The word exclusive gets a bad rap these days. We live in a society which values inclusivity. Thus, anything deemed to be exclusive can be viewed negatively. But, if you stop and think about it, there is a bit of exclusivity in most things. I am excluded from taking groceries home from the store unless I pay for them. I am excluded from being a member at the YMCA unless I pay a membership. I am excluded from driving on the public roads if I don’t have a driver’s license and if my vehicle does not meet certain requirements.
A society in which all people are allowed to fully partake in all things would be absolute chaos. Sports fans would not be happy if all the rules were suddenly excluded from the game. (Although sometimes the refs act as though this is the case!) A certain level of exclusiveness is needed for any group of people to have an identity and a function.
Yet, one of the objections commonly raised against Christianity is that of exclusivity. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Unless we really twist this around, Jesus’ words here are quite straightforward. This is an exclusive claim, and many are offended by it.
In a world which values inclusivity, such exclusiveness is labeled as intolerant. “How can you be part of a religion that claims to be the only way?” somebody asks. The respectful thing, they say, would be to drop all the exclusive language.
The irony is, those who argue that exclusiveness should be dismissed in the name of inclusive tolerance are themselves being quite inconsistent. Under the guise of being “inclusive” they are excluding anyone who doesn’t think like they think. A religion can be defined as “a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing.” In most simplistic terms a religion contains a narrative about the meaning of life and prescribes how life is to be lived. Call it a “worldview,” call it an “identity,” or call it a “religion,” but everybody has one. Even the atheist lives life according to a narrative of how the world came into existence and the implications of that to our behavior.
Part of what makes a religion a religion is that is contains some sort of exclusive claim. It attempts to say, “this is true and that is false.” Everybody has an account of the world out of which they determine what is good and what is evil. Atheism properly understood is a religion. As Christians, we believe that there is one God who created the world, and that there is one way to have a relationship with this God. It is through Jesus who said that He is the way.
Someone might say, “There is no universal truth for everyone.” But this person has just stated what they believe to be a universal truth for everyone. It is not about whether or not we can make a claim to exclusive truth. When you get right down to it, everybody does that. Instead, it’s about searching for what is actually true.