Author Archives: lewinkler

About lewinkler

I am a professor of theology and ethics at the East Asia School of Theology in Singapore.

Thirty Years in Ministry: A Reflection

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When I joined Cru in July of 1987, I intended to be a “lifer” with the organization.  Looking back, I had no clue what that might actually look like over the long haul.  In many ways, it was little more than a romantic dream, a well-intentioned but poorly-understood commitment to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth and back, no matter what the cost.

More than thirty years later, reality looks a lot different than the dream.  I wanted to do great things for God, be known for exceptional devotion to and love for Him, give my all for the sake of the gospel.  In retrospect, my heart for and obedience to the Lord has often wavered, sometimes reaching embarrassingly low levels of commitment.

Back then, I thought that being in ministry for thirty years would have forged in me a more Christ-like character and provided me with some wonderful words of wisdom to share with those coming behind.  Truth be told, I do not feel especially righteous, sagacious, or qualified to offer others a stellar example or share anything truly compelling or profound.  The milestone came and went without much fanfare or notice.  Before and after, the mundane tasks of everyday life in ministry remain strangely familiar.  Nothing stands out as fundamentally different than before.

What is most noticeable is not my extraordinary commitment or growing resemblance (or lack thereof) to Jesus over the past thirty years.  Rather, it is the immense and inexorable faithfulness of God.  As 2 Timothy 2:13 says, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”  Above all else, God has been faithful, and His faithfulness continues to evoke gratitude and hope.

Gratitude comes from reflecting on the ongoing opportunities and graces, all undeserved, which God has granted and continues to give.  I’ve had the privilege of serving Him all over the world, of journeying through life with a beautiful, godly, loving, and loyal wife, of enjoying the joys and trials of parenting three wonderful children, of seeing God continually supply our every need, of being used to bring about eternal life change in numerous Christian leaders, and of experiencing the profound presence of God in ways I never dreamed possible.

Hope comes from knowing that no matter how far and repeatedly I fall short of His ideal, no matter much earthly time God grants me, He remains ever faithful, patient, and kind.  I am secure in His love and in the riches poured out upon me through the goodness of Christ, and will enjoy these unmerited benefits for all eternity.

I am reminded of some words from a beautiful hymn written by Keith and Kristyn Getty, “My Worth Is Not in What I Own.”

As summer flowers, we fade and die

Fame, youth and beauty hurry by

But life eternal calls to us at the cross

I will not boast in wealth or might

Or human wisdom’s fleeting light

But I will boast in knowing Christ at the cross

Two wonders here that I confess

My worth and my unworthiness

My value fixed, my ransom paid at the cross

I rejoice in my Redeemer

Greatest treasure

Wellspring of my soul

I will trust in Him, no other

My soul is satisfied in Him alone

Thank You, Lord, for the immense privilege of serving with You for more than thirty years, and for continually demonstrating Your faithful lovingkindness.

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Are there really rights and wrongs, truths and falsehoods? Part Three: Truth in a Postmodern World

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In this three-part series, questions of truth and tolerance in our postmodern world have been explored.  In this third and final installment, issues surrounding truth and falsehood will be briefly examined.

Three Derogatory Labels

When it comes to the question of truth, postmodern thought typically gives Christians three derogatory labels, attempting to discredit and marginalize it.  First, we are considered arrogant if we claim that Jesus is the only way to have a relationship with God.  Second, we are considered colonial and imperialistic if we claim that our perspective of truth and morality is universal in nature and scope.  Third, we are considered intolerant since we do not accept some views of the world as valid interpretations of reality.

These are hefty indictments.  Can anything be said in Christianity’s defense, or should we meekly turn aside to pay silent homage to the intellectual and moral gatekeepers of “tolerance” in our postmodern world?

Tolerance always has limits.

The third accusation, that of intolerance, was already addressed in parts one and two of this series and will not be revisited here, except to reiterate that tolerance always has limits.  Those who decide those limits need some sort of evaluative criteria to exclude and hinder unacceptable ways of living in our world.  Will these criteria be solid or shifting?  Postmodernism stands upon very sandy soil, whereas Christianity stands upon the rock of Jesus Christ.

Are exclusive truth claims arrogant?

But what of the first claim, namely that it is inherently arrogant to make exclusive truth claims?  Are we arrogant, for example, to say that Jesus is the only way to know God?  While those who know the truth can certainly be arrogant about it, that is no reason to reject the facts simply because the fact holders are proud people.  For example, I may not like the fact that some professional athletes are very arrogant and full of themselves, but this does not change the reality that they are good athletes.  It is always a good reminder to be humble in the way that you hold onto the truth.  Christians should take this keenly to heart for it was and is the way of Jesus Christ.  While He was the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), He also reminded us that He was “gentle and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29).

But what of the idea that exclusive truth claims are inherently arrogant?  I am not necessarily arrogant when I claim that I am my father’s only son.  If I make an exclusive claim like this, it is not inherently arrogant of me to do so, especially if it’s true and I do not come off as being full of myself in making the claim.  Exclusive claims to truth may or may not be true, but contrary to the postmodernist, just because they are exclusive does not disqualify them out of hand.

Another way to look at arrogance is to note that the more a pluralist claims the “exclusivist” is wrong to hold exclusive views, the more the pluralist becomes an exclusivist in pluralist clothing.  Why?  To say that exclusivism is wrong, the pluralist must in the same breath claim that he is right.  That is, the more the pluralist castigates the exclusivist for claiming to be right, the more he becomes an exclusivist by claiming himself to be right!

When Christians make exclusive claims about truth, we do need to assert that we have reasonable and accessible bases upon which to judge the way things really are and aren’t.  But this is directly analogous to many other fields of study and concern.  Science, for example, is constantly making claims about the nature of reality.  And most (but not all) of these claims are testable.  But are Christianity’s claims any less testable?  Not entirely.  While there are some issues that remain beyond to the scope of testability, as there are in science, there are many others which clearly are.  And this gives us the bases upon which to test and judge the rightness of any claim, religious or otherwise.

Is truth imperialistic?

Let’s close by moving to the concern of imperialism.  It is often charged that those claiming to have and know universal truth are imperialistically trying to impose their views and values upon the world.  This is a serious charge.  One doesn’t have to look very hard or very far to find examples of people and institutions (both today and throughout history) who have done this.  Exclusive truth claims—religious and otherwise—have often been used to execute, destroy, and subjugate both peoples and nations.

But the misuse of exclusive truth is no more an indictment against that kind of truth than the misuse of pairing knives is an indictment against master chefs.  That exclusive truth can and will be misused by wicked people is a given.  But it does not change the nature of the truth.  People have frequently used the name of Christ to manipulate and kill, but that does not vilify Christ!  It vilifies those who have used His name wrongly, in vain, and/or for sordid gain.  It confirms the doctrine of human depravity, not the doctrine of postmodern pluralism!

We must admit that claiming to know the truth does include aspect of control.  This is the kernel of truth in the criticism.  After all, reality (truth) does have a way of imposing itself upon us.  Just as we might wish to be able to fly without aid, we are, in fact, unable.  Truth does place limits on what we can and cannot do.

For example, if I am married, I am now no longer able to marry any woman I want.  Truth is like this.  It tends to restrain and limit us, something many in the 21st century don’t always appreciate.  But just because truth is constraining, does not mean it is either bad or false.  It simply means that we must use it with great care and caution.

The Powerfully Intolerant Postmodernists

The greatest and most tragic irony in all of this is that those claiming exclusive truth claims are a tool for political domination, are the self-same ones wielding the most widespread cultural influence and dominating power.  The rise of “political correctness” and the “thought police” against so-called “hate crimes” are extremely repressive structures designed to prevent anyone from making repressively exclusive truth claims or hurting anyone’s feelings.  The problem is, their perspective is shockingly exclusive and repressive!  There seems to be no way around the dilemma of holding to some universal system of truth and morality.  The question only becomes which one and why?

