Dallas Willard writes in The Divine Conspiracy (p. 335),
“God,” Paul said, “makes clear the greatness of his love for us through the fact that Christ died for us while we were still rebelling against him” (Rom. 5:8).
The exclusiveness of the Christian revelation of God lies here. No one can have an adequate view of the heart and purposes of the God of the universe who does not understand that he permitted his son to die on the cross to reach out to all people, even people who hated him. That is who God is. But that is not just a “right answer” to a theological question. It is God looking at me from the cross with compassion and providing for me, with never-failing readiness to take my hand to walk on through life from wherever I may find myself at the time.
God’s deep, gracious love is proved in the price he paid in love on our behalf. Christ died for us. He died in love, to bring us to God, to break down the sin barrier between us and God.
One could go into explaining how the cross of Christ accomplished that: how sin separated us from God, earning us death, and how Christ paid that price for us. Let’s not dwell there this time, though. For now, let’s consider this fact in its simplicity: the price that God imposed, God paid. The price was death (Romans 3:23). God made the payment through the death of God the Son, Jesus Christ. He was the one the Father called his beloved, who often proclaimed his own eternal unity with the Father (John 10:30, John 17). He died by crucifixion, among the most torturous methods of execution ever practiced by a government on earth.
As Willard recalls the love of God that led God to do this for us, he throws in that terrible cultural hand grenade, the word exclusiveness. He had, to, though. It’s really quite inescapable. If the Christian message is at all true, then it is exclusively true. It cannot be one of several options. It is either exclusively true or it is thoroughly wrong.
Though this may be difficult, in an age when pluralism and inclusivism are considered among the chief virtues, I think anyone might be able to see this necessity. It is impossible to include Christianity—the kind of Christianity that centers on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ—in a list of ways to know God. Even if one doubts Jesus ever said what he did about being the only way to God (as in John 14:6, for example), it should be clear that he cannot be one of many items on a spiritual menu.
Let us consider what it would mean if he were. Suppose Eckhart Tolle and Oprah and the Bahá’ís and all the other inclusivists are right. Suppose Christianity is one of many paths to God, to enlightenment, fulfillment, Nirvana, or whatever the real goal is.
Then the universe offers us many ways to reach our best destiny. Whatever reality is at its core, there’s something about it that gives humans a real place, a real direction, a real destiny. Somehow in some personal or impersonal (and therefore metaphoric) way, the universe has us in mind, and it offers us all kinds of ways to flourish for now and for beyond. We just have to pick one of those ways off the universe’s spiritual menu. Let’s see, will I have the t-bone or the tofu?
Reality isn’t too picky. It’s nice to us, in a way. It wants us to be free to choose. You can follow any number of paths, many of which really are rather nice ideas. Experiencing the Now (per Tolle) is a nice idea. New Age spirituality of all kinds fits well into the “nice” category. The Secret says everything will go well if you’ll just think more positively. Those are a couple of attractive options. Let’s just make sure we include Jesus. The cross of Christ is another nice thing on the spiritual menu. Wasn’t that sweet of God the Father to offer his own Son’s torture and death as one of our options?
When Jesus faced the cross it was in agony, with sweat dripping as blood. This was even before he was arrested—he knew what was coming! Was that one of the universe’s nice ideas for us?
His friends and followers deserted him–as he knew they would do. Was that one of the universe’s nice ideas for us?
He was cruelly tortured and mocked. Was that one of the universe’s nice ideas for us?
He hung on that infamously cruel cross, dying in excruciating pain while they laughed at him. Was that one of the universe’s nice ideas for us?
He was stabbed in the side, so that water and blood flowed out. Was that one of the universe’s nice ideas for us?
His body was wrapped up, entombed in the dark. Was that one of the universe’s nice ideas for us?
There is nothing nice about the cross. It is unthinkable that this was an item on some spiritual menu, one choice among many, something we could feel free to pass over in favor of positive thinking (or any other supposed path to God).
Christ’s resurrection makes manifest the glory of both his death and his life. It redeems the loss of his death. It makes its greatness even greater. But it does not make it nice. And it hardly supports anyone’s view that Christ is just one of many enlightened ones!
C.S. Lewis said in another context,
But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Neither did he leave open the possibility that he might be just one of many spiritual options. He did not intend to.