There is a great outcry against the claims of Christianity to be the one right way and that Jesus Christ is the one true God. How could one religion have the arrogance to say that it is the only right way and that it has a monopoly on truth?
Something that must be understood is that truth must be exclusive. If it doesn’t claim to exclude falsehoods it cannot claim to be true. So all statements of truth are exclusive statements. Because of this each religion is making a claim to exclusive truth. Some are more willing to try to include (or really to co-opt) others but even they do so within the parameters of what they say is true. But no belief system can be a belief if it’s designed to not be believed. That would be a bit silly.
I think one would also find it rather uncomfortable. Nobody wants to live in a land without borders. You see, if Jesus might be admired but is not making claims at the expense of other claims then we cannot even bother to trust him. If we say that there must be another “way” we automatically beg the question: another way to what, exactly? At that point we cannot even say what the goal is anymore. That is because goals that are not exclusive will never be reached. And what about Christ’s claim of love? Would we prefer a non-exclusive love? Would we like it better if Jesus loved not only goodness but also evil? Or that he makes promises we can trust but they are not exclusive? You cannot be satisfied by a belief with which you are merely shacking up.
But the offer of Christ is not exclusive. The gospel is not only for those of the right ethnicity or the right gender. It is not for the healthy and strong or the intelligent or wealthy. You do not have to be good enough for Christ, if anything you might have to be bad enough.
In our world we have “exclusive” clubs making the word synonymous with luxury and elitism. Places are said to be better because of the people they keep out: those who not good enough. The kingdom of heaven could understandably make the same claim. In fact, no institution of man really has the right to call itself great because it keeps out other men. Only the realm of God in all its holiness can do something like that. But God did not choose that way. He made a place that was magnificent not because of whom it kept out but because of who gets to come in.
Of course not all are accepted and this is one of the aspects of the kingdom which many are offended by. But it does not exclude because of who you are; it excludes those who cling to who they are… shall we say “exclusively”.
The truth of Christ is exclusive; the offer of Christ is not.
Christian Smith’s Lost in Transition: the dark side of emerging adulthood (Oxford, 2011 $27.95) is a refreshingly well-researched take on the current culture of young adults, using real interviews to expose rather than sloppy conjecture to complain.
Smith, a sociology professor at Notre Dame, and his co-authors interviewed hundreds of people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three and recorded many of their answers to questions on five topics: morality, consumerism, intoxication, sexuality, and civic and political involvement.
For the person who works with young adults or who has one that they care about this book is an excellent way to better understand their world. It deftly sifts through cultural assumptions about “kids these days” and exposes the cultural realities about which we thought we new. For anyone who likes to attach hard statistics to what are usually foggy general notions this is the right book.
In terms of the angle of the writing the book pushes toward the thesis that there is a set of alarming trends among what it dubs “emerging adults”. In each category of interview questions it reveals a lack of direction in thought and standards and penetrates into the often self-centered motives behind the lives of emerging adults.
From a philosophical perspective the first chapter alone is worth buying the book for. This is the only non-religious academic book I have found that pushes the conversation of morality back to the cliff of what the basis for morality is in the first place. The answers and questions illustrate with no uncertainty the lack of any coherent response by young adults and the objective need for an objective answer. The researchers have my gratitude for forcing such an important question.
It is not clear what the particular perspective of the authors is. In proper academic form they keep their personal opinions quiet, but it is clear that they are hinting toward a the need for some brand of coherent moral framework. If the book is written by Christian academics then it is an example of a sort of book almost never seen: a solidly academic work with objective research which puts the current moral culture in a skillful checkmate without resorting to knocking all the pieces off the board. A sociological book based on actual interviews (and the Oxford name on the spine doesn’t hurt) is a valuable tool to have in order to site in a conversation of the basis for and cultural perceptions of morality that can hold the intellectual respect of secular readers. This is the sort of book I wish more Christians were trained and ready to write.
I recommend Lost in Transition to all in college ministry or who work with or simply love a college-age person.