There is an approach to God and religion that is popular in culture today known as “pluralism.” In the name of “tolerance” and “inclusivism,” it claims this: no one can know what God is really like, and thus it is arrogant to claim one religion is correct others are wrong; our best approach is just to let everyone believe whatever they want about religion or God as long it does not affect or harm someone.
How should we respond to such a view? I suppose the best answer would be this: ‘How do you know that such a statement about God is true? How do you know that ‘no one can know anything true about God’? How did you find out that pluralism is true? And, on what basis do you make such bold and audacious claims that all religions are wrong? Surely, competing truth claims about God does not mean that there is no accessible truth about God, just as the presence of counterfeit dollar bills does not negate the existence or possible access to genuine dollar bills.’ And to claim that knowledge about God is out of reach is certainly a knowledge claim about God and reality.
In Matthew 23 we encounter a Jesus that is at odds with a modern secular pluralistic approach to religion. We hear words that come across as very ‘intolerant,’ and not ‘inclusive.’ The chapter is an extended warning about the Pharisees—a religious group of theologically conservative Jews—and their approach to God and religion. Jesus warns that their approach to God and religion is mistaken, and, in fact, full of wickedness, oppression of others, and will ultimately lead a person to hell. Statements like this clash with our modern secular outlook of religion and certainly superficial understandings of who Jesus is and what he taught.
But I would argue that we would be foolish to write Jesus off and refuse to hear his words. Actually, if Jesus is who tells us he is—the Messiah, God the Son who tells us true truth about God and reality—then we really ought to hear him out. And what he teaches us here is meant to lead us away from error of religious hypocrisy and into the truth about who God is and what God is like. What Jesus is doing is loving, though spoken in a strong tone. And, when we embrace and live out what Jesus is teaching we experience the goodness and beauty and joy of knowing God in truth. Jesus died for our religious hypocrisy and graciously makes a new creation clothed in the righteousness of God. This good news of the gospel is far better than inclusivism and pluralism.