against karma and previous lives are applicable to Christian apologetics. (I)


10.       Erickson, Millard. How Shall They Be Saved? The Destiny of Those Who Do Not Hear of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996. (I)


11.       Fernando, Ajith. The Supremacy of Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1995. (B)/(I) Excellent defense of Jesus as Lord, based on John 14:6.


12.       Fernando, Ajith. Sharing the Truth in Love. Discovery House, 2001. Helpful update of his earlier book, The Christian Attitude Towards World Religions (Tyndale, 1987). (B)/(I)


13.       Griffiths, Paul, ed. Christianity Through Non-Christian Eyes. Orbis, 1990. (I)


14.       Griffiths, Paul. An Apology for Apologetics. Orbis, 1991. (I) Argues that inter-religious apologetics is proper and fruitful—an unpopular view in the world of Religious Studies.


15.       Groothuis, Douglas. Unmasking the New Age InterVarsity Press, 1986. (I)


16.       Groothuis, Douglas. Are All Religions One? InterVarsity Press, 1996. Booklet comparing Christianity, Islam, and nondualistic Hinduism. (I)


17.       Groothuis, Douglas. Confronting the New Age. InterVarsity Press, 1988. (I)


18.       Gruzalski, Bart. On The Buddha. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Leaning, 2000. By a Buddhist who approaches the subject philosophically. (I)


19.       Halverson, Dean, ed. Compact Guide to World Religions. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1996. Excellent introductory exposition and apologetic engagement on major religions. (B)


20.       Hackett, Stuart. Oriental Philosophy: A Westerner’s Guide to Eastern Thought. Madison, WI: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1979. Excellent philosophical treatment. (A)


21.       Jenkins, Philip. The Next Christendom. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Argues that Christianity is growing most rapidly in third world contexts, and is taking on new non-Western forms. Also refutes the notion that Christian growth outside of the West has usually been imposed upon unwilling cultures. Compare this book to the earlier Fire From Heaven by Harvey Cox. (I)


22.       Johnson, David L. A Reasoned Look at Asian Religions. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1985. Good expository and apologetic material. (I)


23.       Kaufmann, Walter. Religion in Four Dimensions: Existential, Aesthetic, Historical, Comparative. New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1976. A fascinating book filled with Kaufmann’s photographs, poems, and atheistic musings on religion. (I)


24.       Mangalwadi, Vishal. The World of Gurus. Chicago: Cornerstone Press, 1992. (I)


25.       Netland, Harold. Dissonant Voices. Regent Press, 1998; orig. pub. Eerdmans, 1991.  Probably the best and most thorough evangelical treatment of the subject of religious pluralism. Moderately difficult but well-written and lucid. (I)


26.       Netland, Harold. Encountering Religious Pluralism. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001. Elaborates and further develops themes from Dissonant Voices, but also contains new material on modernity, postmodernity, and other issues. Clearly written and penetrating. (I)


27.       Nash, Ronald. Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994. Good critique of John Hick and a defense of exclusivism. (I)


28.       Okholm, Dennis L. and Timothy Phillips, editors, Salvation: Four Views. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995. Four authors debate the proper approach to non-Christian religions. (I)


29.       Smart, Ninian. Worldviews: Cross-cultural Explorations of Human Beliefs, 2nd ed. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1995. Explores the various dimensions of religions with a philosophical awareness.


30.       Stackhouse, John Jr., ed. No Other Gods Before Me? Evangelicals and the Challenge of World Religions. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001. Hexam and Mouw essays are particularly good.


31.       Yandell, Keith. The Epistemology of Religious Experience. Cambridge, 1993. Philosophical assessment of religious experience claims. (A)


32.       Yandell, Keith, Philosophy of Religion. Routledge, 1999. Strong analytic approach with an equally strong emphasis on comparative religious philosophy. (I)/(A)