The Historical Jesus Versus the Biblical Christ

The famous historian, Arnold Toynbee, predicted that the governments of the world would unite either by force or federation, but that the unity could not succeed without a universal religion. Christianity. he said, should be purged of its “sinful state of mind,” namely its exclusivism. The political/economic framework of world government would need to be supported by the unified spiritual dimension of humankind.[1]

We are told that the only hope for peaceful coexistence in our country, and the larger world, is for the religions of the world to set aside their differences and rally around a common banner of love, acceptance, and service, to our fellow man. After all, the various religions are but different expressions of the same ultimate, the same god (or gods).

The Bible, it is said, does not mean what most think it does. All that is required is to give up some doctrines; and then we will see that its metaphors will yield a deeper, hidden meaning. Christianity, we are told, has failed. Christianity talks of love and breeds hate. It speaks of one creator yet divides the creation with its narrow doctrines. The message is clear. It is time to move on. Christianity is like a boat that has taken us across the river. Now it is time to abandon it for the exciting new future.

Obviously, if the Bible is to harmonize with any number of religious viewpoints, it has to be reinterpreted, made to fit, if you please. The impression is given that the Bible can be easily stripped of its literal meaning and made compatible with any number of viewpoints.

Standing in the way of this grand plan for religious unity is the person of Christ. Historically, Christianity has held Him to be unique, the only special Son of God, the Lord, the Savior. But many Christians (or at least many of those who use the label today) are beginning to think that we can no longer maintain exclusivity in the midst of the growing awareness of other faiths. Here are three possible ways to relate Christ to the challenges of other religions.

Pluralism
First, there is pluralism, the direct assertion that we must accept all religions as equals. Christ is only a man, a prophet, one of a variety of options, and not necessarily a better option at that. We should not simply tolerate different religions. We should grant them the same respect we give our own. In this scenario Christ is variously interpreted; but always He is stripped of His deity. This pluralism affirms without equivocation that no religion has the right to be in judgment upon another. Superiority leads to the prejudice that must be exposed, despised, and eventually plucked up by the roots. [2]

Inclusivism
A second, more common, stance is inclusivism, an openness to other religions that began with the eighteenth-century enlightenment. Christ, in this view, may still be unique, but He does not represent sole possession of the truth. Other religions are also an expression of the divine, though their form may be less clear than that given to us in the New
Testament. [3]

The World Council of Churches stresses that only through religious dialogue amid the diversity of the world’s religions is it possible to see the totality of God’s revelation. Since Vatican II, this march toward inclusivism has also been seen in the Catholic Church. Previously, it was fervently believed that salvation could come only through the Catholic Church. But now that Protestants are called, “separated brethren,” one text of the Council says that the Roman Church must no longer be identified as the sole church of Jesus Christ id “that those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the Church in various ways.” [4]

Exclusivism
Third, there is exclusivism, which maintains that God has revealed Himself only in Christ. All other religions are therefore incomplete, misleading, and false. Exclusivism does not conflict with freedom of religion. Freedom to adopt whatever religion one wishes should be a right in all countries, especially those that have been influenced by the Christian faith. Exciusivism means that, whereas we recognize and respect freedom of religion, we do not compromise our beliefs. We also do not combine them with other religions or philosophies. Since there is one true God, our options are limited. [5]

Interest in the historical Jesus is on the rise. A recent article in U.S. News & World Report says that “the quest for the historical Jesus is getting a new surge of scholarly energy.”[6] Every day in churches, in self-help groups, in discussions at home and in the office — the historical Jesus is discussed. Christ is being refined to suit the syncretism of our times.

The World’s Love
Since Christ said that the world hated him (John 7:7), we can be quite sure that when the world says it loves Him it is because it has made Him into something He is not. The Biblical Christ cannot be dismissed. He stands in our path forcing us to make a decision, either to the right or to the left. In His presence neutrality is impossible.

Christ must always stand alone. All attempts to unite Him with the religions of the world are doomed to fail. Once we clarify His credentials and the gospel He brought us, we will realize that the Christian faith is exclusive and must logically be so. If there is any good news in the world, the followers of Christ will have to proclaim it. Other religions take bad men and try to make them better. Only one (Christianity) is qualified to take dead men and make them alive. “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, bath He quickened [made alive] together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13).

Endnotes
[1] Arnold Toynbee, Christianity Among the Religions of the World (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957), 95f.
[2] Erwin Lutzer, Christ Among Other gods, (Chicago, IL Moody Press, 1994), 21.
[3] Ibid., 21.
[4] A.P Flannery, ed., Documents of Vatican II (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1975), 367.
[5] Erwin W. Lutzer, Christ Among Other gods, (Chicago, IL.: Moody Press, 1994), 21.
[6] U.S. News & World Report, 20 December 1993, 62.

October 2005

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The OBF Visitor is the official publication of the Ohio Bible Fellowship. Feature articles from past issues of the Visitor are made available here for your use. You may read, distribute, and use this material as long as you do so in its entirety and without modification. All articles © The Ohio Bible Fellowship.

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