Is Jesus the Only Way?
Some say, “All roads lead to heaven.” You can take the road of Jesus or Mohammed or Heffner. You can be into old-time religion, New-age religion, or no religion. The important thing, we’re told, is that you are sincere.
Into our pluralistic culture Jesus’ words land with a thud: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Peter adds, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12; cf. I Timothy 2:5).
Jesus tolerates no rivals. He condones no alternatives. He categorizes all other religions as erroneous.
This is not to say that Christians should be intolerant. We are to love all people and should fight for freedom of religion and speech. There is no contradiction between this stance and longing to see unbelievers embrace Christ.
Once, when discussing with a Jewish friend the differences between Christianity and Judaism, my friend remarked, “It’s nice to have a conversation about religion knowing we’re not trying to convert each other.” I responded, “I would never force my beliefs on anyone, but if we truly believe our respective religions to be true we should want to see each other converted.”
Some furrow their brow at such dogmatism. “Are you saying Christians alone are right and everybody else is wrong?” I do not say that. The Bible says it. Your beef if not with me but with Jesus.
Those uncomfortable with the exclusive claims of Christianity should consider the following:
(1) While Christianity is exclusive, it is at the same time highly inclusive. Jesus invites all people to him. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened” (Matthew 11:28-30). Regardless of your past sins, Christ offers you immediate and absolute forgiveness (I Corinthians 6:9-11). Regardless of your station in life, heaven is offered to you as a free gift (Galatians 3:28).
Everyone is welcome to come to our house. We’ll even feed you supper. We only have one stipulation: you must enter through the door. Don’t slide down the chimney. Don’t climb in through the window. Don’t crawl in through a heating duct. Come in through the door. That’s all we ask.
God is the same way. Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms” (John 14:2). There is room for all in heaven. All that God asks is that you enter through the door. And that door is Jesus. He said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9).
(2) If all roads lead to heaven, then God is neither wise nor compassionate, for he sent his innocent Son to unnecessarily die on the cross. Recall Jesus’ distressed prayer on the eve of the crucifixion, “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matthew 26:39; cf. Galatians 3:21). If there were another way for God to save his people, he surely would have employed it.
(3) The pluralist does not take seriously the dilemma of sinful man standing before a holy God (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Exodus 34:7). As Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury said, “You have not yet thought through how serious a thing sin is.”
(4) The pluralist does not recognize his elitist attitude. Many regard religion like the elephant in John Godfrey Saxe’s poem, “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”
Philip Ryken explains: “The poem describes how six blind men of Indostan wanted to learn what an elephant was like. Each explored a different part of the animal, and each described it in a different way. When examined from the side the elephant seemed like a wall. From its tusk it seemed like a spear; from its trunk, like a snake; form its leg, a tree; from its ear, a fan; from its tail, a rope.”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeded stiff and strong
Though each was partly right
And all were in the wrong!
Saxe wrote this poem to make a point about religion. People who argue about religion are like blind men who argue about an elephant they have not seen.
The pluralist claims to be humble about his ability to grasp religious truth, but in fact he is arrogant. Whereas the men investigating the elephant are all blind, the pluralist claims perfect vision. He is condescending toward other religions while claiming for himself the ability to see the whole elephant. He can alone perceive the whole picture and what each religion contributes to the whole.
We should not gripe that God has provided only one way of salvation. We should rejoice that God has provided a way of salvation. And then we should seek to lovingly introduce others to the One in whom is life eternal.
Peter Kemeny, Pastor
Good News Presbyterian Church
P.O. Box 1051, Frederick, MD 21702