RFG 1: There Can’t Be Just One True Religion

Discuss in ILovePhilosophy.com: RFG: ONE: There Can’t Be Just One True Religion

Tim Keller’s The Reason for God Book Discussion – Part 1: The Leap of Doubt

ONE: There Can’t Be Just One True Religion

Keller does not refute the chapter’s title by arguing that Christianity ‘is’ the one true religion. He points out that not all religions can be true, because many of them contradict each other, for example: “‘If Christians are right about Jesus being God, then Muslims and Jews fail in a serious way to love God as God really is, but if Muslims and Jews are right that Jesus is not God but rather a teacher or prophet, then Christians fail in a serious way to love God as God really is.’ The bottom line was—we couldn’t all be equally right about the nature of God,” (4). However, saying that not all religions can be true does not go as far as saying that “only one religion can be true.” The closest he gets to saying this is when he shows the self-refuting nature of relativism. But Keller’s main purpose in this chapter is to go much deeper and address the fears and contradiction underlying the doubt in the chapter’s title.

The doubt here surrounds the perceived arrogance and feared danger (barrier to world peace) of religious exclusivity (often termed ‘fundamentalism’). Keller grants that this fear is reasonable regarding religion in general (including the apostate church), but not regarding the fundamentals of Christianity, which “can be a powerful impetus for peace-making in our troubled world,” (21). One could say that what went wrong whenever violence broke out in the name of Christ, was a straying from those fundamentals (from Christ).

Keller also points out that everyone (whether they consider themselves secular or religious) bases how they think people should behave on their own improvable fundamental faith-assumptions (see for example footnote 21, page 247-8) – and that “secular grounds for moral positions are no less controversial than religious grounds, and a very strong case can be made that all moral positions are at least implicitly religious,” (17). How? Keller defines religion as “a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing. For example, some think that this material world is all there is, that we are here by accident and when we die we just rot, and therefore the important thing is to choose to do what makes you happy and not let others impose their beliefs on you. Notice that, though this is not an explicit ‘organized’ religion, it contains a master narrative, an account about the meaning of life along with a recommendation for how to live based on that account of things. … All who say ‘You ought to do this’ or ‘You shouldn’t do that’ reason out of such an implicit moral and religious position,” (15). “It is common to say that ‘fundamentalism’ leads to violence, yet as we have seen, all of us have fundamental, improvable faith-commitments that we think are superior to those of others. The real question, then, is which fundamentals will lead their believers to be the most loving and receptive to those with whom they differ? Which set of unavoidably exclusive beliefs will lead us to humble, peace-loving behavior?” (19-20). One might argue that this comes dangerously close to pragmatism (truth is what works) even though pragmatism is rejected in this chapter, however, the issue here is not “which fundamentals are true?” but “which fundamentals do not provoke the fear being addressed?” Keller notes the Greco-Roman religious tolerance versus their brutal cultural practices (see also footnote 30) as one example of tolerance of beliefs not necessarily translating into loving behavior. There is an excellent quote of Alister McGrath on page 5 showing the ironic intolerance of those who believed in tolerance. He also notes that we “cannot skip lightly over the fact that there have been injustices done by the church in the name of Christ” (21) but ends affirming that (again) the fundamentals of Christianity “can be a powerful impetus for peace-making in our troubled world,” (21).

Keller shows that if we weigh relativism, it comes up short because it refutes itself (see also footnote 10). “To deem all beliefs equally true is sheer nonsense for the simple reason that to deny that statement would also, then, be true,” (4, Zacharias, “Jesus Among Other Gods”). Outlawing, condemning, or privatizing religious belief also backfires, since it is shown that we all hold our own (potentially dangerous) improvable fundamental faith-assumptions (religious ones at that, whether or not they would pass as secular – secular beliefs are implicitly religious beliefs, as shown above). So, I agree with Keller when he says, “The reality is that we all make truth-claims of some sort and it is very hard to weigh them responsibly, but we have no alternative but to try to do so,” (11). We cannot escape the responsibility to weigh our world-view responsibly, just like we cannot escape the responsibility to choose – even if that means choosing to do nothing. To give up weighing is to affirm as true.

So how is Christianity fundamentally superior to other religions, as it concerns promoting humble, peace-loving behavior? Keller notes that there is an overlap of religions with regard to ethics, but Christianity stands out with regard to soteriology (footnote 29). “Most religions and philosophies of life assume that one’s spiritual status depends on your religious attainments [Ichthus: the ‘moral improvement’ view]. This naturally leads adherents to feel superior to those who don’t believe and behave as they do. The Christian gospel, in any case, should not have that effect,” (19). Why? “In the Christian understanding, Jesus does not tell us how to live so we can merit salvation. Rather, he comes to forgive and save us through his life and death in our place. God’s grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior,” (19). “At the very heart of [our] view of reality [is] a man who died for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness [Ichthus: ‘forgive them, for they know not what they do’]. Reflection on this could only lead to a radically different way of dealing with those who [are] different from [us]. It mean[s] we [can] not act in violence and oppression toward [our] opponents,” (20-21). It means we should love our enemies. Christ taught that we (the branches) cannot do any of this on our own, apart from Him (the vine) – so it is not cause for pride when He works through us, nor cause for judgment when others do not bear fruit they cannot bear apart from Him. All it takes to cut others slack, is to remember where we were at when we were on our own, apart from Christ, and to remember that it is Christ, not ourselves, who has brought us to where we are now. It is very humbling.

