I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller titled "Exclusivity: How can there be just one true religion?" It is part of a series on some of the biggest issues people have with Christianity and what the truth is behind those issues. The part of this talk that really struck me as different started about three fourths of the way through. I transcribed a few statements that he made that popped out to me the fist time I heard them:
He was explaining the difference between various religions and Christianity. He was saying that, if all that mattered was getting into heaven (as in the case of Islam and Buddhism etc.), then the thing that propels you and your religion is to convert more people to your"tribe" so you can all escape this earth and go to heaven. He went on to contrast this goal with the goal of Christianity by saying, "But if the purpose of salvation, according to the Bible, is a new heaven and a new earth - is a transformed world where death and poverty and disease and suffering are gone, then, for you to be working with God, you are working to make this a good world."
He then said that this type of salvation is exemplified in Jeremiah 29 which says that God commanded them to go into the pagan city of Babylon to "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare (v7)."
A misguided view he was trying to get away from was the fact that, by claiming Christianity is the only way, you are automatically putting yourself above others and erring on the side of pride. His response to that was: "The gospel view of salvation doesn't just humble you before people who dont believe what you believe....but the gospel version of salvation says serve them...make this a great place for all the people of the city to live. Because that's what God is seeking to do - to bring a new heavens and a new earth."
The last quote that really hit the heart of what he was saying was this: "The salvation of God is not to escape this world but to redeem it."
It's been at least a week since I listened to this sermon and that part still causes me to stop and think (so much so, that this will be a two part post). I can honestly say that I've never looked at the difference between Christianity and other religions in this way. Yes, I've heard it said that Christianity is the only "religion" (and I put it in quotations because I don't like calling it a religion...but that's another post) that follows a resurrected and living savior, among other statements, but here, Keller is taking it a step - or a few steps - further.
Salvation offered by Christ is about redemption! It's about making broken things whole. Old things new. Dirty things clean. And when it's put in that perspective, of course what he says about redeeming this world makes a lot of sense. But, in saying that, I found myself asking a lot of questions after agreeing with that statement. I'm no scholar of theology but the words "working with God to make this a good world" initially make me think twice. Work? But we're not saved by our works. But if we are saved, we should desire to do good things. And good? Can this world be good again without Christ coming back first? Yes, this conversation goes on and on in a circular fashion that can only truly be explained by giving the balance over to God.
So what does Keller mean? I think the answer lies a few statements later when he says, "But the gospel version of salvation says serve them...make this a great place for all the people of the city to live." His focus was primarily on the fact that believing that Christianity is the "only way to heaven" should not fill us with arrogant pride but should, instead, instill within us a driving desire to serve others and to pray for their salvation. Christ, as our example, said He came into this world to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:20) and to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).
Have you ever noticed that, if you are in an argument with someone, yelling at them almost never changes their mind about anything but, if you are controlled and humble, listening to their side of things, they will at least hear you out when they are done? I think so many Christians today yell instead of listen. "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). I'm not saying we shouldn't speak up - absolutely not - but the way in which we talk should be affected by what we've heard non-Christians say about Christianity in general.
They say we are self-righteous and prideful. We should be the fist to admit we're wrong and always act in humility. They say we hate and condem. We should be described by love and kindness, not afraid to speak the truth, but to always do so in gentleness. And they say we are hypocritical. Every area of our lives should be formed around Christ and the gospel, living genuinely no matter the circumstance. There should be no cause for non-Christians to say our lives don't match up with our words or actions.
All of this said, I think the other point that Keller is really trying to hit home is about the Kindgom and what that looks like. I'll discuss that in the next post (the "are you seeking?" part) but, until then, you should really check out this sermon. He handles these claims and more in such a brilliant way!