The New Paganism (Part 3) Exclusivism: Why is Jesus Needed for Salvation?

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Read Part 1: The New Paganism (Part 1) Pluralism: Are There Many Paths to God?

Read Part 2: The New Paganism (Part 2) Inclusivism: Is Knowledge of Jesus Needed for Salvation?

Inclusivism VS. Exclusivism

In article #2 of this series, we started exploring the idea of inclusivism – the idea that salvation can be attained apart from the knowledge of Jesus (though Jesus’ work was necessary for salvation to be available, even if through a faith other than Christianity). So, we asked, “Is this idea biblical?”

We concluded inclusivism does NOT hold up under biblical scrutiny and concluded that the clear stance of the Bible is exclusivism: salvation is only found in faith in Christ alone.

Before we move on in this series, I wanted to quickly give one more explanation why Christianity is an exclusivist religion.

It comes down to this: Christianity isn’t exclusivist because certain verses say so; Christianity is exclusivist because the whole biblical explanation of reality leads to exclusivism. Those verses we looked at in the last article are simply confirming the exclusivist storyline of the Bible.

And it comes down to three things:

the nature of God,

the nature of humankind, and

the nature of Christ.

If what the Bible says about the nature of God and the nature humankind are true, then the ONLY hope for salvation is Jesus Christ.

 

THE NATURE OF GOD

First, God is perfectly good, righteous, holy, and just.

 

THE NATURE OF HUMANKIND

Secondly, all of humankind has sin. Thus, all of humanity – every individual human being – is separated from our perfectly good, righteous, holy, and just God. To deny this is to not have a high enough view of God or a low enough view of sin.

Separation from God due to sin is the current state of every human (apart from Jesus Christ), and once they die, they will continue to be separated from God. Thus, we need a savior.

This answers a common misunderstanding I hear often from those who are offended by the exclusivism of Christianity. The mistaken idea is that God condemns those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ because they don’t believe in Jesus, as if God chose belief in Jesus as some random reason for condemning people to hell. But humankind is ALREADY condemned because of sin. Jesus Christ is NOT the CAUSE of damnation but the CURE.

So, then the question is: WHY? Why must one believe in Jesus Christ to have salvation? Why can’t someone follow another spiritual teacher? Or, why can’t someone even follow, say, Moses instead – after all, both Moses and Jesus serve the same God?

 

THE NATURE OF CHRIST

Jesus Christ is exclusively the God-man. The second person of the Triune God took on flesh and became a man. He is completely God and completely man.

This God-man lived a perfect life that none of us can and died a death he didn’t deserve. As fully man, he can represent humankind. As fully eternal God, his sacrifice can cover us all and all our sins.

The separation between God and humankind could only be bridged by Jesus Christ, the only God-man. The exclusive gift of salvation could only be won by the exclusive God-man.

This is why Christianity is exclusivist.

The gift of salvation can be attained alone by faith in the only one who could attain it.

Thus, if all that the Bible says is true – about the nature of God, man, and the God-man – then Christianity must be exclusivist.

NEXT: Is the Holy Spirit needed for salvation?

Read Part 1: The New Paganism (Part 1) Pluralism: Are There Many Paths to God?

Read Part 2: The New Paganism (Part 2) Inclusivism: Is Knowledge of Jesus Needed for Salvation?

Learn more about Who Jesus Ain’t here.

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Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog (Part 1) What’s a Covenant?

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From time-to-time, we at GFTM like to interact with popular movies, TV, and culture, such as in our previous articles about Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. In this series, I wanted to interact with a classic from my childhood, one of my all-time favorite movies, and easily one of the greatest action/adventure movies ever made: Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Watch the 1981 trailer here.) Having watched it again recently, I couldn’t resist.

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EVER GO TO SUNDAY SCHOOL?

In the movie, Indiana Jones – professor of archeology, expert on the occult, “obtainer of rare antiquities,” and “man of many talents” – is commissioned by U.S. army intelligence agents to find the lost Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do. Apparently, Hitler had a thing for finding supernatural artifacts, and he believed that by possessing the Ark, his Nazi army would be unstoppable.

Frankly, Hitler had bad theology. But we’ll get into that later.

