How about Christianity? Are we the only true religion? Is Jesus the only way to heaven?
The political arena is buzzing around the issue of American exceptionalism, ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote an editorial in the New York Times chastising the U.S.
As the Times defines the term, exceptionalism is “the idea that the U.S.’s heritage and policies make it uniquely able to do what it feels is right.”
In other words, we’re better than everyone else. Well, maybe not better, but many Americans believe we are uniquely suited to act on the world’s behalf. Our combination of morality, strength, values and wealth make us the indispensible country. A nation apart.
The political Left hates the idea of exceptionalism. Liberals use the pejorative, “jingoism” to describe it. The very idea that we’re better than someone else is repulsive to the enlightened egalitarians among us. It reeks of hubris. Liberals see exceptionalism as a dangerous idea that leads the U.S. into unneeded conflict around the globe.
Vladimir Putin agrees. He wrote in the Times:
“And I would rather disagree with a case he [President Obama] made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
Like many religions, Christianity claims to be the sole possessor of the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes unto the Father but by me.” (John 14:6). Based on this and other Bible passages, most orthodox Christians believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven.
This view has moderated a bit in the past century. For example, most denominations have stopped claiming that all the other denominations are going to hell. About two-thirds of self-proclaimed Christians believe there may be other ways to heaven besides accepting Jesus as personal lord and savior.
And just as in politics, the Christian left is particularly hostile to the idea of Christian exceptionalism. A few years ago the Presbyterians had a spirited debate around this issue. Although the rank-and-file voted to keep Jesus essential to personal salvation, many Presbyterian clergy quietly believe in alternative paths to eternal bliss.
Non-Christians scoff at the idea of Christian exceptionalism. I’d guess that no doctrine makes us more noxious to non-believers than the fact that we believe we’re the only ones going to heaven. Some young Christians are having a hard time with this doctrine, since this generation is aghast at the very notion of absolute truth.
So how does Christian exceptionalism affect men? It’s a tricky subject, but here’s some advice on how to handle it:
- Don’t place this issue front-and-center. I wouldn’t begin my witness by saying, “Jesus is the only way to heaven. If you don’t accept him you’re going to hell.”
- If someone asks you if you believe that only Christians will be saved, turn the question back on them. “What do you think?” Start a dialogue. Don’t preach at them. Let them come around to the truth themselves.
- Let the scriptures speak for themselves. If people call you narrow-minded for believing Jesus is the only way, take them back to the Bible and let them read what it says. Let Jesus take the blame.
- Sympathize with their unease. Acknowledge that this is a tough teaching. If you want to soften the blow, say, “Look, I wish the Bible said that everyone goes to heaven, but it doesn’t.” Be gracious, not doctrinaire.
- Don’t reject the exclusivity of the Gospel in order to make Christianity more palatable. This won’t work and will come across as wishy-washy.
Although exceptionalism is currently out of style, I believe it’s an essential doctrine for reaching and motivating men. The key is how you present and defend it. Do so graciously, and you can win hearts and minds. Guys tend to respect people who are firm in their beliefs.
Men may initially recoil at the mention of this idea, but many will eventually come to embrace it. It’s an inherently masculine way of thinking. Men tend to see things as right-and-wrong or black-and-white, whereas women are more likely to see shades of grey. Men have less of a problem with the idea of winners and losers.
You’d think such an unpopular teaching would drive people out of the church, but in truth the exact opposite is happening – liberal churches that are soft on this doctrine are losing members and influence. Meanwhile, those congregations that embrace the offensive claims of the Bible tend to grow – and attract more guys.