A radically abridged and ambiguous view of the gospel has captivated the church today. We see this whenever a prominent professing believer says his or her faith “is a very private thing.”
Let me suggest to you that if your faith is “a private thing,” it’s not the Christian faith. That personal, secret faith so many have concocted grants them no access to forgiveness and has no capacity to save. Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). If you can’t even muster the temerity to speak the name of Christ in public, what confidence can you have that He is faithfully interceding on your behalf? If you’re ashamed of the gospel, it’s a strong indication that you have yet to believe it. True, saving faith must not be hidden away. It ought to be the most public thing about you!
Others are more overt in their obfuscation, intent on bulldozing heaven’s narrow gate and creating an easier, wider point of ingress to God’s eternal kingdom. Today there is a prominent and surging belief, often referred to as “natural theology,” that suggests man inherently has the ability to reason himself to God — apart from any divine revelation or formal religion. Supposedly, man is able to discern enough about God from the natural world to satisfy any divine requirements for faith, without any insight from Scripture.
That theory is understandably popular in our pluralistic, postmodern society, as it puts all the world’s false religious systems on a seemingly equal footing with the Christian gospel. Moreover, it assaults the exclusivity of Christ, which is consistently and increasingly an intolerable notion to the world. And it was promoted by no less than Pope John Paul II.
In December 2000, before a crowd of more than 30,000 people in St. Peter’s Square, he said, “The gospel teaches us that those who live in accordance with the Beatitudes — the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, those who bear lovingly the sufferings of life — will enter God’s kingdom.” We can concede that Catholics have already rejected the biblical teaching that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone. But flinging the doors of heaven open so wide renders even the Catholic system of works-salvation null and void. If heathens can be saved merely by living good and just lives, Rome’s sacraments — along with the pontiff himself — are utterly useless.
In fact, author Peter Kreeft (also a Roman Catholic), says in his book Ecumenical Jihad that Catholics, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and even atheists will be in heaven if they earnestly sought to find God. However, the biggest shock from Ecumenical Jihad is that evangelical leaders such as J.I. Packer and Charles Colson were happy to endorse Kreeft’s heresy.
Tragically, these divergent beliefs about salvation have successfully invaded the church. In a 1997 episode of his TV program Hour of Power, the televangelist Robert Schuller interviewed world-renowned Christian evangelist Billy Graham. Here is an excerpt from their conversation:
Graham: “I think everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ (whether they are conscious of it or not), they’re members of the body of Christ. And I don’t think we’re going to see a great, sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. … God’s purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name. And that’s what God is doing today. He’s calling people out of the world for His name. Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world. They are members of the body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their heart that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think they’re saved and they’re going to be with us in heaven.”
Schuller: “What I hear you saying is that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they’ve been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you’re saying?”
Graham: “Yes it is, because I believe that. I’ve met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a god, and they’ve tried to live a life that was apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.”
Schuller: “This is fantastic! I’m so thrilled to hear you say this. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.”
Graham: “There is. There definitely is.”
Regarding that supposed wideness in God’s mercy, Clark Pinnock writes,
In our approach to other religions, we ought to begin with appreciation not with criticism. Only our traditions prevent it — not our theology. Let us heed Max Warren: “We remember that God has not left himself without witness in any nation at any time. When we approach the man of a faith other than our own, it will be in a spirit of expectancy to find out how God has been speaking to him and what new understandings of the grace and love of God we may ourselves discover in this encounter. Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we find ourselves treading on men’s dreams. More seriously still, we may forget that God was here before our arrival.”
Pinnock sums up his low view of Christ’s exclusivity this way: “God the Logos has more going on by way of redemption than what happened in first century Palestine.”
That perspective also underlies Raimon Panikkar’s book The Unknown Christ of Hinduism — a bizarre enough title in itself. In this book, Panikkar says the “good and bona fide Hindu as well as the good and bona fide Christian are saved by Christ — not by Hinduism or Christianity per se, but through their sacraments and, ultimately, through the mysterion active within the two religions.”
On and on it goes. There seems to be no end of pastors and evangelical leaders who believe the gospel of the New Testament is too narrow. Instead of faithfully preaching the truth of God’s Word, they vainly attempt to identify a back door into heaven.
Such attempts openly contradict the clear teaching of Scripture. So here we are, forced to defend the exclusivity of Christ against constant assaults from inside the church. And the movement is not diminishing — if anything, it’s quickly growing in this postmodern world, where tolerance dominates and everyone has a right to his own truth. In a culture that rejects absolute truth, Christians must be able to answer these attacks on the gospel.
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