Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What is the Christian Reponse to Religious Pluralism?


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 civilisations which may be thousands of years old, and each claim to be the one true religion.

What should be the Christain 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 practised 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 is your respond?

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Gilbert said...

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1:15 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

thanks gilbert for the reference.

However you do need to have more book reviews on your site.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous blogapastor said...

For me Option 3 looks tantalizing. Definitely, option 5 is possible though I wonder if its fruitful.Forget about option 1 and 2.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi blogpastor,

Option 3 is contextualising theology looks tantalizing and I wonder whether we should take it more seriously.

Option 5 is dialogue and its fruitfulness depends on our commitment to it and how we see its importance in the Kingdom of God.

However I may not be too quick to dismiss option one, living in a religious ghetto. This may be what many churches in Malaysia are doing.

They are forming "religious ghettos" or the modern equivalent "gated communities". They isolate themselves from other practitioners of other religions. They have only Christian friends. They do business with only Christians. They buy their vegetables from Christian grocers. They home school their children. Isn't this withdrawing into a religious ghetto?

I believe this is happening in Singapore and other parts of the world where there are different religions and cultures.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous alwyn said...

i like option 3 and 5...is there an option 6 i.e. 'suffer for' the other religions? how can the doctrine of Christianity be developed with 'suffering' being the primary theme (as opposed to 'dominance', 'isolation', 'purity', 'syncretism', 'integration', etc. which is I think what the options basically represent)?

11:10 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

alwyn,

That's an interesting option 6. Suffering for other religions. Do you mind expanding on the thought. I find it fascinating.

11:57 PM  
Anonymous alwyn said...

i'm still thinking about that, actually...if we stick to the intellectual level, then i suppose it's quite difficult if only because one cannot 'suffer' in theory(?), like one certainly can beconceptually 'isolated', 'dominant', etc.

but MAYBE if we define suffering as the kind which 'takes on' the pain which others AVOID, then a suffering perspective would include:
- incorporating and dealing with elements which other religions eschew?

- self-criticism as a major element in order to 'absorb' as best we can the arrows hurled by our antagonists (the exact of a triumphalist mentality?)

- seeking 'third alternatives' instead of EITHER our view exclusively OR theirs...(but yes this slips into some kind of inclusivism cum pluralism)

- innovation cum redemption as a move towards taking the hardest criticisms and 'transforming' these into something new for all (as opposed to i-am-right-you-are-wrong thinking)

still pondering...

7:29 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi alwyn,

Thanks for throwing out so many interesting thoughts about a 6th option, that of the road of suffering.

- incorporating and dealing with elements which other religions eschew?

we have to consider what other religions eschew. Understandably, each religion consider itself a complete system.


- self-criticism as a major element in order to 'absorb' as best we can the arrows hurled by our antagonists (the exact of a triumphalist mentality?)

That will be useful in option 5, the dialogue option.

- seeking 'third alternatives' instead of EITHER our view exclusively OR theirs...(but yes this slips into some kind of inclusivism cum pluralism)

may be a slippery path towards universalism.

- innovation cum redemption as a move towards taking the hardest criticisms and 'transforming' these into something new for all (as opposed to i-am-right-you-are-wrong thinking)

that's the incarnational approach.

alwyn,

by suffering, are you thinking of incarnational living as option 6?

1:56 AM  
Anonymous alwyn said...

as a matter of fact, i do think this 'option' is less an 'intellectual' one more of a practical lived one.

as mentioned, it's hard to 'suffer' in theory, isn't it? ;>)

12:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi alwyn,

I am beginning to like the incarnational living option as a Christian response to religious pluralism. As you said it is less intellectual and more lived. It is the 'light and salt' approach.

1:00 PM  

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