Religious pluralism is a belief that neutralizes religious differences and denominational conflicts within the confines of faith.

For most religious traditions, religious pluralism is essentially based on non-literal views of one’s religious tradition, hence allowing for respect to be engendered between different traditions on core principles rather than on more marginal issues.

It is perhaps summarized as an attitude which rejects focus on secondary differences and instead gives respect to those beliefs held in common.

It is often dictated that, because we live in a pluralistic society, we have no moral right to endeavor to change another person’s beliefs.

We are advised that we should rather pursue dialogue in a multi-faith context on the assumption that all beliefs are equally valid.

The primary barrier for the Gospel in a variety of settings is ideologically-driven pluralism. This does not merely extol the virtue of understanding and appreciating cultural differences. Virtually everyone is for that.

Pluralism holds that distinct cultural beliefs are true for that culture, but not for cultures that operate out of a different paradigm.

Pluralists say that truth is a “social construction.” It is created through social consensus and tradition, not discovered in reality that exists independent of our beliefs.

Truth is subjective interpretation, not correspondence between our beliefs and reality.

In psychology, which highlights individual differences, we would use the concept of phenomenology to validate the above theory.

Phenomenology too recognizes that there are no absolute standards and that truth varies with the individual in question.

Since pluralists consider truth to be a cultural construct, it is the height of arrogance to convert someone from their paradigm to the Christian gospel.

That’s what most people mean when they say that evangelical Christianity is intolerant.

What does this analysis of pluralism mean for the Christian witness to a secular culture? There are certain principles to deal with this challenge.

First, most peoples’ thoughts about the world’s religions are shaped by their cultural and political legacy than the prepositional or doctrinal contents.

With this in mind, Christians should not try to defend the indefensible. The only association many primal cultures have with Christianity has been when it was used as a tool of exploitation and domination.

Christianity was considered “Western” or “Foreign” in many countries dominated by colonialism. Therefore, we need to distinguish between what the Christian message is and how it has been interpreted.

Second, the rise of pluralism requires us to be more sensitive to the role culture plays in personal identity and forming spiritual beliefs.

This might mean looking for opportunities to meet people in places where they are comfortable even if we aren’t.

Subverting the expectations non-Christians have of Christians is an increasingly important part of being effective ambassadors for Christ today.

Often I have encountered the belief, particularly from my friends from other faith traditions, about the salvation of all humanity. This is known as universalism.

It seems that if universalism is true, then it really doesn’t matter what a person believes or what he does with his life.

Universalism also trivializes the meaning of divine love because if there is no ultimate accountability for our lives, no judgment, then the choices we make in life are of no final consequence.

Acts 4:12 clearly teaches the uniqueness of Christ and denies the possibility of salvation for any apart from faith in Him. It is the uniqueness that strikes a powerful chord when we witness to Him.

While acknowledging the challenges involved in being witnesses for Christ in a pluralistic society, evangelicals firmly believe that pluralism affords opportunities to witness.

One such opportunity comes in the form of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.

Article 18 ensures the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right includes freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom to manifest one’s faith in teaching, practice, worship and observances.

Article 19 guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

With such legal sanctions, it is surprising to see the negative reactions elicited over the issues of conversions.Having espoused freedom to convert or witness to people of other faith or no-faith traditions, we must remember that there are codes of ethics or a set of guidelines to follow for Christian witness.

2 Corinthians 4:2 sums this up more than adequately. It says: “We reject all shameful and underhanded methods. We do not try to trick anyone and we do not distort the Word of God. We tell the truth before God and all who are honest know that.”

More about recommending one’s personal faith to another from the biblical viewpoint will follow in a later article.

Narayan Mitra is pastor of the Merritt Baptist Church and chaplain and Thompson Rivers University.