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Probe Ministries: Is Jesus the Only Way?
Friday, June 28, 2013 7:57 AM

Written by Paul Rutherford

Introduction

I 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.

But 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

About the Author

Paul Rutherford is a Research Associate with Probe Ministries. He has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from Rice University. Paul’s previous ministry experience includes campus ministry in Asia, and he is the proud newlywed husband of Kelly Rutherford. Paul can be reached at prutherford@probe.org.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.

Further information about Probe's materials and ministry may be obtained by contacting us at:

Probe Ministries

2001 W. Plano Parkway, Suite 2000

Plano TX 75075

(972) 941-4565

info@probe.org

www.probe.org

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