Discussion questions:
1. Do you agree that even secular beliefs are implicitly religious? Why or why not?
2. Considering that relativism refutes itself, then, of the available differing worldviews, only one, if any, can be correct (in an eternal sense, where it did not have to compete for its status in the marketplace of ideas). Does yours promote humble, peace-loving behavior, and, if so, how? Does yours base a man’s worth on his good deeds, or on God’s unearned love demonstrated on the cross – or does man have no worth in yours?
3. “If morality is relative, why isn’t social justice as well?” If it is objective, what is its foundation?
4. Feel free to critique anything I said up there or didn’t mention from the chapter.

Notes on Keller’s sermon on this chapter:

Download sermon and study guide: http://sermons.redeemer.com/store/index.cfm?fuseaction=category.display&category_ID=29


1 John 4:1-10

Doubt: How can you possibly claim your religion is the only true religion-that you have the ‘one’ truth? Main barrier to peace in the world is religion and religious exclusivity. Religion is divisive.

Agreement: religion has a very strong tendency to divide, create strife, tends to have a slippery slope from superiority, to separation, all the way down to oppression and violence, active or passive.

What do we do? Two things that won’t work, one thing that will.

1. Won’t work: weaken religion, help it disappear, regulate it.

Was a theory that religion would die out on its own with technology meeting our needs (no longer need it to adapt to our environment).
–Religion is increasing. Africa 9-50% Christian 100 years. Korea 1-45/50% 100 years. China supposed to do the same sort of thing in the next 100 years.
1940s, got rid of Christian missionaries in China-made it more indigenous, spread more rapidly.
Why does religion not go away, get stronger when you try to weaken it?
“test the spirits” Stott: religious impulse isn’t merely intellectual-there are spiritual influences…you can worship something that enslaves rather than frees

2. Won’t work: confine religion to private realm.

Position: agree that a) all religions are equally valid paths to God, b) religion is good to give you strength in your private life, but leave your expectations at home and don’t put them on society (Rorty)

a) v.5 critics of religion (the world) have a faith position

Blind men and elephant illustration. Each one has different perspective, small piece of truth, not whole truth-they’re all right/wrong, so none of them should say they see the whole picture. Conclusion: so it is w/ religion. BUT–the only way you could “know” they didn’t have the entire reality-is if “you” have that which is what you’re saying nobody has.

b) leave faith out of it-find what works. Ironically, that’s impractical. What is religion? “set of answers to the big questions-why are we here?-what is right and wrong?-what’s wrong with us and what fixes it?-what should we be doing?” All answers to those questions (what works?) are faith assumptions-implicitly religious. “My faith assumptions are better than yours-leave yours at home.”

If we leave faith out of divorce laws that “just work”-but what you think works depends on what you think is the purpose of marriage. Individual before family? Divorce will be easy. Family before individual? Divorce will be hard.

Everyone has a take on spiritual reality that they think is better than others (or they wouldn’t hold it)-so what matters is “which set produces loving, inclusive, reconciling, peaceful behavior?”

3. Strategy that works: common ground is good, but look at what’s unique to Christianity, different from all other religions-they are the things that will empower you to be agents of reconciliation and peace in the world.

a) origin b) purpose c) method (of Jesus’ salvation)

a) origin of Jesus’ salvation-“Jesus has come” (was somewhere else before)
–every other religion has a founder that is ‘only’ human
b) purpose of Jesus’ salvation-“in the flesh” – at resurrection, flesh is redeemed/restored
–every other religion is to escape (rather than redeem) this world
c) method of Jesus’ salvation-grace. V10
–every other religion is about performance, earning, karma

Humbled–If you’re saved by performance, you look down your nose-the slippery slope. Secularists are every bit as self-righteous “I’m enlightened, you’re the primitive religious person,” and it all goes back and forth. The Gospel leads you to expect that unbelievers are better than you-the Gospel humbles you, helps you see who you really are.

Serve–Resurrection, new heavens, new earth, means we work w/ God to make “this” world good, seek its peace/prosperity/shalom. Not only are you humbled, but you serve.

Ultimate reality visible–Jesus is both human and God-not just a prophet/teacher/founder. Doesn’t lead to superiority-“Jesus is Lord of all”-“all”. Christian included everybody (rich/poor, slave/free, man/woman), in a culture when exclusion was the norm (although they were religiously inclusive). Jesus on the cross loved people who didn’t love Him-died for His enemies-that’s ultimate reality, and the early church lived it.

If religious moralist-feel superior to secularist.
If secularist-feel superior to stupid religious people.
If accept Gospel-be humbled, serve, know your life is built on ultimate reality (grace)-become part of what the world needs.

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