In our readings today, Peter is writing with some urgency about the danger of false prophets and destructive heresies making their way into the Christian churches. It is a concern that is incredibly relevant today.
However, in our postmodern era, Peter’s concerns can easily seem dated or ignorant. Our culture is overwhelmingly convinced that all truth claims have equal validity; in fact, many in the church (particularly in the West) would agree.
According to the usual line of this thinking, the only truth claim that isn’t valid is the one that doesn’t affirm the validity of other such claims. It is easy to see the lack of intellectual integrity that such pluralism necessitates; for if all truth claims are valid, then those that claim superiority cannot be invalid. And yet the pluralistic position is vehemently defended.
There is some real good behind the pull towards pluralism. I am thinking particularly of the underlying impulse to treat all people with dignity and respect. It is good to listen to others of different perspectives, and learn from them; this requires humility, of which we could all use a good daily dose.
And yet pluralism has a dark, and ultimately dominating, underbelly, not creating unity in the end, but isolation. If I promise to validate whatever you deem to be truth, then there is a tacit but firm understanding that you will validate my truth claims as well. At this point I am now free to create God in my own image. I can say whatever I want and do whatever I want and believe whatever seems best to me, and there shall be no pushback or challenge or engagement from you or anyone else, including God.
Any claim that all religions are ultimately the same, or that all truths are valid, is ultimately a claim of personal autonomy and control.
Peter hits the nail on the head when he says, “In their greed they will exploit you with false words” (2:3). I don’t mean to imply that these false prophets were evangelists for pluralism, but rather that the mores of our culture may lead us to think that false teaching and destructive heresies are no longer issues for the church. To believe that would be both false and destructive!
As Peter states, “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2:19). The freedom which pluralism offers is no freedom at all, but is actually spiritual slavery. It is simply another manifestation of the serpent’s lie in the Garden (Genesis 3), that we will be happier apart from God.
Yet the consistent witness of the Bible, culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is that there is only one source of truth that offers true freedom, and that is the truth of God. Peter would gladly tell you from his own life experience (see 1:16) that we see God’s truth most clearly revealed in Jesus Christ. Peter’s burden in today’s reading is that the church must both adhere to and protect biblical truth.
It is absolutely true that we can fall into a cold and harsh dogmatism; in my experience this is the principal fear of committed pluralists. Yet this should not be the case. The Gospel actually frees us to love and respect the dignity of all people, with no dark underbelly for those who humbly submit to the will and truth of God.
Far beyond mere tolerance, we may love actively and with engagement, and listen and learn with humility and grace—all in the name of the uncompromising truth of Jesus Christ’s extraordinary saving grace.