Chapter 8 of Faith That Sees Through the Culture is the chapter in the book that doesn't just look at one duality, but two! The first duality is the Gospel that is both inclusive and exclusive (duality #1); and the second duality are the two possible states of whomever we engage with the Gospel: a person either considers the Gospel as unnecessary-irrelavent or thirsts for the Gospel to save them from their weakness and inability (duality #2). But as they say, first things first: we must understand that inclusivity and exclusivity are neither contradictory nor do they cancel each other out.
To establish the complementarity of inclusivity and exclusivity, we must first cross the bridge of what the Christian faith actually is. There are two basic options: 1) it is simply one anthropological subjective tradition that treats the mythological as real (what most people think of when religion is mentioned; and in this case all that matters is that the religion makes one feel good, cope with life better, or maybe even make one a better person). It's all so utilitarian; and 2) the Christian faith is true in that it corresponds with reality; that is while it requires subjective faith to hold to it; the Christian faith (body of teaching; and the gifts of the Sacraments) are objective.
If the Christian faith is the former, then inclusivity and exclusivity are undoubtedly contradictory since subjective preferences easily contradict, but no harm, no foul. "Contradictions" are unimportant when religion comes from sheer subjectivism and imagination. This realm is inherently flexible and responds to the whims of emotional and cultural fluctuation. If this is the case, then Christianity has no right to claim a special status from a universal perspective.
If, however, the Christian faith is the latter, then inclusivity and exclusivity are not only not contradictory, but they are necessary for the compelling truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is here that I offered perhaps the most important Christian apologetic in the book Faith That Sees Through the Culture. The fact is that we find many things in the realm of empirical experience that are both inclusive and exclusive at the same time.
The first example is from the realm of science (actually in the book I offer two examples), but for this blog lets stick to H2O. Water is universality available (at least in most cases throughout the world), but it is also absolutely exclusive in terms of its necessity for human life. We would find it ludicrous for someone to say however, "I am deeply offended that you would reduce necessary liquids essential to human life to water! Why not include -- for instance -- motor oil?! If we maintain a wide swath of potential liquids that will sustain life then not only would we be more politically and culturally considerate in our thinking, but no one would ever accuse us of being narrow-minded!"
There are many examples of this complementarity. In the book I also provide examples from relationships (i.e. if you are married, once upon a time when you were single, there were potentially many would-be spouses, but when you married the broad inclusivity of "possible" spouses was narrowed to an exclusive one to whom you now identify as your one and only spouse). The section on cultural artifacts was one of my favorites: food is inclusive (there are so many kinds of food), but Mexican or Chinese food are exclusive within the spectrum.
So, if this is the standard, why not just say that religion is a broad spectrum with lots of choices? The reason is because every "choice" makes truth claims about itself. What makes the Christian faith unique is that it is the only "option" in which God's love for you and all individuals is completely intact and guaranteed before a person does anything!
At the same time, in order for God's universal love and mercy for the forgiveness of sins to be certain and true, then the historical event of Christ's life, death, and resurrection (Christ's exclusive salvific work) provided the empirical and identifable evidence and verification for God's inclusive salvation. The inclusive requires the exclusive. No, these are not contradictory, but indeed complementary.
This leads us to the second duality in chapter 8: folks who either have no care or use for the saving Gospel of Christ; and folks who are hungry and thirsty for the salvation the Gospel freely gives. How do we know where a person is at? Here, it is vitally important that we avoid labels or make presumptions. A pastor or a very "religious person" may in actuality be in the first category: not feeling a need for the Gospel, but relying upon their own attempts at holy living, trying to convince themselves that they can earn or merit salvation. We can never make assumptions about people, nor should we try to pin-point and pigeonhole.
Instead, we engage in genuinely caring and loving engagment (and this is what the entire second book that is coming soon -- Faith That Engages the Culture -- is all about). Engagement seeks to hear what the one we engage with simply shares about themselves. The Christian offers no judgment; nor does she or he pretend to be able to read minds and look into people's hearts. No! At the same time, the Christian is entirely certain that God loves deeply the person they are engaging with.
So, we invest in relationships for people to share with us where they are at. If we find out that they consider themselves self-sufficient even to the point of facing death, then that dear person needs to hear the LAW of God. They need God's righteous standard to be put alongside their imagined security; they need to discover that their confidence is misplaced and that at the end of the day, a serious problem exists.
The Law's application, however, is neither obnoxious nor is it the occasion for the Christian to pontificate or stroke their own piety, not at all. Instead, the Law is a loving and gentle observation that God's standards for right and wrong are beyond human ability to perform. More important, however, is the reason for this: we are at the core, in our hearts, sinful and unclean. People are not sinners because they commit sins, but rather, people who commit sins are at the core sinful. Without a doubt, this condition is also inclusive!
The Christian does not need to "get into the boat" with the one they engage with, since Christians are also sinners, they should realize they are already in the same boat as with the one they engage! This one fact should inspire geunine humility. All the Christian does is demonstrate the Law's chief purpose: to expose, reveal, and convict one of sin. Not only is this not a bad thing, but it is a loving thing so that people finally see their real need for the Savior Christ!
But -- and on the other hand -- when a person is in despair, when they sense their need, and know their guilt and shame; when they know there is nothing they can do to give hope to themselves in the face of death, then the Christian shares nothing but the Gospel! For such folks, the Law has already visited them; they already know their need, there is no need to go there. Instead, the Christian should go straight to the Gospel: "God sent His Son to bear your guilt, your sin, your curse, your dread, your shame...and indeed, your death! Jesus conducted the happy exchange: He took your unrighteousness and put upon you His righteousness. What an exchange indeed! The unrighteous ones become righteous, and the ONLY RIGHTEOUS ONE willingly took upon Himself the sins of all the unrighteous ones! And why? Out of God's great love for all people!"
My forthcoming book Faith That Engages the Culture will present engagment in a very simple way; and I'd like to think in a very exciting way. After the first six chapters present the biblical "system" -- if you will -- on how to engage; the second six chapters then apply engagment to some of the more challenging issues of our day: cultural issues around us in the face of Christianity like science, politics, and dehumanization; as well as cultural issues within us which also challenge Christian engagement like sexuality, addiction, and depression. At every turn, the Word of Christ equips us to love people, all people, taking into consideration their unique cultural environment, and then standing back to see how the Holy Spirit works through granting others the realization that God is on their side all on account of Jesus Christ!
In Your Service and To Christ's Glory,
Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa