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Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Only One Way" (Michael L. Johnson and Richard D. Phillips, editors)

TITLE: Only One Way: Christian Witness in an Age of Inclusion (Best of Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology)
AUTHOR: Michael L. Johnson and Richard D. Phillips, editors
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 2018, (176 pages).

Why must Christianity be so exclusive? Aren't we supposed to create an inclusive culture with equal rights and equal treatment of people? Isn't it too arrogant for some Christians to insist that only they have the truth? These questions on the exclusivity of Christ as stated in John 14:6 is the main focus in this book. Containing materials given at the 2005 Philadelphia conference on Reformed Theology, it aims to "promote clarity and conviction about the great evangelical truths of the gospel and to proclaim these truths powerfully into our contemporary context." No easy feat, considering how liberal our society is increasingly becoming. For in our world of free expression and freedom of beliefs, everyone insist on their version of truth in a world filled with fake news and deception. Even the dissemination of falsehood can hide under the guise of freedom of expression. For Christians, truth is not an abstract theory nor some weird beliefs. It is the Person of Jesus Christ. How do we communicate this in our Christian witness? Gradually, according to the editors of this book. In moving from one to many, individual pieces have been arranged to shine light on the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ. Before one starts to accuse the individual contributors of bigotry, consider their arguments. David Wells reminds us that God has not changed. It is we who have changed. Truth has become individualized, and Christ has become simply one of many choices, similar to the situation that Paul encountered in Acts 17 at Mars Hill. Like Paul's Athens, our society too are urbanized, experienced "coerced civility" and are highly idolatrous.  Wells shows us the powerful apologetic from Paul in his three missionary addresses, and focuses on arguments based on God as Creator; God as Sovereign; and God as Judge. He concludes that we in the postmodern culture ought to wake up and work hard at "tough intellectual slogging" in understanding our culture; convicted in our beliefs; and if necessary pay the price for our faith.  Albert Mohler joins in with the proclamation of "One Gospel" going back to Romans 1 passage to describe how dark the world is and the importance of proclaiming the gospel without being ashamed. Even when he continues on the exclusive claims, he is spot on in saying that God is not against the rest of the world. In fact, He loved us, forgave us, and even died for all. It is not about the exclusive claims but about our relentless rejection of Him that is the problem. Peter R. Jones goes back to God as Creator under "One God" in an age of polytheism and plural beliefs. The challenge is to address the increasing worldview that insists on a future without God. Jones makes a very interesting observation that "the very denial of God is one of the chief obstacles to our preaching the gospel today." If we do not recognize this and choose instead to focus on the content of our arguments instead of the contexts, we would be trapped in an endless cycle of cynicism and stubborn disbelief. The challenge is not just atheism or secularism. It is paganism and polytheism. His warning on paganism and neo-paganism is apt:

"... while Christians are busy placing their fingers in the postmodern dike of our civilization, the intellectual neo-pagans are producing an alternative composite and coherent worldview."
Following this, Jones goes on to describe the biblical witness of God being True; Eternal; Creator; Unique; Transcendent; Personal, Sovereign, Holy, and Triune. Richard D Phillips continues the focus on who God is by focusing on Jesus as One Savior. He reminds us of how hostile the world is to the exclusive claims of Christ. He poses the question of why this world is problematic. Some say it is for lack of knowledge, and ignorance of solutions, of which the answer is education. Others say that it is because of the poor environment we are in, of which the solution is economics. Still others think it is mortality where the answer lies in prolonging life. Then there is the case of tolerance. If Jesus is the answer, then He would become a teacher; an economist; a healer; and an inclusivist respectively. Instead, the Bible says our root problem is sin. Only Jesus saves. Philip G Ryken hones in on One Truth, and goes back to how Jesus handled opposition where He simply stated the truth as it is. Ryken observes how modern America is fast losing her ability to discern moral truths as she moves toward relativism. People don't simply want honest answers. They want answers that meet their expectations. Sometimes, they are not interested with answers, simply desiring the glamour behind the questions. Ironically, this world has no place for truth even as they clamour for truth. Just consider their reaction to Jesus Christ and you would probably see how people shun the whole conversation altogether. The common "escape route" for them is to simply say the truth is only applicable to those who believe it, which makes it all relative. Ryken affirms the need to do two things: Speak the Truth; and do so with love. D A Carson continues this conversation by talking about "One Way" in contrast to the world's many ways. For the ways of the world is like a highway and the way of Christ is a narrow road that few would trod. He goes into Jesus' teachings in the gospels and John's letters to show how they point back to Jesus at the cross. Finally, J Ligon Duncan III summarizes the discussion with his contribution in "One People" to highlight the place of the Church as the people of God. Just as we are assailed and marginalized by the world, the Church is perhaps the only place where we could find true spiritual unity.

