Getting from God to Christ (Part 1)

There is a God, and humans may have a personal relationship with God but only through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.


As a whole this three-part proposition represents the central claim of Christianity.  Yet despite its nearly universal acceptability among Christians, it flies in the face of every other religion or individual spiritual “seeker” in the world, for it claims specificity as to how individuals come to experience a relationship with God.  Such a particular God is an offense to this modern mind set.  British author and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, writing in 1947, was no stranger to this mind-set.


We who defend Christianity find ourselves constantly opposed not by the irreligion of our hearers but by their real religion. Speak about beauty, truth and goodness, or about a God who is simply the indwelling principle of these three, speak about a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalized spirituality to which we can all flow, and you will command friendly interest.  But the temperature drops as soon as you mention a God who has purposes and performs particular actions, who does one thing and not another, a concrete, choosing, commanding, prohibiting God with determinate character.  People become embarrassed or angry.  Such a conception seems to them primitive and crude and even irreverent.[1]

Recently American pollster George Gallup Jr. reported the results of a “Twenty-four–Hour Spiritual Practice Survey.”[2]  According to Gallup, “Not only do most Americans (nine out of ten) believe in God, almost half claim to have experienced the presence of that God within a twenty-four-hour period.”[3]   Apparently then, most Americans would believe that there is a God, and that a relationship of some kind (sensing God’s presence) is possible.  Yet about 3 out of 4 of these people (72%) are more likely to say that spirituality is much more a personal and individual matter, than one centered on any particular religious tradition.[4]   “I’m spiritual, not religious,” is the mantra of this modern spirituality.  It is common for people these days to still feel quite comfortable with the notion that everyone can have a relationship with God, as long as they can define “God” and “relationship” in their own way, and allow every other individual the same luxury. This then leads to the ide a that one must never suggest that his or her way of relating to God is any better than anyone else’s.


While most moderns and even theists would assent to the first, and perhaps even the second, part of the proposition; “There is a God and humans may have a personal relationship with God,” it is the third part that they find hard to accept because it claims a certain exclusivity that they find unpalatable in today’s culture of religious pluralism, postmodernism and tolerance.  Consequently, “We see in dipping from this well and that spring a postmodern resistance to declaring one set of religious teaching true.”[5] 


This way of thinking has tremendous implications for evangelism and Christian mission.  The late Wilfred Cantwell Smith, professor of religion at Harvard, captured the essence of these implications when he considered it “. . . morally not possible . . . to go out into the world and say to devout, intelligent human beings: ‘We are saved, and you are damned’; or, ‘We believe that we know God, and we are right; you believe that you know God and you are totally wrong.”[6]  Smith goes so far as to call such activities  “contrary to the spirit of Christ.”[7]


In contrast, however, it cannot be denied that Jesus Christ made particular and exclusive claims about himself.  He taught, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”[8] He told people that there is a “broad” road that leads to destruction, occupied by “many,”  and a “narrow” road that leads to life, found by “few.”[9]  He said that He came “to seek and to save the lost,”[10]   presupposing that there are lost people in ne ed of Him.  He clearly told his followers to go into the whole world and make disciples of panta ta ethne (every people group), teaching them His commandments.[11]  This decree implies at least two things offensive to pluralists; 1) individuals from many ethnic groups will not be saved unless they hear Christ’s message and 2) not all value systems or beliefs are acceptable to Christ, that is, only His commands are ultimately to be obeyed.  It  is clear that in Jesus’ self-understanding no one could have a proper relationship with God apart from Him.[12]


Further, Christ’s apostles understood and continued to propagate Christ’s own particularism. They proclaimed and taught that, “there is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved,”[13]  and that Christ Jesus is the “one mediator between God and men.”[14]   Particularism has always been a part of the Christian message, and is the legacy handed down to present believers.