We have the greatest and only cure.

Christians have the most important message ever communicated to anyone anywhere.  Whether or not the world wants to hear or believe it, it remains true and desperately needs to be proclaimed again and again.  If we have the only cure for cancer, it would be ridiculous and wrong to keep it a secret.  And we have an antidote that is far more important than a cure for cancer.  We have in Jesus the only cure for spiritual cancer, a cancer that will cost people their eternal, not just their physical, lives.

Thus, contrary to the assertions of some, we are not wrong or insensitive to tell everyone everywhere they need Jesus Christ to be their Savior from sin.  Rather, we are far more wrong and uncaring to keep it a secret!

Early Christians lived in a pluralistic culture, not unlike that of our day.  It was within this context that they boldly proclaimed the exclusive truth claims of Jesus Christ.  Why?  They truly believed those who did not know Jesus would not and could not know God.  I also believe this and am compelled to make the gospel known “in season and out of season,” whether or not it is popular, appreciated, or safe.

Are there really rights, wrongs, truths and falsehoods? Part Two: Tolerance in a Postmodern World

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In part one of this three-part series, the problem of both tolerance and truth in a postmodern context was introduced.  One of the highest virtues in postmodernity is tolerance.  The basic idea is that we should seek to understand, appreciate, and respect countries, cultures, peoples, and religions very different from our own.  And this, I think, is a commendable goal.

Unfortunately, the underlying—and frequently unspoken—assumption in this process of respect and appreciation often goes far beyond mere understanding.  For the postmodernist, all variant perspectives of life, death, and ethics should not only be understood, they should be accepted and embraced as equally valid ways of looking at and living in our world.

A Fatal Flaw

This passion for equal validity reveals a fatal flaw in the postmodern view.  In general, tolerance of other perspectives is easy enough, so long as the other perspectives in question hold certain central values in common.

In Christianity, for example, we have a unifying set of claims—the core truths of Christ’s gospel—that allows us to tolerate many expressions of that faith (often called denominations) so long as the core remains common to all.  This gives us the unique ability to tolerate diversity and maintain unity all at the same time.

But what can be done with truly and radically different worldviews alongside their widely divergent applications in the real world?  What shall we do with those who value anarchy and chaos over order; tyranny and domination over freedom; bigotry and racism over equality?  And who defines what is bigoted, tyrannical, and anarchist?

These are genuinely difficult questions that have been wrestled with throughout the ages.  And well they should be, for if tolerance is the highest and only ultimate virtue, how can anyone or anything be considered truly “intolerable?”  How much, and who, should we tolerate?  Should we tolerate none but ourselves—totalitarian tribalism?  Or perhaps, like the postmodernist, we should try (or at least pretend to try) and tolerate everyone and everything.

If, however, we are to tolerate everyone and everything, must we therefore allow the Ku Klux Klan to hold recruitment rallies, public lynchings, and cross burnings?  Should we allow females to be “circumcised” because it is a long-standing cultural practice in some societies?  Or perhaps even more extremely, should members of NAMBLA be granted the “right” to have sex with “consenting” children—all in the name of “tolerance?”

The Need for a More Basic Foundation

Such examples illustrate that tolerance must be rooted in a more basic (and often unspoken) foundation of what is really right and wrong.  Many postmodernists have trouble making judgments against others because they reject the idea that any such foundation exists, or even if it does, they purport it cannot be known.

Thus, when the need to evaluate a potentially or clearly harmful and damaging (i.e., morally wrong) view and behavior, postmodernism claims to be ideologically opposed to passing judgment.  This is all fine and good when talking about the differences between moderate Muslims and liberal Protestants, but the problem becomes especially acute when discussing the differences between, say, neo-Nazi skinheads and ultraconservative Hasidic Jews.

At some point, an evaluation concerning who should be tolerated and who should be restrained and censored must enter in.  Otherwise, we could not say that killing people on the basis of their ethnic or religious background is morally wrong.  All we could say is we “prefer” that people not do such “unpleasant things” to one another—the essence of relativistic moral emotivism.

