Diversity has become a buzzword in virtually every area of public life. It is a word that is used every day in the field of education, from board rooms to classrooms. Everywhere, there are cries for more diversity – in television programs, in magazines, on college campuses, in churches, the workplace, government, etc. Unfortunately, the honorable concepts and theories behind this demand for diversity can often become confused with the blind philosophical rhetoric known as pluralism. While diversity, in its proper context, is something that has been established by God and encouraged in His Word, pluralism exists as a subtle imitation of this godly concept, ultimately leading its disciples into utter alogical chaos. If Christians are to be successful in embracing diversity, while simultaneously avoiding the deception of pluralism, both terms must be defined and examined under the light of Scripture.True diversity implies unity. This is the first postulate that must be recognized in any discussion of the meaning and function of diversity. While God is certainly a God of unity, He is also a God of diversity. Rhodes illustrates this point with striking clarity:
“Scripture tells us that God created both the heavens and the earth . . . God created both great sea creatures roaming the ocean depths and winged birds of every kind soaring to the highest heights . . . God created humankind in God’s own image – both male and female God created us” (1).
These are but a few examples of the virtually unlimited nature of the diversity God chose to employ in His grand scheme of creation. Yet among all the many forms of God’s creation which can easily be observed, there exists a common unity. All of creation shares at least this one thing in common: All things have been created by God. God created the simple diversity of male and female counterparts when he formed Adam and Eve. While they were, on some levels, fundamentally different, they did not live in constant opposition or contradiction, but rather in harmony and unity. Genesis 2:23-24 shows very clearly that God created Adam and Eve to exist as diverse parts of a unified whole:
“And Adam said:
‘This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.’
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
The story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) tells of mankind’s attempt to disobey the command God had previously given to Noah and his descendants in Genesis 9:1: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Instead, the people tried to remain clustered around a tower that they had built, so that they would not become “scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). Vv. 7-8 give an account of how God subsequently proceeded to confuse the language of the people so that they could no longer understand one another. Thus, the people were forced to spread out. It is this diaspora that marks the beginning of the development of the many cultures and traditions that have existed throughout all of history. These and other passages offer strong evidence that diversity is something that God fully intended in His creation.
Diversity is not limited to God’s creation, however. God also reveals variety in Himself. It is obvious from looking at Scripture that God often employs different means when He brings about events. At certain times during the days of the Old Testament, He spoke directly to people; at other times, He spoke through prophets. When bringing judgment on disobedient nations, He once used a worldwide flood, but at other times, He used neighboring nations to bring about His purposes. The doctrine of the Trinity is a clear illustration of the simultaneous unity and diversity in God’s own nature. Thus, diversity, when clearly defined, is not something about which Christians should be fearful. On the contrary, Christians should strive for diversity.
In contrast, the dangerous philosophy of pluralism is not what God commands at all. Pluralists embrace differences among different groups of people and things, yet they deny any real unity between them. Pluralism preaches that there are many truths which exist independently of each other, and that these multiple truths are all equally true. Often, these so-called truths are direct and utter contradictions of one another. This pluralistic philosophy has given rise to the insidious doctrine of toleration, which has become somewhat synonymous with the word diversity in most circles. Followers of pluralism demand that all religious and secular systems of belief be regarded as equally true and acceptable. It follows that no one has the right to say that anyone else’s beliefs are wrong, for everyone is right. Christians believe that they will go to Heaven when they die, therefore, they will. If a Muslim puts his faith in Allah’s rewards for him in the afterlife, then those rewards will be what he receives. The pluralistic philosophy does not stop at religion, however, but extends to differences in culture and secular practices as well. In fact, the only people, organizations, cultures, and views that pluralism does not tolerate are those that do not tolerate pluralism. This is the reason why true, biblical Christianity and pluralism are diametric opposites.
The Bible expressly contradicts the pluralistic doctrine of multiple conflicting truths. Jesus Christ stated, in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus also taught, in Matthew 7:13-14, that people should “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Paul warns the early church that “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). In the Old Testament, the Israelites were warned countless times by numerous prophets, and sometimes the voice of God Himself, to beware of those nations that worshiped idols. Reymond stresses the danger of embracing religious pluralism:
“The Christian Church can afford to follow the modern call for intellectual religious pluralism only at the greatest cost to itself and to the world to which Christ, the King and Lord of the Church, commissioned it to go. Moreover, to follow this call would be to set the Church on a course that can only lead it to religious frustration and failure, and in the end to divine judgement” (2).
Truly, to reject the finished work of Christ as man’s only means of salvation is to reject all that true Christianity is based upon.
It should be expressed that while God has called His people to keep themselves separate from the ways of the world, this does not in any way make Christianity an isolationist belief system. There are a number of Old Testament passages which provide evidence that, from the time of the exodus, the Israelites historically allowed foreigners and outsiders to be assimilated into Jewish culture. However, this did not mean that the Jews were to simply coexist in mutual toleration with the pagan nations. Instead, if one wished to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, he or she was expected to follow very specific customs and rules. This involved ritual circumcision for males, as well as vowing to uphold the laws given to the people of Israel by God. The newcomer’s old pagan gods and idols were not to be accepted or tolerated in the least. God, who is Truth personified, does not share His worth or importance with anyone or anything created by mankind.
In the New Testament, when Jesus Christ called on His disciples to become “fishers of men,” He did not instruct them merely to preach to the Jews, but to the Gentiles as well (Mark 1:17). In the passage of Scripture known by many Christians as “The Great Commission,” it is written that, upon appearing to His disciples,
“Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you'” (Matthew 28:18-20a).
In Revelation 7, John gives an account of seeing
“a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ (vv. 9-10).
These two passages alone make plain the fact that God, in His ultimate, complete wisdom, has chosen to call believers from all regions, cultures, and walks of life. The “great multitude” foretold in Revelation is evidence of God’s plan for diversity. Yet attention must be drawn to one striking fact: All of these robed worshipers are praising the same God. It is here that one finds the unity inherent in diversity. The chief end of mankind, diverse though he may be, is to glorify the one true God, who reigns throughout eternity as the sovereign Lord of all creation. So, then, it is altogether evident that Christians are called to embrace the God-given diversity manifested in His creation, while concurrently forsaking the chaotic foolishness of pluralism that has become rampant in this age.
(1) Rhodes, Stephen A. Where the Nations Meet: The Church in a Multicultural World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998. (p.20)
(2) Reymond, Robert L. “The ‘Very Pernicious and Detestable’ Doctrine of Inclusivism.” The Trinity Review 219 (2003): 2. (p.2)