In Indy’s meeting with the army intelligence agents, we’re given the back-story of the Ark. (Watch the conversation here.) We’re told the Ark contains “thee” 10 Commandments, the actual stone tablets carried down from Mount Sinai by Moses, “if you believe in that sort of thing.” The Ark was carried by the ancient Israelites into battle, and it was kept in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. But then is disappeared from history.

One possibility, Indy explains, is the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak took the Ark when he invaded Jerusalem in about 980 BC. He then took the Ark to the ancient city of Tanis and placed it in a chamber called The Well of Souls. A year later, Tanis was “consumed” by a year-long sandstorm and disappeared. As Indy’s colleague Marcus Brody says, Tanis and all traces of the Ark were “wiped clean by the wrath of God.”

Indy shows the agents a drawing in a book with Israel’s enemies in disarray before the power of the Ark. When asked about a beam of yellow light shooting from the Ark, Indy explains it as “lightning – fire – the power of God or something.”

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This is the picture from the book shown in Raiders

Brody says, “The Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions. The army that carries the Ark before it is invincible.” This is not something we wanted Hitler to get his hands on.

Indy takes a little jab at the agents when they seem unknowledgeable about the Bible, asking them “Any of you guys ever go to Sunday School?”

But how well does what Indy and Brody say about the Ark line up with the Bible?

 

INDIANA JONES and THE TEMPLE OF BLOG

In this series, we’ll be looking at what the Bible tells us about the lost Ark, even what the Bible tells us about some raiders of the Ark. We won’t be talking about The Temple of Doom, but you’ll learn about the Temple of God in Jerusalem where the Ark was kept. We won’t discuss the Last Crusade, but you’ll learn about Israel’s crusade into the Promised Land with the Ark. And we certainly won’t be talking about The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but hopefully you’ll learn something about the Kingdom of God.

(For the record, I normally only acknowledge 3 Indiana Jones movies and pretend the 4th movie doesn’t exist. Honestly, shortly into the 4th movie, I wished it had gotten lost like the Ark long before I ever saw it.)

Here’s some stuff we’ll explore in this series:

  • WHAT IS THE ARK?
  • SO, WHAT’S ALL THIS OLD TESTAMENT STUFF ABOUT?
  • THE ARK IN ACTION
  • MOVING THE ARK AIN’T EASY
  • SO, WHERE DID THE ARK GO?
  • SKEPTICS, LEGALISTS, & THE SUPERSTITIOUS in RAIDERS
  • DON’T LOOK, MARION! FACE-TO-FACE WITH GOD’S WRATH

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WAIT, FIRST, WHAT’S A COVENANT?

Why is the Ark called the Ark of the Covenant? What’s a covenant? And what is THE Covenant?

Before we even talk about the Ark itself, these would be helpful questions to answer.

Essentially, a covenant is a sort of binding agreement – similar to a vow or contract – between two or more parties. Sometimes it’s one of mutual obligation, but it can also be a one-sided obligation. Often covenants were made between a king and a group of people. Marriage can be also considered a covenantal relationship both on a personal and legal level.

Long before Moses and the exodus from Egypt, God called upon Abraham (Abram at the time), the forefather of Moses and the Israelites, and made a covenant with him.

 

God called Abraham, saying, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

 

In his covenant, God promised to grant Abraham and his descendants land (Gen. 15:9-21) and that Abraham’s descendants will be God’s people and he will be their God:

When Abraham was ninety-nine years old (and still called Abram), God appeared to him and said,

 

“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations… And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.” (Gen. 17:1-9)

 

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Sometimes, God would remind his people of these covenant promises or renew them or even make new ones.

Over 400 years later, when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God appeared to Moses and said,

 

“I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant… I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’” (Exodus 6:2-8)

 

And after freeing Israel from slavery, God made a new covenant with Israel. This one was one of mutual obligation: God will protect Israel and bless them, and Israel would be loyal to God, being his representative people on earth, and live by his guidance and law (See Exodus 19-24).

To seal the covenant, Moses “took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood [of the peace offerings] and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Exodus 24:7-8).

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2 MORE THINGS ABOUT COVENANTS

Let me close with two last final facts dealing with covenants:

(1) Now, the thing with mutual obligation covenants is if one party doesn’t keep up their end of the agreement, the contract is null and void. As you’ll see later, Israel didn’t uphold their side of the contract.

