Perspectives on the Church’s Mission Part 4: Missions in a Religiously Pluralistic World -- By: George W. Peters

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 136:544 (Oct 1979)
Article: Perspectives on the Church’s Mission Part 4: Missions in a Religiously Pluralistic World
Author: George W. Peters


Perspectives on the Church’s Mission
Part 4:
Missions in a Religiously Pluralistic World

George W. Peters

[George W. Peters, Professor Emeritus of World Missions, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.]

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a series delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 1–4, 1978.]

Religious pluralism is nothing new. Throughout the millennia of history various religions have functioned in the world. The Bible refers to numerous gods and systems of worship in various cultures of the ancient Near East. These religions—which are historic realities of tremendous significance—cause no little perplexity to the student of the Bible and to the missionary. The latter is confronted by this reality in its most vivid complexity, and he experiences it as a life-determining and community-governing force.

Of course, religious pluralism is no longer something overseas and beyond the boundaries of this nation. Several million adherents of non-Christian religions are fellow citizens in the United States. They have become neighbors on the same street where Christians live. Christians share with them the same post office and postman, the same bank, the same grocery store, the same playground. Yet they attend their temples and worship their god or gods in the very cities where Christians attend church and worship the only true God.

The New Image

Religious pluralism has become a universal phenomenon and is becoming an accepted pattern of life. This new pattern of life has raised some searching questions in the minds of many people. One question is this: Are “the heathen” actually as pagan as either mission reports or one’s own imagination has projected them to appear and to which Christians have liberally and sympathetically responded in missions and charity? Since non-Christian religions are no longer isolated from North Americans and other parts of the “civilized world” by great distances, a new image arises. Newbigin mentions five change factors which are affecting the thinking of many people.

Students from every part of the world and from every religious community jostle one another on the campuses of Western universities, share the same studies, the same books, the same discussions of world affairs. The great international and inter-governmental organizations, both the United Nations itself and also its many specialist agencies, provide a sphere in which some of the ablest men of all religions are constantly co-operating in seeking the solution of the pressing problems of mankind. In UNESCO there is an organization which ...

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