Principled Pluralism

By Jim Tune

When we all assumed Christianity held a special place in our society, the solution to differing views was simpler: work harder at bringing the Christian faith into the public square. We all assumed the Christian worldview was right, and that it should shape every part of culture.

People large groupThings have changed. As acceptance of Christianity has diminished, we find ourselves living in a pluralistic culture. As I’ve said before, we’re no longer the home team. It’s now assumed the Christian worldview has nothing to offer culture.

People value tolerance. Tolerance sounds good. The Oxford English Dictionary defines tolerance as “to respect (others’ beliefs, practices, etc.) without necessarily agreeing or sympathizing.” The problem? Tolerance has become intolerant. Tolerance no longer means that we respect other views; it has come to mean that we must agree with their views or be labeled a bigot or worse.

Tolerance has not only become intolerant, but it’s weak to begin with. Who among us likes to be tolerated?

This is where we find ourselves living right now. Christianity is no longer dominant. To hold views that contradict popular wisdom is seen as intolerant. So what do we do now?

The answer isn’t to retreat, or to try to re-create a society in which Christians can impose their views on others.

The answer is principled pluralism, which recognizes the right of people to hold divergent views whether or not they align with the mainstream view. The government protects the right of its citizens, but stops short of requiring that people believe any dogma. We maintain our right to persuade others of our beliefs, while we defend the right of others to hold and spread their beliefs.

This means we give up trying to “take back” our countries or institutions. It means we defend the rights of atheists and other religious groups to hold their beliefs. It means we respect the rights of those who disagree with us. Most of all, it means we learn to make a case for a Christian worldview in a world that thinks we have nothing to offer.

The good news is that Christianity thrives when it’s sidelined. In an increasingly polarized world, we have an opportunity to demonstrate the truth and beauty of the gospel in new ways.

We’ll probably have to learn to do this in a society that is increasingly intolerant of any view that doesn’t line up with its own. We’ll need to learn how to defend the rights of people to disagree with the dominant cultural view, even when their views contradict our own.

This is an exciting time to be a Christian. Let’s not settle for retreating to the past or accepting our culture’s view of tolerance. Let’s make the case for principled pluralism, and then let’s live and speak in a way that demonstrates the truth and beauty of the gospel.

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1 Comment

  1. January 11, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    I believe this statement is so true, “we have an opportunity to demonstrate the truth and beauty of the gospel in new ways.” I believe in this pluralistic society that the freshness of the Holy Spirit is wanting and desiring to do such a thing. I might add that I find that what is going on culturally is forcing me to look at the Bible in new and fresh ways. Not that the Bible has changed, but I have changed. This change has given me optimism even when others believe that this is the worst time ever. I believe that the changes in culture have freed up the church to simply now be the church.

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