Syncretism & All Its Friends

Syncretism is not a common word in modern conversation, much less in the blogosphere.

And no, it’s not the name of that old Police album. That was Synchronicity.

Though the word may not be that familiar, a lot of people are doing it. And believing it.

Syncretism is a blending of different belief systems — especially religious ones — in an effort to gain wisdom from each and harmonize all.

Christianity Today has a fascinating article about two Episcopal priests living out syncretism in a dramatic way. One priest, Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, was recently elected a bishop of in the Diocese of Northern Michigan . . . in spite of the fact that he had recently undergone lay ordination as a Zen Buddhist.

A second priest, Seattle-based Ann Holmes Redding, was recently defrocked — had her ordination rescinded — because she claimed that she was simultaneously Christian and Muslim.

So I guess the Seattle Episcopalians take a dimmer view of syncretism than do those in Northern Michigan.

And so do I.

Because although harmonizing of disparate faiths in this way sounds nice, it is intellectually untenable. I also suggest it does a disservice to both faiths involved.

Syncretism is intellectually void because two contradictory ideas cannot be true at the same time.

Think about it: Buddhism & Hinduism teach that after death we are reincarnated as someone or something else; Christianity teaches that “it is appointed for man once to die and then to face judgment” (Hebrews 11:27). They can’t both be true. Either one is right, one is wrong, or they are both wrong.

Or this: Christianity teaches that Jesus was literally God-in-the-flesh. Judaism regards that as view as an offense against the God of both faiths. They can’t both be true. Either one is right, one is wrong, or they are both wrong.

Or this: Islam teaches that salvation in the afterlife comes as a reward for good works. Christianity teaches without reservation that people are “saved by grace through faith . . . not by works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). They can’t both be true. Either one is right, one is wrong, or they are both wrong.

I believe that the attempts by the two priests in the Christianity Today article — as well as scores of other leaders from different denominations — stem from good intentions coupled with intellectual laziness.

I am all for interfaith cooperation. And I certaintly try to preach what I preach about Christ out of love and not out of judgment. But I believe Christ and his church — as well as people from other faiths — deserve our sharpest, clearest thinking about who Jesus is and what he claims.

And because of the unprecedented truthfulness of his resurrection, I’m staking my life on the claim that Jesus is not one of many. He is the one and only.

That’s what Easter was about. You can listen to it here.