Toleration requires a way to pass judgment.

Because of this deficiency, most postmodernists “smuggle in,” under cover of silence or thoughtless ignorance, several important but unspoken evaluative criteria.  Every cry for tolerance requires an evaluative source, a way to pass judgment, so that the right from the wrong, the good from the bad, can be adequately discerned.  The question, then, is not should there be limits to toleration, but what should those limits be and how are they determined?

For postmodernists, there are, first and foremost, no absolutes, either ethically or intellectually.  No one has the right to make moral and intellectual judgments of other views because no one has access—except maybe the perspicacious postmodernist—to this kind of “privileged information.”  Second, all those who claim to have a comprehensive view of the world—save the highly progressive postmodernists—are at best naïve and much more likely arrogant.  And third, all who claim to be correct about the way the world really is—gloriously “postmodern,” according to postmodernists—are labeled intolerant and imperialistic, always trying to force others to accept their view of reality.

Christianity in the Postmodern Doghouse

All of this puts classical Christians in the postmodern doghouse since for us, some things really are right and wrong, true and false, and worthy of our rejection.  But of course, the same is true for the postmodern relativist.  All that is not relative is wrong, false, and worthy of rejection.  The postmodernist finds himself indicted and convicted by the same thing he claims to eradicate—the intolerance of any intolerance.

Is it any wonder, then, that we have recently been witness to public expressions of some of the most hateful, intolerant, and bigoted behavior from people who consider themselves “champions” of tolerance?  Tolerance has been recast into toleration for all who agree with their perspective, while rabid intolerance has been cast toward all who dare to disagree.

The Critical Need for Genuine Debate

This highlights a critical need for the resurrection of genuine moral and intellectual debate.  Contrary to the mantras of some, not all perspectives—religious or otherwise—are created equal.  Some ideas, by their very nature, are worthy of rejection, not because they are culturally and politically unpopular, but because they do not stand up to the test of moral and intellectual scrutiny.

The bald exercise of power, be it through executive orders, riots in the streets, or general bullying on either side of the cultural divide, is a poor substitute for thoughtful and respectful conversation and debate over the things that matter the most, both in this life and the life to come.  But when concepts of truth have been relegated to the category of “alternative facts,” and moral standards have been deemed mere “personal preferences,” there is little room for reasoned disagreement and considerate compromise.

At the end of the day, however, every sane person still maintains—justified or not—that what they believe is actually true.  It’s not believing some things are true and others are false that’s the problem.  What’s wrong is condemning a certain class of people for believing something solely because they believe differently than you.  As Greg Koukl (The Story of Reality, 24) puts it: “Since everyone—religious person, atheist scientists, skeptic—believes his beliefs are true, it has always struck me as odd when some have been faulted simply for thinking their views correct.  They’ve been labeled intolerant or bigoted for doing so.  But what is the alternative?  The person objecting thinks his own views correct as well, which is why he’s objecting.  Both parties in the conversation think they’re right and the other wrong.  Why, then, is only the religious person (usually) branded a bigot for doing so?”

Everyone I know who supports the legalization of homosexual marriage (for example), genuinely believes that our world is a better and morally superior place when such marriage is legal, celebrated, promoted, and most importantly for the purposes of this discussion, legally protected.  At the same time, those who believe it to be wrong believe it should be discouraged and rejected as a viable human lifestyle.  And whether we admit it or not, legalization is an implicit and explicit endorsement, immediately creating legal and social challenges for all who oppose such unions.

All of this highlights the fact that Christians need to stand for what is true and right and good.  After all, someone, postmodern or otherwise, is setting public and private criteria for evaluating acceptable and unacceptable points of view.  As those with a well thought through moral and intellectual perspective that has stood the test of time, why shouldn’t Christians be intimately involved in that evaluative process?  If God has given us a revelation of what is good and true, then we have a biblical responsibility to raise His values and standards as a primary means of sorting out our world’s debilitating moral and intellectual confusion.

