Even a Christian can get dispirited these days. The assorted media deliver into our living rooms — as if our private space were a cultural landfill — each day’s lurid murders, political scandals, movies, TV shows celebrating every kind of abomination, and doomsday scenarios from global warming to bird flu. It seems one doomsday at a time just isn’t enough anymore.
By and by, a major religious holiday comes round, and the media discover Jesus. So we get TV specials, cover stories in Time and Newsweek (“Top Scientists Debate Christ’s Resurrection”), and, as surely as we get chiggers in the summer, we get The Experts: John Spong. The Jesus Seminar. Karen Armstrong, et al. Theologians all — at least according to the media — and all saying the same thing: your Christian faith is a quaint relic of the Middle Ages.
But Jesus Christ really is your Savior, and not only your Savior, but the only Savior for the whole world. The Experts are hopelessly, totally wrong.
We applaud Rev. James Edwards (PCUSA) for so boldly and plainly affirming this.
A Defense of the Faith
It only takes one sentence to say, “I believe Jesus is the only Savior.” Edwards has written a book to show why you should believe it. His target audience, he says, can be divided into two groups: Christians whose faith has been shaken by modernism, and persons who have no Christian belief (p. xii).
“American Christianity is suffering theological collapse,” he says, and even churchgoing Christians are “mixing and matching beliefs that were previously thought incompatible and contradictory” (p. 4) in their quest for a personalized “Designer God” (p. 3). Renegade Episcopal Bishop John Spong expresses this notion in its most radical form: “My life reveals the divine life. I love with divine love. ‘My Me is God.’” Louis XIV boasted, “L’etat, c’est moi” (“I am the State”); Spong sees Louis and raises him.
When we wonder why so much overt wickedness flourishes today, we need look no further than this addled theology for an explanation. How are we going to condemn any behavior if we believe everyone merely responds to the prompting of “the god within”? Edwards has the facts and figures to show that far from being the special foible of a few heretics, bad theology has tainted the entire Christian community in America (pp. 1–4, polls by Gallup and Barna).
So, a defense of the faith is necessary. We can’t begin to clean up the mess we’ve made of our culture until we come to know God and what He expects of us.
Edwards’ tool is reasonable argument — apologetics, if you will. Not that argument, no matter how reasonable, reaches everybody. Edwards quotes atheist Thomas Nagel as an example of the unreachable:
“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers … I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that” (p. 204).
As St. Paul observed, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
Conversion is a sovereign act of God; it is not in our power to convert anyone. But it pleases God sometimes to use us as agents of conversion, and to that end Christ commanded us to teach and preach and make disciples of all nations. To carry out our Great Commission, we do well to learn and use the arguments in favor of our faith.
Some readers will find themselves on familiar ground as Edwards plays out his line of reasoning. We will have encountered it in books like Hank Hanegraaff’s Resurrection (Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN: 2000) and on his Bible Answer Man radio programs.
Why is Jesus the only Savior, according to Rev. Edwards?
- Those who say He isn’t do not have a compelling argument. In fact, they’re pushing a religious agenda of their own, one that aspires to compete with the gospel.
- The New Testament is a credible historical source — much better than anything else of comparable age.
- Jesus proclaimed Himself the Savior; and instead of ignoring Him, the Jewish and Roman authorities in Jerusalem took Him seriously enough to kill Him.
- The uniqueness of the Incarnation — there is nothing at all like it in the countless mythologies and religions devised by man — speaks volumes in and of itself.
On this last point Edwards is eloquent.
“Would a God who provided for the salvation of the world in a unique, costly, and sacrificial death of his Son be willing to accept any other means — and especially lesser means — of salvation?” he writes (p. 181). “If lesser means would have sufficed, why the scandalous sacrifice of his Son?”
In other words, why in the world would Christ have had to die on the cross if we could get into heaven simply by accumulating a high score of good works, refraining from serious crimes, chanting to an idol, peering into a crystal, or just being a nice guy? It simply doesn’t make sense.
In addition to setting forth a positive case for Jesus as the only door to the Kingdom of Heaven, Edwards refutes some of the modern muddle that has, for many, weakened Christ’s claim to exclusivity.
Can Christianity maintain that claim in a world as pluralistic as ours? Edwards shows that the world of the 1st century was just as pluralistic as our own. Christianity, he says, “maintained its identity by resisting religious syncretism, not by adapting to it” (p. 135).
We, too, should resist it. “Whenever something in the divine hierarchy, whether morality, politics, or spirituality, rivals the lordship of Christ, then idolatry stands at the door,” says Edwards (p. 141).
Is a savior from sin meaningful in an age of moral relativism? Whether we like it or not, Edwards says, “Sin demands a savior” (p. 146). “The New Testament has a self-authenticating quality about it because it bears witness to a world we instinctively know to be true … The gospel is the historical narrative of a real healing for a real wound” (p. 152).
What about postmodern contentions that there is “my truth” and “your truth” and everybody else’s, that we can’t know anything for sure, and that the meaning of any text, including the Bible, is generated in the mind of the reader? Postmodernism, says Edwards, is “one of the chief reasons why many Christians today are hesitant to express their faith in a publicly significant way” (p. 165). Again, he appeals to the coherence of the Bible narrative and plain common sense — always postmodernism’s worst enemy.
Does the idea of Jesus as sole Savior threaten world peace? Edwards illustrates this fear with a quote from theologian Joseph C. Hough, Jr.:
“I have come to believe that this exclusivist tendency in my own faith — and in other faith traditions — is a serious barrier to genuine peace-making in a world of religious pluralism … dismissive of other beliefs and inherently divisive” (p. 187).
But the message of the gospel is universal, Edwards argues, and was so proclaimed from the beginning: “Modern pluralism fears the universal, whereas the vast majority of the first-century world longed for it” (p. 189). Finally, “The gospel does not destabilize the world. It reconciles the world” (p. 202).
How should Christians think about other religions?
Says Oprah Winfrey, “There are many diverse paths leading to God”: these words, says Edwards, “seem to be the modern mantra about religions” (p. 203). Because all of these religions have some of the pieces of the puzzle, Edwards says, we should expect similarities among them. But only in Jesus does the full picture come together: “we do not find any support for an uncritical pluralism” in the New Testament (p. 227).
The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, Edwards proclaims, is a historical event. It really happened, and it changed everything. And Christians should shout it from the housetops.
“No one … would regard the discovery of a cure for AIDS … in Rochester or Cambridge or Tokyo as exclusive,” says Edwards. “It would be a cruelty if a cure for a dreaded disease were discovered, but not delivered to those suffering from the disease” (p. 239).
In our fallen world, the disease is sin, and Christ the cure. We should not be bashful about delivering this cure — by means of evangelism, apologetics, public debate, and the example of our own lives, inasmuch as is possible for us.
Rev. Edwards’ book is a breath of fresh air, kept lively by personal anecdotes (don’t miss his conversation with a self-professed “Presbyterian Buddhist” on page 5) and abundant quotes. It’s well worth reading and discussing with others. There are many who need to hear its message.