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The Uniqueness & Sufficiency of Christ
& the Worldview Issue
F. Earle Fox
PDF version (need PDF reader?)
About 200 Anglican leaders from 26 countries and 22 Provinces are meeting in London in from April 23-27, 2012. The Conference is being hosted by the Rev Paul Perkin and his church, St. Mark’s Battersea. The aim of the Conference is to gather these leaders so they can unite and work together on the goals of the FCA (Fellowship of Confessing Christians), especially the defense and proclamation of the gospel and the recognition and support of fellow Anglicans. The theme of the Conference is ‘The Uniqueness and Sufficiency of Christ’.
The above paragraph came from an email advertising the noted conference. This article is written as a contribution to that gathering. The url links below point to supporting material. This online article on the Road to Emmaus has live links and the latest updates. PDF version available.
The uniqueness and sufficiency of Christ are at the heart of
Christian faith -- not because of a desire to be exclusive or to denigrate
believers of other religions, but based on clear, definable facts, which I will
outline below. The contemporary world of secularism and neo-paganism has
difficulty with the Christian claim to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, that
salvation is through Him and no other. Is this “exclusivism”, or are there good
and reasonable grounds for asserting such a counter-cultural idea?
1. A Problem – Debate & Relative Truth
We must first discover whether we are engaged in open honest discussion of the Christian view of Jesus. There are (or used to be) well-known standards and principles for public discussion and debate.
The first principle is that both sides agree to seek the truth of the matter at hand. A second principle would be that we go by the available evidence. If truth is relative, as often heard, these two principles make no sense. There is, then, no truth to seek and no such thing as evidence, which is evidence for a truth. The idea of evidence implies a truth to which the evidence points.
Christians assert concerning Jesus that He is unique among world
religions. The assertion is either true or false. Hopefully those who agree and
disagree will want to cooperate in finding out which is the case. The object is
not “winning my position”, the object is finding the truth. Each side of a
debate or discussion should be able to say, “If I am wrong, I want to know,”
(as did Elijah on Mount Carmel,
I Kings 18:17 ff.). The true God is quite capable of providing evidence for His own case. His people do not need to fudge the evidence – as Paul remarks in 2 Corinthians 4:2-3:
We have renounced disgraceful and underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
So we have two principles, (1) the assertion is either true or false, and (2) we will seek the available evidence on the matter so that we have the best chance of freely and realistically agreeing on the issue. That is an honest discussion. Jesus wants His people to be unified, at one with each other. How could that happen apart from an agreed unity on truth-seeking? (See John 17.)
(It must be noted that these principles of debate and discussion apply to all areas: religion, politics, education, personal life, commerce, any place where a truth must be identified. It must be noted further that everyone of these areas might have an article written entitled as this one: "xxx & the Worldview Issue". Abortion, the Bible, & America, for example, was written with that in mind, to show how Christians are failing to halt abortion. We do not understand our own worldview, so secular "evolution" has taken over from us. That must change, but only Christians can make that change. This Christian failure, almost across the board, has been a major reason for the demise of Christian faith in all areas of the public arena. Very few Christians know how to witness truthfully, gracefully, and compellingly on the street or in the class room.)
Secular and pagan people will indeed have a hard time with Jesus if they want us all to believe that truth is relative, or at least that spiritual and moral truth is relative. The whole of Biblical faith rests on objective truths. Honest evangelism stands or falls on the ability of Christians to show that Christianity is true. Sadly, Christians in the West have not done a good job with that since at least the beginning of the 1800’s. That is changing, but we have a long way to go. The material below is intended to point in that direction. To succeed at this, we must be truth-seekers before we are position-defenders. That is because the only road to the true position is to first be a seeker after truth. That allows the truth and the Lord of truth to speak for themselves. Any position refusing to be tested by truth-seeking is unworthy of belief. The union of reason and revelation is a Biblical principle.
Religion and morality are the primary targets of the claim that truth is relative because objective religion and morality are considered to be arbitrary, mean spirited, and irrational, (how dare you call anyone else’s ideas wrong?), whereas, relative morality, where everyone can do what is right in his own eyes, is much “nicer”. It is not really nicer, it always leads to chaos and totalitarianism. (For counter argument and defense of objective morality, see The Law & the Grace of God.)
No one can actually live as though all truth were relative. We would soon go mad with doubt about the next thing going to happen because there could be no certainty about anything at all. We require some dependable truths. Will the floor hold me up when I get out of bed? Is the assertion that “it will hold me up” relative? Very few believers in relative truth, we might assume, hesitate to get up in the morning because of doubts about their floors. And even more significant, every believer in relative truth has beliefs which he believes and stands by, at the very least, that “all truth is relative”. That, of course, creates a contradiction in his thinking – holding to even one objective truth when he claims there are none.
The problem is that if you allow even one contradiction, your world descends immediately into total chaos – because you have given up any possibility of making rational decisions about even the most elementary events, such as getting up in the morning. The law of non-contradiction (put briefly – a contradictory statement cannot be true) is the most basic law there is for a rational cosmos or for rational discussion. Anyone who is still a rational being knows that he needs some reliable truths just to function at all.
If, for example, one watches those who teach relative truth, such as in courses on “values clarification” or “dialogue to consensus”, one discovers that they do indeed impose truths and moral principles on their students, which are subversively designed to get their students to relativize their truths – so that the facilitator/teacher can insert his own truth unopposed. That is a brain-washing technique which can be quickly exposed and collapsed if you know what is going on and have some intellectual, moral, and spiritual backbone (see Dialogue in Darkness for information on “dialogue to consensus”, and see also “values clarification”).
Those in the public arena (such as in politics or education) claiming that truth is relative will often soon reveal themselves to be totalitarian in their actual approach to life, not the gentle, kinder, let’s-all-get-together-and-love-one-another that they might advertise themselves to be. They will show themselves to be totally dedicated to their truth, and will try to control and extinguish efforts of their opposition to participate in honest public discussion.