From my limited observation, believers in Christ have been somewhat embarrassed by and rendered silent about this problem for far too long.  If the gospel truly is good news for everyone, then for the sake of all humanity, not merely for the Church of Jesus Christ, we can ill afford to maintain our religious laryngitis any longer.  The cultural price for our silence is, for everyone, costly and not worth the toll it will inevitably demand of us all.

Are there really rights and wrongs, truths and falsehoods? Part One: The Goodness of Passing Judgment

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Some contemporary philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, and even theologians have tried to argue that in our postmodern relativistic age nothing is truly right and wrong, purely true or false, or absolutely good or evil.  These realities, nevertheless, always have a way of pushing themselves up when the things that really matter are at stake.

If recent reactions to the latest US presidential election tell us anything, they “demonstrate” that people are still far more concerned about what they believe is right and wrong than they are about “tolerating” those with whom they strongly disagree.  An inevitable corollary of moral dispute is that some things really do matter more (or less) than others, and some things really are better (or worse) than others.

Passing judgment is a good thing.

People in our postmodern relativistic era pretend—and sometimes even try very hard—to be genuinely tolerant of alternative viewpoints.  At the end of the day, however, when something we really care about comes to the fore, we are just as judgmental as we’ve always been.  And passing this kind of judgment is actually a good thing.

I have no problem at all with people speaking out for the things they care about and against the things they find “deplorable.”  In fact, I would encourage it.  But one thing is certain: postmodernists need to stop pretending that they don’t really stand for anything or judge anyone—that whatever works for you is fine so long as you don’t tell me how to live my life or what I should or shouldn’t believe.  That statement itself is a value judgment in favor of an attitude of “live and let live” which stands against making “intrusive” laws and social standards against the things postmodern thinkers find acceptable and/or desirable.

Tolerance Defined Rightly

Tolerance is not the absence of discernment, but the decision to permit those with differing views to express themselves without assuming their expression—simply because it is expressed—therefore constitutes a valid way of life.

As John Lennox writes (Against the Flow, 104-05), “We do not tolerate people with whom we agree—the word itself indicates that it is people with whom we disagree.  But we support their right to hold and express their worldview, provided it is without threat or incitement to violence.  However, in many countries tolerance has degenerated into a simplistic, all-affirming political correctness: a debilitating and very dangerous attitude that prevents people saying what they believe in case anyone should take offense.  It is the very antithesis of free speech, and it is having a paralysing effect on public discourse.”

We can shout our value of tolerance up to the heavens and down to the earth as long and loud as we want.  We will never escape both the necessity and propriety of passing moral and epistemological judgments upon one another.  The issue is never a question of whether there are rights and wrongs, goods and ills, truths and falsehoods.  The only real issue is this: What things are right and wrong, true and false, good and evil, and how do we know and decide?  Who gets the final say in these matters and why?

I’ll say more about this in parts two and three of this series, beginning in part two which takes a deeper look at the notion of tolerance.

Lament of an Unexceptional Writer

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Looking through some catalogs the other day, I came across the fourth volume in a five-volume systematic theology series being written by my PhD mentor, Veli-Matti Kärrkäinen.  It’s a massive 520-page tome that only represents one fifth of the entire work.  Besides these works, he has also written and edited more than twenty other books, over one hundred articles and chapters in collected works, and shows no signs of diminishing his voluminous output.  He does all of this on top of a full-time seminary teaching position that includes not only regular class responsibilities but also the mentoring of several PhD mentees.  He is also a part-time pastor of a Finnish church in Southern California since Finnish (not English!) is his native tongue.  In addition, he is docent of ecumenics at the University of Helsinki and is active in the World Council of Churches.  I’m assuming he also finds time to spend with his wife and children since he is happily married and the father of two.

I share this to make a point.  There are some people in this world who are not only exceptionally brilliant, they are exceptionally energetic and disciplined as well.  I know this because it takes much more than intelligence and energy to write books and articles.  It takes discipline and a lot of hard work.

