Only One Way?: Reaffirming the Exclusive Truth Claims of Christianity. Edited by Richard Phillips. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006. 151 pp. Paper, $12.99.
This book consists of six chapters by six different authors. All come from a Reformed background and the material in the book was originally presented at the 2005 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. It is in response to the cultural shift going on in Western Civilization from modernity to postmodernity. The central feature of postmodernity is its “espousal of relativism in matters of truth” (p. 13).
The six chapters cover various truth claims of Christianity. The first deals with Christianity’s claim to be true and other religions false. The second chapter addresses the claim that there is one God and the third that there is one savior. Chapter four discusses the proposition that God’s Word is true. The topic of the fifth chapter is that there is one people of God, while that of the last chapter is that there is one Gospel.
For readers of the JOTGES, most would probably consider when the authors allow certain aspects of their Reformed theology to govern their statements to be the weakest part of the book. One author states that confession with the mouth is part of the Gospel (p. 37) and another agrees (p. 80). Another seems to equate the wrath in the book of Romans as part of the message of the Gospel of eternal salvation (p. 71), and that the salvation in Hebrews 2:3 is a reference to eternal salvation as well (p. 77). The author of the chapter on the Gospel makes it clear that he feels fruit bearing and conduct are necessary for eternal salvation (p. 130). Dispensationalists will not agree with the Reformed view that God has not created two groups of people, the descendants of Israel and the church (p. 110).
The chapter on the Gospel attempts to take away the “tension” in the Bible between a salvation by grace through faith alone and the need for good works. There is a recognition that all Christians sin (p. 133), so how can a believer be sure that he is a good tree that produces good fruit (Matt 7:17-20)? The book of 1 John is the book that most clearly reveals this tension. D. A. Carson, the author, says that John says that if we are not obedient to Christ, we are not Christians, and that those born of God do not sin (p. 139). Carson answers the tension by saying that the calls for good works are not statements, but commands (p. 141). Nobody fulfills commands perfectly. Unfortunately, to this reviewer, this does not solve the “tension.”
Fortunately, these references are, with the exception of the last chapter, only a minor part of the book. The vast majority of the book deals with issues of which readers of the JOTGES will agree. There is indeed a major cultural shift going on that attacks the truth claims of Christianity.
David Wells uses the account of Paul at Mars Hill in Acts 17 and argues that our day is very similar. The intellectuals on Mars Hill saw as valid the claims of many gods. Paul, however, points them to the true God. All others are idols. Christ is the one who will judge the world, as His resurrection shows (Acts 17:31, p. 36). We should engage our postmodern world as Paul did.
Peter Jones points out that postmodernism brings with it a spirituality that celebrates subjective experience and moves away from a religion that has transcendent meaning (p. 48). There is a rise in Europe of pagan spirituality and a demise of Christianity.
Richard Phillips states that the doctrine of salvation by faith alone is a major difference between Christianity and neopagan postmodernity (p. 64). He agrees with Jones that the postmodern viewpoint suggests we should engage in mysticism. But the mystic experiences of today are simply a modern day return to paganism (p. 67). Phillips points out that the problem with mankind is not the lack of tolerance, but sin.
Philip Ryken writes that there is not a single major doctrine of the Christian faith that is not under attack by postmodernism. But the greatest attack is on the Christian claim that some things are true and others are false. Postmodernism has greatly impacted the church. A recent survey says that only nine percent of evangelical students believe in anything called “absolute truth” (p. 84). He correctly states that if there are no absolute statements, then not even the postmodern insistence on tolerance can be called an absolute (p. 93). The answer to postmodernism by the Christian community should be to be a community in which not only the truth is proclaimed, but one in which love for one another is evident (p. 106). The postmodern world would then see the truth of Christianity in action.
Even the chapter on the Gospel has things in it of which the readers of the JOTGES will agree. Christianity offers just one Gospel and this is “irritating” to the pluralistic nature of postmodernism (p. 127). One of the purposes of the Sermon on the Mount is that we cannot justify ourselves by good deeds (p. 137). If John is giving tests for eternal life in 1 John, we are all excluded (p. 139).
Of course, the writers of this book would not give a Free Grace presentation of the Gospel. However, they are correct in saying that if we take a high view of the claims of Christianity, our view of the Scriptures, God, the Gospel, and the Church will run counter to the philosophy of this age. It is impacting the churches we all attend. There is apologetic value to this book. It also reminds us of the changes taking place. For these reasons, I recommend the book.
Kenneth W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society