(2) In the New Testament, Jesus took up a cup during the Last Supper on the night before he was crucified and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

But we’ll talk more about both these things later.

(By the way, if you’re hoping to get a GFTM series about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and what the Bible tells us about the “Holy Grail,” you just got it. The verse above is basically all the Bible has to say about the “Grail.” The Holy Grail is considerably more folklore than Bible. Fortunately, there’s a lot more we can learn about the Ark of the Covenant from the Bible.)

NEXT: What is the Ark?

My favorite idol

My favorite idol

 

The Walking Dead, Common Grace & Hell: Why Aren’t Things Worse?

As bad as life is for our heroes on The Walking Dead, could things be worse?

**Spoiler Alert: This article speaks about The Walking Dead TV series in general, mentioning briefly some events in Seasons 4 & 5.**

Other GFTM articles on The Walking Dead:

The Walking Dead & Unrestrained Evil

The Walking Dead & God’s Innate Moral Law

The Walking Dead, Lost Hope & God’s Providence

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BAD TO WORSE

Often, when I’m watching The Walking Dead, the following thought comes to mind:

Well, things could be worse.

And I don’t mean for the characters. I mean for the real world. As bad as things are – or can be – or have been – the characters on The Walking Dead certainly have it worse than the majority of us.

Americans, even those considered disadvantaged in the U.S., are much better off than most of the world. Let’s be honest, many of the issues we struggle with in the U.S. are what have been popularly (and accurately) called “First-World Problems.” Please understand I’m not trying to downplay anyone’s real struggles, but – if you’ll allow me to state the starkly obvious – things would certainly be much worse for those in the U.S. and other privileged countries if a zombie outbreak erupted.

But, it can be argued, even those in poor countries have it better than The Walking Dead characters. For instance, the poor often have to struggle just to acquire food; the characters on The Walking Dead have to struggle to acquire food and avoid becoming food by equally hungry zombies. So, it could be said to those in the Third World – the Global South – Hey, things could be worse.

The only situation where the world of The Walking Dead might be preferred over real life is in the most extreme situations, where human evil and oppression is at its worse or a land continually ravaged by war or — as often is the case — both. (It’s interesting to watch our Walking Dead heroes’ difficulty at adjusting to domestic life in Alexandria, showing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder like so many soldiers returning home from war.)

As we talked about in earlier articles, the threat from the living in The Walking Dead is worse than the threat from the mindless dead. Often the evil of the other living humans that our heroes encounter is on the same plane as the evil of Pol Pot, Stalin, and Hitler. After all, the treatment of people in places like Terminus – including being imprisoned in miserable conditions and having their throats systematical cut in a literal human slaughterhouse – is not unlike what one would experience at the hands of Nazis or ISIS.

But still, why aren’t things worse?

I’m not trying to be flippant about suffering at the hands of evil. Where it’s difficult to think of any situation of individual suffering being worse than, say, being starved and tortured in a concentration camp or scourged, pierced with nails, hung on a cross, and left to die, the question I’m asking is,

Why aren’t things worse overall, throughout the whole world?

Yes, pockets of incredible evil and suffering no doubt exist (and have existed) throughout the world, but it would be inaccurate to say such suffering exists everywhere at all times.

In other GFTM articles about The Walking Dead, we’ve spoken about how God restrains evil through the establishment of government and innate moral law. Further, in the last GTFM Walking Dead article, we spoke about God’s providence over his creation, that God didn’t just create the universe and now has nothing to do with it, but that he’s actively involved in sustaining and preserving it. Through Jesus Christ, God the Son, “all things hold together” (Col.1:17), and “he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb.1:3).

Simply, this means if God withdrew from his active involvement, things would without-a-doubt be worse. In fact, as funny as it sounds, after fighting tooth-and-nail through a swarm of zombies and barely escaping alive, Rick Grimes could release a deep breath and say, “Well, things could be worse”— and he’d be right.

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GOD’S WITHDRAWING

Accuse me of simplifying things, but let’s think of it this way: the more God withdraws, the worse things get. Now, let me really over-simplify things: Let’s break the idea of God’s withdraw into 3 possible levels of withdraw to illustrate — the higher the number, the more God withdraws:

LEVEL 1: God withdraws and allows evil and suffering.

