Globalization and migration have brought religious pluralism—something that Asians have lived with for millennia—to the West. In this month's installment of the Global Conversation, Singaporean theologian Mark Chan mines his experience as an Asian believer to help Christians everywhere evangelize those who have been blinded by the fallacies of relativism.

Due to globalization and the migration of peoples across national boundaries, religious pluralism has become more pronounced in the so-called Christian West. A shrinking world has brought religions and their adherents closer to each other.

We meet people of other races. We learn about their cultures and beliefs through television and the Internet. The growing presence of mosques and temples—not to mention ethnic (i.e., non-Western) restaurants—reflects the increasingly multiethnic and multireligious nature of Western societies.

This pluralism may be relatively new in the West, but it has always been the order of the day in the lands of Asia. Virtually all the major world religions have their roots in Asian history, and they continue to command the allegiance of billions.

The majority of Christians today live alongside people of other faiths. In this, they are not unlike the earliest Christians, who proclaimed Jesus as Savior and Lord in the face of the many gods and lords of Greco-Roman society.

Like them, we are called to embrace, embody, and declare the truth that God has revealed himself definitively and finally in Jesus Christ. Through his death and resurrection, sinners find forgiveness of sin and are reconciled to God. How then shall we proclaim the finality of Christ, given the fact of religious pluralism and the relativizing of absolute truth claims that often comes with it?

Living in a racially and religiously diverse society, Singapore's Christians have had to learn not only how to live with adherents of other religions, but also how to work with them for the common good. And they are to do this without compromising their faith. Some argue that social harmony can only be achieved and maintained if religionists desist from making exclusive truth claims. The church's challenge is to demonstrate the fallacy of this way of thinking.

From Pluralism to Relativism

Some Christian thinkers have jettisoned the uniqueness of Christ and embraced pluralism. They maintain that all religions are equally valid paths to God or an ultimate divine reality, and that no single religion can claim to have the final word on truth.

They move beyond a descriptive and social pluralism, which allows for a diversity of religious expressions, to a metaphysical pluralism. Such pluralistic ideas (in both the West and Asia) unwittingly sound like Vedanta Hinduism, which teaches that, just as all rivers flow into the same ocean, so all religions lead to the same ultimate reality. Jesus is but one among many ways to that reality.

Some professing Christians in Asia regard Christ as but one avatar among many possible manifestations of the divine. Their relativizing of the truth of Christ owes much to the monistic assumptions of their culture. To be sure, followers of Christ in Asia need to embody the truth within their cultural contexts, but never at ...

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The Conversation Begins
Selected writers respond to Mark L. Y. Chan from around the globe.

As I ventured out on my prayer walk early one morning, I became aware of the earliest sounds of a waking world. In the midst of a cacophony of noises—birds, chickens, cows, and the occasional automobile ...

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I am grateful for Mark Chan's article, which aptly describes our global realities. Working with an apologetics ministry both internationally and in the U.S., I resonate with much that Chan writes. In ...

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My lips were watering as I read Mark Chan's erudite article. For me, Singapore conjures up memories of outdoor banquets by sunset, with my table laden with the best the hawker stands have to offer: Thai ...

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The Conversation Continues: Readers' Comments

Displaying 1–3 of 21 comments

Neal, USA

March 09, 2011  9:57am

This article addresses the surface of the problem of relativism, but it doesn't address a solution. Vedanta is an entirely different worldview from the Judeo-Christian worldview with somewhat similar terms. How do you dialog with a person who simultaneously believes he should live a humble lifestyle that often looks more pious than yours, but believes that Brahman (or God) is the sustaining entity of existence? There is a real theological discrepancy that needs to be addressed. Does anyone know how to discuss the matter in a loving way?

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Patrick Mitchel, Ireland

March 17, 2010  6:12am

a very helpful description of the challenges and realities of living in a pluralist world. I would have loved a bit more reflection on the specific Asian context and lessons learnt over generations living with pluralism. The 'shock' of post-Christendom in the West is still being processed by churches here as they begin to get used to being on the margins. I suspect many are longing to 'go back' to 'simpler' times when Christianity was as the centre. Others fear the future. It would have been great to hear more on what they can learn from the long experiences of Asian brothers and sisters.

Carminha Speirs, Brazil

March 15, 2010  3:29pm

I agree with CD from USA, the same challenge has been throughout Christian history. The difference is in the resources used now a days to face it. In the Old Testament we see Moyses learning from God how he should convince the hebrews who were living amongst people who worshiped so many different gods and also Pharaoh about this Only God who was all powerfull and wanted His people out of Egypt. He didn't teach Moyses about intelectual arguments nor Paul used other then the Power of God (the Gospel) to convince his audiences. The Holy Spirit is the One to convince the pluralist and any other sinner about the Truth. God only needs men and women commited to Him and to His Kingdom who are ready to lose (when necessary) and take risks for Him, the rest of it is all with Him, as it has been throughout History.

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