Opinions, Robbery, and the Resurrection
It’s all a matter of opinion. You believe what you want if you find it useful,
but leave me in peace to believe what I want to.
The early Church proclaimed the good news of salvation in Christ alone in a pluralist world. The Christian message was regarded as one of many competing religious beliefs. The same is true today, and the sentiment expressed in the assertion that '"it's all a matter of opinion. You believe what you want to but leave me in peace" is commonplace.
This kind of statement is rather amusing. It dogmatically asserts that all beliefs without exception are matters of opinion and attempts to devalue the significance of any particular belief. No belief, therefore, apart of course from this belief, should be regarded as possession any particular authority. There are no exceptions — except this assertion! It is, of course, inconsistent with itself, and shouldn't be taken too seriously. Better still it should be evaluated on its own terms, and be regarded as nothing more than another opinion which has no particular authority.
The statement implies that religious beliefs are matters of personal opinion and should not be challenged and examined. This is silly. Just because a belief is held does not mean that it cannot or ought not to be challenged. If this was true, then debate and progress would be impossible. A Minister of the Crown might believe that he did not mislead parliament, but this does not mean that his belief should not be challenged.
Yet we can acknowledge a statement of belief to be an opinion without any embarrassment, for this does not in itself render that belief invalid. A theological opinion may be well founded and an expression of truth. In the same way that medical or legal opinions may be well-founded and expressions of truth So, for example, our opinion that Jesus is the only Saviour of sinners is the expression of a well-founded and therefore true belief.
Belief and Usefulness
Assertions of pluralism are often supported by a pragmatic attitude, as for example, "You believe what you want if you find it useful..." In other words, it doesn't really matter what is believed, so long as it will bring some benefit or advantage to the believer.
This in itself is not objectionable. The believer will always benefit from a true and well-founded belief. If there was to be no benefit in believing, why believe at all? All who believe upon the Saviour receive the greatest benefit a sinner can have — salvation from sin. But because a particular belief might bring some benefit is not a sufficient reason for accepting that that particular belief is acceptable. A thief will no doubt believe that robbery will bring great personal benefit for himself. But this hardly makes his belief acceptable.
Jesus' claim to be the truth challenges all assertions of pluralism. Addressing his disciples he asserts without any embarrassment or sense of inappropriateness, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me" (John 4:6). His claim is not simply that he is a witness to the truth (though of course he is that) but that he is the truth. He is the source, standard and revealer of the truth because he is the truth. Consequently, all that is true in respect of the great questions of life (such as the existence and identity of God, the origin and meaning of life, the great issues of human and religious experience) must conform to the life and teaching of the Lord himself.
This claim is one of many made by our Lord, all of which challenge the pluralism of our age. But is it true?
The most daring of all our Lord's claims followed Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi. He accepted Peter's acknowledgement that he was the promised Christ and then "began to teach them ... that he would be killed and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31). It was daring because it was a claim which could be tested. If his body was found and produced after he had been killed, then the claim would be shown to be false — along with all his other claims. If however, he did rise from the dead, as he claimed that he would, then all of his other claims would also be vindicated.
The clear and unanimous testimony of the New Testament is that our Lord's claim was vindicated. On the third day the women (this is a significant detail) who went to his tomb to anoint his body were shocked to see that the tomb was empty and the body was gone. They were told that this was because Jesus had risen from the dead. Further, at various times the Lord was seen and recognised by different disciples, all of whom were distraught and none of whom expected to see Jesus alive again. Indeed, on one occasion the Lord appeared to over five hundred disciples at once, many of whom were still alive when Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 1:15). They all became witnesses to the fact that the crucified Jesus was now the risen and living Lord.
The first disciples were transformed by their encounters with the risen Lord, as sinners continue to be today. When he was killed they were broken and afraid. But after his resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit, they became bold and fearless witnesses of the risen Lord. Some even gave their lives as witnesses (martyrs) of the resurrected Saviour. The Church continues to be a witness to, and dependent upon, the living Lord.
The only credible explanation for these facts is that the one who claimed that he would rise from the dead did rise from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is the great vindication of all of his claims, including the claim to be the truth. It is also the basis of our challenge to contemporary pluralism.