Is Christianity Too Narrow?
Christianity claims to be the only way to God. Isn't that extremely narrow and intolerant? The Curiosity Collective captures the perspectives of thought leaders, authors, philosophers, and theologians on this very question.
Questions for Discussion and Personal Reflection
- How have people used religion for good? For bad?
- What exclusive claims do you hold? Do you allow yourself to be vulnerable when discussing your views with others?
If I am saying something and I feel like that I have misspoken or said something in a way that I—
We'll post it all over the Internet.
Yeah, In-N-Out's going to be served in heaven, bro. Yeah.
Yeah, you know, I think that one of the hardest things living in, in a society like ours is, is that, um, there is such diversity, and there's, there's so many different beliefs and so many different religions around us that it's very difficult for us to imagine that any one of these religions, uh— whether it be Christianity or Islam or any, any, any worldview, really— would claim to have the market on the truth. A couple years ago, I was influenced by, uh, an author and, and a man who was a missionary in India, and his name was Lesslie Newbigin. And he told this parable: There's a story— there's an old story in India— about a king and a, and an elephant. And a king had an elephant, and he wanted to do an experiment, and so he brought in six blind men, and he asked them to tell him what the elephant was. And so the blind men, of course, begin to feel around, and the first one felt the elephant and— the side of elephant— and said, "Oh, it's a wall," and another man felt, felt the trunk and said, "It's, it's a snake," and the other man felt the, the, the foot and said, "It's a tree," and you get the point. He felt the ear, it was a fan, and so, and so of course, the point of the story is— and people often tell this, um, in India, and, and it's become a popular story in, in our society as well— that the blind men are like the religion, or like the various religions of the world. None of them see the elephant in whole, but they're all basically describing the same thing, uh, with different angles, but not one of them could ever say that they have the full knowledge of the elephant. Here's the problem with that, and this was— I was really helped by this, uh, because what this, what this man, Lesslie Newbigin, said is, "The only way that anyone can ever come to that conclusion is if you are in the position of the king." The only way that you can ever say that each of the individual blind men um, only have part of the truth is if you are the king and you are looking down and seeing the whole picture, seeing the whole elephant, and are able to judge each of the blind men accordingly, and so, the application to, to our time is this: It's that I think when people say, All religions are basically the same, that sounds really tolerant, and it sounds really humble, but in reality, it's, it's kind of an arrogant claim. It's, it's sort of like saying you're in the position of the king, that you can see the whole picture, and that each of the religions can only see a part of it. When it comes down to it, I think what I've realized is that we're all exclusivists. All of us are making exclusive claims, whether you say that God is a trinity, like we say in Christianity, or whether you say God is one, the way they do in Islam or Judaism, or the way— or if you say God is many, the way they do in Hinduism, or if you say there is no God, as you do in secular humanism, or you say that all gods are basically the same, which is basically progressive, uh, sort of progressive self-made American religion, in every single case, you are making an exclusive truth claim that has the potential to exclude. You're making a statement about ultimate reality. So I think, I think one of the best ways to do it is just to admit the ways that you're exclusive, to admit that, yes, the Christian religion does say that Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord. And let's just take all of our exclusive views and put them out on the table and have an honest, honest debate about them. I think that's a lot more honest than saying that all religions are the same.