Witness what is happening all over the West regarding the homosexual agenda, evolution, or religion. Certain groups are using the American government, largely through (1) government control of education, and (2) hate crime laws, to shut down honest discussion of either homosexuality, evolution, or any facet of Biblical religion.
As someone has noted: when truth becomes relative, it will shortly become forbidden. “Truth forbidden” is the hidden agenda behind “truth relative”.
Either life will be based on truth-seeking or life will be the playground of the tyrant. Only a population that knows how to pursue truth and is united in a moral consensus, a firm agreement about the difference between right and wrong, can hold the tyrant at bay and successfully throw him out of political office. The evil-minded cannot live in the light – most especially the light of God. That is why the Sword of the Spirit is so effective against the powers of darkness – speaking the truth in love is turning on the light (Ephesians 6:10 ff.).
There are honest people perhaps on all sides of most discussions. But when truth is subverted (see Romans 1:18) by a claim that it is relative, we can then expect the public arena itself to be subverted, just as we see today almost everywhere. Relative truth is being used as a camouflage for lying.
The very assertion of relative truth destroys itself. Even having a discussion on whether Christ is unique itself presupposes that the claim is either true or it is false so that there must be a truthful answer to the problem. If truth is indeed relative, there is no point to having the discussion in the first place, because you can believe anything you want, and still be right. Never mind that that destroys the very meaning of the word ‘right’. The claim that “Jesus is not unique” itself implies that there is a truth about the matter. It is a declarative sentence which is an assertion or denial of fact. A believer in relative truth cannot meaningfully make any assertions of fact at all, even the assertion that truth is relative, without contradicting his own presumably relative position on relative truth.
The denial of the uniqueness of Christ is at least an
intelligible assertion, and thus can be tested. But the assertion of relative
truth is logical nonsense, untestable, and thus to be ignored.
So, we ask, can the claim for the uniqueness of Christ establish itself as objective truth by winning an honest test of truth-seeking and truth-speaking? And, can Christians with truth and grace stand up in public to present their case for the uniqueness of Christ against powerful anti-Christ interests? Doing so requires showing good reasons for the uniqueness of Christ, offering adequate responses to those who believe otherwise, and an ability to gracefully stand one’s ground against a sometimes very hostile opposition.
Public discussion is everywhere becoming more and more like a spiritual fire-fight. So Christians had better be prepared with their spiritual armor. The rise of science, which is all about truth-seeking, was given to Christians by God for just such a purpose, to hone more sharply the two-edged sword of the Spirit.
This essay is written to help clarify the meaning of having that discussion and the truth of the claim. The assumption is thus made here that theological truth is objective, and that theological statements about Jesus Christ, are meaningful and therefore either true or false, and so to be tested to see which.
Scientific investigation is one of the ways in which the sword of
the Spirit works – because science is the way of the cross for the intellect: we
give up our right to be right and let the truth and the Lord of truth speak for
themselves. They will prove their own case if we set up the test and then get
out of the way – as did Elijah on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18:17 ff.).
2. Worldview – Biblical
A “worldview” is a picture of what the universe would look like if you could step aside, as it were, and take a snapshot of it. We need first to know whether we live in the kind of universe where God even makes sense. There is no room for God, for example, in the world of secular materialism. So if the secular worldview is correct, then there is no creator God, there is no incarnation, no Jesus Christ to be unique. We first need to decide which worldview is the true worldview. (We cannot escape that truth question.)
So what would a worldview look like in which it made sense to talk about the God of the Bible?
Western Christians are badly compromised in their belief in a Biblical worldview because so few know how to defend the Biblical view against the dominant theory of random evolution. This failure shows in typically weak behavior and witness in the public arena – such as the pro-life realm and the political realm.
There are only two fundamental worldviews, each of which has many cultural renditions (see http://www.summit.org/resources/worldview-chart/ for Summit Ministries’ excellent teachings on the many various versions which one might encounter). These various worldviews belong to either the Biblical view or the pagan/secular view, the latter of which is often called the “Perennial” worldview. Some are a mixture of the two. But having to deal with only two basic views simplifies our task of deciding whether Jesus is uniquely the savior of the world.
To decide the issue of uniqueness, we need to explore the foundations of Biblical faith – concerning which there are two aspects: 1. the Biblical worldview, and 2. the Biblical Good News.
1. The Biblical worldview can be stated very succinctly: A personal God created all that exists out of nothing, and holds it in existence. Having created it, He is therefore sovereign over all aspects of it and has a purpose for it.
2. The Good News, the Gospel, is about how God relates to His creatures – whether or not they obey Him. It is about the character of God and of His purposes for us. The news is good because God has given a purpose for the existence of the world and its inhabitants which is expressed in His law -- that we should love God and our neighbors, i.e., become part of His family by adoption and grace. When we disobey His law (when we sin), though He disciplines us, He is overwhelmingly gracious and willing to pay an extraordinary price to draw us back to Himself and into His family.
The Biblical cosmos rests, as it were, on the Hand of God, a
symbol for the omnipotent creative power of God. The cosmos is planned according
to the Word of God, the Logos, the Reason of God, intelligently and rationally
for the sustaining of life and community. There is communication between those
inside the cosmos to outside the cosmos, that is, to God, the creator and
- Biblical Worldview – Open Circle -
sovereign over all. We call it prayer and revelation. Hence the dotted
line open circle of the creation.
3. The Two Alternative Worldviews
The Biblical cosmos begins as the planned and deliberate creation of an intelligent Designer, and can be demonstrated to be logically consistent and empirically reasonable and relevant. (For some of the evidence, see Personality, Empiricism, & God, at http://www.theroadtoemmaus.org/EM/ShpMl/PEG/00PEG.htm ).
