(Excerpts below are from the Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s book, God Is Not A Christian: And Other Provocations, and from a forum in Britain, where Tutu addressed leaders of different faiths during a mission to the city of Birmingham in 1989.) Link
While surely the Archbishop has many admirable qualities, in the following I am strongly critical of his teachings regarding religion:
THE UNIQUE CLAIMS OF THE GOSPEL
“We should not succumb too easily to the temptation to exclusiveness and dogmatic claims to a monopoly of the truth of our particular faith… We should in humility and joyfulness acknowledge that the supernatural and divine reality we all worship in some form or other transcends all our particular categories of thought and imagining, and that because the divine — however named, however apprehended or conceived — is infinite and we are forever finite, we shall never comprehend the divine completely. So we should seek to share all insights we can and be ready to learn, for instance, from the techniques of the spiritual life that are available in religions other than our own.”
The Archbishop finds himself denying much of New Testament doctrine in these comments. He wants to open the tent wider, apparently, to welcome Muhammad and Krishna and Buddha and all the rest into a big happy fellowship.
Sadly, Desmond 2:2 is in conflict with a more authoritative source, namely 1 Corinthians 2:2 —
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:2
Who is this Jesus Christ? Why is he different from all the other religious figures for whom the Archbishop holds the door open? Why did the Apostle Paul choose to know nothing except him and his crucifixion, when he could have given a much more ‘inclusive’ message, like the Archbishop’s?
Desmond 2:2 cannot gainsay 1 John 2:2 —
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2
The whole world. Meaning, if a Muslim or a Hindu or a Buddhist wants to know God, he or she must first be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Those sins must be dealt with; that’s what “propitiation” means. The New Testament presents to us only one way of salvation, only one door to the tent. There is one and only one sacrifice that reconciles Man to God, and it is the unique, exclusive message of Christianity to bring people to a conscious knowledge of this way and call them to receive it. This is the cause for which the Apostle Paul, with all his great learning, gladly rendered himself a “know-nothing.”
One can see how the Archbishop’s teaching, pleasing to the modern ear, reduces the gospel imperative to naught. It portrays Paul’s whole career, for instance, as a nonsensical waste of time and effort, a pathetic fool struggling to proclaim a message that did not need to be delivered at all.
Desmond 2:2 makes no sense in the light of 1 Thessalonians 2:2 —
But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.
1 Thessalonians 2:2
If the Archbishop is correct, why suffer the conflict? Why be shamefully treated? Why not, instead, live and let live? Hindus don’t need Christ, in his estimation. Nor do Muslims, Buddhists, or pagans. Why proclaim the gospel among the Gentiles? As the Archbishop surely knows, one makes more friends quickly by simply telling those of other religions that we Christians don’t want to interfere with them; keep going as you are going. It’s what people want to hear, after all. Assuage them. Reassure them. Don’t challenge them.
No, that message is not the one the apostles lived and died to proclaim. The gospel mattered to them, as nothing else did.
JESUS AMONG OTHER GODS
“It is interesting that most religions have a transcendent reference point, a mysterium tremendum, that comes to be known by deigning to reveal itself, himself, herself, to humanity; that the transcendent reality is compassionate and concerned; that human beings are creatures of this supreme, supra mundane reality in some way, with a high destiny that hopes for an everlasting life lived in close association with the divine, either as absorbed without distinction between creature and creator, between the divine and human, or in a wonderful intimacy which still retains the distinctions between these two orders of reality.”
This doesn’t sound at all like New Testament Christian teaching; it smells more like a serving of Hinduism with an extra helping of vagueness. Unfortunately once again the Archbishop’s words are at odds with Scripture. Desmond 2:2 presents us with a cloaked, inscrutable “mystery.” Colossians 2:2 gives us the unique name of that mystery:
…that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.
Do not be deluded. It is a “plausible argument” that all religions seek to know the same transcendent God. But it’s not true. Seeking that God outside of Jesus Christ, the sole designated Treasure Chest of God’s wisdom and knowledge, is a useless, vain exercise in religion. It is in Christ alone that we have any hope of knowing the transcendent Creator. Jesus Christ is God’s true Mysterium Tremendum.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
“What we call the Spirit of God is not a Christian preserve, for the Spirit of God existed long before there were Christians, inspiring and nurturing women and men in the ways of holiness, bringing them to fruition, bringing to fruition what was best in all.”
To be sure, the Spirit of God existed before there were Christians. But it is sheer nonsense to claim that He ever “nurtured” pagans “in the ways of holiness.” The Bible says that people come into the world in a fallen state, lacking light, lacking faith, lacking a relationship with God. This is our lamentable inheritance from Adam. That people in this fallen state become adherents of various religious doctrine hardly changes the sorry state of affairs. People may be improved slightly by religious faith of any sort, but that’s hardly the point, is it? What human beings need is a way to be reconciled to God Himself, the Creator. Even the Archbishop acknowledges this, though he seems to have drifted very far from orthodox Christian teaching in his zeal to avoid challenging unbelievers with the claims of Christ.
When the gospel call is faithfully presented, people come to faith in Christ. They then receive the Holy Spirit. This is a new event in the life of the new-born Christian. Prior to that, one might be influenced by the Holy Spirit, in the sense of being drawn toward the gospel, but a non-Christian cannot possess the Spirit in any sense described by the New Testament. The Holy Spirit is emphatically not the animating force behind non-Christian religious piety.
The teaching of Desmond 2:2 is in direct conflict with that of Ephesians 2:2 —
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.
Non-Christian people may benefit, in an oblique way, from the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world. But they are following a different spirit. Clearly people do not possess the Holy Spirit until it comes upon them, and clearly this Spirit is sent by God to indwell Christians, not pagans.
The giving of the Holy Spirit to the church occurred at a definite moment in time. Despite what Desmond 2:2 might try to tell us about the Spirit’s work in the world, we must acknowledge the authority of Acts 2:2 —
And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
“When we read the classics of the various religions in matters of prayer, meditation, and mysticism, we find substantial convergence, and that is something to rejoice at. We have enough that conspires to separate us; let us celebrate that which unites us, that which we share in common.”
What separates “us” as Christians from the other religious people of the world is the gospel message, the idea of reconciliation through personal faith in a vicarious sacrifice and not through religious works or charitable acts or anything else. For a professional Christian, a leader of the church, to be presenting this sort of many-paths syncretism is not only a betrayal of his biblical legacy, it is also a slap in the face to the apostles who went before, who risked their lives to bring the gospel of Christ to people who did not formerly know it.
By deluding his listeners with such “plausible arguments” the Archbishop places himself in a dangerous position. Desmond 2:2 is in danger of succumbing to 2 Peter 2:2 —
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.
2 Peter 2:1-2
The teaching of Desmond 2:2 needs to be reviewed in the light of Revelation 2:2 —
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
So please, brothers and sisters, do not be deluded by plausible arguments. Do not be dissuaded from explaining and defending and proclaiming the gospel message to your neighbors and friends and family. Do not allow your enthusiasm to be washed away by the foolish teachings of latter-day apostles.