Thursday, October 19, 2006

Is Christianity arrogantly exclusive?

I've been asked to give a lunchbar on the above title, and it's something which is commonly thrown as an objection to Christianity. Here are some thoughts that I've had in preparing:

1. Sometimes Christians have been arrogant. This is true historically, but I can think of occasions in my own life, too, where I've given the impression that God has forgiven me because I've somehow caught his eye through being great. However, the gospel says that Christians have nothing to be proud or arrogant about themselves. Christians are not always the powerful and loving witness that they should be. And, even when truthful, they do not always present the truths of the gospel with 'gentleness and respect' [see 1 Peter 3:15].

2. Jesus' claims really were unique. The Bible's claim is that Jesus alone can provide the way to God [John 14:6, Acts 4:12 etc] because only his death can deal with sin, human rebellion against God. Jesus is not being arbitrary or unnecessarily condemning in saying this - but he is putting forward his death as a real solution to our real problem.

3. Jesus' unique claims account for some so-called Christian 'arrogance'. As I've said, sometimes Christians really are arrogant, when they have forgotten the truths of the gospel themselves. However, sometimes Christians are labelled as arrogant merely for appealing to Biblical claims. For instance, when a Christian says someone is 'sinful', they are not making a character judgement. Rather, they are saying that that person, along with themselves and the rest of humanity, has rebelled against God and desperately needs to be forgiven.

4. It is not arrogant to say that Jesus is the only way. Claims to the truth may be arrogant but are not necessarily so. Suppose a researcher claims to have discovered a cure for AIDS and says that no other treatments work. Is that necessarily arrogant? There are two possibilities: one is that he or she announces the breakthrough in a manner which is arrogant. He or she puts down the work of other researchers, highlighting their own brilliance, and so on. This would be unpleasant, it would be arrogant. However, it would still not affect the second issue: the question of whether she was actually correct in claiming to have found a cure for AIDS. The claim itself is neither arrogant nor humble. Those categories are irrelevant: the only appropriate question is whether the claim is true. The claim to have found ‘the truth’ is not arrogant or humble per se. We make truth claims all the time in everyday life, and Jesus’ claims are claims which should not be ruled out of court without first checking their truth status.

5. If Jesus' claims are true, other claims are false. If Christianity is true, then other claims to truth are false. People holding to these beliefs might be sincerely wrong, but wrong nonetheless. Tolerance is often an admirable virtue, but tolerating wrong things by refusing to call them wrong is wrong and unloving. If Christianity is true, then other religions and teachings that deny this are not merely alternate forms of spiritual expression, but they are offering false hope. If Jesus is in fact the only way to God, then to claim that he's not is both false and dangerous for other people. As Christians, we are gently and respectfully to point people to Jesus instead.

6. Christianity is amazingly inclusive. Because the way into the kingdom of God comes through admitting the fact that we have no rightful place there, the claims about Jesus' death bringing forgiveness is open to everybody - regardless of skin colour, nationality, language, gender or any other social distinction. This is because salvation comes not because of anything we have achieved ourselves, but because of the work of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. This means that heaven will be an incredible cosmopolitan place - see Revelation 7:9! It also means that, as Christians, we have nothing to be arrogant about. As Paul says, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord."


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