I thought a lot about the question of narrowness this summer – is Christianity too narrow? Is it wrong to say Christianity is the only way to heaven/redemption/relationship with God?
The straight-and-simple answer that I came up with is this: No.
I could end the post right here. I’m sure you’ve met a Christian that has ended the conversation right there. It probably leaves you fuming, angry, confused, or with a sour view of Christians as a whole. I’m sorry for that, but instead of stopping there, I want to start a dialogue and explain where I come from when I say that Christianity is not “too narrow” for today’s society.
My first question for you, the reader, is what is a truth?
Here are two scenarios:
Truth: this is a black-and-white photograph of a golden retriever.
Now, let’s say we have a whole stack of different pictures of animals. Some are hand-drawn; some are photographs; some are painted; some are full color; some are black-and-white; some are monkeys; some are birds; some are fish; some are wolves; some are labs. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of pictures in this stack. You then hand this stack of pictures to your friend and ask your friend to find the “true” picture.
In this scenario if you are trying to get your friend to pick the “true” picture, you would describe that to them. You would say, it’s a picture of a dog, specifically a golden retriever, wearing a collar, looking off to the right. When they ask you if it’s hand drawn, you say no, it’s actually a photograph and you even throw in that it’s in black and white to help them narrow it down even further. You answer their questions and help them narrow it down. Eventually you explain the minute details like the longer hairs on the dog’s face above his eyes until finally the friend picks the correct picture out of the stack.
You pick a card examine the front and back of the card, then put it back into your deck so that your friend can figure out which card you picked out.
Now, let’s say we have a whole deck of cards – 52 in all. You have spades, diamonds, clubs, and hearts; numbered cards two through ten for each suit; and aces, jacks, queens, and kings. You then give your friend hints as to which card was yours.
In this scenario if you are trying to get your friend to pick the correct card, you may start by saying that the card was of a specific color, narrowing the deck by half. Then you say the card’s specific suit, narrowing the deck by 3/4. The friend then asks if the card is a number or a face card, to which you either narrow the deck to three or ten cards. Lastly, you tell them the number or the denomination of the card and they select the correct one out of the deck. In another situation, if your friend is asking you questions about that specific card that you pulled out of the deck, you wouldn’t respond saying, “Whichever you pick is the right one.” Not only does that give them no direction whatsoever to answer their question, it’s only actually only true 1.92% of the time (1/52).
Do you see what I’m getting at here?
In the case of the animal card, you have to be specific and detailed in order for your friend to pick the “true” one. They’re asking for the correct card, not a card they think is the correct card, and you are the one with the answer. In a way, isn’t it wrong, almost misleading, to not tell your friend certain specific details about the card? If you’re withholding information, doesn’t that still leave them lost and confused?
In the case of the deck of playing cards, wouldn’t it be easier to just tell the person which card was the one you picked? Of course it would be. Instead of taking such a round-about way of describing the card as described above, telling the person from the start which card is the correct one gets them right to the point (granted they’ll have to search the deck and find it for themselves, but they have at least heard the answer now). They go from having a 1.92% chance of picking the correct card to a 100% certainty. It narrows down the deck to the correct card, but it isn’t intolerant, wrong, or misleading at all.
To be narrow isn’t necessarily to be intolerant; the two aren’t mutually inclusive. That doesn’t mean to be narrow can’t make someone intolerant and exclusive sometimes, but that does mean it can make someone truthful and direct sometimes too. In an interview with Explore God, social activist and spoken word artist Propaganda says, “We think that narrow means intolerant…Narrow in what way? Narrow in the way of being clear, in being concise, in being decisive, in being attainable, right? Right? Yeah in that sense, absolutely. But isn’t that a good narrow?” If we’re pointing to the truth, pointing to something that is correct and good, why is that considered intolerant?
Now, again, I want to reiterate that the church has taken their narrowness to a point of intolerance in the past, I make no effort to cover that up. I want to apologize to anyone that has been subject to that kind of exclusiveness and offer this to Christians that are exclusive:
There is a difference between loving rebuke and exclusiveness. There is a difference between narrow truth and being intolerant. Exclusiveness says that not everyone is welcome into the church, into fellowship and community, and into God’s grace and love. Exclusiveness is a counterfeit form of narrowness: it is hypocritical because it excludes people based on their sinful nature, which we all have. Paul was not exclusive when he said that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). Jesus even warns us to not be exclusive in our judgment of others when he says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).
The narrowness of the truth, on the other hand, says that God is the one true god, Jesus was God, and Jesus died for you and me and all other sinful people to be in a relationship with God if we have faith in Him and simply accept His gift of grace. That faith drives us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves and to do good works. Jesus’ perfect life, undeserved death, and overcoming resurrection wipes clean anything we ever did wrong, do wrong, or will do wrong.
Why do we not allow members of the LGBTQ+ into our churches to experience God when Jesus says above all else “love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself,” in Mark 12:30-31, Matthew 22:37-40, and Luke 10:27?
Why do we rush to judgment, condemnation, and division of groups of people when a black man or police officer are shot and killed when God says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another,” in Romans 12:14-15?
Why do we throw away the drunk, divorced, broken, and lost as irredeemable when God says, “by his wounds we are healed,” in Jeremiah 53:5?
Why do we forget and ignore the poor and homeless when God says, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me,” in Matthew 11:5-6?
Why do we not invite those who hurt us to the church to know God when God says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven,” in Luke 6:37?
Exclusion says the church is meant to be a museum or trophy case to display all of the best people and most righteous individuals: the narrow truth of Christ says the church is meant to be a hospital that brings together all of us who are sick, broken, and forgotten so that He can restore us to life. People are excluded with our narrow minds, but everyone is included in the narrow truth.
Christianity isn’t meant to be exclusive, but it is certainly meant to be narrow. The next time one of your friends is asking you the hard questions about life; going through a trial; leaning on you for wisdom and guidance – show them God’s love. Without your boldness and willingness to share the truth of the gospel and the truth of God’s love with them, they’re left to nothing more than guessing how to figure life out. They’re like the friends from the scenarios above, trying to find the correct card amongst a million possibilities. You have the truth, the answer, the correct card – without you guiding them, being bold, giving them the details and the truth about which card is right, they guess without ever having certainty. They walk without knowing the grace and love of Christ.
Propaganda talks from the perspective of someone searching for answers about life and God in his interview saying, “Tell me the bullseye. Tell me the target. How do I fix this? How is man made right with God? Don’t be like, ‘Well, you know, you’ll figure it out.’ No, no I won’t. Who has? Nobody’s figured it out, right? No, I need you to tell me.”
Therefore, let’s be bold, church. Let’s start loving all people. Let’s invite others in. Let’s tell them the truth of God’s grace without shame so there are no more lost and broken people. Let’s be narrow when explaining the truth but broad with our compassion and empathy. Let’s “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Let’s “clothe [ourselves] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of [us] has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave [us]. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity,” (Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:12-14).
And above all else, let’s “sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples,” and remember, “since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” The purpose of our boldness and our uncontrolled desire to share with each and every person is the hope that maybe one day we all can stand together and shout out, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 96:2-3, 2 Corinthians 3:12, Psalm 133:1).
Check out this video to get another perspective on this topic: Is Christianity Too Narrow? by Explore God.