Church Write-Up: The Liked-Disliked Christian Exclusivist

For church last Sunday, I watched John MacArthur’s service, then I watched the service of the church that I normally attend.  In this post, I would like to mention something that MacArthur said.

MacArthur said that there is a paradox in the Christian life.  On the one hand, Christians are popular with the world because they are good, honest, trustworthy, and kind people.  MacArthur appealed to I Timothy 3:7, in which Paul told Timothy that a good reputation with outsiders is a qualification for being an overseer of the church.  On the other hand, Christians are unpopular because of their beliefs, particularly their narrow view that Jesus is the only way to salvation.  Jesus in Matthew 10:24-25 and John 15:18-25 said that, if the world hated Jesus, then it will hate the disciples, as well.

MacArthur was making these points within the context of discussing the early church in the early chapters of Acts.  On the one hand, the early church was popular.  God was adding new people to the church, and even people with base motivations (i.e., Simon the sorcerer and Ananias and Sapphira) were joining.  On the other hand, early Christians were being persecuted because they were teaching that it was only through the name of Jesus that one can be saved, challenging the adequacy of the Jewish religion.

I was relating that to Christians I have known.  There are Christians I know who strike me as very self-righteous: no humility that I can see!  I figure that I would like them better if I observed more humility in them!  But then I recall that I knew this one Christian who was a nice, sweet, giving person, without much pretense.  But her Christian exclusivist beliefs were a turn-off to me.  She believed that those who don’t believe in Jesus would go to hell, and she said this was because she believed what Jesus said.

Why did her beliefs irk me so?  Is it because, deep down, I believed she was right?  Well, not necessarily, but I will admit that I have dealt with religious incongruity and dissonance within myself: of wanting to believe in Jesus, but simply not liking things that he said, at least as I understand them.  Was I hoping that she would manifest more of a critical approach to her religion rather than just swallowing it, or that she would recognize the apparent (in my mind) injustice of everlasting hell?  Could be.  But, then again, there are Christians who have justified hell in their own minds, offering reasons for their position rather than swallowing it without critical thought.  They’ve turned me off, too!

I have to admit: the possibility that a Christian exclusivist belief is the way things actually are does scare me, for the sake of people I know and love.

I’ll shut off comments.  I hope none of my Christian exclusivist friends or friendly acquaintances are offended by this post, or conclude that I dislike them on account of their beliefs.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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