Brian McLaren: Religious Pluralism in the 21st Century, or: How do Christians relate to those of other faiths?

Can the question of how people of different faiths relate to each other take forms other than Us vs. Them hostility or “Whatever, man” relativism? Is it possible to have Christian specificity without exclusivity? What about John 14:6 – you know, where Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life – no one comes to the Father except through me”?

Spencer Burke and Brian McLaren discuss all of this (and its coverage in Brian’s A New Kind of Christianity) in the video below. Get the episode notes and see the entire ten-part interview as it unfolds here.

Also relevant to this conversation:

A Reading of John 14:6 (PDF essay) by Brian

A New Kind of Bible Reading (a free bonus chapter of A New Kind of Christianity)

See also Samir Salmanovic‘s book It’s Really All About God and his work with Faith House Manhattan

If you identify as a Christian, what do YOU think about your privileges and responsibilities in relating to those of neighboring faiths, and sharing your own? If you practice some other faith (or none at all), how do you feel that Christians on the whole have treated you? Do any defy the stereotypes?

5 Responses to “Brian McLaren: Religious Pluralism in the 21st Century, or: How do Christians relate to those of other faiths?”


  1. 1 Benjamin Ady May 23, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Christians have treated me very very poorly, and christians have been astoundingly kind and gracious and trustworthy toward me. ‘Tis impossible to generalize. Christians, as it turns out, are really just people, with the whole range of glory and horror which humans embody.

  2. 2 Andy Forcey May 23, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    My experiences with Christians who are hostile toward other religions is not that they say they want the other destroyed. They are hostile in avoiding them and self-satisfied with their fear of encountering, for example, Muslims.
    They show that they are content in their fear by mentioning the fear to their friends, with the context that they know they shouldn’t avoid but rather engage with others — yet never get around to changing their behavior, even over years. Which become decades.
    It seems a fundamental part of understanding God’s Word that we should be confident and secure in our faith and able to engage with unbelievers. Even if we are afraid or unskilled in the social skills, the example of Jesus and the apostles of the book of Acts should show us how to act.
    I believe it is immensely important that Christian friends talk with each other about their faith. I’m saying this as someone who has grown up in a church where this is avoided almost as avidly as encounters with people of other cultures or religions are avoided. It isn’t an absolute prerequisite to being able to talk about your faith with those of other beliefs. But we have each other. So lets cherish each other and encourage each other, outside the sanctuary. It is truly a shame that talking about faith in the narthex or dining area is shunned. If you’re nervous about what someone is saying about their personal life of faith, just listen rather than leaving or changing the subject.
    This is another area where plenty of Christians are content to dwell in their shortcomings. That is, acknowledging that they shouldn’t be tight-lipped with their own friends about their faith, yet never doing anything to change.
    As long as their friends are the same way, they may keep up that avoidance for decades.
    As long as people won’t even talk with fellow Christians — their own friends — about their faith, talking with those of other faiths is as likely to not happen.

  3. 3 Jake Meador May 23, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    My assistant editor at the Daily Nebraskan (a Buddhist) and I did a column together on faith in a pluralistic university, so I’m just going to grab a few chunks from that, I think:

    “A Christian and a Buddhist walk into a bar. The Buddhist asks the Christian “How does religion shape your identity in a pluralistic university setting?”

    Jake: The big idea for me is that the relationship between the university and Christianity shouldn’t be antagonistic. Too many well-intentioned culture warriors sent the message to my generation that we should oppose public education institutes because they’re out to destroy our faith, and I don’t feel that way at all. I’ve loved my time at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and I’ve learned a ton from my professors; it’s been a gift to study with them.

    As far as being a Christian in a pluralistic environment goes – it’s another gift. Not only do I enjoy UNL, but I want to do everything I can to make it an even better school. God has made a diverse world, and I’m delighted to live in it, learn about it and experience all of it. Henry David Thoreau talked about living a full life. He used the wonderful phrase “sucking all the marrow out of life,” and being in a university gives me the chance to do that.

    That doesn’t mean I agree with every word of what I hear at UNL. But I don’t feel threatened by disagreement or hostile to the people doing the disagreeing. If all truth is God’s truth, then Christianity will still be true after I finish reading that major existentialist essay by Jean-Paul Sartre or the latest jeremiad by Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins.

    The big idea for me is pretty simple: I’m in the university, I don’t entirely fit in, but I love it anyway and do whatever I can to make it better. How about you? What’s it like being a Buddhist in a pluralistic, Western university?

    Monica: In most ways, I’m exactly where I need to be. Buddhism values inquiry and questioning. “Be a light unto yourself,” the Buddha told us, meaning that we all have to figure it our for ourselves. We shouldn’t take other people’s word for the truth of things, even his. So the university is perfect for that.

    On the other hand, it can be lonely, because as much as it is pluralistic, it is still dominated by monotheists. Christians might see a lot of divisions among themselves or between Jews and Muslims, but they’re still all monotheists, and that is very distinct from Buddhism. And I’m not just talking about having different holidays or vocabularies. The mindsets are very different, and a lot of the things a Christian might find comfort or guidance in, just don’t apply. It’s like being the subject of Grover’s song “One of these things is not like the other …”

    Then again, it’s also perfect because Buddhism teaches us to let go of our attachments, assumptions and preconceived notions. Plus I just like to argue, call it a personality flaw, so being surrounded by people who think differently than I do is like living in Candy Land. It gives me the opportunity to explore and learn to respect others without just lumping them into categories (monotheists vs. nontheists) because I have to relate to everyone as an individual.”

    I think the core idea can simply be stated as two interconnected principles: Christianity will inescapably shape our identity in ways that make us distinct from non-Christians, but those distinctives need not lead to a confrontational spirit. (Not if we’re manifesting those distinctives in a Christian way, at least.)

  4. 4 DAVID HENSON May 23, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    I think McLaran broad-brushes too much for the sake of his “new” Christianity. What he is talking about has been discussed for decades by people involved in interreligious dialogue or people with friends of different faiths. My main problem with McLaren’s work isn’t that it isn’t good, but that it is derivative but is offered as something “new.” I think of Paul Knitter’s work and the book Salvations as well as the local folks in parishes I’ve been in who are on interfaith boards or even Catholic theologian Jacques DuPuis.

    I’m glad McLaren is introducing some folks to this, but it is grating to hear him talk about it being “new.”

  5. 5 Ted Seeber May 24, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    I still like the concept of separating the sin from the sinner. We’re all sinners, even the Pope. NONE of us can have absolute certainty in this life of our salvation (though we can have moral certainty), or of any other so-called “fact”.

    But the difference between moral certainty and moral relativity is how we react to that fact. We should neither let it force us to call sin moral; OR let it get in the way of providing basic physical sustenance to a fellow human being.

    I think that’s what I hate most about the heresy of Americanism; it forces us to choose between an atheistic socialism, in which the system rather than Charity in Christ is the safety net, and atheistic libertarianism, in which there is no safety net at all and individuals are allowed to fail utterly without help.

    There’s a better way. And that way is Charity. Who cares if your fellow man is a heretic, when he is in pain, in want? What does it matter if he sins, after all, we do also? Why should he not be welcome at our table of plenty, when he lives in scarcity?


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