As a writer, I have a folder in my computer entitled, “Thoughts on Files.”  When an idea or sudden flash of insight strikes me, I take a few moments to write down the beginnings of what I want to say about the issue, event, or idea.  As of this writing, besides numerous (bad and amateurish) poems, I have sixty blog posts (two of which are poems) and over a hundred and forty other “thoughts on files” saved for future development.  There are also sketches and outlines for at least three major books and several articles.  The fact is, I have tons of ideas I want to develop and communicate to others with more coming all the time.

If I am honest, however, it seems likely the vast majority will never be developed into even short works of writing, let alone a fully developed feature-length articles or full-blown books.  I could live another lifetime or two and never have enough time to write all I want to write.  Doubtless, additional lifetimes would only produce additional ideas that would continue to pile up in the “to be developed someday” folder.

When I think about it, it drives me to lament.  It does not bother me much that I may never engender a widespread readership or that my blogs will never go “viral.”  What vexes me more is the great likelihood that I will never have the satisfaction of taking all these scraps and pieces and weave them into a coherent and helpful whole that might be used by God for His glory and the edification of Christ’s body, the church.

Between the daily responsibilities of my teaching and mentoring ministry coupled with my family life and other interests, it is unlikely I have the intelligence, energy, or discipline to bring these thoughts to any semblance of full fruition.  Like the journals, letters, books, essays, memos, and poems of countless other average writers through the corridors of time, they will all turn to dust and be forgotten to the world in a relatively short span of time.

My lament, then, is not so much a lament of frustration or anger: “Why did you make me this way, God?”  Rather, it is a lament that my time and energy keep running out.  I think in my heart of hearts, I did want to make a larger and broader contribution to the body of Christ, perhaps by leaving behind a bestseller or two.  But in the end, the impact I have, though felt in much smaller ways, will be no less significant, so long as I am faithful to gifts and abilities God has given me.

They may not be gifts on a level with the exceptional whom we can certainly appreciate and admire.  Nevertheless, His gifts to me are still precious, and He only asks me to offer them up and use them for His glory.  I raise, therefore, not merely a lament, but also a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise to God for all I have been given, be it much or little when compared to other writers.

As writer-extraordinaire John Lennox puts it in Against the Flow, “We must learn to be content with the significance that God gives us . . . and contentment comes when we understand that it has pleased God to make us just as we are” (81-82).

Thank you, Lord, for gifting Your church with exceptional writers.  And thank You, too, for making me just as I am and helping me use my gifts for Your greater glory and honor.

 

What about those who’ve never heard of Jesus? Part Three

In this three-part series, we have been exploring the controversial question concerning the destiny of those who have never heard of Jesus Christ.  In part one we looked at the holiness of God and sinfulness of humanity.  In part two we examined the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as the only sufficient payment for God’s demands for justice against sin and rebellion.

In this concluding post, we will consider our responsibility as believers in the light of these truths.  We begin by emphasizing this: if Christ really is the only way to have a right relationship with God, then we have to realize how important our task is!  As representatives and ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), we have the only message (and know the only person) that can save anyone at all.  All the philosophies, all the religions and good behavior, all the money and fame, all the trends and fads, will never deliver what they promise, because they simply cannot save us from our most basic problem—sin.  Only Jesus can and will deliver!

Romans 10:13-15 says, “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  How then can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”  We must take the message out to the world because without it, people cannot call on the name of the Lord and be saved.  And this acts as something of an indictment against Christians who have kept their faith to themselves and failed to follow Jesus’ clear command to take the gospel to the ends of earth (Matthew 28:18-20).

But now that we have seen the fact that apart from Jesus no one can be saved, what can we tell someone whom we are sharing the gospel with who asks about those who have never heard of Jesus?

Here are some things to keep in mind: First, the question is often a smoke screen by the individual to avoid the real issue they are currently being confronted with.  You need to realize that they may be doing one of two things: They may be pointing away from their own personal accountability before God.  If so, it is a good idea to say to them: “What about you now that you have this information?  How will you personally respond?”

