Exclusivism Part 4: Principled Pluralism

Rick Mattson Apologetics, Religious Pluralism 2 Comments

In my prior post I made the point that in terms of ultimate truth claims, the pluralist is just as exclusive as anyone else.

But there’s another kind of pluralism available to us: social pluralism, or what’s often called “principled pluralism.”

In 2013 the American Inclusivist Project published a paper called “Principled Pluralism” that called for Americans to “move beyond mere tolerance to informed respect, and that we manage our religious differences in ways that contribute to the common good.”  (p10)

I’m on board with the idea of “informed respect.” It reminds me of my years working at Macalester College, where various faith traditions came together for dialogue, learning, and service.

Here are some principles I learned at Macalester:

  1. Must value each other as people. Note I said “value,” not just “tolerate.” I felt valued in this group which was comprised of a representative from Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Protestant Mainline, and Evangelical (me) traditions. We didn’t have a Secularist Chaplain but I think such a person would have been equally valued.
  2. Must be willing to learn from others. This requires humility and a sense of one’s own fallibility. It means I acknowledge that I know in part, not in full, and that I can be enriched by other ways of looking at things. It doesn’t mean we all agree, however. Part of the fun is just figuring each other out!
  3. Must value distinctives. Don’t try to reduce everyone down to saying the same thing, because we’re not. Our respective doctrines are different and they can’t be blended together to form one big gooey religious stew.
  4. Must find common ground, work together. This means we’re all in for the common good. We can unite in service around something like the Golden Rule. Together, we can help reduce social ills such as poverty, suicide, racial tension, and mental health issues. From a Christian perspective, this process is possible because of God’s “common grace” given to all humanity.


To summarize, I’m suggesting in these posts that there are two major kinds of pluralism:

  • Philosophical pluralism that is concerned with ultimate truth claims. Here, everyone is an exclusivist. You can’t hold to your own view and other conflicting views at the same time.
  • “Principled Pluralism,” or “social” pluralism which is more about how we all get along by valuing diversity, fostering civil conversation, and working together for the common good. That’s a pluralism I can support whole-heartedly.


Suggested resources:

“A More Inclusive Pluralism”  George Marsden, in First Things, Feb. 2015.

Principled Pluralism: Report of the Inclusive America Project

My Faith is Like Skydiving, ch. 9: “Religions Are Like Books: And Other Images for Discussing Religious Pluralism”

This is the final of four posts in the “Exclusivism” series. Click here to return to the first post.

Comments 2

    1. Post

      Paul, I don’t really see any conflict. I’m always seeking to share the good news with others, whether in dialogue about sports, hobbies, politics, hobbies, religion, etc.

      Certainly the choice to value other perspectives and work on projects with people of other perspectives doesn’t conflict with the evangelistic imperative that I can see. What are you thinking of, specifically?

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