Only One Way?
Reaffirming the Exclusive Truth Claims of Christianity
Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team
Rarely these days can one engage in an extended discussion of the Christian faith with an unbeliever without sooner or later encountering objections to the exclusivist claims of Christianity. “So you think that all those sincere, morally upright Buddhists are going to hell simply because they don’t follow Jesus? And you’re convinced that the Bible gives us objective truths about God? Come on! How could anyone seriously believe such things in this day and age?”
In the face of such incredulous opposition, some Christians — even some self-described evangelicals — have been tempted to ‘reassess’ certain historic Christian doctrines, such as the necessity of faith in Jesus for salvation. Given the resistance to these doctrines, might there be room for more flexibility about the uniqueness of Christ and the message of the gospel? The contributors to this book answer with a resounding ‘No’ — and make no apologies for doing so.
The six chapters of the book began life as conference addresses to the 2005 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, an event sponsored by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and the names of the authors will be familiar to those who have followed the work of the Alliance. It is therefore not surprising to find each contributor addressing his topic from a distinctively Reformed perspective. Moreover, it is evident from the style and format of the material that it derives from conference addresses; the essays are focused and engaging, but lack depth. The book will thus be most beneficial to those who are not already versed in the issues and arguments.
In the first chapter (‘One Among Many’) David Wells reflects on Paul’s address to the Athenians in Acts 17 and argues that “it is a model for how we should be engaging our own postmodern world in the West.” Wells notes two “important points of connection” between Paul’s 1st-century world and our 21st-century world, urbanization and religious pluralism, which together support the present-day relevance of Paul’s approach.
Peter Jones contends in chapter 2 (‘One God’) that “the chief doctrinal attack in our time is directed not to the inspiration of Scripture or the deity of Christ, but to the doctrine of God.” He suggests that the greatest threat to Christianity is now religious paganism, which offers postmoderns an alternative “exit strategy” to the quagmire of relativism and nihilism. The bulk of the chapter is devoted to setting out the vast differences between the biblical and pagan conceptions of God.
In chapter 3 (‘One Savior’) Richard Phillips defends the uniqueness and necessity of Jesus as Savior. Rightly connecting the doctrine of salvation to the doctrine of sin, he points out that one’s understanding of the solution will depend crucially on one’s understanding of the problem. The main reason postmoderns object to the Bible’s solution to the problem is because they deny the problem in the first place. Phillips reviews the biblical doctrine of sin and its terrifying implications, and gives three reasons why it follows that Jesus Christ is our one and only Savior.
In chapter 4 (‘One Truth’) Philip Ryken uses Pilate’s exchange with Jesus as a launch pad for addressing postmodern skepticism about truth. After pointing out two serious problems with postmodern relativism (it is self-refuting and it invites moral chaos) Ryken contrasts it with the biblical worldview and its affirmation of objective, authoritative truth grounded in God’s character and revelation. Ryken’s pastoral heart is evident as he concludes with an exhortation to join our commitment to truth with a commitment to love (Eph. 4:15).
The final two chapters (‘One People’ and ‘One Way’) move away from a direct engagement with pluralism toward reflections on other dimensions of Christian exclusivity. Ligon Duncan draws out four points from 1 Peter 2:9-10 on what it means to be the one people of God: we are God’s people “by discrimination,” “for service,” “for holiness,” and “as His inheritance.” D. A. Carson reflects on the sharp antitheses presented in the last section of the Sermon on the Mount. Ultimately there are only two ways to live: the way of Christ or the way of the world; the way of life or the way of death. But the way of Christ is also the way of the cross, which is the only way to reconcile Jesus’ uncompromising moral standards with the idea that His coming really is “good news” for us.
At the onset of the Iraq-Kuwait crisis in 1990, Margaret Thatcher is said to have steeled the resolve of George H. W. Bush with the memorable counsel, “This is no time to go wobbly.” Only One Way? doesn’t offer anything like an argument that might pacify unbelievers opposed to the Bible’s exclusivist claims. But it does provide a stirring reaffirmation and defense of Christian orthodoxy for believers who, despite their commitment to the authority of Scripture, are tempted to “go wobbly” in the face of the relentless onslaught of postmodern pluralism. And for those of us who remain undaunted by such cultural pressures, this book offers an invigorating celebration of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the biblical message of salvation through Christ alone.