Crossing the Lines: How can Christians Navigate a Pluralistic Society?

Humans are diverse. Individuals carry a unique look, social standing and system of belief.

Baptist Bible Seminary professors reveal how to react when a worldview demands all beliefs be held equally true, while not allowing the Bible to qualify as one of those accepted beliefs.

To describe how these different elements exist alongside one another, Merriam-Webster describes “pluralism” as, “A state of society in which members of diverse, ethnic, racial, religious or social groups maintain and develop their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.” But is pluralism actually in practice today? Do diverse groups maintain their own culture and beliefs while allowing neighbors to do the same? Is maintaining lines beneficial, or should positive engagement— across those lines—be the goal?

Actual Pluralism

Dr. Kenneth Gardoski, Baptist Bible Seminary’s professor of systematic theology, first differentiates “natural pluralism,” or the God-designed, observable diversity of society in ethnicity, language and culture, from “ideological pluralism,” which Gardoski describes as, “the position that all religious and ideological beliefs are valid, and that it is wrong to claim one’s beliefs are better than someone else’s.” He views the former as beneficial, while the latter is disputable at best, since it denies objective truth. “It is dangerous,” he explains, “because it leads people to attack those whose beliefs would render their beliefs invalid.”

Seminary Dean Dr. Wayne Slusser adds, “A pluralistic society questions the very laws, ideals and authority that is over them. There really is no authority, because each one who brings a particular view, opinion or belief to the conversation is ‘right.’” Jesus responded to people who questioned His authority on multiple occasions. In Mark 2, Jesus encounters Pharisees who doubt his authority over the Sabbath, and Slusser concludes, “Jesus, who is the Son of God, possesses a Lordship that goes beyond the pluralistic and created ideas and traditions of man.”

People vs. Beliefs

So how do Christ-followers react when a worldview demands all beliefs be held equally true, while simultaneously stating that the ultimate authority of the Bible does not qualify as an accepted belief?

“We must distinguish people from beliefs,” says Gardoski, who points out the following Scriptural truths:

  • All people are created in the image of God (Gen 1:26–27), and each person is of great value in the eyes of God (Mark 8:36–37).
  • Even after humanity’s fall into sin, people are still in God’s image, and their lives are precious in His sight (Gen 9:5–6; Jas 3:8–10).
  • God loves all people and sent His Son to die for them that they might be saved from their sins (John 3:16).
  • As followers of Jesus Christ, we are to love all people even as He does (Rom 13:8–10). We are to accept all people as precious in the sight of God as His unique creation.

“But while people hold beliefs, beliefs are not people,” Gardoski states. “We are to love people, but we must evaluate beliefs. Beliefs are claims of truth, which may or may not be right. To disagree with a person’s belief does not mean I do not love that person. To love a person does not mean that I must affirm their belief.”

He continues, “As believers, we do not hate those who disagree with our Christian beliefs. Because we love all people as God does, regardless of their diversity in our pluralistic society, we accept all people as precious to God, and we tolerate all people regardless of their beliefs (to tolerate others is to acknowledge their right to live and believe as they wish).

“However, because we follow the Lord Jesus Christ and the God who sent Him to us, we accept as true what God has revealed to us in Scripture. We cannot accept as true those beliefs that contradict the Word of God.”

Beyond Tolerance

How does a person not only “tolerate” but also engage with those who hold different beliefs? Assistant Seminary Dean Dr. Mark McGinniss advises believers against labeling a person by his or her obvious sin and against making jokes related to sin. “You never know who is listening and that they may be struggling…In that moment when everyone is laughing, the sinner realizes that he or she cannot trust you to help—only make fun.”

McGinniss emphasizes, “Love each person.” This can be as simple as inviting them to dinner, looking for ways to meet neighborly needs and letting them help you. Pray for them; ask for specific prayer requests, and ask questions about their lives. “Take an interest in them as people,” reminds McGinniss. Realize that people, even people living in sin, are not the enemy of the Church (Eph 6:12). “I do not expect sinful people to act like believers. I do expect believers to seek not the healthy, but the sick—just like Jesus (Matt 9:10–13).” Also remember, before Christ’s work in their lives, Christians behaved in the same way: indulging the lust of the flesh (Eph 2:3).

Slusser reminds, “A pluralistic society not only interprets truth according to its community and, therefore, creates truth for selfish living; but the pluralistic society also rejects any notion of truth. Why? Because of hardened hearts.” Mark 6 shows the rejection of Jesus as the Son of God. “Mark records that people from Jesus’ own town knew Him but rejected Him; therefore, very much like today, they placed their faith in something else,” says Slusser. “Jesus marveled because what is amazing about humanity is not necessarily its sinfulness and propensity for evil, but its hardness of heart and unwillingness to believe in Jesus. It is easier to reject than to submit.”

Christ-Honoring Pluralism

So when others choose to reject the authority of God, what should be a Christ-follower’s response?

To follow the example of Christ, a Christian must do two things that some worldviews consider mutually exclusive—love people and affirm biblical truth.

 

-Erika A. Bruckner (’04) is a Communications-Writing graduate from Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania

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