FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–It “takes a certain amount of courage to inherit the Jewish tradition” of monotheism, said F. Dale Bruner, professor of religion emeritus at Whitworth College, Spokane, Wash., in a series of lectures focused on Jesus’ claim to be the only way to God.
“Religious pluralism is the reigning orthodoxy on most [college] campuses, and you will be felt to be arrogant, bigoted, narrow-minded, chauvinist if you say Jesus Christ is the only way,” Bruner said during the Day-Higginbotham Lectures at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Feb. 3-4.
Religious pluralists, who believe there are many ways of salvation, trumpet their tolerance of all faiths but are intolerant of evangelical Christianity because they “cannot stand Christian exclusivists” or “tolerate anyone who is loyal to their faith,” Bruner said during a Feb. 4 lecture at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary.
Pluralists assert “there can never be just one of anything,” he continued, but he countered that Jewish monotheism says otherwise.
One God “is the theme of Hebrew Scripture,” he said.
The theme of the New Testament, he continued, is one Messiah, Jesus Christ.
But for religious pluralists, “absolute exclusivity in any community is neither honest nor healthy,” he said.
Bruner identified eight theses under which religious pluralism operates:
— God is truly met in Jesus but not only met in Jesus.
— God is really present in Jesus but not fully present in him.
— God did not become a human being but was always a human being.
— There was one Jesus, but there are many Christs.
— The incarnation was not a one-time event but has recurred.
— Christians should have total commitment to Jesus but radical openness to other revelations too.
— In dialoging with others, Christians should hold to their faith but not as the only way.
— Christianity is true for Christians but not true for everyone.
Bruner then asked the audience to consider how a devout Jew or a Muslim would react when confronted with similar statements concerning their beliefs.
“Can the religious pluralists see now how unreasonable their requests are? Religious pluralists are asking us to surrender our religion before we have dialogue,” he said.
But such a conversation would be a “dialogue of the deaf,” he added.
On the other hand, “at the moment one believes faith deeply, one is free to listen to those of other faiths. Assurance leads to the best conversations,” he concluded.
In a Feb. 3 lecture during chapel, Bruner used John 14:1-14 to show Jesus’ claim to be the exclusive way to God, the personal truth of God and the giver of miraculous life from God, a claim, Bruner said, that should bring great comfort to Christians.
The introduction to the passage, Bruner said, has a simple message: “Don’t be anxious people. Don’t let your hearts be so upset. It is not becoming to claim trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father and be a very anxious person.”
Many people reject the comfort of this exclusive statement, opting for the inclusiveness of pluralism, Bruner said.
While there is a sense in which inclusivity can apply, Bruner said, it does not apply to the means of salvation.
“The central truth — we’re forced to it — the earliest confession of the church is ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and that means whatever he does, says, is must be dominant over all that we say, think and do. We are called exclusively to Christ and to no other,” Bruner said.
But, he went on to say, when Christians say, “Jesus is Lord,” they must submit to all of Christ’s teachings, including the teaching that “the exclusive Christ is frequently inclusive.” As an example, Bruner cited, Jesus’ use of the Good Samaritan, “the classic outsider,” in a parable about the ideal human being.
“The vertical beam of the cross must be an absolute place. I am to hold to no other but Christ and preach no one else but him,” Bruner said. “[But] his arms, which go out horizontally like the beams on a cross, are very, very, very wide.”
Bruner also said God can use any agent of conveying the grace in Christ that he chooses. Bruner quoted John Calvin’s statement that “God is not bound to the means of grace, but we are.”
“We are bound to preaching the gospel as the only way of salvation,” Bruner asserted. “God is not bound to those means. It is not true that the only hands and feet God has are ours. God is quite competent. I believe that it is possible for God right now to break the heart of a man on a Tibetan hill, have that man cry out, ‘Dear God, have mercy on me a sinner,’ and for God to apply the blood of Christ to that Tibetan gentleman.”
As the personal truth of God, “Jesus Christ is the human face of God the Father, the invisible God,” Bruner said, referring to Jesus’ statement in verse 7: “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; from now on you know him, and have seen him.”
“Jesus is the autobiography of God,” Bruner said. “God spelled out himself in history in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In Christ, we have God self-explained.”
Christians should also be encouraged that Jesus, the giver of miraculous life from God, said his followers will do greater works than him, Bruner noted.
“Not qualitatively — who can do more than Christ, the Son of God? It’s meant quantitatively,” Bruner explained.
“Through prayer, we can actually get from the Lord Jesus Christ terrific help, and I am supposed to believe that,” he said.
“Lord, bring us to our knees. Make us men and women of prayer,” Bruner said. But he cautioned his audience that the promise of being given anything asked in Jesus’ name carries a qualifier — that the Father may be glorified in the Son.