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The Foolishness of the Gospel

by John Miles

Dear Friends,

The fall, SMU Magazine had a very revealing article in praise of Lonnie Kliever a professor of world religion at the University. The article was reprinted in the magazine from an article in The Dallas Morning News. I have included some excerpts of the article.

"Kliever presents two "models of truth" - the probabilistic model and the mathematical model. The mathematical posits truth as an "either-or" proposition: "Billy Graham was using that model when he said: 'truth is intolerant. Two plus two equals four; it doesn't equal five or three.'"

The probabilistic mode, on the other hand, says absolute conclusive truth cannot be known.

"Science, by the way, doesn't follow the mathematical model," Kliever says. "It revises itself all the time." Finally, he offers "a copernican revolution of interreligious dialogue based on the notion that 'God is more than our religions.'"

According to his theory, "No one religion exhausts the truth, beauty, and power of God. No one religion can capture God."

A student from the class comments, "It's not my choice whether other faiths are wrong or not," she says, "I don't think we'll ever really know."

If he evangelizes at for anything, that's the message Kliever wanted students to hear. "If I have a mission as a professor, it's to make the world safe for diversity," he says.

Some students expressed curiosity about Kliever's religious convictions, which he did not share with the class. But everyone knows he's a devout pluralist. It's a position that Christian students with exclusivist views felt most keenly.

But other students found Dr Kliever a revelation - an obviously spiritual person, informed by the world's great religions yet unfettered by the dogma of any creed."

I had two basic problems with this article. First, Kliever's theories are not surprising. The majority of the academic world in America shares his views. What I find frustrating about them is they seem so neutral and tolerant. The statement about being unfettered by dogma or creed is made to sound wonderful. However, to make the statement that truth in any final sense cannot be known is IN ITSELF A TRUTH CLAIM. Basically he is saying, " the only thing I know for sure is you can know nothing for sure." Me personally I would rather believe the truth is summed in the Shema, "Hear, oh Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." His truth is based on human reason mine on the revelation of Scripture and the teachings of the church.

Rich Mullens a former Christian musician and now a tenor in the celestial choir, got it right when he wrote a song in which he recites the Apostle's Creed and then sings this chorus:

" I believe what I believe, It's what makes me what I am, I did not make it, no it is making me, it is the very truth of God, and not the invention of any man."

Also there is an assumption that someone with such a pluralistic position would be more loving and tolerant. Let me assure you I have run into as many angry, hostile, intolerant, liberal pluralists as biblical fundamentalists. The hypocrisy of his statement, "if I have a mission..." is galling. It is apparent that Kliever is as evangelical about his faith as I am about mine. That is fine but for goodness sakes let's not pretend that being a liberal makes him more tolerant than others.

It saddens me that this notion that "truth is relative" is very typical of our Methodist educational system. You can go to any Methodist college or seminary and this is what you will hear. SMU was so proud of Kliever's pluralism that they placed this article in their magazine. I actually got a letter from Chuck Russell the interim campus minister at SMU who had read the article. He writes, "You might want to mention how classes such as these make it more difficult for evangelical Christian organizations to bring unity within their groups to proclaim the gospel message! At least that has been my experience." Chuck is right, look to at what this pluralistic mush has done to our church.

In the end it comes down to what you believe to be the truth. Many in this pluralistic age think me foolish to believe that Jesus is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. However, at the center of Scripture are Abraham and Sarah, a couple of mad hatters who in a moment of insanity left everything this world values to spend their lives living in a tent, often times in severe depravation, for a hope that was almost too late and a God whose name they did not know. Moses, another nut case, was a son of Abraham and Sarah. He went to Pharaoh smelling of goats and said, " Pharaoh you are rich and powerful and your civilization is the marvel of the world but I am telling you, "I Am" says the Hebrew Children are out of here." Mary was a daughter of Abraham and Sarah when she ignored possible shame and disgrace and said, "I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." Paul was also a son of Abraham and Sarah, a fool, when he stood at the cultural center of the world, and said, "the world has been saved by an executed Jewish peasant carpenter who actually was the Son of God." They were all fools to believe and all I want to be in my own broken way is a fool like them one more nutty little son of Abraham and Sarah.

"And so we follow God's own Fool for only the foolish can tell, to believe the unbelievable, come be a fool as well." Michael Card.

Your Brother,

John Miles.

John Miles is:
  • an Elder in the North Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
  • is currently pastor of Heber Springs United Methodist Church
  • is a graduate of Hendrix College and Perkins School of Theology
  • is on the Board of the Confessing Movement of Arkansas and is active in Walk to Emmaus and Kairos Prison Ministry
  • In 1997 his church won the large church of the year award for the North Arkansas Annual Conference

John Miles also publishes a weekly E-mail newsletter on issues facing the United Methodist Church. If you would like to recieve that E-mail write

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