Thursday, March 31, 2011

Is There Only One Way to God?

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Probably the most offensive thing about the Gospel today is its “exclusivism” – that the Gospel excludes all other ways to God! During an Oprah broadcast, one woman charged that Christ is the only Way! Oprah responded, “I don’t see how there can be only one way!” (Rough Quote)

She might not have realized it, but she was plugging into a massive worldview debate – exclusivism/particularism (E/P) versus inclusivism/universalism (I/U). While the first position tends to define reality by particulars – particular people, truths, and places – the latter (I/U) places the emphasis on universal laws, morals, and the family of all humanity (sometimes even inclusive of all living things). In today’s culture, I/U has received such broad acceptance that the particularists cringe when we express our belief that salvation is through Christ and not through Buddha. In contrast, I/U usually asserts that there are an unlimited number of roads to salvation, the oneness of all humanity, and equal justice for all (although the fetus and the elderly are silently left out of this equation).

The predominance of I/U has been a long time in coming, and today it has become a philosophical tsunami within Western culture. Many trace this tsunami back to the Enlightenment. The devout Isaac Newton discovered that our universe operated according to universal laws. The philosopher J.K.S. Reid wrote (although this was never Newton’s intention):

• The physical universe could now be conceived independently without reference to a spiritual order outside it….The whole thing could quite well be construed as an intelligently designed machine. (Christian Apologetics)

However, as the enlightenment picked up speed, the inclusive universal laws began to be favored over the exclusive particulars of Christian revelation. Consequently, the philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) wrote,

• The role of revelation can be no more than very limited. It can offer nothing that is contrary to reason. (Reid)

Science and I/U were becoming more authoritative than Scripture. In response, many defenders of the Christian faith responded that Scripture is no less authoritative than science, and it is not contrary to reason, even if some of what has been revealed goes beyond our understanding. However, the tsunami continued to gain strength. Matthew Tindal (1655-1733) proclaimed,

• Nothing [beyond reason] can be requisite to discover true Christianity…to admit nothing to belong to it except what our reason tells us to be worthy of having God for its author.

According to Tindal, reason, apart from Scripture, was now the ultimate arbiter of truth. Why such a dogmatic position? Since the physical world could now be understood in terms of impressive universal physical laws, the moral/spiritual world shouldn’t be any different! To have any authority, Christianity’s moral claims had to conform to the methods and nature of science.

A new religion – Deism – was created by the “enlightened,” based upon these “insights.” Although God had created the world, He now governed it by universal laws. There was no need for particular miraculous interventions. He had wound the clock and was now merely sitting back to watch the hands move.

Many of our Founding Fathers embraced Deism. Thomas Jefferson famously created his Jefferson Bible by eliminating the particulars – the miracles – which didn’t fit into his Deist orthodoxy.

Riding the wave of the tsunami, the skeptical philosopher David Hume argued that even if miracles did occur, they would be impossible to prove:

• We may establish it as a maxim that no human testimony can have such a force as to prove a miracle…I say that a miracle can never be proved so as to be the foundation of a system of religion. (Reid)

For Hume, the universal and repeatable would always take precedence over the anomalous particulars. Consequently, the particulars of Christian revelation had been banished to the inferior world of faith. According to R.C. Sproul, the philosopher Emmanuel Kant put the final nail into the Christian coffin of revealed particulars, expelling Christianity from its dominant position within the university:

• Kant tried to demonstrate…that it is impossible to know God intellectually or to prove His being. While it has always been realized that humankind could not comprehend God fully, Kant was saying that humans can’t know Him, even partially. (Classical Apologetics)

Consequently, the particular and “unprovable” truths of Christianity were further expelled from the domain of “fact” to the blind and uncertain domain of “faith.” The broad acceptance of Kantian thought meant that I/U would further dominate E/P, the certain over the uncertain. As light dominates the darkness, what is certain will always dominate the uncertain. As a result, science and its testable and measurable universal laws had now attained preeminence over the intellectual life of the West.

