Pluralism in Missions: Compassionate or Damning?


Guest article by Mike Pettengill 

Is there only one true track that directs man to God? Or do many paths lead explorers up the mountain where they all reach the top, no matter the route they take? The biblical beliefs of Christianity claim there is but one way to commune with God, and that is by having a personal, saving relationship with his Son, Jesus Christ. As the secular culture and her cousin, secularized Christianity, continue to expand, religious pluralism threatens the purity of the Christian faith as outlined by God in his inspired Bible. How should the new face of tolerance on the old sin of religious pluralism impact our preaching, missions, and evangelism?


From a purely philosophical perspective, it is acceptable to believe in either religious pluralism or the Bible. It is, however, inconsistent to believe there is more than one way to God and to simultaneously hold to the exclusive claims of the Christian Bible. A person who believes that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, and unchangeable Word of God must believe in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. To believe in religious pluralism is to deny the Scriptures.

Paul’s letter to the Colossian church is a polemic against false teachings before the church. Paul attempts to warn the readers to avoid false teaching and focus only on Christ as the one way to God. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes that Jesus is the Lord of creation (1:15-17), is the knowledge of God’s mystery (2:1-5) and to resist letting anyone convince them that Jesus isn’t the only way to God (2:8-15). He told the church to be aware of false teaching (2:16-23) and to focus on Christ (3:1-4). Don Carson said of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “Thus, against the claims of other intermediaries, Colossians insists not only on the supremacy of Christ but also on the exclusiveness of his sufficiency.”

The Bible tells us unequivocally that Jesus is the Savior of the world (Acts 4:12; 1 John 4:14). Scripture says that Jesus is the one Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5) and that Christ brings us to God (1 Pet 3:18). Also, through Jesus we have access to God (Eph 2:18). The Bible is clear that those who believe are saved (1 Cor 1:21), that those who don’t believe the gospel perish (2 Cor 4:3, 2 Thess 1:8-9) and that those who trust in anything other than God are fools (Rom 1:22-25). Also, teaching that Jesus is not the Way results in damnation (Gal 1:8).

The seminal verse in all of Scripture pointing us to a mandate of exclusive faith in Jesus Christ is John 14:6, in which Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John Calvin wrote of this verse,

“So all theology, when separated from Christ, is not only empty and confused but also mad, deceitful, and spurious; for although philosophers sometimes come up with excellent sayings, they contain nothing but what is ephemeral, and even mixed up with perverse errors.”

There could be no clearer claim by Christ in support of his exclusivity.

Global Evangelism

Christian preachers and missionaries must anchor themselves in the fact that a person must follow the gospel of Christianity and have a relationship with Jesus Christ to be saved. This is nonnegotiable. If there is perceived wiggle room or other alternatives to this, why is it we do missions? A jungle tribe must hear the gospel and follow Christ. A “good” person in New York must repent and follow Jesus. A Mormon, Muslim, or Sikh must abandon false religion and embrace Jesus Christ.

The consequences of religious pluralism are becoming more radical and pervasive. Yes, we should tolerate other beliefs. No, we should not condone them. Christian preaching and global evangelism must be clear that Jesus is the only way to God. In the face of religious pluralism, Bible-believing churches must respond resolutely. Derrick Mashau stated,

“Although the influence of secularism and pluralism has been devastating, it is my…conviction that a missional church can bring about change in this regard by propagating a Christian worldview that seeks to penetrate every society with the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ who sovereignly reigns through his Word and Spirit.”

Only One

Christian exclusivism is a compassionate and merciful response in the face of the sinfulness of man. Religious pluralism espouses multiple paths when God has made clear there is only one. How entrenched in sin must a man be to purposefully lead another away from the mercy of Jesus!

Christian exclusivism is the one way God has given man to avoid punishment for his sin. There is no need for many ways of salvation, because the one way God has revealed in Jesus Christ is sufficient for all. True compassion rests in the truth that no soul will perish unless it is separate from Christ.

Religious pluralism is a dangerous and evil lie loved by Satan and perpetuated by sinful man. Christian exclusivism is a loving response to the otherwise impossible burden of atoning for our own sins. Christian preachers and missionaries must strive to lead others from the darkness of religious pluralism to the light of exclusive faith in Jesus Christ.

Mike Pettengill

Mike Pettengill is a full-time missionary serving in La Ceiba, Honduras, with Mission to the World. Mike is a team leader of a 12-person mission team. To learn more about the Pettengills' mission work, visit

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