Reaffirming the Exclusive Truth Claims of Christianity
Edited by Richard Phillips
Crossway Books, Illinois, 2006
A little while ago we were moved to wide eyed reading of the “This little church” books, showing us so very clearly what is causing the decline in the churches today. In the same genre is now the book “Only One Way?”, and let me say that on a reprint they should remove that question mark from the title, because the book awesomely demonstrates that there is only one way!
“Only One Way?” is a compilation of six 2005 addresses to the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. I think you’d need six conferences to absorb it all, there are so many gems of thoughts and analysis in these addresses.
David F Wells starts us off by showing today’s relevancy of Scripture by comparing the world of Paul with the current world. There no doubt have been many societal changes. Yet “if there ever was a time since the Reformation when Christians find themselves in a situation like Paul in Athens, that time is now” (RD Phillips in the Preface). Religious pluralism and relativism so rampant in the churches and attacking us ourselves as well are not new (chew that over!). It’s time, says Wells, that we thoroughly analysed today’s worldviews and took our distance from them because Christ is the One Way.
Peter R Jones spoke about the One God who created heaven and earth. He shows how hard the world, also the Christian world, is trying to get rid of the reality of Genesis 1. The Bible, says Jones, does not start with Christ’s death for sinners, or with a statement that in the beginning there was a religious experience, but with the fact that God is the Creator in six days and Owner of this world. So many would love to see this obstacle to sharing feelings with others removed. Think and lament now also about teachings of three of the professors at the Theological University of our Dutch sister churches. But the gospel starts with God as He is.
The next person to address the conference was R Phillips and he talked about sin. Postmodern paganism agrees that there is something wrong with the world and they think the reason is ignorance. Psychology only sees what we do to each other. The Bible confronts us with sin and what we do to God. And there are not many, but only One Way to God and His salvation.
Truth is the subject of the address by PG Ryken. The modernist felt that he had to argue from observable facts, the postmodernist from the adage of ‘the truth as I see it, because there is no absolute truth.’ Society today believes that truth is culture-specific. We may have a narrative, but there is no meta-narrative, no grand story that binds everything together. You have your story, I have mine.
And if that is the case, then there is reason (excuse!) to be anti-authority, to have no creeds, no authoritative Word of God, no Jesus Christ Who says that He is truth.
JL Duncan comes to speak about the one holy catholic apostolic church. The doctrine of the church is often where we differ with many because our Confessions stress the true maintenance of the three marks of the church as determining the church’s truthfulness, her legitimacy, the right to the claim of being the church. Duncan does not discuss this, perhaps because he starts from a different view of the covenant. Note also that the conference was organized by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals; their testimonial in the back of the book reveals that the Alliance is a coalition of Christians from various denominations (Baptist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Congregational, Anglican, Lutheran, etc). We need to very much keep this in mind while reading this book. Duncan, however, does stress the distinctiveness of the church in a remarkably penetrating way, as also the unbreakable bond between Christ and His body. There is no bond with Christ if there is no bond with the church. Together we are His people and so we cannot say that membership and communal participation is of secondary importance. As royal priesthood we have been saved in order to serve. Duncan’s penetrative dealing with 1 Peter 2:9, 10 is a marvel to read.
In his address entitled ‘One Way’, DA Carson lastly sums up the theme that binds all addresses together. The themes were: One among many, One God, One Saviour, One truth, One people. God calls us to His One and only Way to salvation. There are two ways, two trees, two claims, and Carson shows how Christ stressed, just as the psalmist did in Psalm 1, the antitheses that divide them. Daily we are confronted with the choice between life and death, and we are called to choose for the One Way. Jesus said, “I am the Way.” There are no second bests, the choice is radical. There is no place for sin in the church.
Sorry for the length, but I have only managed to touch on the subjects in this provocative book. Tolle Lege, Take up and read in this 2009 quincentenary of John Calvin’s birth. It’s not as difficult as it may sound here. It’s available in our bookshops.
Review by P. 't Hart