Of course, Christians countered that the historical and theological assertions of the Bible are just as much a matter of fact as are the findings of science, but the West had already been won by the Enlightenment and its I/U worldview. The implications of this shift have been leavening Western thought ever since.

Even within the church, it often seems to predominate. Recently, in an interview, Emergent Church guru, Brain McLaren, censured the church for its “Christian elitism.” According to enlightenment I/U thinking, there should be no room for exclusive truth claims about one way, one man and His crucifixion. Consequently, I/U is a message that seems to be increasingly more appealing, especially among the younger generation, among whom I/U has been strenuously pushed.

For these youth, any assertion of E/P – “we’re in and you’re out” – smacks of elitism, pomposity, and detestable privilege. Any mention of the “saved” and “unsaved” is utterly offensive. Particularistic reasoning has been increasingly discarded from any question of human rights. For example, convicted prisoners should have the same rights as anyone else. Children should have the same liberties as their parents. Gay couples should have the same rights to marry as have heterosexual couples. In such a cultural climate, Christianity is either automatically ruled out or modified in a way acceptable to I/U.

However, E/P and I/U aren’t mutually exclusive.
They can and must abide together. The particulars must embrace the universals. Ironically, it is the Biblical revelation that provided the necessary basis for the moral universals (and even the scientific universals), asserting that we have inestimable value because we’re created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The notion of human equality is not, nor can it be, the product of reason and science. By virtue of observations and measurements, humans are very different. Some make positive contributions; some make negative. Even when we regard humanity according to their most prominent characteristics – intelligence, creativity, and morality – some animals have more of these than do some humans. Some animals are more intelligent than newborn babies and certainly more capable. Should they therefore be valued more than humans? If the Bible is not received as the revelation of God, there is no compelling reason why this shouldn’t be the case.

E/P is also a fundamental and inseparable part of humanity and life. We marry one wife, not everyone. Our commitment is to one woman and not all. Our children are ours and not the property of the State or the world. We have primary responsibility for them.

To try to impose universals where particulars have their domain is to violate reality. I lived in Israel for two years and resided in a number of Kibbutzim of the radical Hashomer Hatziar movement. These are collective, socialistic communities. I was surprised to find out that some of the older communities had practiced a radical form of socialism at their beginnings. They believed that marriage was an illegitimate form of ownership. A woman shouldn’t be the exclusive property of any one man. Likewise, the children shouldn’t be any more the property of the couple who sired them but of the community. However, in no case did this experiment survive. The reality of particularism (E/P) was simply too much to overcome. This has also been the experience of the many communes that have arisen in the West.

It should also be noted that, from a Biblical perspective, it is the particularism of exclusive relationships that birth universals and inclusiveness. It is our relationship with our Savior that enables us to embrace those further away, starting with our responsibilities to our parents, children and church, but then reaching beyond them. It is because I value my particular circumstances that I can empathize with those of others. It is the particularism of Scripture that gives us the universal of the essential equality of all humankind before God.

In fact, you can’t have universals without particulars. For the Abrahamic religions, it starts with the one particular – God. And then, while all humanity fell because of the first man, humanity will be saved through another Person (1 Cor. 15:21-22). Further, it is by virtue of our relationship with the Particular that we can and should embrace all people as our “neighbors.” Children arise from particular relationships, not abstract universal, inclusive principles.

For the naturalists, it starts with a particular explosion from a singularity, and they continue to attempt to find the one principle or formula that will unite all else.

God also starts relationally and personally with selected particular people and, from there, works outward in an I/U direction. He chose Israel, but this was also in anticipation of His outreach to the Gentile nations. He then individually chose those of His church, but instructed them to,

• …go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
(Matthew 28:19-20)

What is the matter if there is only one way? Oprah rejects this idea in favor of multiple ways. Many dogmatically insist that I/U is the only possible ideal. Is this insistence the product of reason or a worldview tsunami?

In contrast, the Biblical genius is that it starts with a particular relationship and proceeds out from there. Jesus is the light of the world, and so we too must take that light out into the world:

• Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
(Matthew 16:24)

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