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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Strange and Exclusive Claims of Christ

The Exclusivity of Christianity: The Best and the Worst Thing Going

It would seem that the exclusive nature of Christianity would be a very unpopular subject these days. By “exclusive” I simply mean that Christianity is founded upon the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ. There is probably no better example of these exclusive claims that the “Exclusive Manifesto,” if you will, found in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.”

But the Postmodern denies such absolutes and such universals. How can we speak of “one common path to salvation” or of “a universal human need.” To do so would be to deny the uniqueness of the individual as he is molded and is in the process of molding his particular cultural or social setting. Hence religion is not a statement of beliefs that is judged in terms of its truth or falsity for all people at all times. Rather, it is the narrative of a particular group of people at a particular time dealing with very specific challenges and opportunities, or, conversely, a lack of challenges or a lack of opportunities. Hence, any claim that a man can provide for all people at all times the one and true way of life and the only way to be reconciled to God seems very strange indeed.

The exclusive claims of Christianity are based upon a universal need…But is there really such a universal need? In Modernity there was a fight for the “universal.” But perhaps that is a fight best surrendered. Perhaps we should be focusing upon those with whom our horizons collide. This is in line with the claims of Postmodernity that truth is found in the intersection of the subject, the object, and the narrative. Since we cannot conceive of the subject or object apart from the narrative, then maybe Christianity should focus less upon the “universal need” or the “exclusive Christ” and more upon the Salvation story. Those who would join the community of faith would be those who find within themselves a compelling need to enter into the narrative of personal redemption and restoration, individual and community worship, and the fellowship of likeminded believers to which the writers of Scripture, in various ways, all attest to.
The point made here, then, is to be exclusive in claims and philosophy, but not to the extent that we try to fit all of humanity into the same mold. Each person is different – mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and even spiritually – can we really say that every person has a “God shaped hole”? Does Scripture, itself, say that everyone has a “God shaped hole”? Or does Scripture merely call all of those who would come to Christ to surrender their lives (Luke 9:23-26), lay their burdens down (Matthew 11:28-30), and join the Church of Christ (Galatians 6:3). Those who would not come to Christ have exercised their prerogative to reject Him. It seems the Scriptures seem to repeatedly emphasize the responsibility that each person has to either accept or reject the strange and exclusive claims of Christ.

Nonetheless, the truth-claims of Christ are still strange and cut across the grain of our culture. Yet, my suggestion is that the starting point must not be to compromise them for sake of their strangeness, but that somehow within their very strangeness there is power: power to heal, power to restore, power to hope, and newness of life. The strange and exclusive truth-claims of Christianity really are the best and worst thing going for us. The apostle Paul clearly recognized the strangeness of Christ’s claims within the cultural, theological and philosophical setting of his day and speaks of the “foolishness” of the message of Christ crucified in I Corinthians chapter one and two. Yet he seems to come back to the point that it is this message – the living and breathing faith in this message – that holds Divine power:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but
to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

In other words, the message strange, but it is through struggling through the fog of this message that we encounter God and his church. And when we encounter God and his church we find a life changing power for authentic existence.

But this does not alleviate the difficulty we encounter in communicating this message. Through all this we must translate this strange message to a world that increasingly finds it harder and harder to even take seriously an exclusive truth claim so outrageous so as to say, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” What reference point does the postmodern “purist” have to even begin to process an exclusive truth claim of this magnitude? The Modernist would establish “criteria” and “tests” for truth. But what do you say to those who reject tests of truth almost entirely and do not seek to pass any judgment on the “truth,” “falsity,” or the “rightness” or “wrongness” of any religion?

To this I have no easy answer. Nor do I have a list of “good suggestions” in the fashion of the Modern era where, perhaps, I develop a nifty acronym or memorable catch phrase. But I do think that God is calling people to newness of life. And I do think that God is building his kingdom. Further, I know from first-hand experience that God is still using the community of the church to reach the lives of people in need. And, yes, I do think that there are people with deeply spiritual needs. And, yes, I still think that Jesus is the answer. But how this looks for each person; that is the thing that I do not know. And neither can I reveal the magic formula for evangelism. I think a lot of it takes place at the grass roots level – it is the hard work of building a church community that seeks to ask hard questions of themselves and reaches both inward and outward to display the genuine love of Christ. After all, “they will know that we are Christians by our love.” (John 13:34-35)