Tag Archives: Exclusive truth

Exclusivism that welcomes all

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. –Matthew 11:29-30

I have given a lot of thought recently to what makes Christianity unique among the religions to which it is often compared.  I think the answer hangs on the exclusive claims that Jesus Christ made about who he was and why he was on earth.  No other religious leader (of any major faith) claimed to be God.  No other religious leader promised to destroy death; followers of no other religion claim its leader’s resurrection.  So I contend that Christianity is either “better” or much worse than all other faiths.  I use the word “better” simply because Christianity makes a claim of unique truth that (if valid) supersedes all other truth claims.  That is, either Jesus was in fact God and was in fact resurrected from the dead, or he was not God and/or was not raised from the dead.  If the latter is true (in either variation), Christianity is a farce based on lies.  I accept that.  But if the former is true, it has far reaching implications. I believe the most important question a man must answer in his life is whether or not Jesus’ exclusive claims have been borne out by history (recommended reading on the historical validity of the Biblical accounts: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses – Richard Bauckham).

I recognize the intellectual problem presented by exclusive truth claims (such as this), particularly for thoughtful modern people.  The notion of unique, exclusive or True Truth is often perceived to be dangerous and/or obtuse and naïve.  I’d like to try to respond to those criticisms in the hopes that we can consider the nature of the Christian Truth claims and what they might mean for our lives.

Admittedly, history has demonstrated that exclusive truth claims can be dangerous.  The Crusades—designed to propagate Christianity’s unique truth claims—are not a bright spot in the history of that faith; just as the September 2001 terror attacks did not do much to mollify the world regarding the nature of Islam’s unique truth claims.  Sadly, many other horrifying examples can be cited, but misuse of truth does not negate a truth in itself—and I think it unfair to reject the thing itself before we even consider its claims. An exclusive truth claim can undoubtedly be dangerous, but it depends on the nature of the Truth it claims.

As for the obtuse and naïve nature of unique truth claims, I quite disagree with modern prevailing wisdom.  The general form of the argument against exclusive truth claims is often illustrated with a story about blind men trying to understand the full nature of an elephant they come to meet.  One feels its trunk and believes the elephant is soft and agile, perhaps snakelike.  Another man feels a leg and thinks the elephant much like a tree.  Still third man, feels a tusk and has quite a different interpretation of what the elephant is.  Each man understands a part of the elephant, but none of them has the full picture.  Such is life, the illustration suggests.  All any of us can hope to bring to the table is the unique piece of understanding we can derive from our experience, but none of us can understand the full elephant, as it were.  That is to say, yours or my unique truth claim will reflect yours or my limited understanding, but it cannot be the complete picture.  The problem with this argument (which admittedly comes in various forms) lies in the question of who is telling it.  After all, who could tell it? It can only be told by someone who sees the complete elephant.  Otherwise, how can the teller know that any individual has an incomplete picture?  In other words, the argument that no truth claim can be the full truth is itself a truth claim of being the full truth!
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