Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Christianity, the Exclusive Faith: A Response to Rob Bell's Chapter, "There Are Rocks Everywhere"

“Jesus is supracultural. He is present within all cultures, and yet outside of all cultures.

He is for all people, and yet he refuses to be co-opted or owned by any one cultures.

That includes any Christian culture...we can point to him, name him, follow him, discuss him, honor him, and believe in him---but we cannot claim him to be ours any more than he’s anyone else’s [Rob Bell, “There are Rocks Everywhere,” from Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 151-152].

I realize that today’s post could easily be written in anger, attacking certain new works in the bookwriting market. I could easily claim that I hold to an exclusivist theology of religions (which I do) and that I have very little tolerance for other beliefs...but what good would such an approach do? How would it help those who see world religions from a different perspective than myself?

In this post, I desire to demonstrate (humbly, I emphasize) that, while Christ does come for the world, no one can receive the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection without believing in Him. And to confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in His work on the cross is the teaching espoused only by Christianity. It makes sense then, that, if one is to follow Christ, that one must become a Christian (a word which means “follower of Jesus Christ”).

First, Christ does come for the world. I could point to a myriad of verses for this one, but a few will do. John 3:16 tells us that God gave His Son because He “so loved the world.” John 3:17 tells us that God sent His Son “so that the world might be saved.” In 2 Corinthians 5 we read that in Christ, “God was reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). 1 John 2:2 tells us that Christ is the propitiation (the atoning sacrifice) for not only the sins of the believer, but “the sins of the whole world.” And John first calls Jesus the Lamb of God in John 1, where he cries out, “Behold! the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, NKJV) The biblical warrant is there as proof that Christ loves the entire world---this includes Buddhists, Confucians, Hindus, Muslims, atheists, and Christians alike. God loves the Buddhist and Mormon as much as He loves the Christian, the one who has already accepted and received the benefits of His atonement.

Yet, despite God’s love for the world, God also has standards. God has a divine standard for the nations, one that cannot be broken. The same God that gave His Son because He “so loved the world” (John 3:16) is the same God that also spoke, “He that believes not is condemned already, because He has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” [that is, Jesus Christ] (John 3:18). In the incarnation of Jesus, God the Father (Yahweh) revealed His love for the world. His love, His grace, is seen in His law, His rule for salvation. God’s love then, cannot operate apart from Jesus (since grace came through Jesus Christ, see John 1:17). Outside of Jesus, there is neither grace nor hope for humanity.

Now, Rob Bell would probably agree that outside of Christ there is no hope for humanity. As he writes in his quick exposition of John 14:6,

“What he [Jesus] doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him. He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and restore the world is happening through him” (Rob Bell, Love Wins, 154).

Bell says in this last quote that the redemption of the world takes place because of Christ’s death and resurrection. Regardless of the statements I’ve heard made about Rob Bell, this is true, and every Christian should affirm the statement that redemption of humanity only occurs because of Christ.

With that said, though, I would have to disagree with Bell that those who come to Christ will not necessarily be aware or cognizant of the fact. This, however, is a statement made of virtually all inclusivists. Take Clark Pinnock for instance: at least twice in his book A Wideness in God’s Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions, Pinnock claims that “God cares about faith, not the content of one’s theology” (see the book review on Pinnock in my section on “Academic Papers”). Yet, as I said there (and will say again here), God does care about theological content. If Hebrews 11:6 means anything, one must not only believe that God exists...he or she must also believe that the Lord rewards those who “diligently seek Him.” To diligently seek something is to be aware of it. One does not search thoroughly for something that he or she did not know was lost.

Cognizance or awareness or consciousness of theology must exist; for one’s conception of God will result in the type of God one serves. One’s theology will dictate one’s lifestyle. If we take Bell’s words as true, one will not “diligently seek” God because one will not know that such a God exists. If a student is not aware of the rules of the classroom, such a student cannot govern himself or herself by rules that are “invisible” and unknown to them. If one does not know that God promises to reward diligent work for the kingdom, one will not seek God. Sadly enough, Bell also points out the popular notion of “Once Saved, Always Saved,” where individuals are saved despite their wayward lifestyles (the view propagates this belief). Bell is right to attack the popular notion of salvation. This notion of salvation is extremely unbiblical and harmful to the church; nevertheless, it is based on theological ignorance. Many individuals live their lives according to this popular notion of salvation because they do not know the true God of the Bible. Their ignorance in theological matters (matters of Scripture) results in incorrect living. Heterodoxy (wrong doctrine) will lead to heteropraxy (wrong practice).

Which comes back to a point that directly relates to Bell’s quote at hand. One must receive Christ as Lord and Savior and make public confession for salvation. And to do that, one has to know the words of Jesus and heed them. But, how does this take place if one does not know them? One cannot heed the words of Christ if he or she does not know them. And one will not obey Christ if one does not submit his or her life to God to do with as He pleases. This explains the state of those in other world religions: the world religions flourish as such because this is expected. Religion that is not built upon the words of Christ will look similar to the other world religions. While Bell desires to deny Christianity any monopoly on Christ, Christianity is the ONLY world faith that is built around the words, sayings, and deeds of Jesus Christ. After all, did Christ not tell the apostles, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20)?

Christianity is built upon the words of Matthew 28:19-20---that is, the doctrine of the Christian faith is built upon the teachings of Jesus Christ Himself. What other world religion can make this claim? Sure, many world religions can claim “similarities” to the Christian faith, but how many can claim “equivalence” (that is, that they teach the same doctrines as Christianity)? None. Not a single one. And this is where the exclusivity of the Christian faith shines through. It is only in the Christian faith that one can find what Jesus did, who He was, what He said, and how He lived. Only Christianity contains the most specific details about the Savior of the world.

And Christianity contains such details because its very name, “Christianity,” was given meaning over 2000 years ago by one named “Jesus Christ,” for whom the faith itself is named.

Does Jesus transcend every culture? You bet. But claiming that Jesus transcends culture is very different from saying that Jesus is beyond varying religious beliefs and that one can simply believe anything and be okay. Christianity is not just American, nor has it ever been “only American.” The faith itself started with 12 apostles whom Jesus Himself chose, Jews who were of common estate, to be His messengers of His death and resurrection throughout the entire world. Because Christianity started with Jews and not Americans, American Christians are all too convinced that Christianity is not just an “American” faith, but a “World” faith...and evangelism is just one of the many ways we show that we desire, like Christ, that the world would come to know its Savior. God bless.


The Seeking Disciple said...

Great to see you back posting.

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


Thanks so much for your comment.

It has been a while since I've been to the blog, but I am gonna try to get back this summer as much as possible. I've got some announcements to make to update the blog readership since graduation last friday. Stick around: you should see a new post published anywhere between the next 1-3 hrs. It's a blessing to know that I have your support in the blogging world. Whatever work is achieved here, as always, the Lord gets the glory. Continue praying for me.