We think that "narrow" means "intolerant," right? And intolerance somehow is the, is the cardinal sin of our world, right? If you're playing a guitar, I mean, how many "G"s are there? How many notes? How many ways can you play a "G"? No, there's, there's one way to play a "G." You're either on-key or off-key. Is that intolerant? Is that narrow? Is that unfair? No, it's beautiful, 'cause there's a way to play this note. It's beautiful. The step back is like, "Well, what's, what's wrong with that?" Right? And narrow in what way, right? Narrow in the way of being clear, in being concise, in being decisive, in being attainable, right? Right? Yeah, in, in that sense, absolutely. But that, isn't that a good narrow? Like, isn't that— aren't these good things? That, like— It's not like I'm just, I'm shooting up— I'm, you know, I'm throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping that one of 'em sticks, you know what I'm saying? Like, that's broad, right? But that's— I mean, come on now, like, who's trying to live like that, that you just toss up stuff and hope that something stays on there? Like, nah, man, like, tell me the bull's-eye, you know? Tell me the target. How do I fix this? How is man made right with God? Don't be like, "Well, you know, you'll figure it out." Oh, no. No, I won't! Who has? Nobody's figured it out, right? No, I need you to tell me. What's, what's— how do we get this? So in my mind, I'm like "Man, why is narrow bad?" Narrow's, in a lot of contexts, good, right? Doesn't mean it lacks grace. Doesn't mean it lacks love. As a matter of fact, it's the opposite.
I like the phrase that, "Truth is narrow." Um, it narrows your options, but grace is as wide, so you've got to hold to the narrowness of truth and the width of grace, and it's a tension you play between the two. That's how, kind of, Jesus looked. He was full of grace and truth, and he holds that paradox in himself. He says that, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except by means of me." Well, that's pretty narrow of you, Jesus. You're not being very embracing of other people's opinions. Well, I say, well, he's also extremely gracious, and he's provided for us in a, in a profound way. I mean, he saves us through his own life and death and resurrection and his return. We are caught up into his life. I mean, I, I'm held by that. He was very irreligious, and I kind of like him for that, because I don't like religion very much, and I don't think he did. Religion seeks to kind of control— uh, often what happens, it's a dilemma, you see, because, uh initially the revelation of God is given to the human being or to a nation, in the case of Israel. And then what they have to do to kind of hand it on to the next generation is to create some codes, and rituals, and ideas and, um, things to try and pass that experience on meaningfully to the next generation. It's a dilemma. The very act of actually encoding the religion is the thing that kills it in the long run and actually makes people kind of nasty 'cause people get over-attached to the religion itself and lose what the religion is meant to point towards. And so religions, including Christianity, have always got to renew, go back to the originating encounter with God. So all renewal movements of returning to God, rediscovering what was given there, rediscovering God, and then going out again, and we— that's why we, you know, we maintain a, a rich relationship with God because without that, we become religious people— nasty, dangerous, don't understand grace, don't understand the grace that they themselves have received, and don't offer it to other people. Uh, which, really, is not— yeah, not exactly what we're meant to be living like.
I think a lot of people struggle to believe because some Christians make it incredible, um, take away the possibility of making the faith beautiful and winsome and credible because of— because of the way that we live and the things that we do. Now, there is something funny, funny about that, and a little ironic. So Christians are hypocrites. Okay, yes, I am a hypocrite. Can I just say that? I'm, I'm a hypocrite. I, um— many of the things that I say that I espouse to believe, um, I don't live. And I am, and I know, actually, lots of, of people who aren't Christians who are, who are— who live better lives than I do. Uh, one of my closest friends is a Sikh, and he is a much more disciplined, uh, much, uh, more self-controlled person than I am. But see, the funny thing about Christianity is that hypocrisy actually does not undermine the credibility of the Christian faith, because in some ways, hypocrisy is necessary. Uh, because what it means— what is required to be a Christian is not that you're good and moral and squeaky clean and have nothing wrong with you. The first thing that is actually required to become a Christian is that you admit that you're jacked up and need help. That's, like, the only thing that's required, is that you know that you are so messed up that you need grace. So in some sort of weird, kind of ironic way, it requires people who are messed up. It requires people who know that their lives are not put together. So this is why, when you go into a church, you find a bunch of people who are hypocrites, because we are. All of us are. We, we're all broken. We're all messed up. And now, that doesn't excuse Christians doing and saying stupid things by any means, but what I'm saying is that the stupidity of Christians does not discredit the reality of the Christian faith. If anything, it points to how important and necessary Jesus is. Uh, because Jesus is there, not to make squeaky clean, moral people. Jesus is there to save broken, messed up people, of which the church is full of them. Yeah. That's what I'd say to that.