The Challenges of Contemporary Pluralism -- By: D. A. Carson

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 01:2 (Summer 1997)
Article: The Challenges of Contemporary Pluralism
Author: D. A. Carson


The Challenges of
Contemporary Pluralism1

D. A. Carson

D. A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. His writings include major commentaries on Matthew and John, the widely-used Hermeneutics textbook Exegetical Fallacies, and a volume addressing suffering entitled How Long, O Lord? Carson is ranked among this country’s foremost New Testament scholars. This article is taken from The Gagging of God, and is used by permission of Zondervan Press.

Defining Pluralism

“Pluralism” is a surprisingly tricky word in modern discussion. For some, it has only positive connotations; for others, only negative. Some use it in combination with various spheres: cultural pluralism, ideological pluralism, intellectual pluralism, religious pluralism, and so forth. For our purposes it will be useful to consider not the spheres in which pluralism is found, but three kinds of phenomena to which the word commonly refers: empirical pluralism, cherished pluralism, and philosophical or hermeneutical pluralism.

A. Empirical Pluralism

Empirical pluralism sums up the growing diversity in our culture. Observable and largely measurable, it is what David Tracy prefers to call “plurality.” “Plurality,” he writes, “is a fact.”

“Pluralism is one of the many possible evaluations of that fact.”2 But although a few scholars have followed him in this usage, most still use “pluralism,” in one of its uses, to refer to the sheer diversity of race, value systems, heritage, language, culture, and religion in many Western and some other nations. Paul Martinson prefers the rubric “factual pluralism”;3 in any case, the rubric is less important than the phenomenon.

Consider, for example, the remarkable ethnic diversity in America. The United States is the largest Jewish, Irish, and Swedish nation in the world; it is the second largest black nation, and soon it will become the third largest Hispanic nation. Moreover, these large proportions reveal nothing about the enormous diversity generated by countless smaller ethnic and racial communities. Compiling equally remarkable statistics in almost every other plane of American culture is an easy matter.

It is possible to overstate the novelty of this diversity. Jon Butler vigorously argues, for his own ideological purposes, that American life and culture were extraordinarily diverse in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and correspondingly depreciates the degree of diversity refle...

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