EDITOR’S NOTE: This column by Mike Licona of the North American Mission Board is the third column in a four-part series on the exclusivity of Christianity.
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–In the first column in this series I said that we can come to terms with Jesus’ claims to being the only way by answering three rudimentary questions. In yesterday’s column we looked at the first question, “what is truth?” Today we will take a look at the second question: What is ethical?
Any Western Christian who has shared his/her faith with others understands that claiming Jesus is the only way can be perceived as being intolerant of and offensive to others. A few years ago I had a public discussion with a Muslim professor on a university campus. The morning of the event, the moderator informed me that the Muslim professor had just called and said he would not participate unless I agreed not to offer any criticism of Islam. I was shocked but agreed.
During my speech that evening I shared that I was a Christian today because I had investigated Christianity historically and discovered that Jesus’ claims to deity, His death by crucifixion and His resurrection could all be confirmed by historical research. During the Q&A period one of the audience members asked me why the Muslim professor and I hated one another. Now, we had been very collegial to each other during the evening’s event. So, I responded that I did not hate him and did not sense that he hated me. I added that if I were to claim that his views were equally valid or true as my own, he would not respect me and I would not respect him if he were to say the same to me. I added that such a comment would be rather insulting, since both of us are strongly persuaded that our own religious tradition is true to the exclusion of the other. Accordingly, if I were to assert that the Muslim view is as valid as the Christian view, he would understand my comment as a demotion of Islam. I ended by stating that it is certainly possible for us to disagree in the strongest sense with the other’s cherished views while acknowledging and even defending the other’s right to have them.
The point I want to make is this: When someone claims that my belief that Jesus is the only way is intolerant and offensive, they ignore the fact that their pluralist approach is likewise intolerant and offensive. They are being intolerant of exclusivist views and offensive to those who hold them.
Amy-Jill Levine is a professor of New Testament studies at Vanderbilt University and is Jewish. Professor Levine opines that the Christian claim that Jesus is the only way is not morally dubious. She writes, “What I would find more ‘morally dubious’ is my insisting to another that his or her reading or presuppositions, because they are not pluralistic, are somehow wrong…. The evangelical Christian should be free to try to seek to convert me to Christianity: such an attempt is biblically warranted and consistent with evangelical (exclusivist) theology. I remain free to say ‘thank you, but no thanks.’ I would not want someone telling me that my ‘cherished confessional traditions’ have only limited value. I would not presume to do the same to another.”
Moreover, there are times when truth should not be sacrificed for the sake of avoiding offense. While the Titanic was sinking, since lifeboats were available, it would have been unethical for the crew of the Titanic, in the interest of reducing panic for the moment, to have told all of the passengers to go back to their cabins and sleep through the night because everything would be fine in the morning. Truth is important. Decisions of greater importance should drive us to discover the truth, rather than dilute or deny it in our efforts not to offend, which as we have seen is a no-win situation.
However, when sharing our faith with others, Christians should remember to do it “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). We should love others and be graceful in our efforts to share the greatest news ever told.
Mike Licona is coordinator of interfaith and apologetics at the North American Mission Board. For a better understanding of today’s world religions and for resources that will help you defend your faith, visit NAMB’s apologetics website at www.4truth.net