Modern Religious Pluralism is Neither Radical nor Modern

Myth-busting 101 with Robert Louis Wilken.

Cosmos the in Lost

Commentators on religion are always harping about how our contemporary “radically pluralist” situation is unprecedented, and more likely than not, catastrophic for the Christian tradition.

Self-styled radical theologians such as John Hick in God Has Many Names, Charles E. Winquist in Desiring Theology, plus John Shelby Spong and Raimondo Panikkar in academically less respectable volumes (whose names I shall not mention), argue that Christian theology must change or die in the face of this revolutionary situation.

Robert Louis Wilken, one of our most important scholars of early Christianity, believes nothing could be further from the truth.  In the volume Remembering the Christian Past (Eerdmans, 1995) he proves that we’re only replaying the debates of early (and medieval) Christians:

“Christians, however, have long had to face the challenge of other religions.  For the first four hundred years of Christian history a traditional religious culture (which was not, as once…

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6 thoughts on “Modern Religious Pluralism is Neither Radical nor Modern

  1. Pluralism per se was never radical, as in growing from a natural root. Nor modern insofar as pluralism was tolerated prior to Descartes, nevertheless, the modern understanding of pluralism of it is most definitely modern, as in notably different than the past, precisely because it is far less radical than the past understanding.

    The modern understanding has transformed what was tolerated, because of fallen nature, into a positive good. There are of course the intolerable sins the modern world simply cannot abide, but beyond those, pluralism like multi-culturalism and similar are embraced as a good because diversity is now seen as proper to a well ordered society.

    • What you described as modern sounds like the ancient pluralism, esp. Roman who saw it good that all the religions contribute their deity to the pantheon for the good of the res publica–mostly it was only the Jews and Christians who resisted.

  2. cosmos writes : “What you described as modern sounds like the ancient pluralism”

    What ancient cities, other than Rome, are you referring to that practiced pluralism as a positive good?

    I’m not an historian by any stretch of the imagination, but I cannot think of a single city that did not see its own indigenous culture as the leaven that should inform that city, but yet you write as if most of the ancient world embraced the culture of strangers as the modern world does.

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