To remain true to Christ we must be particularists.  Harold Netland describes particularism as follows, “even when due allowance is made for elements of truth, value and beauty in other religions, particularists hold that by and large non-Christian religions provide a false or inaccurate picture of reality and that salvation is not attained through the beliefs and practices of other religious traditions.  Central to particularism is the convictions that God has revealed Himself definitively through the Scriptures and the incarnation, that Jesus Christ is the one Savior for all people in all cultures and that people are to acknowledge and worship Jesus alone.” [15]


It seems that modern people, whether scholars or every day lay people, in the name of tolerance, are siding with pluralism rather than any particular system. This cultural and even global context requires that we make a cumulative case for the plausibility of the particularistic statements of Jesus and the apostles, rather than simply cite them as authoritative.


My goal in this essay, then, is to explain that the worldview assumptions that allow for a person to assent to the first and second parts of the proposition lead coherently to the third, more particular claim.  I will seek first to demonstrate this through a consideration of how recent scientific findings about the universe, and common existential human concerns, compel us to assent to the first two parts.  Then, building on these commonly shared assumptions, I will seek to demonstrate the coherence and plausibility of the more particular view that this same God desires and enables such a relationship with his human creation, has prescribed the terms of that relationship, has the prerogative to do so, and has manifested those terms clearly and conclusively for all humans in the life and work of Jesus Christ.   While this appeal is primarily to the vast majority of people who do believe in some kind of God or spiritual power, it will be necessary to show, briefly, why theism is more tenable than naturalism for arguing Christian theism in particular. 


Part One: There is a God . . .

The universe was designed with humans in mind


On the whole we do not live in a human friendly universe.  Yet our planet is the only one we know of that is a magnificent life-support system.  Our atmosphere with all its gases and protective layers makes this an oxygen rich environment, thermally regulated to keep the temperature at just the right levels so that liquid water falls and flows enabling humans to live and thrive. Our protective atmosphere also regularly burns up space debris and rocks that could pulverize our planet’s surface, and us, with deadly force.  If not for all these factors, and the necessary conditions of our solar system and universe that make them possible, we would not be here, in fact we never would have come to be in the first place.[16]   There seems to be no real reason to expect that the earth would be any different from any other planet in the solar system which all have environments inimical to human existence.  Why is earth such a remarkable life-support system?  How did it come to be this way?  This is an age-old question that has prompted enough wonder to fuel the scientific quest for ages.


People have come to different conclusions, of course, about the “why” of our existence and the conditions that make it possible.  Astrophysicist Paul Davies sums up the two basic perspectives in the following question,

“Was our universe created in a very special state, carefully fashioned so that, in the fullness of time, life and eventually mind would blossom forth to marvel at it?  Or do we live amid a monstrous and meaningless accident, a cosmic eruption from nothing that has occurred purely at random?  Surely there can be no more pressing task for today’s cosmologist than to tackle that central question of existence.”[17]

Thus, in answer to the “why” question, there are two basic answers. One, there is no “why” or reason, it just happened and here we are, or, two, it is all here by design. These suggestions seem to clearly polarize the options about how the universe came to be.  Jacques Monod has aligned himself with the former position of meaninglessness stating that “Man knows at last that he is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance.”[18] This position seems to be neither scientifically supportable, nor existentially satisfying. 


For example, Patrick Glynn, professor at George Washington University, has sided with the latter position.  Of particular interest with Glynn’s work is his personal history of having come from the former conclusion of meaninglessness to his present position that God created the universe.[19] This was, as he describes in his book, a huge paradigm shift, as it brought him from atheistic nihilism to a position of theistic faith.  In describing the quest that led him to theism he writes “Gradually I realized that in the twenty years since I opted for philosophical atheism, a vast, systematic literature had emerged that had not only cast deep doubt on, but also, from any reasonable perspective, effectively refuted my atheistic outlook.”[20]  Glynn describes how this paradigm shift came about for him especially with regard to the issue of the universe’s design.  He writes, “Modern thinkers assumed that science would reveal the universe to be ever more random and mechanical; instead it has discovered unexpected new layers of intricate order that bespeak an almost unimaginably vast master design.”[21]


