Christianity is NOT
an Ideological Option

Those outside of the Christian faith often view Christianity as but an ideological option among many such religious and philosophical options available to human reasoning, acceptance, or devotion.

©2002 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.

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Christianity is NOT Religion series

The Issue is Life or Death

Those outside of the Christian faith often view Christianity as but an ideological option among many such religious and philosophical options available to human reasoning, acceptance, or devotion. As they pass by the smorgasbord of human thought, many people believe that the objective is to select one, or perhaps a combination of many ideas, that they find preferable or palatable to suit their personal tastes. Having done so, they can then settle-in to a contented enjoyment of their belief choices, and advocate that others do the same.

Christians are partly to blame for this skewed perspective of Christianity as an ideological option. Christians have often projected the idea that Christianity is a “believe-right religion” – an epistemological exercise in developing a belief-system that aligns with correct historical interpretation, orthodox theological formulation, and accurate doctrines carefully worded in a creedal “statement of faith.” The “believe-right religion” then becomes a “do-right religion,” as moral standards and ethical guidelines are formulated to correspond with the ideological beliefs, and to enforce behavioral conformity “in deed and word.”

It is time to recognize and assert, “Christianity is not an ideological option.” Mankind is not faced with a multiple-choice quiz wherein an individual must pick and choose one of several ideas to the exclusion of all others, or “all of the above” in an inclusive combination of belief tenets. Though the human race is indeed confronted with a plurality of ideological options competing for acceptance in men’s minds, the Christian gospel is not one of those ideological options. Conservative, fundamentalistic Christian religion may project that Christianity is a superior ideological option that excludes all other options as inferior, fallacious and unbelievable, thus justifying their attempts to conserve their own belief as the only viable option of fundamental faith. Liberal and progressive Christian religion, on the other hand, may depict Christianity as an ideological option among a plurality of belief-options of equivalent veracity and validity, allowing the individual to choose one option, or a combination of several, or to inclusively incorporate all options as but differing paths by which to approach the one god of the universe. Both of these approaches, the fundamentalist that seeks to establish an absolutist belief statement that excludes all others, and the liberal that allows an inclusive eclecticism that merges all thought into relativism, mistakenly view the Christian gospel as an ideological option. The issue that the Christian gospel confronts us with is not a choice of an ideological option, but the choice of life or death.

Allow me to illustrate in the form of an analogy, admitting at the outset that the correspondences in all analogies “break down” sooner or later. The reader will soon detect that the details of this analogy have their “breaking point.”

A certain man (isn’t that how Jesus started many of His parabolic analogies?) made an appointment with his family physician to find out if the doctor could diagnose some health problems he was experiencing.

“What are your symptoms?” the doctor asked.

“Doc, I am experiencing pain in this region of my body, and I have noticed some discharges which I did not previously have,” the man responded.

The physician examined the man, conducted an array of medical tests, and sent some specimens to the medical laboratory for analysis. When the results of the lab tests were available, the physician consulted with his patient and advised him that the reports indicated there were some physical abnormalities that would best be treated by a medical specialist. “I am referring you to a specialist in this field of medicine,” the doctor intoned.

The medical specialist conducted more comprehensive biological tests, and sent additional specimens to the laboratory. When these lab tests were returned, the specialist consulted with the man, and compassionately reported the diagnosis to him. “You have a form of cancer,” the doctor explained, and this kind of cancer can be terminal. It can result in death.”

“What are my options?” the man asked.

“If left untreated, you will die in the near future,” the doctor replied. “The only other option is a singular treatment regimen available for this particular kind of cancer. But I must advise you that the treatment is not easy or pleasant. In fact, it is painful and uncomfortable. It requires responsibility on the part of the patient to stay with the regimen of the treatment, and will require the curtailment of some of your scheduled activities. But this treatment has proven quite successful for this form of cancer, and will probably allow you to live a prolonged life” (though not “eternal”, for this is where the analogy breaks down!). “It is your choice,” the doctor explained, “and I recognize that such decisions can be difficult. I will not pressure, manipulate or coerce your choice.”

The man responded to the doctor somewhat indignantly. “Well, I do not like those options, doctor. It does not seem fair to me that this should be my only choice. It seems to me to be exclusivistic, and I do not appreciate exclusivism.”

