exclusivism

Our shrinking global village is often cited as a major reason for the rise of universalism, pluralism, and inclusivism in the evangelical church. Technology and transportation have made us more aware of other people and other religions, and so we’re less inclined to think that believing in Jesus is the only way to salvation. This argument sounds plausible, until you realize that the first century Roman empire was also quite diverse. Then it just seems like an excuse.

Peter, John, and Paul were religious outliers. They considered almost everyone else to be a spiritual “other,” and yet they didn’t sway in their proclamation of the gospel, but told as many people as they could that salvation only came by believing in Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:13-15).

Consider 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16. Paul says that the Jews “displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.” Even though Paul is not trying to make the point, he is assuming that exclusivism is true. Unless he speaks the gospel to the Gentiles, they will not be saved. Paul said this in a pluralistic culture, in which he was decidedly the other. Most everyone he met believed differently, and yet he did not change his beliefs to fit in.

The pluralism that accompanies our shrinking global village may provide an incentive to relinquish soteriological exclusivism, but it’s not the deciding factor. If we could ask the apostles why many of us no longer believe like them, I suspect they would say we suffer from a lack of courage.

4 Comments

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  1. Mike,

    It’s true that Peter, Paul, and John believed in exclusivism, but weren’t they bound to a first century, Platonic, Hellenistic worldview that flattened Scripture and reinterpreted Jesus through Caesar? They didn’t have the benefit of reading Scripture as a community library through the lens of deconstructionism and multicultural conversation. I mean, they hadn’t even read Sartre or Heidegger or Wittgenstein.

    (Sorry, I couldn’t find my sarcasm font.)

  2. Yeah its not like they interacted with other religions or something…oops they did.
    I am sure that if only Jesus had gotten the Maclaren/Bell memos, he would have retracted that whole Matt 28 thing, and reframed the discussion where it needs to go, you know where Saint Hegel and Saint Marx pointed.
    And of course those other fightin fundy types – Derrida, Barthes, Foucoult, they showed us all the way to go.
    Gosh it seems like heaven is going to look just like – here. Ugh.

  3. These are good insights, Gary and Bill. The point which I think the author tries to make, although clumsily and with Paterno in the wrong generation, is that the Boomers inherited great wealth and squandered all of it. They spent all of their parents’ money, their own money, and then their children’s money. And now they expect their grandchildren to support them in their old age. I suspect that young people are not going to take this for too much longer.

  4. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that last comment was supposed to be for the “intergenerational warfare” post.
    @ John Shelley: You forgot to mention that Jesus lived in that period as well. Which means that if he intended to teach inclusivism, he must not have been all that good of a teacher. (I’m just pointing out another weakness of such the viewpoint you’re satirizing). And if ever you find yourself unable to find your sarcasm font, the [/sarcasm] tag works just as well.
    As for the original post, I could be wrong about this, but it seems that the plurality of ancient times was more of a contest of competing exclusive claims, whereas today, plurality seems more and more to mean that all truth claims are equally true. IOW, instead of “I’m right, you’re wrong, but it’s just not important enough to fight over”, now it’s “I’m right. You’re right. Hey, everybody’s right (well, except for those pesky exclusivists).” While I am in no way questioning the bravery of the disciples, I don’t think that exclusivism had quite the taint back then as it does now.

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