Get out your red pen; “exclusivism” revised

…for the new Redeemer blog

Redeemer Presbyterian is starting a new blog for Seekers, or those who are considering the claims of Christianity (and other world religions).  They have offered me an opportunity to do some writing. I wrongly supposed I could simply take content from inklingz and allow them to post it on the new blog, but they’ve asked me to trim (that is, massively edit) my work.  Here’s an edit below of Exclusivism that welcomes all. I’m curious to hear if you prefer the shorter version to the original post. Get out your red pens and have at it.

An exclusive invitation for all, revised and revisited

Christianity is unique among world religions because of the unique claims of Jesus Christ. No other religious leader (of a major religion) claimed to be God or promised to destroy death; and followers of no other religion claim its leader’s resurrection. Therefore, I contend that Christianity is either “better” or much worse than all other faiths. I use the word “better” simply because Christianity is based on truth claims that supersede all other truth claims. That is, either Jesus was God and was resurrected from the dead; or not. If not, then Christianity is a farce based on lies; I accept that.  But what if?

I recognize the intellectual problem presented by exclusive truth claims particularly for thoughtful modern people (that is, True Truth or truth that is universally true for all all people at all times–The Lens through which all other truth claims must be viewed). The general form of the argument against True truth is often illustrated with a story about blind men trying to understand the full nature of an elephant. One feels its trunk and believes the elephant is snakelike. Another man feels a leg and thinks the elephant much like a tree. A third man feels the tusks and has quite a different interpretation. Each man understands a part of the elephant, but none of them has the full picture. Such is life, the argument suggests. All any of us can hope to offer is the unique understanding we derive from our experiences, but none of us can understand the full elephant, as it were. That is to say, a person’s truth claim will reflect (only) his limited understanding, but it cannot be the complete picture–it cannot be True Truth.

I’ve found those who make arguments such as these generally have good intentions, often adopting a pluralistic worldview because it seems to be the best way to live at peace with one another in a world with so many views. They perceive explaining away unique truth claims as the most loving, humble and accepting worldview available, but as C.S. Lewis notes in The Abolition of Man:

…you cannot go on “explaining away” forever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. What if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to “see through” first principles [Lewis’ “True truth”]. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see (Chapter 3).

What if there is something to see?

The problem with the elephant argument lies in the question of the teller—for who could tell it? It can only be told by someone who sees the complete elephant. Otherwise, how can the teller know the listener has an incomplete picture? The argument that no truth claim can be the full truth is itself a truth claim of being the full truth! It proclaims that the only thing exclusively true is that nothing is exclusively true. Quite accidentally, this argument actually demonstrates the difficulty of using logic to negate the possibility of True truth. It is built on the notion that there actually is an elephant, even though perhaps no one ‘within’ knows it.

Christians believe the Bible is derived from ‘without’—that is, from One who sees the entire elephant. I would argue this gives them at least a logical footing from which to argue the validity of their truth claim.

If we can agree on the possibility of a True Truth, then I suggest we must evaluate each unique truth claim based on its specific proclamation of truth. Christianity’s claim is that we are all more sinful than we could ever dare imagine (and therefore live in a broken world), but that we are also more loved than we could ever dare hope. It claims that the God of Creation made us to have a relationship with Him but that we rejected him as Lord and worshiped other things instead.  It claims that He came Himself in the person of Jesus Christ to reclaim us—that Jesus’ voluntary death opens the door to a restored relationship with God. It asks only that we acknowledge our need and receive God’s provision. It promises that we will live with God forever in a restored, even glorified, creation—and that in the end, everything sad will come untrue.

Yes, it’s a claim of exclusive Truth, but this Truth welcomes all who confess its veracity—it’s an invitation more than anything else. It excludes only those who exclude themselves. And even in that case, it makes it clear that Christians should love and serve those who reject its claims (and one another) in humility. In actuality, I believe this is the most loving, humble and accepting worldview available and it does not ignore the elephant in the room.

I think logic itself compels us to think carefully about rejecting the possibility of True Truth. If it’s even remotely possible one exists, Christ’s invitation is surely one we should all consider.


I will add link to Redeemer’s blog once it is launched in the Fall.

Check out the new visitor map on the Community page.  Cool, huh? I think the internet is going to be BIG.

  1. Gazing with Angels | inklingz - pingback on 2012/04/12 at 10:25 am

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