We’ve all heard or read things like this: “To say that Jesus is the only way to peace with God is arrogant and intolerant. To say that the truths of Christianity are the ‘True Truths’ is snobbish and condescending.” I’m sure you can add a few more.
These may at times seem to contain a little truth. In fact, statements like these from agnostics or atheists can shake Christians up: “Good point; what makes me right and others wrong?” The (post)modern tidal wave of tolerance can almost sweep Christians off their feet. So what do we do with such claims of arrogance and snobbery?
First, we have to understand that there is “no neutral judgment seat” from which the opening questions can be asked. There is no objective judgment seat that is “over” and “above” cultures, traditions, and belief systems. As I quoted from Newbigin before, “There are no canons of reason which are not part of a socially embodied tradition of rational debate” (p. 64). In fact, to suggest that Christianity is intolerant is an arrogant suggestion. The person saying as much is arrogantly sitting on a universal throne of judgment which no person has the right to sit upon. Besides, her remark is totally full of her own cultural baggage: she has particular presuppositions and “dogmas” by which she judges all things. Furthermore, she has not searched out every corner of every religion that ever existed which would give her some authority in making such a claim.
Keller is helpful here too, secondly. He says that such statements are belief statements, “unprovable faith assumptions.” The person who says Christianity is intolerant is making a religious statement with his own doctrinal beliefs. Keller: “It is no more narrow to claim that one religion is right than to claim that one way to think about all religions (namely that all are equal) is right. We are all exclusive in our beliefs about religion, but in different ways” (p. 12-13).
Here is a section of Newbigin that also helps answer the opening questions.
“When we point to Jesus, and to the story which has its center in the cross, we are invoking a criterion by which all our claims to justice are humbled and relativized. To affirm the unique decisiveness of God’s action in Jesus Christ is not arrogance; it is the enduring bulwark against the arrogance of every culture to be itself the criterion by which others are judged” (p. 166).
Newbigin also says that there are two ways to use reason when discussing the above questions: it may serve autonomy and act as ultimate judge (which no human has the right to do), or it may be open, ready to be challenged and questioned and changed. Christianity is the latter – we abandon the sovereign claims of autonomous reason and are judged by someone, something else. In positive terms, this is the gospel killing us and making us alive. It takes us off the throne and teaches us the “logic of election:” I did not choose to be a Christian, Jesus chose me to be part of this story. He sits on the throne, not me. We don’t make truth claims, Jesus does, and his truth claims challenged, called, and changed us. The atheist/agnostic has a problem with Jesus, ultimately. Of course we know that if one has a problem with Christ, he has a problem with Christianity.