There is only one alternative (though with many cultural versions) to the Biblical worldview -- the cosmos as an unplanned accident evolving out of a prior impersonal substance or energy. The ultimate reality and the ultimate explanation of all things is a primordial unformed “stuff” which is the total and precise opposite of the personal Creator of the Bible – who has no need to evolve, who is perfectly formed, self-sustaining, and the most personal and individual of all beings in existence.
In the secular world, the stuff is physical, in the pagan world, the stuff is spiritual or quasi-spiritual. The secular and the pagan worlds have no rational account of the difference between being and non-being, between a thing existing and not existing, why it would exist or not exist, and so do not explain the physical, empirical world (see Personality, Empiricism, & God).
That general pattern is true both of eastern religions and of western secular humanism. Both kinds of universes begin in a primitive, unformed state. Paganism begins in a quasi-spiritual substance (such as the goddesses Gaia in Greece, Tiamat in the Mesopotamian world, etc.) out of which emerge the first more personal deities. Secularism begins in a primitive physical substance out of which evolves our present world, claimed to be by random chance. In either case, the beginnings are both primitive, impersonal, and, at least for the pagans, ineffable, unknowable.
But secular origins appear to be in the same “ineffable” state, since secular people have not been able to specify the nature of this original substance in any rational manner so that it actually explains the world in which we live – though not for lack of trying hard.
Secular philosophers tend to reject metaphysics, the study of “being”, that is, the science of the origins and foundations of everything. So in finding the original state of things, they are limited to tracking back in time to an original event such as a “big bang”, or tracking down to the smallest item, the “atom”, that is, the original smallest building block of existence.
But that building block, the supposed “atom”, the “indivisible” particle, according to their reports, keeps getting smaller and smaller, with no end in sight. That atom, the indivisible building block, keeps getting split. That creates the problem of the infinite regress with no rational stopping point. If that is the case, then they can never provide an honest explanation of their causal series (if that is what it is) because they can never reach a bottom foundation. They are forever plunging downwards in size or backwards in time, and so can never bounce back with an explanation. One can say that, in effect, you never see them again. They seem currently to be getting lost in a welter of mathematics, with only tenuous connections to the physical reality they claim to explain.
The Intelligent Design movement is successfully taking supporters of blind evolution to task for their failures (see www.discovery.org ). See also, www.CommonSenseScience.org, which is (I suspect successfully) reformatting the whole of Newtonian/relativity/quantum mechanics science to get rid of a growing number of anomalies. (For a candid description of the current secular view, see A Universe without Purpose.) Secular science is being challenged from at least three different directions, the two above from a renewed empirical science, and a third from the cosmological/metaphysical direction.
The Biblical and Perennial beginnings create wholly different
conditions and rules of life. This fact is essential to our issue of the
uniqueness of Christ.
4. Worldview – Paganism & the “Perennial” Philosophy
Paganism is totally and ultimately depersonalizing, beginning and ending in a kind of cosmic soup or cosmic consciousness, often called the original Great Mother – symbolized in the Pagan Worldview diagram as the Yin-Yang symbol in the center. It does have a veneer of personality in its spiritual world of many deities who emerge out of the Great Mother and in its worship of nature. In modern neo-paganism, one hugs a tree, rescues a whale, etc. But in the end, all individuality and personality and caring is absorbed back into the original cosmic soup – total impersonality. Caring, even about trees and whales, requires persons. Abstractions and essences care not.
An English philosopher of the early 1900’s, Aldous Huxley, wrote a book, The Perennial Philosophy, in which he claimed there to be only one basic worldview, called “perennial” because it pops up everywhere. This Perennial pattern is sometimes called “the Great Chain of Being” (see book with that title by Arthur O. Lovejoy). This chain of being begins at the lowest material level, and gradually moves upward towards the great, infinite, and ineffable beyond. All religions (say both Huxley and Lovejoy) are different versions of the same reality, like different groups climbing up the same mountain. Climbing up different sides, one group sees forest, another rocks, another desert, and thus think they are on different mountains. They do not see that it is all the same mountain with different-looking sides until they meet at the top.
(One will find a readable example of the Perennial relative truth view at - Perennial (Pagan/Secular) Worldview – Closed Circle - www.Amazon.com. Look for A History of God by well-known author, Karen Armstrong. This lengthy book is partially readable online, enough to give an example of the Perennial view. Click on the image of the book to view parts of the contents at http://www.amazon.com/History-God-000-Year-Judaism-Christianity/dp/0345384563/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1332389302&sr=1-1 )
Neither Huxley, Lovejoy, nor Armstrong understood that there are two basic views which are wholly incompatible with and opposed to each other – the Biblical and Huxley’s own “Perennial” view. The Biblical view cannot be subsumed, as he thought, under the Perennial tent. The two contradict each other on every basic point, including, even especially, at the top of the mountain. Their versions of God and heaven are fundamentally opposed because they have contradictory foundations at the bottom – which set their characteristics in opposite directions.
The secular/pagan cosmos emerges randomly, with no plan or intelligence. Supporters of random evolution insist on that lack of intelligence and purpose. They want to keep it random so as to exclude the Biblical God. The entities which emerge, in paganism typically the original gods and goddesses, begin an accident, live an accident, and die an accident. Random events are, by definition, accidents. There is no possibility of meaning to their lives other than what they might themselves be able to impose by force and strategy. But that meaning and stability is ephemeral, gone with the next wave of chaos sweeping over them.
But chaos can be kept temporarily at bay by the ability of a “strong man” to impose force which he has gathered sufficiently to make it work, or by one of the many gods, if you can get one of them on your side. But at the same time, every other strong man is a potential and likely enemy – the inevitable and unending power struggle of life.
