Christian exceptionalism: the idea that there’s just one way to heaven, and his name is Jesus. It’s the idea that our religion is right and the other ones are wrong.
Like many religions, Christianity claims to be the sole possessor of the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes unto the Father but by me.” (John 14:6). Based on this and other Bible passages, many orthodox Christians believe that Jesus is the sole path to heaven.
This view has moderated a bit. A century ago many denominations claimed that all the other faith groups were going to hell. Baptist thought the Episcopalians were going to hell. Church of God thought Church of Christ was going to hell. Church of Christ thought everyone else was going to hell. And everyone thought Catholics were going to hell.
Today cross-denominational denunciations are rare. About two-thirds of self-proclaimed Christians believe there may be other ways to heaven besides accepting Jesus as personal lord and savior. Increasing numbers of Christians such as popular pastor and author Rob Bell have dispensed with the notion of hell altogether.
The Christian left is particularly hostile to the idea of Christian exceptionalism. A few years ago the Presbyterians had a spirited debate around this issue. Although the rank-and-file voted to keep Jesus essential to personal salvation, many Presbyterian clergy quietly believe in alternative paths to eternal bliss.
Non-Christians recoil at the idea of Christian exceptionalism. I’d guess that no doctrine makes us more noxious to non-believers than the fact that we believe we’re the only ones going to heaven. Some young Christians are having a hard time with this doctrine, since this generation scoffs at the very notion of absolute truth.
So how does Christian exceptionalism affect men? It’s a tricky subject, but here’s some advice on how to handle it:
- Don’t place this issue front-and-center. I wouldn’t begin my witness by saying, “Hello there. Jesus is the only way to heaven. If you don’t accept him you’re going to hell.”
- If someone asks you if you believe that only Christians will be saved, turn the question back on them. “What do you think?” Start a dialogue. Don’t preach at them. Let them come around to the truth themselves.
- Let the scriptures speak for themselves. If people call you narrow-minded for believing Jesus is the only way, take them back to the Bible and let them read what it says. Let Jesus take the blame.
- Sympathize with their unease. Acknowledge that this is a tough teaching. If you want to soften the blow, say, “Look, I wish the Bible said that everyone goes to heaven, but it doesn’t.” Be gracious, not doctrinaire.
- Don’t reject the exclusivity of the Gospel in order to make Christianity more palatable. This won’t work and will come across as wishy-washy.
Although exceptionalism is currently out of style, I believe it’s an essential doctrine for reaching and motivating men. The key is how you present and defend it. Do so graciously, and you can win hearts and minds. Guys tend to respect people who are firm in their beliefs.
Men may initially recoil at the mention of this idea, but many will eventually come to embrace it. It’s an inherently masculine way of thinking. Men tend to see things as right-and-wrong or black-and-white, whereas women are more likely to see shades of grey. Men have less of a problem with the idea of winners and losers.
You’d think such an unpopular teaching would drive people out of the church, but in truth the exact opposite is happening – liberal churches that are soft on this doctrine are losing members and influence. Meanwhile, those congregations that embrace the offensive claims of the Bible tend to grow – and attract more guys.
So what do you think? Is Christ the only way? How do you handle these situations? Comments are open. Or join the conversation on our Facebook page.