Many Christians find it difficult to believe there is only one way to God because they know kind, respectable people who do not believe Jesus is the only way to God. Who are we to judge? In fact, many of our friends believe the opposite—namely, there are many ways to God, a view called religious pluralism. It seems there are at least three reasons people drift to religious pluralism. They believe there are many ways to God, not just one way, because it seems more enlightened, humble and tolerant.
People who challenge Christians with “How can you say Jesus is the only way to God?” are good at verbal camouflage, what sounds like concern for tolerance but which is actually belief that Jesus is not qualified to declare the way to God. Their problem is not with tolerance, but with Jesus’ authority.
Promoters of religious pluralism say it is applicable in all situations, including religion. However, they don’t really believe it. They are willing to accept one way if they believe it is appropriate, and to listen to authority when it is in their best interests or they have confidence in the authority. They don’t promote pluralism regarding to breathe or not to breathe (only one way keeps someone living). They follow their employers’ way of doing things to keep their jobs. They follow detour signs held by orange-jacketed construction workers. When it comes to religion, however, suddenly pluralism is an absolute and anyone, such as Jesus, who is so narrow minded as to say His religion is the only way to God, is condemned of intolerance.
What Do the Religions Teach About God?
Is the belief that all religious paths lead to the same God more enlightened or educated? Well, all religions teach very different things about whom God is and how to reach Him. In fact, there is a lot of disagreement between the religions regarding the nature of God. Buddhism, for example, doesn’t believe in God. Islam teaches an impersonal monotheism, Allah. The Koran states that God reveals His will but not His person. Christianity teaches a personal trinitarianism, where God is three persons in relationship, Father-Son-Spirit that can be known and enjoyed. Hinduism is all over the map on this question, ranging from polytheism to atheism. The reason for this is because there is an absence of definitive revelation to clarify their “theology.” Instead Hinduism has multiple sources of revelation (Upanishads, Vedas, etc.). Contrary to Islam, Hinduism has no presuppositions about the nature of God.
In short, religious views of God differ. If so, it would seem far from “enlightened” or educated to claim that all religions lead to the same God, when their views of God are, in fact, radically different. Moreover, the various “ways” to God in each religion also differ. The claim of religious pluralism actually contradicts the tenets of the religions themselves.
Is Religious Pluralism More Humble?
Why, then, would educated people continue to insist on an inaccurate view of other religions? One major reason is because they believe it to be an act of humility and love. Very often people say: “Who am I to judge someone else’s religion, to tell them they are wrong?” This implies, of course, that maintaining Jesus is the only way to God is arrogant. If we’re being honest, there are angry, arrogant Christians who rudely insist that Jesus is the only way to God. We’d like to apologize for those kinds of Christians. Arrogant insistence on your beliefs actually runs counter to the life and teachings of Jesus.
But the claim of the religious pluralist is arrogant because it enforces its own belief on others. This can be incredibly arrogant, particularly if the person saying this hasn’t studied all the world religions in depth and makes this blind assertion. Upon what basis can the religious pluralist make this exclusive claim? Where is the proof that this is true? To what ancient Scriptures, traditions and careful reasoning can they point?
Is Religious Pluralism Truly Tolerant?
To be tolerant is to accommodate differences, which can be very noble. We believe Christians should be some of the most accommodating kinds of people, giving everyone the dignity to believe whatever they want and not enforcing their beliefs on others through politics or coercive preaching. We should winsomely tolerate different beliefs. Interestingly, religious pluralism doesn’t really allow for this kind of tolerance. Instead of accommodating spiritual differences, religious pluralism blunts them.
The claim that all paths lead to the same God actually minimizes other religions by asserting a new religious claim. When someone says all paths lead to the same God, they blunt the distinctives between religions, throwing them all in one pot, saying: “See, they all get us to God so the differences don’t really matter.” This isn’t tolerance; it’s a power play. When asserting all religions lead to God, the distinctive and very different views of God and how to reach Him in Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam are brushed aside in one powerful swoop. The Eightfold Noble Path of Buddhism, the 5 Pillars of Islam and the Gospel of Christ are not tolerated but told they must submit to a new religious claim—all ways lead to God—despite the fact that this isn’t what those religions teach.
