My defense of the second least popular Christian doctrine

June 9, 2017

Next to the orthodox Christian belief that God intends marriage and sex to be between one man and one woman, the least popular Christian belief in our culture is that salvation is found through Christ alone. In a recent sermon, I described a difficult argument that I had with a fellow United Methodist pastor on this very topic. As with sex and marriage, there’s no ambiguity on this question in scripture: If we’re wrong about the exclusivity of God’s revelation in Christ, God’s Word is unreliable, to say the least. Even if there were still a gospel, we would no longer know what it is. We would be unable to say anything for certain about God and our relationship to him.

Even a few decades ago, this belief in the exclusivity of Christ was widely embraced and uncontroversial. As of this past Wednesday, however, when a presidential nominee for deputy budget director stood for a senate confirmation hearing, this belief is now so offensive that it might disqualify someone from serving in government.

Although I’m not sure how the religious convictions of the nominee, Russell Vought, impinge on his ability to be an effective deputy budget director, I’m not interested here in political and constitutional questions. (That’s not what my blog is for.) Let me simply defend the nominee on theological grounds. Mr. Vought is one-hundred percent correct that Muslims “stand condemned” for their sins, and, ultimately, for rejecting the only means by which anyone can be saved: God’s Son Jesus. All of humanity, regardless of their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, stand condemned. Even nominal Christians who profess Christian faith but whose lives show no evidence of repentance are in grave danger.

The good news is that God loves every one of these unbelievers or nominal believers and is at work, right now, to bring them into a saving relationship with him. In fact, he’s calling people like Vought, me, and anyone else who follows Christ to play a role in this missionary effort. God’s plan of salvation includes using us Christians to save others.

In last week’s sermon (which I’ll post here soon, I promise), I said the following:

In Acts 20, when Paul was saying goodbye to the church at Ephesus, a church that he started and a church at which he ministered for over three years, he discussed his ministry there, his boldness in proclaiming the gospel to everyone he possibly could, and said, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

Do you know what he’s saying there? He’s saying that if he failed to proclaim the gospel to someone that God put in his path while he was there in Ephesus; and that person never otherwise had an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel; and that person died and as a result went to hell; then that person’s blood would be on Paul’s hands. Why? Because the Holy Spirit put that person in Paul’s life for a reason—so that Paul could share the gospel with him or her. That might have been that person’s only chance at salvation. Paul understood, as we so often fail to understand, that what we do here—what we do as ministers of the gospel at Hampton United Methodist Church—has eternal consequences!

I went on to say that I’m not like Paul. I can’t say for sure that I’m “innocent of the blood of all,” because I have often failed to share the gospel as I should. Moreover, I worry that my personal conduct might have turned people away from the gospel entirely!

Needless to say, I’ve repented.

I only hope that, upon close inspection of my life today, these offended senators would find my beliefs equally “indefensible,” “hateful,” and “Islamophobic.”

13 Responses to “My defense of the second least popular Christian doctrine”

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    When a person’s beliefs become the subject of a political “test” for office, we are in deep trouble as a free country.

    A person’s belief does not condemn anyone to hell, or anywhere else. Christians believe that Muslims are doomed and Muslims believe Christians are doomed. I only see Muslims acting out that belief in a violent manner in the world today. It is the action that should be offensive; not the belief.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I was listening to apologist James White’s podcast just this morning, and he made the same point about Islamic exclusivity: if it’s any consolation, Muslims hold the same convictions about us Christians! White, who loves Muslims and desires their salvation enough to debate them frequently, is happy to cite the chapter and verse.

    • Bob Harvey Says:

      Grant and Brent, do i read that correctly? that a person’s belief does not condemn them to hell? Surely you jest. do you mean my belief that someone else is going to hell sends them to hell is errant, or are you talking about one’s own belief or unbelief in an anti-gospel sending themself to hell? surely you are not saying “all good dogs go to heaven”? a doctrinal stance that drove us out of the roman catholic liturgy. please explain.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Of course not, Bob, although I see your confusion. Grant meant that merely holding the belief that non-Christians will be condemned doesn’t actually condemn anyone. Therefore, why should this person be denied a political appointment?

  2. Bob Harvey Says:

    but to ans your question, he cant hold office because he has the audacity to believe that there is objective truth, that can be experienced

  3. Greg Lee Says:

    Excellent post! I have heard this argument increasingly over the past decade or so from those I have engaged with in spiritual discussions, usually followed by them lambasting me for being judgmental. In the past, people used to question what would happen to others who never had the opportunity to hear the gospel — were they condemned to Hell? The most popular response I hear from people now when I present the exclusivity of the gospel is “why are you judging me?” The popular consensus is that believing in Christ as the only means of salvation makes you a judgmental bigot.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thanks, Greg!

    • Grant Essex Says:

      Greg, just answer that you are not “judging”. You are just repeating what Jesus said on the subject, and that you believe your Lord. It’s up to them to make their own response, not to you, but to God.

  4. Grant Essex Says:

    What I’m saying is that just because I believe that someone is doomed to hell doesn’t make it so. Only God can condemn someone to hell. He may do it based on their beliefs or their actions, or both. What I think about that person has nothing to do with their eternal destiny, however, it may have bearing on God’s determination of my destiny. (separate issue).

    What Vought believes or does not believe should not be an issue, unless their is evidence that his beliefs would cause him to unfairly carry out the responsibilities of the job. That would be hard to see for someone doing work on budgets.

  5. Grant Essex Says:

    PS: I don’t think Sanders would followed this course of inquiry if the candidate was a Muslim man who had publicly stated that “all Christians are infidels”. It’s just part of the “War on Christianity” that few people will admit is raging.

  6. Tom Harkins Says:

    Basically, anything or any view is acceptable so long as it does not offend anybody. Doesn’t leave the door open to very many opinions. I gratefully recall one fellow in a Sunday School class I taught one time saying, “Now there is a man with an opinion!”


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