The doctor, taken aback by such a response, replied, “Well, I don’t understand why you think this is exclusivism. To exclude is to ‘cut out.” You are not being ‘cut out’ or ‘shut out.’ You are being given an option, an either-or choice of treatment or the rejection of treatment. But it does come down to a choice of life or death. Do nothing about the cancer that has invaded you body, and you will die. Accept and receive the only known treatment for this kind of cancer, along with its accompanying side-effects, and you will live (longer). The only ‘exclusion’ here is that you will ‘exclude’ yourself from life, and consign yourself to death, if you refuse the singular treatment available to you. But, that is your choice!”

The correspondence of this analogy to the availability of life in Jesus Christ through the Christian gospel is self-evident, but allow me to make some observations.

The “natural man” (cf. I Cor. 2:14) wants a plurality of options, whether it is medical treatments or ideological beliefs. Why is this so? Because the “natural man” views himself in the elevated position of being an autonomous arbiter, freely choosing what he determines to be the best option. Having deified human reason in his own cognitive abilities and opinions, the humanistic rationalism of fallen man insists on a “multiple-choice” from among a plurality of options. Thus he can “play God” in making the choice of “acceptable” or “unacceptable.” If a singular either-or choice is presented, this “wisdom of the world” (I Cor. 1:20) inevitably complains of “exclusivism”,

Singularity of solution does not of necessity imply exclusivism. Do we complain to the scientific physicist of cosmology, “I cannot/will not accept the singularity of your ‘Big Bang theory’ of cosmological origins, because it is exclusivistic.”? “I demand a spectrum of options from which to choose, or perhaps to form my own eclectic amalgam of opinions.” No, for singularity does not imply exclusivism.

The message of the Christian gospel is that the singular God (“God is one” – Deut. 6:4) sent His singular (“only begotten” – Jn. 3:16,18; I Jn. 4:9) Son on a singular redemptive mission (cf. Jude 1:3) to earth in incarnational identification with man (cf. Jn. 1:14; Phil. 2:6-8). The Son offered up Himself (cf. Gal. 2:20; Heb. 7:27) as the singular (“once and for all” – Rom. 6:10; Heb. 10:12) sacrifice to take upon Himself the death consequences of man’s sin, and make His singular eternal life (cf. I Jn. 5:12,13) available to all mankind. That is why Jesus says, ‘I AM the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn. 14:6). This is not exclusivism; but it is a singularity of life option. “There is no other name given among men by which a man must be saved” (Acts 4:12), declared Peter in the first sermon of the church. No one is excluded or “cut out,” for all men universally, without discrimination, are invited to make the either-or decision to receive Christ’s life. “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all may come to repentance” (II Pet. 3:9). “Whoever will call upon the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).

Jesus did not say, “I came that you might have ideological options presented to your human reasoning with the assumed autonomous ability to accept, reject, or merge these in exclusivism or inclusivism, and thus to be contented with your choice.” What He did say was, “I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). “I am that life” (Jn. 14:6). “He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life” (Jn. 3:36). “He who believes in Me shall never die” (Jn. 11:26), i.e. shall not experience the “second death” (cf. Rev. 2:11; 20:14). The issue is life or death! “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

The charge of “exclusivism” is only made by those who improperly consider Christianity to be an ideological option among a multiplicity of ideological options offered by men (not God) through the centuries. Such a charge of “exclusivism” will inevitably and always be made by those who refuse to accept Jesus Christ as the only “life option,” the singular solution to the sin problem, and the singular source of salvation that restores mankind to God’s intent. Unbelievers always demand other options so they can employ their deified human reasoning to be the final judge of what is acceptable or unacceptable, right or wrong, life or death. They want to “play God.” Concurrent with their charges of “exclusivism”, they will always argue for an inclusivity that gives equal credence to all belief-constructs or ideological options, claiming that all roads lead to the same religious reality with variant expressions. This always leads to relativism, allowing every individual to construct their own truth, and declaring truth to be whatever they perceive it to be. Again, setting themselves up as God.

The Christian gospel is not an ideological option alongside many others. Rather, the Christian gospel is the good news of the singular source of spiritual life in Jesus Christ, in contrast to spiritual death presently and in the hereafter. Exclusivity or inclusivity of ideological options is not the issue. The issue is life or death! Mankind has been offered an either-or, “Yes” or “No” choice of whether we will accept spiritual and eternal life in Christ, or reject Him. “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (I Jn. 5:12).

The only “exclusion” is that an individual will “exclude” himself from life, and consign himself to death, if he refuses to accept and receive the singular treatment option that is available in Jesus Christ. But that is your choice!