There is no communication to anything outside the circle of the cosmos for the simple reason that nothing exists outside that circle, no Creator with whom to communicate. The cosmos is a closed system, locked into the laws of the original stuff out of which it emerged (see Isaiah 25:6 ff. for the “covering cast over all peoples”). Even the gods and goddesses are locked in. They do not exist outside the closed circle of the cosmos and so themselves are subject to the laws of that cosmos.
Within that closed circle of the Perennial view, the laws of
existence ordain that all particular things, such as persons, even divinities,
are temporary and will die to be recycled back into the Great Mother stuff of
origin. So, in the end, all
individuality dies, though in some religions to be reborn, sometimes again and
again ad infinitum.
The pagan world without God saw the world, with good reason, as a vale
of tears, hopefully to be transcended. But the only place to which one might
transcend would be return to the Great Mother, the loss of all individuality,
merging with the impersonal “stuff” from which all was made – back to the
Yin-Yang (coincidence of opposites), the womb of life, Nirvana.
5. Worldview – Secularism
Secular humanism developed as an offshoot of the Biblical world – which (through its own fault) was beginning to lose its intellectual credibility as science developed. This became sadly and increasingly so after the Reformation and rise of the misnamed “Enlightenment”. Christians began to fear that the honest and public examination of religion just might disprove the Biblical view of things, often not realizing that science as developed in the West could not have arisen without the Biblical worldview foundation and not without the Biblical Intelligent Designer giving order to the cosmos. The Biblical focus on time, history, and the empirical world was for the first time properly wedded to the Greek expertise in logical thinking. God gave His people science to teach them how to sharpen the two-edged Sword of the Spirit, to be seekers and defenders of objective truth.
Secularists wanted to keep the reasonableness of the Biblical view (as illustrated by the rise of science in the Biblical world), but they wanted to do it without God. It has proved to be a fool’s errand. Since the 1960’s, secularism has been collapsing back into paganism. Secularism is thereby losing its grip on its vaunted science – because science requires a moral commitment to truth-seeking, and only a creator God can supply a moral foundation upon which such a moral commitment to truth can be made.
Secularism is the least stable of all worldviews because it is so
person-unfriendly, turning us all into machines and treating us like animals. We
become like what we worship, in the case of secularism, machine- or animal-like.
We in the West are one and all casualties, to some degree depersonalized in a
deep and destructive manner. The Biblical path to salvation is the only way out
back to substantial personhood.
St. Augustine (ca. 400 AD) wrote The City of God partly to explain to the Romans why the impossible, the unthinkable, had happened – Rome had been sacked by those uncivilized barbarians from the north. Roman pagans had accused the Christians of undermining the strength and power of the Empire, resulting in the invasion and sacking of Rome. Augustine replied that, no, Rome fell because Rome had refused to submit itself to the plan of God for all nations and peoples.
The City of God was the first philosophy of history ever to be written. Other peoples had historians. The Greeks had Thucidides and others, and every tribe probably had its local historian, often a poet who would recite the history of the tribe around campfires. But history was always local. That was as far as the pagan mind could detect meaning. Beyond that was just more chaos, strife, lethal competition – yes, and prizes to be won and conquered. Life was power-struggle to control the always encroaching chaos.
One’s own people had for themselves a meaningful history which they hoped to perpetuate against all those odds. But there was no sense of a universal history with meaning, only local histories with local and conflicting meanings. There was no universal history because there was no universal Creator with a purpose for cosmic history. There were only local creators of local meaning and direction.
So as a whole the passage of time was going.... nowhere. It had no meaning. But Augustine understood that history was governed by God, who was the universal Creator and Director of history. God was bringing history toward a universal conclusion, the Kingdom.
The Biblical and Perennial worldviews are thus opposed on the
meaning of history as well as the nature of God and heaven.
7. Salvation – the Good News
Because the ultimate realities of these two worldviews are diametrically and unequivocally opposed to each other, it stands to reason that they would have opposite views of such fundamental items as heaven and hell, sin, redemption, the meaning of life, etc., that is, of salvation.
And that is indeed the case. Hindu and Buddhist salvation is the precise opposite of the Biblical notion. In the Biblical view, salvation means preservation of one's individuality, one’s personhood. The way of the cross is not annihilation of one's personhood, but rather the sometimes very painful (as in the dark night of the soul) moving of dependency for one's identity and personhood from the resources of the world to the Hand of God, and likewise moving our obedience from the world to His Voice and purposes. Time, history, space, individuality, and personhood remain meaningful in the Biblical heaven. The Biblical heaven is a community, not the despairing denial of it.
Because salvation for eastern religions means the annihilation of individuality, personhood, selfhood, and community, and because ultimate reality is itself the total opposite of personhood and individuality, therefore, the closer I get to the pagan ultimate reality, the less of an individual I can be. For pagan spirituality, especially in its Eastern forms, it is our individuality which makes us subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the cure for which is therefore the giving up of all desire and attachment to the circumstances of life. Such a process means evacuating all sense of being a someone separate and distinct from the "whole" or the "cosmic consciousness". One floats into the sea of the "All" and merges with the cosmos.
But God disagrees:
For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (He established it); he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited! (Is. 45:18)
God, the Ultimate Person, stands over against the chaos of the Fall, the Ultimate Depersonalizing. Biblical and pagan folk are proposing mutually exclusive notions of salvation – because we inhabit mutually exclusive kinds of universes.
Secularism wanted to borrow history from the Biblical worldview, leaving out God – but found itself then incapable of giving that history any more meaning than the earlier pagans had. One will look far and wide and probably never find a secular historian who believes that there is an objective meaning to cosmic history. The conscious rejection of purpose for the cosmos is standard fare for secular writers.
But secularists think that we humans can take over the direction even of evolution if we can control human evolution through genetic science. Their efforts continue apace, but without the anchor of a viable moral consensus under God, those efforts are doomed to create more chaos than order. The world by itself has no realistic hope of providing a Good News. Without a moral order, every scientific advance is coopted by the powerful for their own advantage to control the rest – as illustrated by probably every centralized government in history, whether of the right or the left.
On the Christian view, one does not try either to leave the
world or to hyper-control it, one rather transfers his ultimate dependency and
obedience to the Creator of the world – remaining very much in the world,
but no longer of it. God is The Individual (I AM, Exodus 3), so
that the closer I get to God, the more of a free individual (the real,
substantial me) I become, made in His image, beginning right here on earth.
What, then, would salvation look like in a pagan world? For most of us lower-level humans, it might look like winning the war with one’s neighbor to make life safer and to extend one’s own power so as to meet wider challenges coming down the pike. Or, among the more intellectually and spiritually sophisticated, it might look like finding a way to exit this vale of tears to a higher realm. That exit almost universally takes the form of mysticism, gnosticism, or highly sexualized fertility cult. As described above, salvation would then mean transcending this physical world of time and space up into the heavenly realm of quiescence, peace. That peace would exist because this was a world of no personal being, no individuals, no potential enemies. It was a world of fusion of all distinctions, the same ineffable world of the Great Mother from which all things had come. In effect, the problems of the world are avoided by getting rid of everybody by my now infinitely inflated Self.
What, then, does salvation look like in the Biblical world? It looks like a community of those who love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, and who love their neighbors just like they love themselves, people who are always faithful, always loving, and always hopeful – truly the best of all possible worlds. Heaven is not primarily a place, however nice. It is a community, a relationship defined by truth and love. The relationship makes the place heavenly, not the other way around. In the Bible there is no salvation by environment (“Let’s move to the South Sea Islands...”).
That Biblical vision of heaven was, and still is, incomprehensible to the pagan or secular mind. There is nothing in either the secular or pagan worlds which suggests the possibility of such a community. Such a community is built on loving and faithful relationships, precisely that which is so problematic in the pagan world. Pagan relationship is governed by power struggle, not by love, which was considered unrealistic, impractical, and probably suicidal. Loving your neighbor would most likely get you abused and maybe killed.
That was because they could not imagine the possibility of a Creator-Sovereign whose love for His creatures would be measured by the crucifixion. You were, for your own welfare, on your own.
Augustine’s message was that the Greeks were wrong about who were the civilized (themselves, they thought) and who were the barbarians (all those other folks, but especially the Persians). No, said Augustine, there is one and only one civilization, the City (Kingdom) of God. All other wanna-be civilizations were in fact barbaric, part of the fallen world. Civilization is defined by the God-given laws of the Kingdom, the reasonable Word of God, not by the success of human power struggle, no matter how refined and accomplished it might look, even Athens at its peak.
A note on Judaism. The Hebrew ancestors of the Jews, of course, gave us the Biblical worldview in Genesis 1-3 (God is Creator of, and therefore Sovereign over, the whole cosmos). Christians and Jews have carried that worldview into the wider world. Almost everything said here about the uniqueness of Christ would, I believe, apply to the Hebrew Yahweh, of whom Christians believe Jesus to be the incarnate Self-revelation. Almost every element of the Christian Good News was anticipated by the Hebrews. It is about an essentially personal relationship with a personal God.
A note on Islam.
Islam also shares the Biblical
worldview, a Creator and Sovereign, but has a radically different and not very
good “news”. The character of their deity has little in common with the
character of Yahweh. The news is, to say the least, problematic. As
the Pope noted at his lecture at Regensberg University in Germany, several
years ago, the Islamic deity does not bind himself to either reason or morality.
He is totally and unconditionally arbitrary. That arbitrariness is considered
the height of sovereignty. The Islamic heaven is thus not a community of agape,
self-giving love. So Muslims do not typically talk about a close personal
relationship with God. For many, such a claim would be blasphemy.
Neither the secular nor pagan worldview can supply the two stabilities (see below) which all contingent/dependent personal beings require: ontological stability, and moral stability.
Secular people often agree that the world is “contingent”, that is, it need not be the way it is. It is not logically necessary that we either be here, or that we be here in the way that we are. It could have been very different. So then, why does the world exist at all, and why this way? Is there any rational explanation?
Secular people explain all existence as due to random chance evolution. We are contingent, but not contingent upon anything, other than upon the chancy sequence leading up to our being. We are not logically necessary, and there is also no causal necessity for our being like we are. That makes our existence irrational, not the possible subject of scientific investigation.
That is because chance, to the degree that it holds sway, is not an explanation of something, it is the absence of explanation. Chance means the absence of rational causal explanation, as an unplanned, accidental, chance meeting. That is a negative contingency – contingent, but not upon anything. The meaning of the law of sufficient cause, the second highest law in science – is that any event requires a cause sufficient to explain it.. A cosmos which is at bottom negatively contingent (not dependent upon a sufficient cause) is not a rational cosmos. In such a universe, science would not be possible.
Positive contingency is contingency upon some rational cause. In the Biblical worldview, like the secular, the world is contingent, that is, it need not have been here at all, or here in the manner that it is. It could have been different. But the Biblical world is contingent upon a rational causer, whom we call God. We are here by His say-so. And, God has reasons for what He does, such as creating the world. His reasons are the reasons for our existence, which are the basis for both moral law and the laws governing nature.
Negatively contingent things by definition have no reason for their existence. Again, they come into existence an accident, live an accident, and die an accident. Their existence has no meaning. That is a logically necessary conclusion from the way secular folks insist upon explaining their world as the result of random chance.
But the Biblical world, having both ontological stability and
moral reasons for its existence, creates an entirely different and contrary
world in opposition to the secular or pagan worlds.
9. Salvation & the Two Stabilities
Salvation has become a loosely (if at all) defined notion even among Christians with their conflicting denominations. “Getting saved” is bandied about so that we are often not very convincing as to whether salvation even makes sense or whether anyone really needs it. We must carefully specify what salvation means if we are to be clear and convincing to the world.
Moreover, salvation must be described in terms which secular and pagan people can understand, not described only in “Christianese” (which is fine for Christians). The concept is meant, after all, to make enough sense to secular and pagan people that they will recognize their need for it. The need for personal and moral stability applies to all persons, even in a non-Biblical cosmos with no God.
Probably everyone has experienced instability, a lack of assurance that one can be open, honest, and confidant of oneself in the presence of certain situations or other persons. We say that our knees knock, we get cold feet, we are standing on weak ground, etc. Everyone feels the strain of failure and moral misdirection. If you are alive, you seek ways of stabilizing yourself in the presence of others, boosting your ego strength, as some call it. Everyone is looking for a solution.
The Biblical ideal of a true “self” is often expressed as
“living in the light” (I John 1), living openly honestly before God and man – a
what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person. No hiddenness, no secret agendas.
When such a person says “yes”, everything in him says “yes”, and when he says
“no”, everything in him says “no”. He does not have a divided self. This is the
person with a solid (not arrogant) sense of his own personhood. He can speak,
act, and serve God and others with the whole of his being.
Personal or ontological stability (from the Greek word ‘ontos’ meaning ‘being’) is the stability of ourselves in the mist of challenging circumstances. We feel secure as persons, we know that we are a somebody, not a nobody – a positive contingency. We receive this ontological stability first through our mothers, who nurture and care for us. We know that we mean something to her because of her attentiveness to our needs. We get to know and love each other. Left alone, we die because we cannot as infants sustain ourselves. We are dependent, contingent.
The stability comes actually from God, our creator, but to the infant, mother seems to be as God – about Whom the infant as of yet knows nothing, except that it looks like Mom. If we do not get that stability of our being, our personhood, we will spend the rest of our lives scraping and fighting for it. Or, we die, we sink into less and less wholeness of being as we further distance ourselves from God and other personal relationship (C. S. Lewis masterfully describes this in The Great Divorce).
Only our Creator can supply that stability of being. That is a logical fact and therefore inescapable. Other persons can help for a while, but, as with parents, we outgrow them. We need to be born again, born into the family of God, to become children (dependents) of Him – who cannot be outgrown and Himself needs no Parental source of being for His stability – the Uncaused Cause.
Moral stability comes from knowing and pursuing one’s reason for existence – which is given to us in the law of God. Sin is the deliberate and willful rejection of one’s reason for existence. We choose our own reason in contradiction to that of God. The source of all morality is the will of God, expressed through His laws. The two great commandments, to love God and neighbor, are the foundation for all other laws. The Decalogue gives ten examples of what loving God and neighbor are about in practice. All the law and the prophets in that way hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:34 ff.).
Almost everyone also understands what morality is and
what moral stability might be – the ability, will, and wisdom to choose the
right way over the many subversive and compromising alternatives.
Such a person understands the meaning of confession, forgiveness, and
repentance. A “straight arrow” as some have called it. This is the person with
moral integrity and stability.
Salvation is about these two stabilities. Ontological stability is about our being, and moral stability is about our doing. God is saving our being, our identity, our personhood, our ability to be fully ourselves as intended by Himself; but He is forgiving and correcting our doing, our attitudes, our intentions and purposes in order to conform to His purposes for us.
Our rebellious doing will always inflict harm on our being because it separates us from the source of our being. We can spiritually starve ourselves to death.
Most persons would be able to understand salvation described this way.
Moral integrity will not long survive without the prior personal/ontological security in place. If we are not personally secure, we will be tempted to compromise our moral integrity to purchase the good will of others whose respect we seek. Under stress, they will seem more real to us than God, and we will do what they want rather than what God wants. We can be bribed.
But the resources in the world are not capable of conveying either of the above stabilities. The world can give me a temporary stability of my being, as my mother nurtures and sustains me with her care. And the world can give me a beginning of moral stability as my father leads me down that path of moral learning. But we outgrow these beginnings, and soon find ourselves in situations which require a deeper personal stability, a more secure ground on which to stand than my mother can provide, and an authority which is higher than my father, who, as every teenager knows, is not the highest authority in the world.
We must come to that place where we rest the weight of our being on totally secure ground, and listen to a voice which speaks with ultimate and final authority. We must come to the place (hopefully by about 12 years old as did Jesus) where we know who our real Parent is (Luke 2:41 ff.). Only God can supply that ultimately secure ground from which no one can dislodge us. And only God can supply us with the final word of authority because the world does not possess any such authority. Whatever moral or political authority the world has, it received from God.
We must, in other words, plunge to the depths to find that
ultimate stability of the Hand of God, and we must rise to the heights to hear
the Voice of God speaking to us.
The Good News history began with the call of God on Abraham to migrate, leaving behind the old Babylonian Empire with all of its “civilization”, to begin again in Canaan, the uncivilized crossroads at the south-western end of the Fertile Crescent, on the way to the other great “civilization”, Egypt. Canaan was inhabited by wandering Bedouin sheep and cattle herders, dry, hot, sparse grass, a very salt sea, and little populated.
God wanted Abraham, one might suppose, to get out of Babylon because the intense pagan spiritual pressure there would inhibit Abraham’s hearing of God concerning a mission to which Abraham was being appointed, namely the beginning of a community which would carry on the revelation of God Himself to a human race which had deserted God and chosen to “go it on their own”.
Despite warnings, Adam and Eve, representing all of us, did not realize that going it on their own without God must be a fatal mistake, necessarily leading to deep fracturing of their relationships with each other, and finally to death. Whatever civilization they could produce would be unable to hold together. There would be no possibility of a fundamental and sturdy unity among them. They would lose both of their stabilities. Their personal lives and their social and political lives would fracture.
The human race can be unified (as Jesus prays in John 17) only by the living God. If there is no such God, then the human race is condemned (so long as it survives its own self-destruction) to rise and fall, rise and fall. Without God, there is no continuing city. Or, to put it differently, because we ourselves are not divine eternal beings, our dependent nature will always undo us. Only dependency upon a Creator such as the living God of the Bible, Yahweh, He Who Is by virtue of His own uncreated being, can meet the needs of contingent persons. Over and over in their history, both the secular and pagan worlds illustrate their incapacity to unite a people by other than coercion, deceit, power struggle, and mind-control. They might rise, but the rise will almost always be by force, not by truth and grace, and lacking Godly support and direction, like Rome, they always fall, as America and the West are falling today (2012). No exceptions.
This universal negative contingency of the inhabitants of the
secular and pagan worlds thus leaves them in a quandary. In order to have a
reasonable, stable, and fruitful life, either for oneself or for one’s
relationships, contingent persons require the two stabilities, ontological and
moral. A negatively contingent person (one with no secure positive dependency)
will always be teetering on the edge of nothingness. A negatively contingent
person looks for a positive dependency from some hopefully reliable, faithful,
and loving person or group.
10. Christ Alone?
How does all this help us decide whether salvation comes from Christ alone?
If the secular and pagan worlds have no principle of ontological security or of moral direction, if in the secular and pagan worlds, our being is accidental, the result of meaningless, random evolution, or the accident of an ineffable Great Mother giving “birth” to a pagan cosmos, as described above, then it follows that they are also incapable of delivering a salvation of the Biblical sort – which is the saving of us as persons, our being, and the moral correcting of our doing, attitude, and purposes. Whatever salvation they might propose in order to take us out of this intolerable world will be inherently depersonalizing, which means the death of personhood.
Salvation in an impersonal cosmos will not be a salvation depending on personal relationship, but salvation by environment, moving from this veil of tears to a more placid and peaceful realm. But it will not be a place of ontological or moral stability unless they define those stabilities in terms of the Great Mother, or in terms of a Platonic realm of Ideas, abstractions, principles, essences, devoid of persons who do things and relate to each other. They have no way of making persons peaceful and joyful who are also doing and relating. Thus they must either conquer the chaos (which does not last long) or exit the chaotic world of time and space, which means the death of all personhood.
So, it would not be accurate to say that secular or pagan people have no idea of salvation, but they do not have a Biblical idea of it. Salvation for the Biblical world is about quality of relationship, loving God and one’s neighbor. Heaven is not a place for which one might earn a ticket, nor a state of abstract existence, it is a relationship which one builds with God and with one another. The commandments are about how to build that relationship. Both the return to the Great Mother and the ascent to the Platonic realm of ideas is a kind of salvation by change of environment, not a change of moral attitude by repentance and thereby a change of relationship with a personal God and one’s fellow human beings. Pagan and secular salvation are by power struggle, or by a special kind of knowledge – gnosticism – not by repentance and restoration of relationship.
If the Christian doctrine of the Trinity be true, Jesus is the incarnate self-revelation of God to the world. There is no comparable figure in either secularism or paganism. This body in which I walk around is in a similar manner my self-revelation of me. If you want to get to know me, if you want to have a heavenly relationship with me, you have to do it in relationship to this body, not someone else’s body. That is not arrogance or narrow-mindedness, that is just the way bodies and persons are. The other religions have a “way”, but their “way” does not go even in the same direction as the Biblical way. They move away from relationship, not toward it.
Bodies are how we identify ourselves as unique spirits. We each have a unique body which has always a unique place in the world of time-space. No two bodies can occupy the same space at the same time. That gives each of us a unique location. Persons thus have unique identities, and therefore unique ways through which they can be known and related to. God assumes a body in that same sense. That is reasonable because God is a person, in whose Image we are made.
The Hindu gods and goddesses are also manifestations of their supreme deity. But that supreme deity is not a person, it is the exact opposite of personhood, abstract and impersonal. Widely different and conflicting gods and goddesses can be manifestations of the same supreme deity because that deity itself is the coincidence of opposites pictured at the center of the Perennial diagram above. It makes no claim to being logically consistent. It “transcends” all logic and human reasoning.
That sounds pious, humble, and reverent, but accepting logical contradictions as true means the total collapse of reasoning, and total collapse of ability to distinguish between true and false. So, as with relative truth, you can say and believe things totally contrary to someone else, and both be right.
But that is the meaning of the word ‘nonsense’. It is a return to intellectual and moral chaos, not a profound insight into the nature of things. The God of the Bible insists that there is a real truth and a real falsehood, that He is telling the truth, and that those who contradict Him are either ignorant or lying. We read, in direct reply to the Perennial way:
For thus says the Lord, who
created the heavens - he is God!, who formed the earth and made it (he
established it); he did not create it a chaos (he formed it to be
inhabited!). I am the Lord, and there is no other. I did not speak in
secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
“Seek me in chaos.” I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right.
(Is. 45:18 ff.)
A chaotic earth cannot be inhabited. Clarity always favors truth and life, and unclarity always favors falsehood and death. God is a truth-speaker and a life-giver.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)
Suppressing a known truth, or perverting the truth-seeking process, is a wicked act, with strong judgement from God. Promoting truth as relative subverts all rationality and reason, and is thus not Biblical. The Biblical worldview and Gospel are the reasonable and rational answers to the problems of life.
How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him. (I Kings 18:21)
God is interested in logically consistent truth because that
is the only kind of truth there is, no exceptions. Worship of Yahweh is
contradictory to the worship of Baal (or any other idolatry), so we are are
forced to choose between them, one or the other, but not both.
reason, and experience all tell us to choose for Yahweh.
The debate, therefore, over the uniqueness of Christ has been held mostly in ignorance of a real comparison between Christianity and other religions. That is partly because so many Christians had been persuaded that truth is indeed relative, that all religions are “saying the same thing”, which is not even remotely true. We have come to believe the Perennial myth that there is only one religion. If that is true, then one would indeed have to agree that Christ is not unique, that he is just one of the fellows, a brother, so to speak, of Krishna and the rest of the pantheon. But one can believe that relativity only if all truth has been blurred. After all, one blur can be made to look like any other blur.
But Jesus is not competing against Krishna or Budda as though they were all doing pretty much the same thing and Jesus wants to upstage the others, beat them to the top of the religious mountain and be King of the Hill. And Christians are not inviting secular and pagan people only to know Jesus. We are inviting them into a whole different and competing Biblical worldview – in which Jesus is indeed King of kings and Lord of lords. The worldview comes with the package. We are climbing a whole different mountain with a radically different peak and King on that peak.
Until Christians understand the worldview issues, we will not
make much headway in the “uniqueness” discussion. Christ is unique in part
because the whole of the Biblical world is unique. Added to that, both the Old
testament and New Testament show us a wonderfully unique personality to God –
one who personally loves His neighbors just like He loves Himself. That is the
truly good news, the best of all possible worlds. The Bible is full of passages
which have no parallel in either pagan or secular literature, such as the whole
of the creation story, the Suffering Servant poem in Isaiah 52:13-53:12, or the
whole of the last week of Jesus’ life on earth – just for starters.
11. The Sufficiency of Christ
The early Christians were forced to the conclusion that Jesus was the Son of God because of the effect He had on their lives. Inviting Jesus into one’s heart led to a transformation within themselves which, they maintained, could be explained only by the presence of God Himself. Nothing else had ever done that, neither for them nor for anyone else they knew. They found themselves united by the power of the Holy Spirit in a way to that time unheard of.
Both the Old and New Testaments use that kind of argument to reveal God. God does things with Moses and then with Pharaoh which only God could do, to convince both the Hebrews and Pharaoh concerning the identity of Him with Whom they were dealing.
And likewise, responding to the disciples of John the Baptist who were inquiring whether Jesus were the Christ, He does not give a direct response. He replies, “Go tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them....” (Luke 7:18 ff.)
In other words, “Look at the facts. Are they consistent with my being the Christ?” Just as with Elijah, an appeal to open fact and logic.
Three times Paul uses the word ‘guarantee’ (in the RSV) to describe the gift of the Holy Spirit:
2 Cor. 1:22 - “He has put his seal upon us and given us His Spirit in our
hearts as a guarantee.”
2 Cor. 5:5 - “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”
Eph. 1:14 - “...which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Such a guarantee is a down payment on yet more to come, a promise of a later fulfillment. We cannot experience the wholeness of the Kingdom now, but we can experience enough of it so that we can look forward with confidence and hope. Things are already changing in a way that only God could do. No other being can supply those two stabilities: ontological and moral.
The Christian experiences of the risen Christ thus could make sense only if God was doing them. Jesus had risen back to the Father in heaven, but they still felt His presence by the power of the Holy Spirit – and by that power, without raising a sword, turned around the mightiest empire in the world. Again, unheard of.
But..., then there seemed to be three deities – a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit. It took over three centuries, with many questions about whether Christians were monotheists or tri-theists. Yet there was no hesitation on the part of Christians, they were monotheists.
They used many analogies to try to explain how God could be both three and one, finally settling on the image of the mask (persona in Latin) used by actors on the stage in plays. One actor might wear two or three masks during the play, taking the part of two or three different roles. God, they said, was like that, only one Actor (one God) but three personae, three different ways in which God relates to us.
No analogy is perfect, but the image stuck, and we now have in English, the word ‘person’. However, ‘persona’ has changed over the centuries to convey a very different modern sense of ‘person’, a unique freewill individual. Three unique freewill individuals would be tri-theism, not monotheism. So it is helpful to distinguish the meanings by using the Latin ‘persona’ to refer to the Trinity. God is one person in the modern sense, one unique Individual, but three personae (Latin plural) in the trinitarian sense, three aspects of the one substantial Individual.
Christians came to understand Jesus, the only begotten son, as the eternal Christ fairly quickly, who was then identified with the appearances of God, such as to Adam and Eve, Abraham, or Moses. The Christ was thus the self-revelation of God (“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”) and the executor of the commands of the Father (“...and without Him was not anything made that was made.”). It was He who became incarnate to rescue us from ourselves.
So, if Jesus is the Self-revelation of the fullness of God, then
His acts on our behalf toward our salvation are absolutely sufficient. There
could be nothing more sufficient.
So we have a Christ who is both unique and sufficient for our salvation, the one who, though incarnate, is nevertheless God Himself. His uniqueness is not an “offense” against other deities. It all depends on which worldview we inhabit.
If we live in the Perennial world, then there is no Yahweh, no creator of heaven and earth, no savior of persons in a personal cosmos. And thus no competition with pagan deities. On the other hand, if we live in the Biblical world, then there is no Krishna, no Buddha, no Zeus, or any other pagan god or goddess. So, again, no competition.
We therefore must first decide which is the true view of the cosmos – Biblical or Perennial (whether pagan or secular). And then we can reasonably ask whether any of the alleged available deities are unique and sufficient to give us the salvation they claim to give, or that we seek.
The God of the Bible holds the intellectual, moral, and spiritual high ground (all three), and is inviting the rest of us to join Him. He is quite capable of maintaining Himself at the top. Jesus is the unique Son - of a unique God - in a unique worldview. What else needs to be said?
NOTE: future updates on this article will be available at http://www.theroadtoemmaus.org/RdLb/12The/Xr/UniqueChrist.htm, also in PDF format.
Click here for similar piece, Abortion, the Bible, & America, relating worldview to our failure to end abortion.
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Date Posted - 04/07/2012 - Date Last Edited - 07/07/2012