I’ve been reading up on the culture’s dialogue regarding if and how the United States might allow Syrian refugees into our country. What fascinates me most about this dialogue is how it reveals the collision of gods in our nation. This collision, of course, is nothing new. It’s the same foundational collision that’s showing up all over our culture as we debate issues like bathroom usage by transgender persons,1 governmental declarations regarding marriage,2 and court decisions regarding customer service policies.3
I’ve wondered if the God of the gospel, and the gospel itself, might help us make sense of this collision. I think they might.
That’s because God and His gospel are both inclusive and exclusive. They’re inclusive in that God commands the gospel to be proclaimed to everyone everywhere. This God passionately wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4), and urges everyone everywhere to repent and believe the gospel for salvation.4
But God and His gospel are also exclusive in that only those who actually do repent and believe the gospel are saved.5 In fact, those who refuse to repent and believe in Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel are, at God’s Final Judgment, permanently excluded from His loving presence and condemned to His eternal and righteously wrathful presence (i.e. hell).
This basic inclusive-exclusive picture of God and His gospel is painted with crystal clarity throughout Scripture. One of the very best places to see it is in the “Parable of the Wedding Feast” in Matthew 22:1-14.6
Herein lies a root problem: a lot of so-called Christian churches and denominations don’t believe in or proclaim the inclusive-exclusive God and His gospel anymore. Instead, they proclaim an inclusive-only God and gospel. These churches often find the excluding aspect of God to be harmful, ridiculous, or offensive, “It’s unthinkable that God or His gospel would exclude anyone – a sincere Muslim, a nice pagan, an Orthodox Jew who may not specifically believe in Jesus Christ, or an innocent pygmy – from salvation or heaven. He’s a God of love, after all. And it’s unloving to exclude anyone.”
There is a part of me that wants to believe in an inclusive-only God and gospel. I certainly want all my neighbors and friends to be saved. I even want my enemies to be saved. I definitely don’t want anyone, enemies included, to spend eternity in the unquenchable fires of hell. The only problem is that an inclusive-only god/gospel is not biblical. And that is a devastating, culture-destroying, collision-causing problem.
Here’s how this problem causes all kinds of conflict in things like the Syrian refugee debate. If a culture’s predominant god and his or her main message – as spotlighted by that culture’s churches and religious institutions - is inclusive-only, then that culture will tend to be inclusive-only. Without even realizing or explicitly acknowledging it, that culture will conclude, “Well, if god is all-inclusive, and if he or she would never exclude anyone from heaven when dealing with us, then who are we to do otherwise when dealing with each other on lesser things like immigration, marriage, bathroom usage, and so on? Who are we to legislate contrary to the nature of our all-inclusive god? Our god is a god of ‘love, open-mindedness, and affirmation,’ so we must be a nation of ‘love, open-mindedness, and affirmation.’”
This movement is showing up all over our culture, including the debates regarding Syrian refugees.7 Of course, the restoration of a biblical view of God and His gospel across America will not automatically solve all of our debates. It would, however, reform our most basic values and put us on a wonderfully stable plane for discussion. Instead of arguing over whether or not Syrian refugees can come in to America (inclusion versus exclusion), we’d be able to start from a broad and stable place of agreement (inclusion andexclusion). “Well, we agree that that it’s right to extend compassion and shelter to the harassed and helpless (inclusion), and we agree that we must enforce standards and checkpoints for entry (inclusion-exclusion), and we must enforce our standards, rejecting anyone who is unwilling to comply (exclusion) to ensure everyone’s health and well-being throughout and after this transition.”
What a wonderful and better starting place this would be! And it all begins with our view of God and His gospel. As we align with Him, maybe then we’ll be able to joyfully declare with the writer of Psalm 33:12,“Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!”
FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION:
1 Coy, a first-grader born as a boy decides that he’s actually a girl. The elementary school where Coy attends bans him/her from using the girl’s bathroom. Coy’s parents sue the elementary school for Coy’s right to use the girl’s bathroom citing “discrimination.” The state grants that permission, citing that “keeping the ban in place ‘creates an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive.’” Happy with the state’s decision, Coy’s mother said, “Schools should not discriminate against their students, and we are thrilled that Coy can return to school and put this behind her. All we ever wanted was for Coy’s school to treat her the same as other little girls. We are extremely happy that she now will be treated equally.” [Sources: http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/24/us/colorado-transgender-girl-school/, http://kdvr.com/2013/06/23/transgender-first-grader-coy-mathis-wins-civil-rights-case/]
2 Here are a few quotes from an online article that resound with the exclusion-inclusion theme on this topic: “State bans on same-sex marriage are no longer legal in America, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today [June 26, 2015]. So the question becomes: How will gay rights and religious rights be balanced?... He [Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy] explains that while that ‘sincere, personal opposition’ cannot be ‘enacted law and public policy’ without harming gay couples and violating the Fourteenth Amendment, he favors a continued ‘open and searching debate’ between those who favor and oppose same-sex marriage. [Source: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/june/supreme-court-states-cant-ban-same-sex-marriage.html]
3 On Thursday, August 13, 2015, “The Colorado Court of Appeals decision affirms a commission's earlier decision that Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood and its owner, Jack Phillips, violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act when he declined to make a cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins' wedding reception in 2012. Phillips, a Christian, argued that his refusal to make the cake was based on his religious opposition to the act of same-sex marriage -- a position he asserted was constitutionally protected -- not based on an opposition to their sexual orientation. Colorado law prohibits places of public accommodation from refusing to serve people based on sexual orientation. Phillips argued that he doesn't refuse to serve homosexuals, and told Craig and Mullins his shop would sell them any bakery product besides a wedding cake. The appeals court rejected Phillips' position.” [Source: http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/13/us/colorado-same-sex-wedding-cake/] In addition, “Christianity Today previously wondered whether Jesus would bake a cake for a gay wedding, a question which has divided some evangelicals and many Americans. According to a Pew study last fall, 49 percent of Americans said that all businesses should serve same-sex weddings, while 47 percent said business owners should be allowed to follow their personal religious convictions. White evangelicals were the lone group where the majority sided with conscience of the business owner (71%).” [Source: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/june/supreme-court-states-cant-ban-same-sex-marriage.html]
4 Mark 16:15 “And he [Jesus] said to them [His disciples], ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’” John 1:7 “He [Jesus] came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.” Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
5 Matthew 7:22-23 “On that day many will say to me [Jesus], ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Matthew 13:49-50 “[Jesus said,] ‘So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” John 3:18 “Whoever believes in him [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Acts 4:11-12 “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
6 Matthew 22:1-14 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.' But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. "But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."
7 By the way, the bible affirms the right-ness of cultures reflecting their gods. For example, it’s a well-documented fact that the Romans and Assyrians were violent and sensual cultures in part because they served violent and sensual gods. It is also evident at various stages in Israel’s history that when they knew and served the Yahweh, the Living God, that their cultures were marked by justice, peace, and security. For good or ill, cultures (along with individuals, families, churches, educational institutions, seminaries, etc.) reflect the character of their god(s). The consistent cry of Scripture is that individuals and cultures will enjoy and worship the Living God, and in so doing, reflect His beauty and virtue.