The Danger of Syncretism

Regarded by many as the most influential and significant Christian leader of the late twentieth century, John Stott is Rector Emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Palace, London. The passion and clarity of his books, such as Between Two Worlds and The Contemporary Christian, have served to spur many pastors and churches both to evaluate and to engage with culture from a biblical mindset. Conscious of the changing philosophical landscape, Stott sought to awaken believers from sleepwalking into a dangerous syncretism.

As a result of modern communication media and ease of travel, many countries are increasingly pluralistic. What people want is an easygoing syncretism, a truce in inter-religious competition, a mishmash of the best from all religions. But we Christians cannot surrender either the finality or the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. There is simply nobody else like him; his incarnation, atonement and resurrection have no parallels. In consequence, he is the one and only mediator between God and the human race. This exclusive affirmation is strongly, even bitterly, resented. It is regarded by many as intolerably intolerant. Yet the claims of truth compel us to maintain it, however much offence it may cause.1

Yet Stott was not eager to be portrayed as a narrow-minded Christian, who saw nothing of value in other religions and worldviews; he believed in God’s general revelation and common grace. However, although content to call for legal and social tolerance, he warned against intellectual tolerance.

We do not therefore deny that there are elements of truth in non-Christian systems, vestiges of the general revelation of God in nature. What we do vehemently deny is that these are sufficient for salvation and (more vehemently still) that Christian faith and non-Christian faiths are alternative and equally valid roads to God. Although there is an important place for ‘dialogue’ with men of other faiths … there is also a need for ‘encounter’ with them, and even for ‘confrontation’, in which we seek both to disclose the inadequacies and falsities of non-Christian religion and to demonstrate the adequacy and truth, absoluteness and finality of the Lord Jesus Christ.2

…[A] respectful acceptance of the diversity of cultures does not imply an equal acceptance of the diversity of religions. The richness of each particular culture should be appreciated, but not the idolatry which may lie at its heart. We cannot tolerate any rivals to Jesus Christ, believing as we do that God has spoken fully and finally through him, and that he is the only Saviour, who died and rose again and will one day come to be the world’s Judge.3

To cultivate a mind so broad that it can tolerate every opinion, without ever detecting anything in it to reject, is not a virtue; it is the vice of the feeble-minded. It can degenerate into an unprincipled confusion of truth with error and goodness with evil. Christians, who believe that truth and goodness have been revealed in Christ, cannot possibly come to terms with it.4

Footnotes:

1 John R. W. Stott, The Contemporary Christian (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 64.

2 John R. W. Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 69.

3 John R. W. Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 289.

4 John R. W. Stott, The Authentic Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 73.

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