One Sunday morning, I was facilitating a discussion with the teenagers in my small group. The students were engaged. Most of them voiced their opinions. Some of them even backed their views up with Scripture. Others defended their stance based on personal experience. The discussion was going well, but we had veered so far off course I wasn't sure how to make our way back to the original topic. Usually this didn't bother me, because those seemed to be the times their perspectives were broadened the most. But I could see things were beginning to get heated. The students were divided and beginning to make things personal.
I interrupted the students in hopes of bringing them back to the point at hand. It didn't help. The open dialogue on truth had taken a turn for the worse. It was now a full on assault in which denominational pride resorted to church bashing and religion hating. I knew that if I didn't intervene soon, all hell would break loose--the Crusades would be re-birthed and someone might get burned at the stake. After a while, my frustration got the best of me and I opened my mouth long enough to let a few unfiltered words fly. No, I didn't yell, swear at them, or lose my temper in any manner. Had that been the case, I'm sure the backlash would have been much quicker and less severe.
There, in the middle of what used to be the sanctuary, I told that small group of teenagers they could find truth in the Qur'an. As you might have guessed, I now had their full attention. With about 30 eyes staring back at me, it was time to offer an explanation. For the rest of the morning I unpacked that statement to those impressionable minds. As I began to wrap things up, I made sure to drive home the point I was trying to make--there is plenty of truth outside Christianity if we are willing to see it. As our time drew to a close, they gathered their pens, Bibles and cell phones to head to church with their parents. I knew this wasn't going to end well for me.
Not to my surprise, their parents and the church leadership were appalled. They couldn't believe I would make such a statement (they obviously didn't know me that well yet). The backlash consisted of angry phone calls from parents and an adult supervisor in my small group for the next month. In the end it all got sorted out, and I got to keep my job.
Sadly, this scenario plays out on a regular basis in Christian circles. Whether you choose to believe it or not, there is truth to be found outside Christianity. If we have an open mind, we will see truth everywhere we turn. Science has given us vast amounts of truth. We have found truth in the business world. Even the world of sports can teach us some valuable lessons about truth. Music proclaims truth ('secular' and Christian alike). And as hard as we find it to believe, there is truth to be gleaned from other religions. Please understand that in no way am I saying that all religions are equal. Nor am I saying they all lead to the same God. What I am saying is that if you have an open mind and look a little closer, you can find truth just about anywhere.
This is a pretty tough pill for us to swallow as Christians. With our claims of exclusivity, we think we have cornered the market on truth. I assure you, I'm not second guessing the claims of Christianity. Nor do I think there is anything wrong with making some of the exclusive claims we do. In actuality, every religion (whether people admit it or not) makes their own claims of exclusivity. So, the two--religion and exclusivity--go hand-in-hand. That's why it really isn't possible to adhere to more than one religion. Christianity claims Jesus is the only way to salvation. Hinduism and Buddhism are exclusive in the sense that adherents must deny foundational beliefs of theism. Judaism requires believers to earn salvation by virtue of their deeds--which are clearly laid out in the Torah. Islam teaches monotheism that sets itself against Christianities doctrine of the Trinity and claims of the divinity of Christ. While these are wide brush strokes that over-simplify each of these religions, you see that each have some sort of exclusive claim.
Rarely do I hear people bashing other religions for their claims. Which leads me to believe the problem with Christianity has little to do with it's exclusivity. I get the sense the world doesn't care much about the truth we claim to have because of our approach. In college, I had a professor whose mantra in class was "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." I think this was his way of getting us to rationally discuss things instead of personally attacking each others views. While I hate cliches, there is a lot of truth to this statement. And that's the problem when it comes our defense of the Gospel. The methods we use to perpetuate those claims reek of intolerance, egotisticalism and closed-mindedness.
Many of us have made it our mission to perpetuate and defend the truth of our faith. As someone in favor of a proper theology, a correct hermeneutic and a logical apologetic, I get it. People need to know the truth and we should stand up for what we believe. When my faith is scrutinized, I tend to be just as protective of that truth as the next guy. While that may seem like a viable approach for a religion that claims to have the absolute truth, I'm here to tell you it's not. There is a right and wrong way to proclaim the truth. Becoming closed off and defensive when our beliefs are put under scrutiny is not the way to go...unless you fear what believe isn't really true. Because in the end, the truth has nothing to hide and will make itself known.
The biggest issue people seem to take offense to is the fact that, as Christians, we've fooled ourselves into believing it's our beliefs that make us a better person, not our behavior. It's as though we read through the Bible, make note of all the truth it contains, but miss the picture entirely. We have all this knowledge and truth filed away, but it doesn't transform who we are.
Sometimes I wonder if our ego has gotten in the way. Perhaps it's time we take inventory and ask ourselves the tough questions. Are we seekers of truth or defenders of belief? Are we more concerned with being right or loving others? The differences are paramount. If truth is as important as we make it out to be, we need to prove it by being the incarnation of the Gospel.