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Why Is Christian Doctrine Exclusivist?

by Daryl E. Witmer

Perhaps the simplest answer to the question above is: “Because Christian doctrine is true, and all truth is exclusivist.” If something is true, then it’s opposite must be ‘excluded” as false.

Another answer: “For the same reason that all religions either directly or implicitly hold that their teaching and position is exclusively correct.”

Hindus with whom I have met have claimed that their faith is really “open source” – that any and all religions can be a valid way to God. But they have then explained that position to mean that the evangelical Christian view about Jesus being the only way to heaven is wrong and unacceptable.

I once served as pastor of a congregation meeting in a building owned by the Unitarian-Universalist Association (UUA). The UUA publicly made much of the fact that they were all-inclusive, welcoming everyone. But one day they went to court to seek the eviction of those of us who held that Christ alone is the way of salvation. It seems their inclusivism had limits.

Did you know that Islam is also  exclusivist? The Qur’an (3:85) says: “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), Never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost.”

Kenneth Wapnick of the Foundation for A Course in Miracles recently disparaged the world of “absolute truth” and “seeming certainty” where 2+ 2 always equals 4 as being “wrong-minded.” He denunciated a world that “follows specific laws and is regulated by adherence to form . . .” He rather advocated a change in our belief that there even is such a thing as a 1 + 1 = 2 reality. But one wonders if he is “absolutely” “certain” of that.

The reason that even those being critical of doctrinal exclusivity end up being exclusivist themselves is because truth itself is exclusive. No one can live consistently in a world where 1+ 1 = anything that you want it to be. And any good student of comparative religion will tell you that every significant religious system, not just Christianity, assumes an exclusivist doctrinal stance to one extent or another. God is either one with creation as monists claim, or He is not. You can’t have it both ways. Either Jesus was merely human as Jews claim or He was fully God. You can’t have it both ways. Either Moroni was an angel of truth as the Mormons claim or he was not. You can’t have it both ways. Either there is no such thing as objective moral sin as New Age thought suggests, or there is such a thing. You can’t have that both ways. Either Christ really was historically crucified and raised from the dead as Christians teach, or He wasn’t, as Muslims claim. You can’t have that both ways.

In 2005 I received an e-mail response to comments that I had made in a regular column that I write for the Bangor Daily News. Here follows an edited version of the exchange that followed:

A HUSBAND & WIFE wrote to me on 3/29/05: “We find that you offer little consideration or respect for those who do not embrace your message that you

have interpreted from scriptural writings. It seems to be a message of exclusivity rather than recognizing that there are many paths to the Divine Being. This is what we have difficulty with, in your lack of being graciously open-minded.”

“We look for opportunities to create greater understanding and respect for people with different points of view than we do. We believe this is the way to build a peaceful co-existence among all God’s people. We wish you good health, prosperity, and peace. ‘Shalom.'”

ON 3/29/05 I RESPONDED: “Well it seems to me that what you are really saying is that you will accept and respect any view except my exclusivist view, i.e. that there is only one true view. But that in effect also makes your view exclusivist (of my view), doesn’t it? Your view is that there are many paths to the Divine Being. My view is that there is only one way – Jesus – who said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me.'”

“Is your view (i.e. that there are many true views) exclusively true? If not, why should I accept it – it might be wrong. If so, how can you say that you can’t respect an exclusivist view (like mine)? Best regards.”

THEY WROTE on 3/30/05: “Whether or not our view point is exclusively true is not the point of contention. We are not suggesting that you should accept it. What we ask of you is to be less offensive.”

MY RESPONSE (3/30/2005): “Well, I could also say that I find your view (that there are many ways to God) misleading and offensive. But I just accept it as being misguided. I wish that you could see that your position is logically self-defeating. You have to stand on the very ground upon which you criticize me for standing in order to be critical. In other words, whether you can see it or not or admit it or not, you are also being exclusivist when you exclude my view. But let’s meet to talk some more. My best.”