My high school-aged children attend a secular prep school. The process of deciding to educate them there was long and difficult. They spent their lower and middle school years in Christian schools and home school. But in the end, all factors considered, the prep school seemed to us the best choice. Among the many challenges that have come our way as a result have been regular contact with people of other religious persuasions, Christian and non-Christian. Evangelicals are few and far between.
For the most part our children have stood tall, rising above the moral and spiritual milieu that pervades the place and have received a begrudged admiration from adults and peers alike. But among the recurring points of tension for the Johnson family is one we might call (as it has been labeled) “the scandal of particularity.” Why are you conservative Protestants so dogmatic? we are asked incredulously. Why do you think it’s your way or no way? Do you think you’re the only ones who are right? That you’re the only ones who will go to heaven? Do you think everyone who doesn’t believe like you do will go to hell?
No doubt about it, it is difficult to be a John 14:6 Christian in a culture awash in moral and religious relativism. When the chief virtue of a civilization is “acceptance” of others; when “diversity” is its goal and pluralism its public philosophy, a religion that preaches “Jesus only” and “one way” is a misfit. Who but rednecks and bigots could make such claims? Talk about politically incorrect. Arrests for hate speech may be in order before long.
I’m fairly confident that if I were creating a religion today it would be “open,” “tolerant,” and “accepting” of all other points of view. We Bible-thumpers want to fit in like everybody else. Who doesn’t want to swim with the easy, downstream currents of relativism and avoid conflict?
However, we have trouble convincing others of the fact that we didn’t create Christianity. It was given. God made it what it is. As the apostle Paul puts it, our gospel is “not man’s gospel,” or as one scholar puts it, not “man devised, of human origin.” This means that Paul did not receive it from others, nor did he make it up (see Gal. 1:11).
In defending himself Paul makes a crucial point for us today. Where did he get his gospel? He did not invent it. He did not receive it by human tradition. He received it by revelation, not from a human source. He received it “by means of” a direct “revelation” from Jesus Christ. And so it was for all of the apostles. Christianity is a revealed, supernatural religion.
One would have thought that it were of the essence of religion that one receives it, one joins it, one enters into its tradition with its givenness. Religion, one would have thought, has to do with God, and so with things eternal and permanent. God, being God, doesn’t change, nor does His truth. God doesn’t negotiate truth, since truth, if it is truth, is unchanging. Or so one would have thought. But no, today all religions and gods bow before the god of relativism. Homage must be paid. A place at the table is granted only to those religions that will recognize: “Relativism is Lord.” All other of one’s traditions, ceremonies, rituals, and teachings may be retained but for this one concession. Just add this one clause to one’s confession: “in the end, all religions are the same.”
This, however, we cannot do. Why? Because Christianity is “not man’s gospel.” If it were, then our problems with our pluralistic world would be over. Every few years we could issue a new version: Gospelsoft ’08 (with apologies to Microsoft). We could take the pulse of the culture, delete offending words and concepts, add new features that appeal to our generation, and re-market our message. This, after all, is the sensible way to sell religion. Go with the times. Opinions, tastes, and fashions change. Go with them. Pragmatism works.
But, our gospel is not according to men. Is this to be regretted? No, not at all. It is to be embraced. If Christianity could be altered according to the shifting winds of human fashion, its value would depreciate beyond visibility. The worth of Christian teaching is directly related to its permanence, which in turn is directly dependent upon its divine origin. Christianity is unalterably true and forever relevant only because it is from God.
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Who am I to argue with definite articles? Why would I want to? If Jesus says He is “the way,” not a way, then it must be so. If Jesus is who we believe Him to be, it must be that what He said was true when He said it, true a thousand years later, and true today. Though this absolutism annoys our unbelieving and differently-believing neighbors, it is the foundation of our confidence and joy. If Christianity were according to man, it would offer poor solace. Because it is not according to man, but “through a revelation of Jesus Christ,” it is forever relevant, true, and certain.