LEVEL 2: God withdraws and all life dies.

LEVEL 3: God withdraws and everything ceases to exist.

Level 1 requires the most explanation, so let’s start with Level 2. If God sustains all things, he could simply cease to do so and life would end. Perhaps all vegetation dies, leading to mass starvation; perhaps the sun burns out; perhaps oxygen ceases to be oxygen; or perhaps our hearts simply stop pumping.

Next, let’s not jump right to Level 3 in this thought experiment. Let’s go to Level 2.5. Perhaps gravity stops working and we all float out into lifeless space. Perhaps the planets reel out of their orbits and collide.

Now, at “Level 3,” if God completely ended his active involvement, all that he has created would simply cease to exist. Much like God created everything out of nothing, everything would return to nothing.

Level 1 is what we experience today. For a deeper discussion of why there is evil and suffering in the world, read an earlier GFTM article called “Disasters, Disease, & Death — Why is there Natural Suffering?” But to keep it quick and simple here, we should note that the Bible confirms both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Suffering and evil is due to human sin, which God allows. Why does he allow it? One possible answer is love cannot exist without freewill. Logically, with the freewill to love comes the freewill to do evil. Further, due to sin, a curse weighs on all of creation, which leads to natural disasters, diseases, and death.

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COMMON GRACE

But we can’t talk about all this without mentioning God’s mercy and what theologians call God’s common grace. Since I wrote about common grace before in the article mentioned above, I hope you don’t mind if I lazily quote myself:

Common grace is the doctrine that due to sin, the world should be much worse than it is, yet God shows mercy and allows us to still enjoy the good things of this earth he created.

Common grace means even nonbelievers benefit from God’s good creation and mercy, which can include everything from their innate sense of morals, to meaningful relationships, to the beauty of nature, to food, music, and sex. The difference though between the believer and nonbeliever is that the believer recognizes these good things are from God and they worship the Creator instead of the creation.

Concerning God’s mercy, we see it in the Bible even when the world was first plunged into the curse due to sin: Adam and Eve were warned that the outcome of sin is death (both physically and spiritually), and though death is now a normal part of life, God didn’t kill them immediately. Moreover, even when God kicked them out of the garden, he showed the lovingness of a Father by making them clothes from animal skins (Genesis 3:21).

The Bible goes on to tell the story of the continuing corruption of God’s good creation by man’s sinfulness, yet throughout we see God showing mercy. Even when he destroys most of mankind with the flood, he spares Noah and his family; even when he allows sinful Israel to be taken into captivity by Babylon, he preserves a remnant. And this brings us right back to common grace. If God withdrew all of his blessings from us, the world would be a much more horrible place (whether because of human evil or natural catastrophe) or just a desolate, lifeless rock floating in space — or, most likely, nothing would exist at all.

WHAT DOES GOD OWE US?

God is not obligated to do anything for us. He gave us our very lives, which he didn’t have to do. All good things we experience are blessings from him (James 1:17). When he withdraws blessings, we experience suffering.

We see this continually in the Old Testament with God and Israel. God blessed Israel in many ways, making them his own people to represent him on earth, yet when Israel turns away from him, breaking the covenant they made with God, God withdraws his blessings, allowing pagan nations to harm, even conquer, Israel. It should be noted that God didn’t cause the evil actions of the pagan nations, but he willingly removed his protection from Israel and allowed the pagan nations to follow their own sinful desires.

The situations of God’s withdraw from ancient Israel may have been to different degrees or for different lengths of time, but God often preserved Israel, and this was due wholly to God’s mercy and grace. He was within his rights to fully and completely withdraw his blessings.

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WHAT IS HELL?

This withdraw of God’s blessing is foreshadowing hell. The Bible gives little details about hell, and most peoples’ ideas about hell aren’t based on the Bible but the medieval epic poem Inferno from Dante’s Divine Comedy, whether they realize that or not. There are no descriptions in the Bible of demons torturing people in hell, but Jesus is clear that hell is a place where no one wants to be. He calls it a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt.13:42; Luke 13:28).

Since God is omnipresent, we know that God is not absent from hell in a sense, but hell is clearly a place where God’s blessings are absent. In hell, God has totally withdrawn his blessings. Whatever other characteristics hell has, this we can be sure of.

