Is Jesus the Only Way?

Coexist

Paul Rutherford explains why Jesus is the only way to know God.

Coexist Bumper StickerI was sitting in my car at a red light and I saw a bumper sticker on the car in front of me that said, “Coexist.” Only, the letters on the bumper sticker are religious symbols. A crescent stands in place of the letter “c,” a peace symbol in place of the letter “o,” and some of the other symbols included a cross, a Star of David, and a yin-yang, all used to create the word “coexist.”

Perhaps you’ve seen an image just like this bumper sticker, but on a t-shirt or tattoo. It represents a common sentiment in our culture that everyone should get along, or coexist peacefully. And I love that sentiment. We should get along. In fact, I’m grateful to God I live in a country in which an unprecedented number of people from all different religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities do, in fact, coexist every day, and for the most part without violent protest. The life we enjoy in the United States is historically unprecedented.

Download the PodcastBut the coexistence advocated in this bumper sticker is something more subtle. It’s a way of getting along that is more than meets the eye. It frequently calls for a peaceable lifestyle free of conflict between faiths. People hope that we can all unite in a single brotherhood and celebrate our differences, particularly religious ones. They don’t understand why we bicker over who’s right and who’s wrong.

The call to coexist is a reaction to the exclusive truth claims of religion, especially Christianity. In fact, its exclusivism is the most offensive aspect of Christianity today. “Repent. Believe. Come to Jesus. He’s the only way!” These are phrases easily associated with Christianity, especially street preaching. What should we do with Christianity’s exclusivism in a twenty-first century cosmopolitan society? Haven’t we progressed beyond such narrow-mindedness in these modern times? Isn’t claiming Jesus as the only way intolerant of other faiths? Don’t those Christians know all religions are equally valid paths to heaven? They shouldn’t force their beliefs on others!

Claiming Jesus is the only way to heaven is exclusive, I admit. It says there is no other way to God except by trust in Jesus Christ. Jesus most famously says this Himself in the Bible: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).

Even though it’s offensive, I believe Jesus really is the only way to God. In this article we’re going to explore that question by discussing objections to it, and discover why He really is the only way.

Tolerance

As believers, when we claim Jesus is the only way, you often hear people give some variation of, “That’s so intolerant!” In doing so, they reject the claim. Often implied, but not said straight out, is the demand that the Christian “tolerate” others’ beliefs, or take back what he just said.

It’s worth pointing out that claiming Christianity to be intolerant is itself an intolerant claim. But the notion of tolerance is complex and has a long history. And rather than elaborate that contradiction, let’s begin by exploring the complexity of tolerance.

What’s usually meant by tolerance these days is including beliefs that include all others. This position generally rejects Jesus as the only way because diversity and equality are now celebrated as the highest values. “Tolerance” celebrates differences of religions and equality of opportunity to practice them. To claim Jesus is the only way squelches both equality and diversity by claiming only one religion is right. Since squelching diversity and equality are socially unacceptable, the exclusivity of Jesus isn’t tolerated.

But this issue is complex. (That might be apparent already.) Truth and tolerance are actually linked. In fact, tolerance relies on truth. In the book The Truth about Tolerance, David Couchman says, “If there is no real truth, there is no reason for me to be tolerant. Without some kind of beliefs which cause me to value you as a person, even though I disagree with you, why should I be tolerant towards you?”{1} For tolerance to exist at all, it relies upon a framework of truth. That resonates with an idea mentioned earlier, how intolerance contradicts itself.

But the rabbit hole goes even deeper. Truth also relies upon tolerance. “[I]t is also the case that truth as a reflective goal for individuals and communities. . .needs a context of right-minded toleration to flourish in.”{2} Without tolerance, truth likewise becomes the hammer of oppression. We find then that truth and tolerance go hand in hand.

Nevertheless, tolerance is the hammer of choice in culture today. Too often suppression of Christians sharing the truth that Jesus is the only way of salvation is justified in the name of tolerance. Don’t be taken captive by this distortion. Genuine tolerance acknowledges all positions, even those that are exclusive. A biblical worldview holds only one truth, Jesus is the only path to heaven, while maintaining respect and dignity for those who disagree. That’s genuine tolerance.

Absolutes Don’t Exist

Here is another objection you might hear: Christians can’t claim Jesus is the only way because there are no absolutes. What Christians claim is an absolute truth. And there simply are no absolute truths.

Their justification goes like this. We know from study, from reason, from the postmodern era, that society has moved beyond absolutes. There is no absolute truth. There is no overarching metanarrative (or idea of truth) which can transcend culture, nation, or time. Truth is a construct created by each man, each culture, and bound by the strictures of the time in which it was created.

This objection shares a similar weakness to the tolerance objection. Denying absolutes is also self-defeating. It contradicts itself. If we were to ask this objector if she really believed what she was saying was true, we could ask her, “You believe no absolute truth exists, right? Are you absolutely sure of that?” This objector would have to agree. That’s what the position holds, thus contradicting her own claim.

This objection often comes out of the postmodern school of thought, which says there is no such thing as objective truth, such as 2 + 2 always equals 4. Postmodern thought also denies the meaningfulness of history along with the ability to interpret literature in a unified and meaningful way. The unfortunate consequence is that we’re left with a bleak reality stripped of purpose or meaning, which frankly, isn’t very appealing. Without truth, meaning, history, or purpose, what’s the point?

The great irony of it all is that postmodern thought arrives at its conclusions by way of reason, which it then concludes isn’t true, and then holds it in contempt. It calls into question reason itself and the whole Enlightenment project along with it. So there’s a healthy dose of despair that frequently accompanies adherents to postmodern thought, including our friends who don’t believe Jesus can be the only way to God because there are no absolutes. But that’s the lie to which I don’t want you to be taken captive. Jesus really is the only way. He’s the only way to find peace in a wrecked world. He is meaning for a confused life. And He leads us home to heaven out of a world where we don’t belong. The remedy to that despair is Jesus.

Despair at the failure of reason to improve mankind is the sad but ultimate end of every god which usurps the rightful place of the one true God: Jesus Christ. The truth is, all gods fail, disappoint, and leave us desperate. The only one who is faithful is Jesus. (cf. Deut. 7:9; 2 Thess. 3:3) But we won’t find that satisfaction until we rest assured in the truth that Jesus really is the only way.

Pluralism

There is another category of objectors to Christ’s claim to exclusivity. A difficult but less in-your-face objection is pluralism. Pluralism is the belief that any variety of beliefs and values are all equally true and valid.

When I claim Jesus is the only way, some calmly object. Pluralists tend to be more laid-back. Typically they affirm my right to follow Christ, even celebrate it. These folks calmly share their belief that all religions are right: they all lead to god. Often they cite the Eastern proverb that there are many paths to the top of the mountain.

First, I’d like to point out that pluralism is intellectually lazy. It doesn’t take seriously the law of non-contradiction. (This law says that two opposite things cannot both be true at the same time and in the same way.) When a Christian claims the path is exclusive, that Jesus is the only way, the pluralist might think, “That’s nice, but actually, I know that all religions lead to heaven.” He doesn’t accept the Christian’s position as true. He says he believes Christianity is true while at the same time denying its central tenet, which is that Jesus is the only way.

But this response is not unique to Christianity. A conservative Jew sincere about his faith won’t say any path leads to heaven; neither will a Sunni Muslim. Pluralism attempts to make peace where there is none, and only succeeds in agreeing with no one.

Second, Christians who hold to exclusivism are sometimes falsely accused of pushing their beliefs on others. In condemning the exclusivist claims of Christianity, the pluralist imposes her beliefs on the Christian. It contradicts the very intended principle.

We all have beliefs or actions we want others to take seriously. There’s nothing wrong with that. From my experience, pluralism is usually based on fear, which is completely understandable. The other person disagrees but fears conflict. They fear the relationship might be at stake if they express their true belief. As believers we still accept and honor people even if they don’t agree with us. This is how we alleviate fear, demonstrating acceptance for those with whom we disagree. (And that’s the true meaning of tolerance, by the way.)

When someone throws up this smokescreen in conversation, it can feel scary—alarming. Suddenly, the person you’re talking to gets defensive. We can wonder, “Where did this come from?” In that moment it’s probably not wise to press. Ask them why they believe that way, or affirm them. Certainly no one has a right to force compliance on another unwillingly. Communicate that we don’t have to agree to be accepted. Further, don’t fall prey to this area where culture takes many believers captive. Jesus is the only way. Stand fast.

The Only Way

Is Jesus the only way? Yes. Multiple scriptures teach this truth. Let’s consider a few.

Matthew 11:27 says, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Jesus is claiming that God his Father has handed everything over to Him. This is an indirect claim to be God Himself. But Jesus also makes it clear He is the only one, since no one knows the Father but the Son.

Let’s also consider John’s gospel. Before Jesus even began his ministry John the Baptist responds to Jesus’ identity. “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) In Hebrew culture at the time, calling someone the Lamb of God was a claim to the Messiah who was prophesied (Isaiah 53:7). Further, only God has the power to take away sin. This was an unmistakable claim to divinity. It’s interesting also that Jesus doesn’t correct him, or deny Godhood. On the contrary, a short time later, Jesus picks up his first two disciples and encourages them, saying, “Come and you will see” (John 1:39).

It’s one thing to claim divinity and yet another to claim to be the only divinity. So, where does the Bible say Jesus is the only way? As we mentioned earlier, by Jesus’ own admission He is the only way to God in John 14:6—”I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Peter also explains the meaning of Jesus’ exclusivity in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Believers, take heart. Jesus Christ is the one and only way. Questioning Jesus’ exclusivity is a recent historical phenomenon. That question is commonly asked in the 20th century West, a culture increasingly influenced by postmodern thinking and multiculturalism. Take courage. We who accept the exclusivity of Christ are in a historical majority. Repudiation for Christians as being intolerant, exclusive, or uneducated is a recent occurrence. These are the current trends of our culture. Don’t be taken captive. Jesus is the only way.

Notes

1. David Couchman, quoted in The Truth about Tolerance, Brad Stetson and Joseph G. Conti, (InterVarsity Press, 2005), 75.

2. Brad Stetson and Joseph G. Conti, The Truth about Tolerance, (InterVarsity Press, 2005), 75.

© 2013 Probe Ministries


Christianity and Religious Pluralism – Are There Multiple Ways to Heaven?

Rick Wade takes a hard look at the inconsistencies of religious pluralism.  He concludes that if Christ is a way to heaven there cannot be other ways to heaven.  Whether Christianity is true or not, pluralism does not make rational sense as it considers all religious traditions to be essentially the same.

Aren’t All Religions Basically the Same?

In a humorous short article in which he highlighted some of the silly beliefs people hold today, Steve Turner wrote, “We believe that all religions are basically the same, at least the one we read was. They all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation sin heaven hell God and salvation.”{1}

It is the common belief today that all religions are basically the same. They may look different—they may differ with respect to holy books or forms of worship or specific ideas about God—but at the root they’re pretty much the same. That idea has become so deeply rooted that it is considered common knowledge. To express doubt about it draws an incredulous stare. Obviously, anyone who thinks one religion is the true one is close-minded and benighted! More than that, the person is clearly a bigot who probably even hates people of other religions (or people with no religion at all). Now, this way of thinking is very seldom formed by serious consideration of the issues, I believe (although there are knowledgeable scholars who hold to it), but that doesn’t matter. It is part of our cultural currency and is held with the same conviction as the belief that planets in the solar system revolve around the Sun and not Earth.

On the surface at least, it’s clear enough that the various religions of the world are different. Theists believe in one personal God; Hindus believe in many gods; atheists deny any God exists. Just on that issue alone, the differences are obvious. Add to that the many beliefs about the dilemma of the human race and how it is to be solved. Why don’t people understand the significance of these differences? On the scholarly level, the fundamental objection is this. It is believed that, if there is a God, he (or she or it) is too different from us for us to know him (or her or it). Because of our limitations, he couldn’t possibly reveal himself to us. Religious writings, then, are merely human attempts at explaining religious experience without actually being objectively true.

Philosopher John Hick wrote that this is really a problem of language. Statements about God don’t have the same truth value as ones about, say, the weather, because “there is no . . . agreement about how to determine the truth value of statements about God.”{2} We use religious language because it is meaningful to us, but there is really no way to confirm the truth of such talk. Because we can’t really know what the truth is about God, we do our best to guess at it. For this reason, we are not to suggest that our beliefs are true and others false.

On the more popular level, the loss of confidence in being able to know religious and moral truths which comes from academia and filters through the media, is teamed up with an inclusivist attitude that doesn’t want anyone left out—that is, if there are any truths to be known.

I want to take a look at the issue of religious pluralism, the belief that there are many valid ways to God. We’ll start with some definitions and a reminder of what historical Christianity teaches about God and us and how we can be reconciled to Him.

Starting Points

There are three basic positions on the question of the relation of Christianity to other religions. The historic view is called exclusivism. That word can be a real turn-off to people because we live in an inclusivistic era. What it means in this context is that the claim of Christianity that Jesus is the only way means that all other ways to God are excluded. If Jesus is the only way to the one true God, then no other claims can be true.

Another view on the matter is inclusivism. This is the belief that, while salvation is made possible only by the cross of Christ, it can be obtained without hearing the gospel. Even people who are externally part of other religions traditions can be saved. This is a temptation for Christians who are convinced that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, but don’t like the idea that there are people who haven’t heard the gospel who thus cannot be saved.

By religious pluralism, we mean the belief that all religions (at least the major, enduring ones) are valid as ways to relate to God. There is nothing unique about Christ; He was one of many influential religious teachers and leaders. This is the position I’ll be considering in this article.

Before looking at pluralism, it would be good to review the historic Christian understanding of salvation to bring the contrast into bold relief.

One God

The Bible is clear that there is one God. Through Isaiah the prophet God said, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God” (Is. 45:5a; see also 43:10; 44:6).

Beyond this, it’s important to note that, philosophically speaking, it is impossible that there could be two (or more) “Gods” like the God of the Bible. Scripture is clear that God is everywhere present at once, so there can’t be a truly competing presence (Ps. 139:7-12). God is capable of doing whatever He wills. There can be no ultimate interference by another deity. “The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths,” says the Psalmist (135:6). Or more succinctly, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Ps. 115:3; see also Dan. 4:35). How could there be two Gods like this? They would have to be absolutely identical, since neither one could be interfered with. And if so, they would be the same God!

One Savior

The Bible is also clear that there is only one Savior. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn. 14:6). To the rulers and elders and scribes in Jerusalem, Peter declared, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Theological necessity

In addition, it was theologically necessary for salvation to come through Christ alone. In Hebrews chapter 9 we read that the death of the sacrifice was necessary. According to Hebrews chapter 7, the Savior had to be divine (see also 2 Cor. 5:21). And Hebrews 2:17 says the Savior had to be human. Jesus is the only one who fulfills those requirements.

One more consideration

To this we can add the fact that the apostles never even hinted that people could be saved any other way than through Christ. It is this belief that has fueled evangelistic endeavors all over the world.

Religious Pluralism Can’t Accomplish Its Goal

Even on the surface of it, the notion of religious pluralism is contradictory. If we can’t know that particular religions are true, how can we know that any are valid ways to God? The pluralist has to know that we can’t know (which is an interesting idea in itself!), while also having confidence that somehow we’ll be able to reach our goal through our particular beliefs and practices.

But that brings serious questions to the surface. Do all religions even have the same goal? That’s an important issue. In fact, it’s the first of three problems with religious pluralism I’d like to consider.

Can religious pluralism accomplish its goal? What do I mean by that? Two ideas are at work here. First, it is believed that we can’t really know what is true about God; our religions are only approximations of truth. Second, if that is so, aren’t we being high-handed if we tell a people that their religion isn’t true? How can any religion claim to have the truth? To be intellectually honest, we need to consider all religions (at least the major, enduring ones) as equally valid. There is a personal element here, too. The pluralist wants to take the people of all religions seriously. Telling anyone his or her religion is false doesn’t seem to signal that kind of respect. So the goal of which I speak is taking people seriously with respect to their religious beliefs.

I can explain this best by introducing a British scholar named John Hick and tell a little of his story.{3} Hick was once a self-declared evangelical who says he underwent a genuine conversion experience as a college student. He immediately began to associate with members of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in England. Over time, however, his philosophical training and reading of certain New Testament scholars made him begin to have doubts about doctrinal matters. He also saw that, on the one hand, there were adherents of other religions who were good people, while, on the other, there were some Christians who were not very nice people but were sure of their seat in heaven. How could it be, he thought, that God would send these good Sikhs and Muslims and Buddhists to hell while saving those not-so-good Christians just because they believed in Jesus? Hick went on to develop his own understanding of religious pluralism and became probably the best-known pluralist in the scholarly world.

I relate all this to you to point out that, at least as far as the eye of man can see, Hick’s motivation was a good one: he wanted to believe that all people, no matter what religious stripe, can be saved. Harold Netland, who studied under Hick and wrote a book on his pluralism, speaks very highly of Hick’s personal character.{4} And isn’t there something appealing about his view (again, from our standpoint)? Wouldn’t we like everyone to be saved? And having heard about (or experienced directly) the violence fueled by religious fanaticism, it’s easy to see why many people recoil against the idea that only one religion has the truth. We want everyone included! We want everyone to feel like his or her religious beliefs are respected and even affirmed!

The problem is that we are supposed to view our beliefs as approximations of truth, as somehow meaningful to us but not really true. All people are to be welcomed into the universal family of faith—but they are to leave at the door the belief that what they believe is true. It’s as though the pluralist is saying, “It is really noble of you to be so committed to your faith. Of course, we know that little of what you believe can be taken as truth, but that’s okay. It gives meaning to your life.” Or in other words, “We want you to feel validated in your religion, even though your religious doctrines aren’t literally true.”

To be quite honest, I don’t feel affirmed by that. My religious belief is completely undermined by this idea. If Jesus isn’t the only way to God, Christianity is a complete lie, and I am believing in vain.

My belief is that salvation—the reconciliation of persons to the one, true trinitarian God—has been made possible by Jesus, and that I know this to be the case. In his first epistle, John wrote: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13). If I can’t know this to be true, the promises of Scripture are only wishes. In that case, my hope for eternity is no more secure than crossing my fingers and saying I hope it won’t rain this weekend. We are all, in short, forced to abandon our notions of the validity of our religious beliefs and accept the skepticism of the pluralist. And I don’t feel affirmed by that.

For my money, to be told I might be very sincere but sincerely wrong if I take my beliefs as true in any literal sense is like being condescendingly patted on the head. To be honest, I take such a notion as arrogance.

So my first objection to religious pluralism is that it does not accomplish its goal of making me feel affirmed with respect to my religious beliefs beyond whatever emotional fulfillment I might get from pretending the beliefs are true.

Religious Pluralism Doesn’t Make Sense

My second objection to religious pluralism is that it doesn’t make sense in light of what the various religions claim. Let me explain.

Christianity is a confessional religion. In other words, there are particular beliefs we confess to be true, and it is partly through confessing them that we are saved. Is that surprising? Aren’t we saved by faith, by putting our trust in Christ? Yes, but there are specific things we are supposed to believe. It isn’t just believing in; it’s also believing that. For example, Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (Jn. 8:23-24). And then there’s Paul’s clear statement that “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). So what we believe is very important despite what some are saying now about how Christianity is a relationship and how doctrine isn’t all that important.

Back to my point. Christians who know what the Bible teaches and the basics of other religions find themselves staring open-mouthed at people who say that all religions are basically the same. How could anyone who knows anything about the major religions of the world even think such a thing? I suspect that most people who say this do not know the teachings of the various religions. They have some vague notions about religion in general, so they reduce these great bodies of belief to a few essentials. Don’t all religions believe in a higher power or powers? Isn’t their function just to give meaning to our lives? Don’t they all typically include such things as prayer, rituals of one kind or another in public and private worship, standards for moral living, holy books, and the like?

Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias has said something like this: Most people think all religions are essentially the same and only superficially different, but just the opposite is true. People believe there are some core beliefs and practices such as those I just named which are common to all religions, and that religions are different only on the surface. Muslims have the Koran; Christians have the Bible; Jews have the Torah; Hindus have the Bhagavad Gita. Muslims pray five times a day; Christians pray at church on Sundays and most anytime they want during the week. Buddhists have their shrines; Jews their synagogues; Hindus their temples; Muslims their mosques; and Christians their churches. So at the core, the same; on the surface, different.

But just the opposite is true! It is on the surface that there is similarity; that is why we can immediately look at certain bodies of beliefs and practices and label them “religion.” They aren’t identical, but they are similar enough to be under the same category, “religion.” On the surface we see prayers, rituals, holy books, etc. It’s when we dig down to the essential beliefs that we find contradictory differences!

For example, Islam is theistic but is unitarian while Christianity is trinitarian. Hindus believe we are not true individual selves but are parts of the All, while orthodox Jews believe we are individuals created in the image of God. Muslims believe salvation comes through obedience to Allah, while Buddhists believe “salvation” consists of spinning out of the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth into nirvana.

No, religions are not essentially the same and only superficially different. At their very core they are drastically different. So while pluralists might take the religious person seriously, they don’t take his or her beliefs seriously. How can all these different beliefs be true in any meaningful sense? How can the end of human existence be both nirvana and heaven or hell? Pluralists have to reduce all these beliefs to some vague possibility of an afterlife of some kind; they have to empty them of any significant content.

So what we believe to be true, pluralists know isn’t. Isn’t it interesting that the pluralist is insightful enough to know what millions of religious adherents don’t! That’s a strange position to take given that the heart of pluralism is the belief that we can’t know what is ultimately true about God!

It is for this reason that my second objection to religious pluralism is that it doesn’t make sense in light of what the various religions claim. It claims that our different beliefs are essentially the same, which is false on the surface of it. And it claims that the differences result from the fact that we can’t know what is true, while the pluralist acts like he or she can know what is true.

Pluralism Is Incompatible with Christianity

Religious pluralism may well be the most common attitude about religion in America. You might be wondering, Aren’t there a lot of Christians in America? According to the polls, one would think so. But I dare say that if you polled people in your church, especially young people, you would find more than a few who are religious pluralists. They believe that, while Christianity is true for them, it isn’t necessarily true for other people. Is pluralism a legitimate option for Christians? In short, no.

This, then, is my third objection to religious pluralism, namely, that religious pluralism is incompatible with Christianity because it demands that Christians deny the central truths of Scripture. If religious pluralism is true, Jesus’ claims to deity and biblical teaching about His atoning death and resurrection cannot be true.

The Bible is clear that salvation comes through accepting by faith the finished work of Jesus who is the only way to salvation. Paul told the Ephesians that at one time they “were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (2:12). Without Christ they were without God. He told the Romans that righteousness came through Jesus and the atoning sacrifice He made (5:6-10, 17). Jesus said plainly that “no one comes to the Father but by me” (Jn. 14:6). Because pluralism denies these specifics about salvation, it is clearly at odds with Christianity.

There is a more general truth that separates Christianity and pluralism, namely, that Christianity is grounded in specific historical events, not abstract religious ideas. Pluralists, as it were, line up all the major, enduring religions in front of them and look for similarities such as those we have already noted: prayers, rituals, holy books, and so on. They abstract these characteristics and say, “Look. They’re all really the same because they do and have the same kinds of things.” But that won’t do for Christianity. It is not just some set of abstract “religious” beliefs and practices. It is grounded in specific historical events.

This is a crucial point. The historicity of Christianity is critical to its truth or falsity. God’s project of salvation is inextricably connected with particular historical events such as the fall, the flood, the obedience of Abraham, the Exodus, the giving of the Law, the fall of Israel and Judah, the return to Israel—all events leading to Jesus, a historical person who accomplished our salvation through a historical event. It is through these events that God declared and carried out His plans, and nowhere do we read that He would do so with other people through other events and teachings. The truth of Christianity stands or falls with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ and their meaning revealed by God. If the resurrection is historically false, “we are to be pitied more than all men,” Paul wrote (1 Cor. 15:19). If this was God’s way, and Jesus declared Himself to be the only way, then no other way is available.

One thing the church must not do is let any of its members think that their way is only one way. This isn’t to condone elitism or condescension or discrimination against others, even though that’s what a lot of people believe today. That believing in the exclusivity of Christ does not necessarily result in an attitude of elitism is seen in Jesus Himself. His belief that He was and is the only way to the Father is clear, but few people will criticize Him for having the attitudes just mentioned. It is a strange thing, isn’t it? Christians who say Jesus is the only way are condemned as self-righteous bigots, while the One who boldly declared not His religion but Himself as the only way is considered a good man!

To sum up, then. Pluralism falls under its own weight, for it cannot affirm all religious beliefs as it seems to desire, and its belief that religions are all pretty much the same, even though their core teachings are contradictory, doesn’t make sense. It also is certainly incompatible with Christianity which declares that the truth of its teachings stand or fall with specific historical events. And frankly, its claim to know that no religion really has the truth because such truth can’t be known, comes off as a rather hollow declaration in light of the knowledge pluralists think they possess.

Notes

1. Steve Turner, Nice and Nasty (Marshall and Scott, 1980).
2. John Hick, God and the Universe of Faiths, rev. ed. (London: Fount Paperbacks, 1977), 3.
3. See John Hick, “A Pluralist View,” in Dennis L. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips, Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralist World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), chap. 1.
4. Harold A. Netland, Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1991), ix.

© 2006 Probe Ministries


“Why Are Pagans and Their Religion Evil?”

I really want to understand how modern pagans are seen as evil and how their religion is seen as evil; is everything that’s not Christian evil? Is it not everyone’s personal choice?

You ask some very good questions. First, you ask why modern pagans and their religion are seen as evil. I think what I would say here is that, from a biblical perspective, modern pagans are not necessarily any more (or less) evil than anyone else. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Thus, according to the Bible, all men and women are sinners. We have all thought, said and done things which are displeasing to God and contrary to His perfect moral standards. In this sense, we are all evil and in need of God’s forgiveness and grace.

If, as the Bible teaches, Jesus really is the one and only way to God the Father (John 14:6), then all other religions are ultimately false. Of course, it’s important to remember that this does NOT mean that everything they teach is false. For example, many non-Christian religions say that we shouldn’t lie, steal, commit sexual immorality, or murder. Clearly, Christianity agrees with this and teaches the same thing. Further, Judaism, Unitarianism, and Islam teach that there is only one God. Again, Christianity certainly agrees with this.

In other words, other religions (including various pagan religions) may certainly teach some things that are true and good. But if Christianity is really true, and if Jesus really is the only way to God, then no other religion is ULTIMATELY true (in all that it teaches). In this sense, then, Christians would consider pagan religions “evil.” That is, we would consider these religions evil because they are leading their adherents astray and away from the only true God and the Savior Jesus Christ. If Christianity is true, then these religions will ultimately hurt (not help) those who follow them.

Finally, many Christians believe that God has given people free-will. God will not force anyone to become a Christian against his/her will. He offers us salvation, forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift, but He will not force it on us. Thus, people do have a choice regarding what religion they will follow. But God will hold everyone accountable for their choices. And those who reject His gracious offer of forgiveness and salvation through faith in Christ will be held accountable for their sins and suffer the terrible fate of eternal separation from God in hell. Again, passages like Matthew 25:41-46 and Revelation 20:11-15 make this quite clear. This is why Christians believe it is so important to tell people about Jesus and their need for Him. If He really is the only way to God the Father, then it would be very unloving of us not to tell people about this. Most Christians simply want to see their friends, relatives, and co-workers in heaven. They don’t want these people to be eternally separated from God, the Ultimate Source of every good and perfect gift.

I hope this helps. If you’re interested in reading about the Christian plan of salvation, please visit Bible.org at http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=276.

The Lord bless you,

Michael Gleghorn
Probe Ministries

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