My Thoughts
First, this is a necessary book for our times where we battle fake news and all manner of individual assertions that preach relativity as truth. Relativists often forget that unless their stand on relativism is absolute, their very notion of relative thinking and relativistic living would implode. Without strong foundations, their search for truth would collapse into nothingness. The refusal to acknowledge God is already a setback in their search for truth. How could they tell for sure that truth could be found without God? Have they seen the world right from the beginning as per Genesis 1? What makes them think they could debunk the Scriptures as if they already hold all truth? The Scriptures state time and again that the fool would declare there is no God. Woe to those who saw off the very branch that they depended on whether directly or indirectly. In our longing for information and more input, we have progressed to the point of having more information than we can handle; more stuff than we need; and more points of view than we can capably discern. From information overload to the avalanche of fake news, we are fast losing our ability to discern truth. Behind it all, someone is laughing. This someone is the deceiver who continues to conjure up tricky strategies like relativism; false tolerance; self-conceit; and a perverted thinking that there is no such thing as right or wrong. If there is no such thing as right or wrong, forget about research. Forget about any search for truth. Forget facts. Forget about education. For the loss of absolutes is equivalent to the loss of any foundations of which to build anything upon.

Second, this book is an affirmation for believers feeling jaded or confused about why the world is so against their faith. They might have questions about why Christianity is so exclusive? Why must Jesus be so obstinate about Him being the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Looking at the big picture, the claims of Christ are also copied by the world in different ways. Every religion has their very own claims to exclusivity. Those who insist on their right to their own opinion must own up when truth stares at them direct in the face. Will they still be insisting on their own points of view even when they are different from truth? Or will they simply remain stuck in their beliefs? As pointed out by several authors in this collection, Jesus himself was also put to the test about truth. One of the most famous is said by Pilate, who challenges Jesus by saying "What is Truth?" For Pilate had already decided that he is more correct than Jesus. When he becomes afraid about the claims of Jesus, he hides away unwilling to stand against the angry crowds who had already crucified Jesus in their hearts and minds. Let us not be like Pilate who knows Jesus is innocent and yet chooses to let Him die.

Third, the battle for truth has been happening all through the centuries. Every generation will have to stand up for truth in their respective contexts. There is no running away from the battles. If we don't fight the battle directly, the battles will look for us indirectly. The consequences of not fighting is greater than fleeing from the battleground of ideas. If we truly say that we love Christ, then we must adopt the passion of Christ. If we claim to love our neighbour, we must learn to speak the truth in love. Both must be asserted and both must be practiced. The fear of opposition is not a good excuse for not speaking out. One important way to alleviate any fears of inadequacy is to learn from resources such as this book, to realize that without truth this world is heading for a definite demise. Truth is not an individualized feeling nor some abstract philosophy owned by any religious group. Truth is free for all to see and will set us free from falsehood. The problem is this: It is not truth per se but the refusal to accept the truth as presented by Jesus.

All the above contributors are pastors, scholars, and theologians who had grappled with the issue of truth long and hard. They wrote with conviction that only the Truth will set us free. This Truth is the Person of Jesus Christ.

Michael L Johnson is editor and fellow for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Richard D Phillips is senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of P&R Publishing and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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