Our church, along with many churches in the Chicago area, is doing a sermon series entitled “Explore God.” The series is based around seven questions relevant to the Christian faith, and to people exploring the Christian faith.

  1. Does Life Have a Purpose?
  2. Is There a God?
  3. Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?
  4. Is Christianity Too Narrow?
  5. Is Jesus Really God?
  6. Is the Bible Reliable?
  7. Can I Know God Personally?

My plan is to write my own answers to these questions. I welcome engagement from people of all backgrounds in the comments or by email. I look forward to revisions and corrections that arise from that dialogue.

This is an important question both because of the answer, but also because of the assumptions that the question makes—assumptions that we will do well to examine.

The question is prompted by various statements in the Bible that say that God alone is to be worshiped, that other gods are no gods at all, and (in the New Testament) that Jesus is the only one who is able to offer salvation. Here are the words of Christ:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

Here are the words of Peter, the leader of the early church:

Salvation is found in no one else [i.e., in Christ; see the preceding verse], for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

Acts 4:12

So the question becomes, in a pluralistic and globalized world such as ours, is this claim offensive and/or inaccurate? Is it a throwback to old-time beliefs that gave to the Inquisition and the Crusades? Is it of a piece with the religious extremism that have been so prominent in the news in recent decades?

The issue here is what sort of thing Christianity is, and whether its diagnosis of the world’s plight is the correct one.

In answering the previous question, I drew attention to the fact that Christianity begins with the observation that something is wrong with the world. Sin and death are running amok, destroying lives. But Christ came, and defeated death, and provided an opportunity for us to repent, before He comes again for judgment.

That is: the world has a real problem, and it requires a real solution. In fact, all of us have a real problem—our slavery to sin—and we need to be saved from that. The verses above teach that faith in Christ is the solution. They emphasize that Christ is the only solution. In fact, we could have inferred this from the fact that, shortly before He was nailed to the cross, Christ prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Christ’s death was apparently the only way to bring about our salvation.

I suspect that the question arises in people who think of Christianity as something quite different. For instance, if Christianity is not true, then Christians are just a deluded group of people, singing songs full of lies and listening to Scripture readings and sermons that are full of lies. If we are charitable and regard Christians as nicer or more helpful than average, then we might judge that they are socially useful, the way a PTA is helpful to a school, or a homeowners association is helpful to a neighborhood. They may be irritating in their way, but at least they do some good work.

But if Christians are simply useful idiots, then of course it would be something between ridiculous and offensive for Christians to claim that their way is the only way. I have no objection to the PTA, but if you demand that I join the PTA, you’ll have a fight on your hands.

So, if you think that Christianity is some sort of homeowners association for the soul—then you should absolutely conclude that Christianity is too narrow. You can get the same social benefits from a mosque, a synagogue, an ashram, or indeed from one of the many secular benevolent organizations.

But the question should not be, Is Christianity Too Narrow? It should be, Is Christianity Appropriately Narrow?

If I’m in a crowded theater and somebody shouts “Fire!” then the proper reaction to that proclamation depends entirely on whether there is actually a fire. If there is a fire, then the person who sounds the alarm is a hero. Even if there is some awkwardness and confusion as people make their escape, at least they have the chance to make their escape. But if there is no fire, then to make the proclamation is a criminal action, and the person would be liable morally (and legally) for whatever happened next.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge that people often proclaim the Christian message inappropriately. At my alma mater, traveling preachers showed up annually, to the mortification of the Christian groups on campus. (I never stopped to listen to them closely, but I assume that they made some correct statements, if only by accident.) Their tone was offensive, and there was a large admixture of hateful invective. But one cannot assume that because the messenger is ugly, the message must be false. We must judge the case on its merits, rather than by the character of its worst proponents. A doctor can break the news of a cancer diagnosis gently or harshly, but we wouldn’t judge the accuracy of the diagnosis by the delivery of the message.