This week's 'thought' comes to you from Mark Shaw, a missionary professor in Africa who teaches at The Evangelical Graduate School of Theology, in Nairobi, Kenya. It is found in his book, "Walking on the Waves - Meeting Jesus Through Stories and Scripture."
In this selection he deals with the common accusation that Christians are arrogant for claiming Jesus as the only way to salvation. Yet he flips the accusation on end he looks at it from the opposite angle, which he calls "The Arrogance of Pluralism" (Religious Pluralism), showing the Christian position to be an expression of humility. His thoughts (and book) are worth your consideration. Enjoy.
Pluralist spirituality that is popular today can be summed up in these words: "I think God has many faces and can be reached through many paths. I find it impossible to believe that he would limit himself to one tribe (one perspective)."
Yet, as Shaw goes on to say, "Only by affirming Jesus as the only Lord and Savior can we avoid the arrogance of pluralism and cultivate the humility of the cross... Christians are often accused of religious arrogance and spiritual imperialism for affirming the supremacy of Christ. It is certainly true that Christians, as sinners, have been, and will at times continue to be arrogant in their claims and behavior. Christians are not always consistent with their Christ.
But the claim that Christian exclusivism is arrogant distorts the true Christian position. The true Christian position is that we approach other faiths from a position of weakness, not superiority. The nobility of thought, the sensitivity to the spiritual dimension, the lofty ethics, and the intensity of zeal and devotion found in other religions often surpass that of the Christian ["Gandhi," he says, "would certainly outstrip most Christians in those categories."] The Christian looks up at other religions around him and rejects them not out of arrogance, but out of humility.
What do I mean? Christ reveals to the Christian that religious achievement, however noble, however lofty, is not the place where God has chosen to meet humankind.
Lesslie Newbigin pictures the world's religions as a staircase reaching toward God and adorned with spiritual achievements of all kinds. But, 'the central paradox of the human situation is that God meets us at the bottom of our staircase, not at the top. That our ascent towards God... takes us further away from the place where he actually meets us.'
Martin Luther declared that only a theology of the cross (one that rejects any contribution to salvation) and not a theology of glory (one that emphasizes human morality or devotion) can lead us to the place of cleansing and mercy. Justification by faith is therefore the great scandal of religion. Man's work will not be accepted. God will not be pleased except by his own work in and through his Son.
The Christian thus feels that it is the other religions of the world that in the last analysis project the very arrogance that they impute to Christianity. Though God has spoken to the world through Christ, the world continues to climb its staircases, pile up its achievements, and create its own religious solutions. With Paul the ex-Pharisee, members of other religions must come to the point at which they leave their achievements behind and even, 'consider them rubbish, that [they] may gain Christ and be found in him' (Phil. 3:8-9)."
His point is well taken. All other world religions are based on human merit. Value is placed on certain human deeds, attitudes, or the perceived worthiness of who they are to God, and then, like people heading to the local store on pay day, they take the currency of what they feel are those God-valued things and use them to barter with God for His forgiveness, acceptance or blessing.
The Christian knows otherwise. Not because they are proud, but because they have been convinced that the sum total of their bartering power is less than zero. Not only do they have no excess, they are deeply mired in a debt they can't free themselves from by anything they do. For even their best deeds -- even their most "righteous" acts -- are stained by the sin that resides within them, making every one of them as, "filthy rags (unclean and thus unacceptable) in the sight of God" (Is. 64:6).
What, therefore, causes the Christian to reject religious views based on human achievement and merit? Humility. We just cannot believe that what we do could ever merit God's forgiveness, favor and acceptance.
We reject merit-based views, not because we somehow feel WE are superior, but because we know we are not and feel that any view which exalts human effort in that way, and thereby makes salvation a matter of religious bartering, paints a distorted picture of the God who receives people on the basis of mercy rather than merit.
The Good News (the unbelievable message the Bible proclaims) is, "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost" (Is. 55:1).
That's grace. God does not require that we pay for our salvation, but instead proclaims that through Christ He has paid the full price for us! That's the Gospel! Christ's life of sinless, loving, selfless and flawless obedience, as well as His substitutionary rejection, suffering and death for sin's that were not His own, paid in full the salvation price of all who would ever see their desperately lost state and simply trust in Him.
That's what makes it possible for poor lost sinners like us to come with no money and buy what we could never afford -- even though all we have to offer Him (that we can truly call our own), is our sin. That humbles me, exalts Him, and makes it impossible to accept any merit-based plan of salvation which in religious pride suggest that a person can climb the stairway to heaven by their own flawed efforts and achievements.
To God alone be the glory, Pastor Jeff