But in all fairness, the person who raises this question may have a genuine concern for the lost.  If so, then they need to better understand the basic truths of the gospel message.  All people need Jesus because all have sinned; God requires perfection, and only Jesus was adequate to die for sin’s penalty because He alone was and is perfect.  And this death of Christ expresses God’s great love since He very easily could have left us all to die in our state of alienation from Him.  The fact that there is just one person in heaven with a holy God is reason enough to say that God is an incredibly gracious and loving God!

We must also keep in mind that God is fair and will judge and punish people according to what they know and do, as Romans 2:6-11 seems to suggest.  But again, we must also remember that Paul goes on to suggest in the same book that as believers, we have a solemn and sacred responsibility to boldly and continuously share the gospel with anyone and everyone who will listen.

You can also ask this of the one you are sharing with: “On the basis of what has been talked about, can you really say that you have done everything right?  What does that make you?  What does God require?  Why do you need Jesus then?”  Don’t forget to remind them that there are Christians and missionaries in virtually every country on this earth, and the reason they are there is because they truly believe that without Jesus, people are condemned.

Also, remind them that you did not make the exclusive claim.  Jesus Christ did (John 14:6)!  But again, why did He make this claim?  How did He back up such an outrageous claim?  He did so by His death and resurrection!  Tell them that if a person truly seeks God, He will send someone—even an angel or Jesus Himself—to tell them about Jesus.  He is a big enough God to do that!  But are there any examples of this?  YES!  Here is just one among a myriad:

In 1989, in Maltos of the Northern Bihar mountains, a vision of a grieving man appeared walking on the mountains after a missionary and his son died of a strange disease.  A few days later, the Jesus Film (a film about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection) was shown there.  Amazingly, the whole village recognized that the man in the vision was the Jesus in the film!  Hundreds came to Christ as a result.  For many more examples of this, I direct you to Don Richardson’s book, Eternity in Their Hearts.  But keep in mind that in every instance we know about, God brought someone into the people group to tell them about Jesus.  God first prepared them and then the missionary came and reaped the rewards of being obedient.

What about those who never heard?  It is likely they never had the humility to genuinely seek after God as He really is and on His own terms.  And you can say to those you are sharing Christ with that you really believe that this message of Christ is the only way.  That’s why you’re telling them about it!  Tell them that you want them to know the God of the universe through Jesus Christ the way you know Him—as a perfect God, but also as a loving God who demonstrated His love by sending Jesus into the world to die for sinners like you and me (John 3:16).

In 1940, a man named Warrasa Wange, a member of the Gedeo people in Ethiopia, prayed to Magano, the benevolent creator of all things, to reveal Himself to the Gedeo people.  He immediately had a vision of two white-skinned strangers setting up flimsy structures under a large Sycamore tree in his village of Dilla.  Eight years later, in December 1948, two Canadians, Albert Brant and Glen Cain came to the Gedeo people to begin a missionary work among the people.  Guess where they chose to pitch their tents?  Under a large Sycamore in the village of Dilla!  The response to the gospel, including Warrasa Wange, was phenomenal!  God had sent this honest seeker the truth found only in Jesus.

Perhaps by going or giving or praying or sending, you will be an important part of bringing such an exciting message to one of the thousands of ethnic groups still unreached with the gospel.  These are people who have not heard about Jesus, but desperately need to.  Perhaps you will be one of those who is a part of creating and telling exciting stories yet to be told about how God advances the message of salvation in His son Jesus Christ into all the kingdoms and peoples of the earth!

What about those who’ve never heard of Jesus? Part Two

We learned in part one of this series that the God of the Bible is a God who is perfect and holy, who demands that kind of perfection from all who would be in His presence.

