Editor's note:

In this vintage-yet-timely piece, Dallas Willard explores the natures of faith and fact, truth and reality in our increasingly pluralistic society and reflects upon how Christians can hold to Jesus as the way, truth, and life while still advocating for others’ freedom of expression. 

—Renovaré Team

We must keep in mind that truth and reality are not in themselves pluralistic. If your gas tank is empty, social acceptance of your right to believe that it is full will not help you get your car to run. Everything is just exactly what it is, and you can develop cultural traditions, vote, wish, or whatever you please, and that will not change a thing.

Truth and reality do not adapt to us. It is up to us to adapt to them. A four thousand year old tradition does not become truer as the years go by. If it is false or wrong, it simply continues to be a long-standing error. If it is popular, it is widespread. If adopted by the powerful, it is authoritative. But it is still wrong. Acceptance of its right to exist in a pluralistic society does not make it any more correct, and will be of no help to those following it when they finally run into reality.

Some of my intellectual friends say that this is true in the domain of “fact,” but that religion is the realm of “faith.” They are victims of the unfortunate delusion of current culture that “fact” is limited to what is sense-perceptible. Hence they say that whether past or current living species were created by God or not, for example, is a matter of “faith.” The implication is that for faith things are, somehow, as you think them to be. Much of what is now written in support of pluralism or “inclusivism” in religion assumes that there is no “way things are” with God, or at least that we cannot know how they are. Hence all views of God are said to be equally true because all are equally in the dark—an astonishingly fallacious inference.

Now we must keep in mind that all of this really has nothing to do with pluralism as a social principle. We have already pointed out that pluralism, the rejection of social force to suppress divergent opinions or practices, does not mean that we concede all views to be equally right. Nor does it mean that they are all equally wrong, and therefore have an equal right to exist.

“Inclusivism” stabs at the heart of Christian faith, which claims that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. This claim is either true or it is not, just as God either created life on earth or not. And it matters a great deal what the truth is here and whether or not we believe it. As Christians we cannot just say: “Anything goes.” And we most certainly are not saying that when we stand up for the right of all groups to be free of social suppression of their beliefs.

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Excerpted from “Being a Christian in a Pluralistic Society,” via dwillard.org, from whom we have gratefully received permission to reprint this work.