This is a follow-up to my previous post: Michael Kruse quotes Miroslav Volf to show why, at least according to Paul’s thinking, it is fundamental to Christianity to be universal and so cross-cultural, unlike Judaism which has remained tied to a (notionally) single ethnic group, culture and language:
Paul’s solution to the tension between universality and particularity is ingenious. Its logic is simple: the oneness of God requires God’s universality; God’s universality entails human equality; human equality implies equal access by all to the blessings of the one God; equal access is incompatible with ascription of religious significance to genealogy; Christ, the seed of Abraham, is both the fulfillment of the genealogical promise of Abraham and the end of genealogical privileged locus of access to God; faith in Christ replaces birth into a people. As a consequence, all peoples can have access to the one God of Abraham and Sarah on equal terms, none by right and all by grace. Put abstractly, the religious irrelevance of genealogical ties and the necessity of faith in the “seed of Abraham” are correlates of the belief in the one God of all the families of the earth, who called Abraham to depart.
The issue then is how any religion which claims to be monotheistic can reconcile this with ethnic and cultural particularism. The Old Testament prophets were already wrestling with these issues, especially in the last part of the book of Isaiah. In fact, as I noted elsewhere, Hezekiah was forced by the Assyrian threat to recognise that the uniqueness of the Lord implied his universality:
And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: 16 “LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17 Give ear, LORD, and hear; open your eyes, LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.
18 “It is true, LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. 19 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 20 Now, LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, LORD, are the only God.”
Isaiah 37:15-20 (TNIV)
The crisis of the Assyrian invasion, and the fact that the true God actually did deliver the people who trusted in him (37:36-38) whereas other gods had not been able to deliver their worshippers (36:18-20, 37:12-13), demonstrated his uniqueness and so his universality.
But somehow the implications of this have not always been noticed by monotheists, in Judaism and Islam, and very often also in Christianity.