People spend years studying and practicing their religious distinctives. To say they don’t really matter is highly intolerant. The very notion of religious tolerance assumes there are differences to tolerate, but pluralism is intolerant of those very differences. In this sense, religious pluralism is a religion of its own. It has its own religious absolute—all paths lead to the same God—and requires people of other faiths to embrace this absolute, without any religious backing at all.
The Way, the Truth and the Life
We’d like to suggest three ways that Christianity can be humble, enlightened and tolerant from the claim of Jesus Himself: “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 – ESV).
First, Jesus is the Way. What does this mean? As the way, Jesus doesn’t create a path for us to hike. We can never make it, do enough spiritual, moral or social good to impress God. Much less love Him with all our soul, mind and strength. We can’t make it up the path. We all fail to love and serve the infinitely admirable and lovable God. In fact, we love other things more, which is a crime of infinite proportions. It’s against a holy, righteous God. The sentence for our crime must be carried out.
He hikes down into our sin, our rebellion and our failures, and He heaps them all on His back and climbs on a cross, where He is punished for our crime, a bloody gruesome death. The innocent punished for the guilty. This is what it means for Jesus to be the way. He is the redemptive way. He takes our place. This understanding of Jesus as the way should make us incredibly humble not arrogant. We realize how undeserving we are and how much mercy we have been shown.
Jesus is also the Truth. What does that mean? In John 1, we are told that God became flesh and was full of grace and truth in Jesus. The truth is that God is Jesus. This is enlightening. Christianity is the only religion where God comes down to man and becomes man. In all other religions man has to work his way to God. The truth is Jesus, the Truth, is a person, and the Truth dies in our place, for our crimes, and in turn gives us His life.
Finally, Jesus is the Life. Later on, in the Gospel of John, Jesus says He is the resurrection and the life, and that whoever believes in Him, “though he die yet he will live” (John 11:25). He goes down into the valley to take our death and rises up from the dead on the other side of valley where He prepares a new place for us to enjoy life with Him forever. The hope of that life should break into the lives of Christians today, making us persuasively tolerant.
We tolerantly extend people the dignity of their own beliefs. We don’t minimize the differences between religions. We honor them. The life of Christ produces in us true humility. But it also produces in us true enlightenment. We’ve come to grasp grace that God works His way down to us, dies for our moral and religious failures and offers us life. If this is true, and of course we believe that it is, we must lovingly, humbly try to persuade others to believe in Jesus, Who alone offers the wonderful promise of the way to God, the truth of God and life of God.
What is a pastor’s job?
With all of this in mind, as a pastor, I am called by God to point out ‘stuff’ that could harm those whom the Lord has asked me to lead. I take this mandate very seriously. In the past, I have been criticized for taking a stand against those who would seek to preach ‘another gospel’, and by these I have been called ‘arrogant’. Truthfully, I desperately seek to be a man, and a leader, who does not operate in pride. I must continually seek the Lord’s help in serving Him and others with a humble spirit. I am not perfect… and I don’t claim to know everything. I do, however, have God’s Word. Praise the Lord! “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). I can stand in Christ, and upon God’s word, with an authority that has nothing to do with who I am, but everything to do with Who He is (“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of god, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, but the power of god, who has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” II Timothy 1:6-8). I cannot stop others, outside our church, from preaching and teaching heresy in their own venues, but I must certainly warn people I come in contact with, and who call me ‘pastor’, against any and all harmful and false teachings that they may be hearing in our area. I can do this with confidence. Why? Because God’s Words demands I do so.
Let me show you how serious God’s Word is about this… (I know that there is A LOT of Scripture below, but please understand that this is only a sampling of what I could include here):
2 Tim. 4:1-5 – “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.“
Jeremiah 23:16 – “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; They speak a vision of their own heart, Not from the mouth of the Lord.“
Acts 20:28-30 – “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.“
2 Peter 3:14-18 – “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.“
1 John 4:1-6 – “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.“
Matthew 7:15-20 – “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
2 Peter 2:1-22 – “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber. 4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; 6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; 7 and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked 8 (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)— 9 then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, 11 whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, 13 and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. 15 They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet. 17 These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. 18 For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. 19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. 20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”
Pastor Michael Craft