That scientific discovery to which Glynn refers has been called the anthropic principle.  It emerged in the early 1970s and has been gaining momentum within the scientific community for nearly thirty years.  According to Glynn, the anthropic principle essentially claims, “all the seemingly arbitrary and unrelated constants in physics have one strange thing in common. – these are precisely the values you need if you want to have a universe capable of producing life.”[22]  Further, “. . . all the myriad laws of physics were fine-tuned from the very beginning of the universe for the creation of man – that the universe we inhabit appeared to be expressly designed for the emergence of human beings.”[23]   


With regard to the question of the remarkable order of the universe itself, purely naturalistic and materialistic explanations leave too much unaccounted for to satisfy either intellect or psyche.  I have a difficult time both cognitively and existentially accepting that this entire universe, the earth and its inhabitants are an accidental product of mindless energy acting by chance on inanimate matter.  To suggest this is as unreasonable to me as suggesting that the computer upon which I type this essay is the accidental product of non-intelligence that just emerged over long periods of time by pure chance into its present, complex form.  The computer was created on purpose, and intelligence had to plan and organize the delicate interrelatedness of its constituent parts.  I concur with philosopher Richard Swinburne who writes, “The existence of order in the universe increases significantly the probability that there is a God.”[24] And the more it is understood; the anthropic principle elicits a universe programmed with incredible order.


Perhaps this is part of the reason that most people are theists of some sort, or at least entertaining the probability of some kind of Mind behind the universe.  In fact, this contemporary restructuring of the age-old teleological argument makes the existence of God much more plausible to many scientists and philosophers who are considering at least a rudimentary theistic view of the cosmos.


Davies, for example, explains, “Translated into a cosmological context, the conundrum is this.  If the universe is simply an accident, the odds against it containing any appreciable order are ludicrously small.”[25]  He adds, “ . . . it appears hard to escape the conclusion that the actual state of the universe has been ‘chosen’ or selected. . .”[26]  Davies makes the  following conclusion with regard to the anthropic principle of design, “the seemingly miraculous concurrence of numerical values that nature has assigned to her fundamental constants must remain the most compelling evidence for an element of cosmic design.”[27]


Physicist and Hebrew scholar Gerald L. Schroeder, who identifies himself as having been on the ‘adversary’s team’ for years as an MIT scientist, has come to the position that the universe came to be exactly as the Bible states it.  God created it.  He, like Glynn and Davies, sees anthropic design as that in which the physical variables of the universe “are so precisely balanced toward the needs of life that the universe appears designed for life.”[28]


Ian Barbour has summed up the concept of the anthropic principle as it has impacted the scientific community as follows, “Astrophysicists have found that life in the universe would have been impossible if some of the physical constants and other conditions in the early universe had differed even slightly from the values they had.  The universe seems to be so ‘fine-tuned’ for the possibility of life.”[29]


Hugh Ross, himself a scientist and deep skeptic of the Bible until he studied it from a scientific standpoint, has this to say, “thirty-five years of research on the Anthropic Principle (the universe’s tendency to provide every necessity for human life and sustenance) has built an expanding, rather than diminishing, body of evidence for divine design.”[30]


This scientific data does not prove the existence of God beyond all doubt, for sure, but it does provide ample data to at least say that it makes belief in an intelligent creator more plausible.  The anthropic principle, however, takes us beyond the basic teleological argument for God’s existence, for it takes us beyond the phenomenon of design to consider the actual purpose of the design.  The universe was created the way it was so that life, and especially human life could emerge and flourish.


The anthropic principle has not only to do with how the universe was put together, but also how it stays together, and makes life possible everyday.   Thus it points to the theistic conclusion, accepted by most, that there is a God that somehow takes continual interest in his creation, especially humankind, by putting in place and maintaining all these physical constants that are necessary to sustain our lives on this planet. From there we may conclude that not only does this God take interest in our physical well being, but also our spiritual well-being as persons yearning for meaning and truth and love.  The anthropic idea gives us two remarkable clues leading to the discovery about the truth of our spiritual lives.  First; God sets the conditions for our existence as humans, and secondly; God cares about our total well-being; i.e. God cares about us as both physical and spiritual beings. 


Whether we agree with the arrangement or not is immaterial.  If we are, as humans, going to survive and thrive in a physical sense, we must remain within the parameters of the physical conditions that have been ordained for our physical well being in this universe and on this planet.  If we want to live we must order our lives according to what has been set up for us; if we do not, we will suffer, or even perish.[31]


It would seem logical that we should expect nothing less in the spiritual realm of our existence; i.e. that God has ordained specific conditions for our spiritual existence within which we must live to flourish.  If we do not, then we will spiritually suffer.  This latter suggestion, about spiritual conditions for life, seems necessary as it does not cohere to speak of a God who has arranged this remarkable universe with the potential for human life to flourish on this planet, and then cares no further that we actually do survive and thrive.  God has not created us as beings with merely physical needs, but also beings with non-material needs like love, meaning, justice, equality and truth. We cannot flourish without these, just as much as we cannot flourish without liquid water. Therefore, just as we would not balk at God’s prerogative to order the physical conditions for our surviving and thriving as humans, we would be foolish to suggest that this same prerogative does not extend to the spiritual realm of our existence.[32]


There is a nexus between the theistic belief that God has established the physical conditions for our existence and the belief that God has also established the conditions for our spiritual well being.   There is also good reason to believe that God has clearly communicated them to us, and that this communication converges in the unique life and ministry of Jesus Christ.  To get there, however, it is essential to grapple with some of the more existential or spiritual questions of human concern, viz. identity, meaning and morality.  With this, the paradigm of relationship as the matrix that brings coherence to all these other existential concerns of human life will emerge.  It is this paradigm that points to the definitive way in which God has established the conditions for humans to enter into a relationship with Him.[33]  


The search for identity, dignity and meaning


What does it mean to be human?  Are we merely a meaningless mass of molecules that ultimately has no purpose, or does the careful fine-tuning of the universe extend to human beings as well?  Does human life have intrinsic worth?  Is the human race really important and worth preserving?  It was musings about such questions that led Count Leo Tolstoy to ruminate deeply about the purpose of his own existence, who, when around 50 years of age, was in quest of the “why” of his life.  He saw that a materialistic view of life was inimical to meaning in life stating,   “I want to know the meaning of my life, but the fact that it is a particle of the infinite not only gives it no meaning, but destroys all possible meaning.”[34]  He considered his situation “stupid and desperate”[35] the more he tried to just put away the emotional consequences of a materialistic view of the cosmos, the more he was driven to despair. The question of meaning continued to “arrest” him to the point that “I had to use cunning against myself in order that I might not take my life.”[36]  Eventually Tolstoy found this meaning he sought in the Christian faith.   Glynn, mentioned above as having come out of a nihilistic view of life makes the following comment in relation to this existential concern, “there is nothing stable about the postmodern vision as a resting place for human consciousness.  The mind may insist on these nihilistic propositions, but in the long run the heart will not tolerate them.”[37]    This emotional resistance to nihilism alone would seem to point to a deeper, spiritual reality.


The question of identity is inextricably woven with the question of meaning, for it would seem that if all reality were nothing more than matter, then nothing would really matter at all.  While humanists generally assert the “preciousness and dignity of the individual person,”[38]  some humanists can see right through this as an atheistic “leap of faith.”  For example one humanist has astutely observed, “We need to mitigate the truth if we are to remain reasonably sane. In fact a truly sane person would be socially insane. Functionally, sanity means being deluded sufficiently to believe that life is worth living and that the human race is worth preserving.”[39]  In other words, sanity is the result of pretense; telling yourself that life is worth living, when the painful truth is, it is not.  Ravi Zacharias has challenged the underlying assumption of dignity in humanism by asking, “So where does human dignity come from?”  He concludes, “There is no way to contrive it, or to enforce it; human dignity must be essential.”[40]   In the absence of intrinsic human worth, we are left with nothing more than cunning against ourselves to maintain a semblance of sanity, and convince ourselves to go on, even though it is not really worth it. It seems that the words of this humanist, as dark as they appear, demonstrate a universal inner thirst in the human soul to see life as meaningful. For even he would suggest that we all strive to delude ourselves to be “sane,” and thus enjoy at least the illusion of meaning, and protect the rest of society, that is, somehow care about others. Humanism couldn’t work if at least the illusion of human dignity were not maintained.


An integral part of the question of meaning is the question about love and human relationships.  Is there any final significance to the bonds we form with each other? It is no accident that almost every other song one hears is a love song, and the most memorable films delve into questions of love and human relationships.  We humans need love. Without it, we will become psychologically and sometimes even physically ill.  The emotions that accompany love, like affection, anticipation of reunion, grief at the loss of a “loved” one, and compassion for the weak and sickly are difficult to account for in a materialistic framework.  The more complex human emotions, like the ones just listed, as well as guilt (uneasiness over perceived wrong-doing), dread (fear of the numinous and unknown) and awe (a sense of wonder at the mysteries of life), seem to point to a higher level of being, that is a transcendent source and object for human emotions that in turn reciprocates the affirmation of that objective value.  Philosopher Robert Nozik concludes the following about the emotional structure of human existence, “for present purposes we need only assume that value is not just a matter of opinion, that it is ‘out there’ and has its own nature.  Our current suggestion is that emotions are a response to value (whatever the correct theory of objective intrinsic value might turn out to be).”[41]


We humans have an intuitive tendency to value others and ourselves.  Through both observation and experience it becomes quickly evident that the spiritual, or non-material aspect of our lives, is sustained by, among other things, love and interpersonal relationships, especially those in which we know we are loved unconditionally; i.e. loved not for what we do, or have accomplished, but just loved for being the person that we are.  Without the knowledge that we are so loved, as mentioned above, we end up in a state of psychological illness that stifles our personal thriving in life.  It also seems integral to our spiritual well being not only that we receive this unconditional love, but also that we reciprocate it.


Could it be that, ironically, what we subjectively feel points to that which is objectively real?  If there is, indeed, an objective explanation for these existential aspects of human concern, an explanation outside of and independent from human preference and opinion, could it be that herein we find ourselves staring through a glass darkly at the face of God?



[1] C.S. Lewis, Miracles, (San Francisco, Harper Collins), 129-130.

[2] George Gallup, Jr. The Next American Spirituality: Finding God in the Twenty-First Century, (Colorado Springs, Victor).

[3] Ibid. 44.

[4] Ibid. 50.

[5] Ibid. 43.

[6] Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Faith of Other Men (New York, NY: The New American Library of World Literature, 1963); p. 119.  It seems more people, whether scholars or every day lay people, are feeling this way.  This puts the church in an awkward position in which simply citing John 14:6, and Acts 4:12 are not going to cut it for most people in our contemporary society.  This context requires that we make a case for the plausibility of these biblical propositions, rather than simply cite them as authoritative.

[7] Ibid.


[8] John 14:6


[9] Matthew 7:13-14


[10] Luke 19:10


[11] Matthew 28:19-20


[12] Cf. John 3:36, 5:23, 6:53, 8:23, 8:46-47.  It might be argued that when Jesus says anyone who believes in him has eternal life this is still consistent with a pluralistic mindset that Jesus is a way to life, but Jesus refers to himself as the only way to life, forgiveness, etc. excluding all others when he puts in terms of no one will have life apart from believing in Him.


[13] Acts 14:12


[14] 1 Timothy 2:5


[15] Harold J. Netland, Encountering Religious Pluralism, The Challenge to Christian Faith and Mission, (Downers Grove, IVP, 2001), 49.


[16] Even atheistic paleontologist Stephen J. Gould has commented on the remarkable coincidence of our situation. “ . . . the pathways that have led to our evolution are quirky, improbable, unrepeatable and utterly unpredictable . .  wind back life’s tape to the dawn of time and let it play again – and you will never get humans a second time.” Quoted by Ravi Zacharias, Why I Believe That Jesus Christ is the Ultimate Source for Meaning in Why I am A Christian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001). P. 271.


[17] Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), p.177.


[18] Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity (New York: Vintage Books, 1972), p. 180.


[19] Patrick Glynn, God: The Evidence: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecualr World (Rocklin, CA: Forum, 1997)


[20] Ibid.., 19


[21] Ibid., 22


[22] Ibid., 22-23


[23] Ibid., 22-23


[24] Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (Oxford: Clarendon Press: 1979), Ch. 8.


[25] Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), pp.171-172


[26] Davies, p. 189


[27] Ibid. p. 172.  Davies also refutes the present attempts of naturalism with the theories of parallel, and bubble universes.


[28] Gerald L. Schroeder, The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom (New York: The Free Press, 1997), p. 128.


[29] Ian Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science; The Gifford Lectures 1989-1991 Volume 1 (San Francisco: Harper, 1990), p. 25


[30] Hugh Ross, Why I Believe in the Miracle of Divine Creation in Norman L. Geisler and Paul K, Hoffman, eds. Why I am a Christian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), p. 141.  Ross also provides an impressive table in this essay detailing 35 evidences for the fine-tuning of the universe thus far discovered by scientists. 


[31] For example, we cannot expect good health if we do not get the vitamins that we need, and we cannot drive our car off of a cliff, or drink poison and expect to live.  There is, then, objective reality in the physical realm of existence that we must discover and arrange ourselves around in order to live and flourish as humans.  One might say at this point that God has not specially revealed anything to man regarding the physical workings of the universe, but has left humanity to figure it out on their own.  Following from this, then, would be the question as to why we should expect anything special in terms of His spiritual ordering of things.  A reply to this criticism would have to include, in part, the idea that our spiritual nature and the ramifications of it are of much more consequential concern.  While we may die by drinking poison that we have not yet learned is poison, dying without having been in proper relationship with God has much graver, eternal, consequences.  The urgency of our spiritual lives would call for a clear message so that no mistake could be made.


[32] For the essence of this argument from the physical to the non-physical and its implications for Christian particularism. I am indebted to Douglas Geivett, Is Jesus the Only Way? in Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, eds., Jesus Under Fire; Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), pp. 177-200


[33] Use of the masculine pronoun is not intended to suggest that God is og the masculine gender, or to suggest any sexist superiority of the male gender over the female.  It’s use is simply to remain consistent with the biblical tradition of predominantly referring to God in masculine terms.


[34] Leo Tolstoy, My Confession in E. D. Klemke, ed., The Meaning of Life (New York: Oxford, 1981), p. 14.


[35] Ibid, p.13.


[36] Ibid, p.11.


[37] Glynn, God The Evidence, p. 147.


[38] Paul Kurtz, ed., Humanist Manifestos I and II (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1973), p. 18.


[39] Herbert A Tonne, Scribblings of a Concerned Secular Humanist (Northvale, NJ: Humanists of New Jersey, 1988) p. 39. Emphasis mine.


[40] Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live without God (Dallas: Word, 1994), p. 141.


[41] Robert Nozik, The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations, (New York: Touchstone, 1989), p. 92.  The human emotional experience has become increasingly fascinating to me.  I see it as a very powerful pointer to objective value and the validation of biblical theism as the truth. For example, recent musings have led to some of the following ideas. It can be argued that given the natural selection and “survival of the fittest” of naturalistic evolution, many of the emotions that this mindless process has bequeathed us almost seem counterproductive. Guilt, for example, does not really fit into a “survival of the fittest” framework, but in fact seems counterproductive to it, nor does compassion for the weak and less fortunate.  We should be able to guiltlessly leave our weak to die, or even kill them, and if we choose not to do so, we should certainly not become upset with those who carry this ‘might makes right’ ethic to its deadly end.   One might object that the guilty conscience is simply the product of parenting and socialization, but this answer hardly accounts for the very capacity we have for such feelings. Further, why should we have a sense of awe about the universe and the mysteries of life, if all we are here for is to survive?  In the animal world, we do not see dread, defined here as a fear of the unknown, but rather fear of that which is perceived.  Humans fear not just the perceived, but he conceived, especially what happens after we die.  Peculiar if all we happen to be are meaningless masses of molecules.  The emotions necessary for survival seem to be anger, fear and lust, minimally.   But even if one says that these emotions evolved in order to help us survive, they will necessarily bring design or purpose into the picture. Emotions are difficult to account for in a naturalistic worldview. 

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