God’s holiness explains why Jesus is so centrally important to the way of salvation.  Jesus fulfills the perfect standard of God.  And moreover, He was (and is) the only one who did or ever will!  Some biblical passages showing this might help at this point.  Consider the following examples:

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father but through me.”  In Acts 4:12 Peter states that there is salvation from sin in “no other name,” than Jesus’, for there is no other name (not Buddha, not Mohammed, not Confucius, not my own) given among humanity by which we can be saved.  In 1 Timothy 2:5-6 we read that, “There is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom” for sin’s penalty of eternal separation from God.  And as we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21, God made Jesus Christ, who was perfect and “knew no sin,” to become a sin offering in our place so “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  In short, God took Jesus’ perfect holiness and righteousness and credited it to our account, simply because He loves us and wants to have a relationship with us (John 3:16).

Having said this, what can we do with all this information then?  Although some of the following will not be easy to hear, several conclusions can and must be drawn.  First, all people do have some information about God, but unfortunately, Romans 1:20 tells us they suppress, corrupt, and/or ignore it.

Second, we can affirm that God is always fair.  According to Romans 2:1-3, He judges people according to what they know and do not know, what they do and do not do, as well as by their own standards of right and wrong.

Third, we must admit that in view of Romans 3:23, no one—ourselves, most of all—is or can become perfect on our own.  Because God is holy and requires perfection (Matthew 5:20; 1 Peter 1:15-16; 2 Corinthians 5:21), all men deserve the just punishment of hell.  Thus, some people get what they deserve—namely justice—while others get what they don’t deserve—namely mercy.  However, no one gets injustice.

You must ask yourself honestly, “Do I really deserve to go to heaven?”  Who, then, does?  Can you point to someone who actually deserves to go to heaven, who earned enough “points” to please a perfectly and eternally holy and righteous God?  Chances are if you can, then your standard of holiness and righteousness is far different than God’s.  This is also called idolatry, creating God in our own image, rather than recognizing and worshiping God for who He truly is.

The fact is, Jesus Christ is God’s extreme and ultimately final expression of mercy to a lost and dying world.  Only Christ is both fully God and fully man, so only He could pay the eternal penalty for humanity’s profoundly radical sin problem.

One thing that could be brought up at this point is this fair question: Why are there so many other world religions and so many other people who adhere to high moral standards, some that appear to surpass the ethical lifestyles of Christians?  Two things can be said in response.  First, we must understand human nature made in the image of God, and second, we must understand the reality of an adversary called the devil who is doing everything he can to lure people away from the God who loves and wants to know them.

The multitude of world religions suggests a couple of things about humanity.  First, it suggests that we have an incurably religious nature that is constantly seeking to reach out to the transcendent unknown, to the immaterial realm of the spirit.  And I think that this is due to the image of God in man.  This image reaches beyond itself and looks for the divine.  Paul points this out in Acts 17, verse 27.  The result of this search, this extending beyond oneself, has been a myriad of religious perspectives.  But that only tells half of this sad story.

The fact is, human beings, because of the reality of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin (chronicled in Genesis 3), are no longer able to have an unblemished and unadulterated picture of who God really is and how a person can know and relate to Him.  Thus, God provided a special communication to us concerning Himself through what we call the Bible, and supremely through the person of Jesus Christ.  But while many know and embrace this special communication, not everyone believes in or has access to it.  Some are ignorant, some choose to ignore it, some choose to refute and destroy it, and some choose to twist and rewrite it.

All of this highlights the fact that Satan is a real threat to humanity’s ability to understand and know God.  The adversary delights in deceiving and drawing people away from God and His truth (see 2 Corinthians 11:3 and John 8:44, for example).  Thus, we would expect to find—and in fact do find—a multitude of counterfeits in the religious communities of the world.

The things I have just shared are potentially hard truths to face.  In part three, we will conclude with some encouragements and recommendations concerning the Christian’s responsibility given the fact that people can be saved through Jesus Christ alone.

Sometimes I see what the word of God says and struggle with it emotionally.  But as a Christian, I think it’s important to ask, am I willing to face this?  Am I willing to do something unpopular and stand up and say to the world that there is only one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ?