In this series’ first three posts I tried to show that Christian teachers apologists must take seriously the moral question, and not just the truth question, of Christian exclusivism. Otherwise when we ask people to believe Christ is the one way, many will take it that we’re asking them to accept something they consider morally unworthy to believe. The key message to emphasize is that it’s not our private truth: we don’t hold the truth, the Truth holds us. Our exclusivist stance is not exclusively ours, at any rate; we are not the only ones who say, “Your belief is wrong!” Anyone who understands what the Christian message says must hold that if it is not exclusively true, it is entirely wrong—on account of the cross of Christ.
Meanwhile Sarah Flashing has written on a related subject, emphasizing that truth is not some wishy-washy feel-good thing to adapt to our own preferences; truth is what it is on God’s terms. This struck me as especially brilliant:
Some try to reimage the gospel in the name of Christianity, holding that a truly loving God demonstrates love, not through the sacrifice of his Son but through the sacrifice of truth. This is expressed by God through intellectual generosity in the form of tolerance for religious and moral diversity…. Sadly, this Jesus does not call anyone to repentance and makes a mockery of the cross. This is a reimaged Jesus not found in the pages of scripture.
Christian exclusivism is true because it is true. It is moral because it is true; and because God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus Christ is the one way God provided.
There was someone close to me who was antagonistic toward Christ and Christianity for most of his adult life. He and his wife chose to be non-exclusive in their religious approach, raising their children “in all the traditions,” as he put it. He finally came to faith in Christ in his mid-40s. He told me then that he had always wondered why God would put up Christ as a barrier to coming to God, as if believing in Jesus was one more hoop everyone had to jump through. Then he realized that Christ came to remove all the barriers. The fences and walls were already up, and it was we who put them there. It was Christ’s work that took them out of the way.
I have been asked,
What I’ve heard people voice concerns about are the *actions* that often flow toward those outside the circle. How do the saved treat the sinners, for instance? How does the conservative evangelical treat the same sex couple, for instance? Is it with compassion, grace, and love? Sometimes. Is it with contempt, disgust, short temperedness, quick to find fault, and so on? Sometimes. So, the actions that are justified in the name of the exclusive “truth that holds us” is often the problem, not so much the belief itself. (Source: comment 8 here.)
It is a good point. Now, the way we treat others has no bearing on the truth or falsehood, or the intrinsic morality, of Christ’s being the only way to God; and yet Christians can still misuse the exclusive truth of Christianity to excuse unloving behavior. Do we through our actions fence certain people off from God’s love? Or do we offer them the same love that led Christ to remove those barriers for us and for them?
We can’t pull down these walls by making adjustments in the truth. (The rest of the paragraph I quoted from Sarah is very relevant to this. Her whole article is, in fact.) The Truth that holds us is what it is, and it’s not for us to size it to suit ourselves or anyone. No, the way to overcome barriers is to be held even more closely by the Truth, both in its propositional form and as it is embodied in Jesus Christ. The greatest apostle of all time considered himself the chief of sinners. If that is true, can we regard ourselves as superior to anyone? We—not they, but we—were yet enemies when Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-11). By his sacrificial death, Jesus showed his radical love for sinners—not them, but us.
Those who think they hold the truth may think they can hold their noses around others. Those who know we are held by the Truth know that Christ has cleansed us of our own foulness.
Through practice we can grow to love with grace and compassion, without compromising God’s truth. Jesus was the great model: he was the greatest friend of sinners, and the greatest enemy of all falsehood and deception. He nurtured every step toward truth, yet challenged every uprising of falsehood.
He drew people in, never forcing anyone to follow. The invitation he gave was ever and always to the one feast that he alone is hosting (Isaiah 25:6-9, Revelation 19:7-9). I said earlier that some people seem to think reality offers us a kind of menu of spiritual options to choose from. In fact there is no restaurant at the end of the universe. There is something far better instead: the banquet to come with the Lord of all. Everyone is invited to this table—there’s plenty of room for all! Not everyone will accept, however, (Matthew 22:1-14). All who come must come on the same terms, by way of Jesus Christ.
How could it be immoral for Christians to call everyone to this one great feast? Conversely, how could it be moral to cooperate with the lie that there is no such feast, or that there might be something else like it somewhere else? Christian exclusivism, rightly understood and practiced with grace and compassion, is an expression of genuine love.
Part of a series: