How Can You Say There Is Only One Way to God? What About Other Religions?
Mosaic Rockford – Dave Spooner – May 5th, 2019
*There are two additional documents included at the end of the PDF version of this transcript. Please download the PDF to have full access.
- How would you respond to the following statements?
- How can there be just one true faith? It’s arrogant to say your religion is superior and try to convert everyone else to it. Surely all the religions are equally good and valid for meeting the needs of their particular followers.
- Religious exclusivity is not just narrow – it’s dangerous. Religion has led to untold strife, division, and conflict. It may be the greatest enemy of peace in the world. If Christians continue to insist that they have the truth, and if other religions do this as well, the world will never know peace.
- These questions and others like it are thoughts that many people have about religion in general and Christianity specifically. Many people in our culture think this way. The principle objection could be summed up like this:
- People say that since there are so many ways to find God, Christianity is only one among many valid options. The other religions of the world have millions of adherents, producing much wisdom, character, and happiness, so Christians should not claim to have the best faith or the only true faith.
- I think one of the main reasons people think this way is that in a world threatened with nuclear war, a world facing a global ecological crisis, a world more and more closely bound together in its cultural and economic life, they believe the most critical need is for unity. An aggressive claim on the part of one of the world’s religions to have the truth for all can only be regarded as treason against the human race. They say something like this: “You may hold your particular beliefs, but you must not do so in such a way that delegitimizes the truths of other religions, faiths, and cultures.” These people value peace over truth. This is the essence behind the “coexist” movement that is seen on the back of vehicles and other places.
- Is this view valid? And how are we as Christians to respond to these questions. So, let’s address Five objections that are raised regarding Christianity’s claim to be the only way to God.
1.“All major religions are equally valid, produce much wisdom and happiness, and basically teach the same thing.”
- There is some overlap within the major world religions about what constitutes ethical behavior. For example, it is true that (in quite different ways) every religion condemns greed and self-centeredness.However, this objection is not as open-minded as it may first appear, becauseit does not listen to what the other religions are actually saying and glosses overthe differences between them. People who claim that the world’s religions aredifferent paths up the same mountain do not deny the fact that they differ inparticulars. To claim that all religions are basically the same is not to deny thedifferences between a Buddhist who believes in no god, a Jew who believes in oneGod, and a Hindu who believes in many gods. It is to deny that those differencesmatter. But this does not take seriously the beliefs and practices of the religion.This position claims to be promoting religious tolerance — but only after it requiresevery religion to deny its distinctives or to say the distinctives do not matter.
- Most world religions have sharply different views of reality and consider those beliefs to be nonnegotiable; that their core beliefs are necessary for people to find salvation. The main and central significant conflicting difference between religions is over Jesus himself. Most religions insist Jesus could not be the unique Son of God, and Christianity says not only that he is but that it is necessary for salvation to believe this. Christianity differs from other religions in “how you are saved — that means the process by which you can know that your relationship with God is the way it should be.”
1 John 2:22-23 ESV
Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.
1 John 4:1-7 ESV
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
2 John 7-11 ESV
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
- The truth is the world religions have a few things that are similar but have vast differences in many other important and essential doctrines including ultimate reality, the nature of God, the nature of man, the person of Christ, the nature of eternity, ethical behavior and eternity, to name a few. (*See the two additional documents World Religion Basics and Christianity Cults and Religions.)
- Religious pluralism (all religions lead to God) is not a tolerant attitude toward all religions, but a new religion itself that essentially asks every other faith to remake itself in the image of religious pluralism. In other words, it refuses to acknowledge the true diversity of world religions — often in the name of promoting diversity.
2. “Lots of good and intelligent people differ with the Christian viewpoint, so it is arrogant to claim that Christian beliefs are the only true ones.”
- Christians need to acknowledge and admit the terrible fact that the Christian church has never lacked for truly arrogant, proud, unloving, cranky people who have not represented Christ or Christianity well. Truth claims will always attract arrogance and moral absolutes will always attract moralists.
- Now, having said that, this illustration may help. Imagine that a research scientist claims she has discovered the cure to some fatal disease. Imagine that she immediately publishes articles and gives lectures about it that are arrogant in tone. It is true that her arrogance will move many people to try to prove her wrong. But does her arrogance prove that she is wrong about what she says? Would it be arrogant of a research scientist per se to declare, in any tone of voice, that she has found the cure that no one else has found? Then why would it necessarily be arrogant for any person to say that they had discovered a spiritual cure that no one else has found? They may be wrong about the claim, but it would not necessarily be arrogant.
- Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:5 ESV) In order to believe in Christ and be a Christian, you have to believe this which means that Christianity is the only true “path” to God. It is not arrogant to say this, but it is truthful. To say anything else is not Christianity.
- The central premise behind the arrogance charge is one that religious pluralists have to apply to their own beliefs as well. Once religious pluralists become aware that others disagree with their belief about spiritual reality, then why is it not arrogant of them to continue to hold their beliefs? The person who says, “It is arrogant to persuade others to your religious position” is actually doing the very thing he is forbidding — at the moment he is forbidding it.
3. “You can’t hold people responsible for rejecting Jesus when they have never heard of him.”
- We are told clearly in the Bible that God is just and merciful; that it isnecessary to believe in Jesus in order to come into a saving, personal relationshipwith God; and that God initiates that belief.
Rom 1:19-20 ESV
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
God does give evidence about who He is based upon what has been created. All people can know things about God through this general revelation. So, everyone has an understanding about God responding in different ways. God has also given specific revelation about Himself through His messengers, His word, His son and His working in the world. We as Christians have a responsibility to communicate the truth about God and Christ to the whole world. And in doing so trust the nature of God that He will do what is just, right and good.
4. “Nobody can know whose religion is true, so Christianity can’t claim it is the only true way.”
- The main problem with this objection is that it is a claim to massive religious knowledge itself – though it is hidden beneath a veneer of humility. It says, “No one can know about spiritual things,” but that statement presumes an astonishing amount of spiritual knowledge. If you say, “I don’t know which religion is true,” that can be a statement of humility. If you say, “No one can know which religion is true,” you are making a very dogmatic assertion and presuming the very “religious knowledge/certainty” you just doubted that anyone had. The only way you can be absolutely skeptical about religion and say nobody has all the truth, nobody has complete knowledge, is if you have complete knowledge.
- The wise and discerning thing to do is to really investigate what the religions claim and follow the one that is true in all of its forms.
- So, religious pluralism is a religious belief that claims to be a better or more accurate or preferable view of spiritual reality than other views. Of course, the religious pluralism proponent may object: “I’m not saying anything specific about God — I’m only saying that we can’t know for sure what he is or what he’s like.” But the Christian view of God is that God has revealed who He is so people can know Him. To say “we can’t know God for sure” is to assert that God has not revealed Himself in this way. Religious pluralism objectors may deny that they are simply substituting one religious belief for others, but that is the case. Their position is inconsistent. They say no one should claim that their understanding of religion is more right or superior to others, yet they maintain that their understanding is superior to others.
- The greatest intolerance and violence of that century were practiced by those who believed that religion caused intolerance and violence.
5. Christianity is exclusive, divisive, and intolerant.
- Everybody has a view of spiritual reality that is exclusive. Irreligion is exclusive, too. Everybody is basing their lives on truth claims that are fundamentals. Even people who say nobody has the truth are making a truth claim. You cannot avoid truth claims. The question is, which truth claims lead to intolerance?
- At the heart of the Christian’s view of spiritual reality is a man who gave His life in sacrifice for people who did not believe in Him, a man who died asking for forgiveness for the people who were killing Him. Therefore, Christianity is an exclusive claim, but it is the most inclusive exclusive claim because it wants you to exclusively believe in this man who died for his enemies and asks you to love and care for yours.
- So, does the message that Jesus is the only way to God necessarily lead to intolerance? Christians can only become intolerant to the degree that they misunderstand the heart of the gospel — namely, the good news that Almighty God himself came to serve us and die for us, so we could be saved not because of our right beliefs and behavior, but by the gift of his unmerited grace. That message, rightly grasped, cannot lead to coercion or intolerance. The gospel has within it deep resources for humility and respect. It is up to Christians to prove this assertion with their lives.
- The doctrine of creation is that every human being has been made in the image of God. In Genesis 9 and James 3 God says we must treat every human being as valuable, regardless of what they do, regardless of what they have done in the past, and regardless of their behavior, because they are made in his image.
- Also, because they are made in God’s image, all people are capable of words and deeds which are wise and beautiful. On the other hand, the doctrine of the fall (Genesis 3) says that we are all sinners, everyone, including Christians. And the biblical teaching on redemption means that sinners are saved by grace alone. Christianity is the one religion that says people are not saved by being better people, by being more disciplined, by praying more, by being more compassionate; people are saved by sheer unmerited grace. Christians should also know that they are no different than anyone else — we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) — and so again they treat people with love and respect and a lack of superiority with a sense of love, compassion, strength and urgency.
- Study some of the major differences there are between the religions of the world and know how Christianity differs from them.
- Understand the reasons why people believe in religious pluralism.
- Pray for people who have not heard and have not accepted the truth of the Bible and Christ.
- Live the truth of the Bible and Christ in a right and authentic way and share the message of Christianity with others.
- Support people and ministries that are doing so locally and around the world.