As we discussed in earlier GFTM Walking Dead articles, once government is removed from practicing law, order, and justice, chaos and evil are free to reign. Further, in hell, there will no longer be a sense of coming divine judgment to curb evil. The innate sense of morals we have will finally be completely deadened. In hell, those there will be unrestrained to follow their evil desires. It will be every person for himself; a land of absolute autonomy, which means a land of absolute selfishness.

(Often people protest against the doctrine of hell, saying it’s unjust for God to infinitely punish finite sins. Why do people assume sinning will stop in hell?)

Admittedly, some of my portrayal of hell may be mistaken, but I’m sure of this: In hell, all of God’s blessings will be entirely removed, and even without horned demons, pitchforks, and medieval torture racks, this idea is utterly terrifying.

NEXT: Who are the walking dead? We are.

Other GFTM articles on The Walking Dead:

The Walking Dead & Unrestrained Evil

The Walking Dead & God’s Innate Moral Law

The Walking Dead, Lost Hope & God’s Providence

Dante Illuminating Florence with his Poemk, by Domenico di Michelino

 

Book Review: “What is Biblical Theology?”

BOOK REVIEW:

What is Biblical Theology?

by James M. Hamilton Jr.

(Crossway Books)

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

This past summer I went out to Kentucky to take some summer classes at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a friend invited me to his church.  When I arrived, the first person I just happened to meet was James Hamilton, who I later learned is the head pastor.  (For the record, I had already received my free copy of What is Biblical Theology? from Crossway’s Beyond the Page program, but had not yet read it for this review.)

Dr. Hamilton opened his sermon with an illustration from a Shakespeare play — and not one of Shakespeare’s more popular ones.  Later in the sermon, he quoted John Gardener, a writer’s writer, author of books like Grendel and The Art of Fiction.  Having a B.A. in English myself, I concluded Dr. Hamilton must have an English/literature background.  Later, I found out I was correct.

Maybe I’m a bit biased, but I do believe having a background in literature gives a biblical scholar a unique advantage.  The Bible, after all, is a work of literature.  Not only is it a collection of various genres of literature, many of the more poetic parts is abound with figurative language.  Further, even the histories use literary devices to tell history as narrative.  James Hamilton is the right man for writing a book like this.

Biblical theology is the study of the story of the Bible as a whole.  Many of us grew up hearing stories from the Bible, thinking that the Bible is just a collection of random, unconnected stories.  Yet there is one overarching story-line that continues throughout the whole Bible.  In order to better understand this metanarrative, one must see the connection between the themes, symbols, and patterns (typology) of the Bible.  Again, call me biased, but I believe someone with a literature background is best qualified to do this.

We need more books like this: books written by quality scholars who can break down big ideas into readable books for everyday readers.  Biblical theology is an important subject for all Christians to be familiar with because it leads to a huge jump in understanding and confidence in their faith.  This short, readable book would be ideal for pastors to use to lead a group of laypeople through lessons on the unity of the Bible and the harder-to-grasp concepts like symbolism, theme, and typology (patterns that repeat throughout biblical history and even foreshadow future events).

As Dr. Hamilton states, if we don’t understand the symbolism used by the authors, we’ll miss the meanings of the authors’ messages.  As an English teacher, I find symbolism is one of the harder concepts for people to grasp, yet the Bible is filled with symbols.  If you pick up What is Biblical Theology? for nothing else, it’s a great explanation of the predominate symbols seen throughout the Bible.

Sometimes, Dr. Hamilton’s short, terse sentences reminded me of Hemingway’s style, and sometimes I found myself wishing he’d expound of an idea more.  There’s a lot packed into this short book, but obviously a book this length can only serve as an introduction — but an extremely useful and important one.  (And at the end of the book, Dr. Hamilton suggests books for deeper study on biblical theology.)

As Dr. Hamilton writes, “[T]he Bible’s story and symbolism teach us as the church to understand who we are, what we face, and how we should live as we wait for the coming of our King and Lord… Biblical theology is not just an interesting topic.  It informs who we are and how we live.”

(To read my blog article titled “2-Minute Lesson on Biblical Theology — the Progressive Revelation of God in Human History” click here.)