Godly Jealousy & Religious Pluralism in Contemporary Culture

God’s jealousy is one of the most neglected attributes of God in contemporary Christianity. Yet the God whom Christians say they trust is the God who is not only “love” (1 John 4:8), but whose very name is “Jealous” (Exodus 34:14). In a pluralistic world the jealousy of God  must be explicitly reaffirmed by the Christian church if it is to keep its prophetic edge and if it is to honor the deep covenantal contours of God’s love. According to missiologist Lesslie Newbign, religious pluralism is, “The belief that differences between religions are not a matter of truth and falsehood, but of different perceptions of the one truth; that to speak of religious belief as true or false is inadmissible. Religious belief is a private matter” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 14). Christians need to lovingly recapture the righteous conviction of godly jealousy as it engages with this kind of religious pluralism.

God’s jealousy is one of the most neglected attributes of God in contemporary Christianity.

K. Erik Thoennes impassioned comments on this topic, in his excellent book, Godly Jealousy: A Theology of Intolerant Love, are worth quoting at length:

How then should a Christian respond to invitations to partake of religions that fall outisde of the bounds of the historic Christian faith of the Bible? The jealousy of God affirms and demonstrates his personal and relational nature that must be denied if pluralism is embraced. His jealousy shows that he is not the impersonal force that we only call ‘the real’, but rather it shows that he is the personal, loving, jealous God of the covenant. Although today’s culture often sees tolerance as the highest virtue, ‘[n]o relgions claiming possession of a divine revelation can afford to be tolerant.’

…If one takes the marriage metaphor at the heart of the covenant seriously, the encouragement of the pluralist to alter the Christian message by the influence of other religions is an encouragement to harlotry. It is to suggest that a wife can love her husband equally effectively in the bed of another lover. The pluralist notion suggests that believers commit adultery, and then tell their jealous and angry husband that when they were making love to that other lover, they were really making love to him. The bride must stay chaste for her groom. If not, God reacts with angry jealousy…

When religious devotion is left in the realm of philosophical ideas and ethical concepts, openness to and experimentation with other religions seem obvious and potentially fruitful avenues. But when religious devotion involves an intimate love relationship with a jealous personal God, openness to, and experimentation with other religions are nothing short of playing the harlot. (p. 250, 251, 252)

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