A new survey has found that nearly 70% of those polled do not believe that Jesus is the only way to God. That would not be a particularly startling finding during the age of the “rise of the nones” if it were not for the fact that the group being surveyed were born-again Christians between the ages of 18 and 39.
That’s right. According to Probe Ministry’s latest survey of religious views and practices, nearly 70% of all born-again Christians do not believe that Jesus is the only way to God. The question asked for their evaluation was “Muhammad, Buddha and Jesus all taught valid ways to God.” When asked if they disagreed with this, most born-again Christians said, “No, they did not.”
Are they right? This has huge implications for church planting evangelism.
Can We Choose Any Way to God?
This is the answer I gave in my book Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians, written for those interested in exploring the Christian faith and for Christians who have many of the same questions non-Christians have:
You walk into a Starbucks, and you order a tall, half-caf, soy latte at 120º. Or a triple, venti, half-sweet, nonfat, caramel macchiato. Or a grande, quad, nonfat, one-pump, no-whip mocha.( Or if you’re me, you just say, “Caffeine, please!”) According to Starbucks’ Global Chief Marketing Officer, there are now more than 80,000 different ways you can order a Starbucks coffee. When John Naisbitt wrote his prescient book Megatrends back in the ’80s, he said that one of the top 10 trends of the modern world would be a shift from no choice to multiple choices. And he was right. We’ve come to expect it. It’s just the way things are.
But what about finding a way to God? Can’t grace and truth be found in other places? Isn’t there more than just one way to come home? When it comes to an authoritative spiritual text, there’s the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran, and the Book of Mormon. When it comes to religious leaders, you can select from Krishna, Buddha, and Mohammed. When it comes to religious groups, you can link up with those in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, or Scientology. No wonder it’s almost natural to believe that searching for God is like climbing a mountain. Since everyone knows that there is not just one way to climb a mountain – mountains are way too big for that – there must be any number of paths that can be taken. We tend to look at all of the ideas about God throughout all the religions of the world as just different ways up the mountain. So where does that leave you? You’re free to choose! Take your pick from among the countless philosophies and worldviews littering the cultural landscape. Why? Because all roads lead to God. All spiritual paths are equally legitimate. It doesn’t really matter what you believe, much less who, what or how you worship.
The only problem is that there’s one faith that isn’t playing well in this sandbox, and it happens to be the Christian faith. Jesus spoke directly to this idea and had some provocative words to say: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV). In that statement, Jesus makes it clear that there is a Father God and that there’s only one way to that Father God—through Him. And He was very careful with His language in that verse. Jesus didn’t say that He was a way, or a truth, but the way, the truth, and the life. And that no one – no one – could enter into a full relationship with God apart from Him. That was as politically incorrect then as it is now, but it has marked Christianity from its beginning. “It is by the name of Jesus Christ,” the apostle and early Christian leader Peter declared; “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10, 12, TNIV).
For a lot of people, that just makes them cringe. You may be among them. The idea that Christianity, and specifically Jesus, is the only way is so out of sync with the way we think. Beginning with its dismissal of other ways. That seems too… well… dismissive. Is Christianity saying that every other religion is just completely wrong? Actually, no. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through… If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, might contain at least some hint of the truth.” Lewis goes on to suggest we think of it in terms of arithmetic. There is one and only one right answer to 2 + 2 – and that’s 4 – but if you were to answer 6, it would be a lot closer than answering 37. While there is only one right answer, some answers are closer to being right than others.
That’s not all. If all truth is God’s truth, then it remains truth wherever we find it. So as a Christian, I can appreciate the truth in much of Buddhism’s ideas, such as the first two of the Four Noble Truths that state there is a lot of suffering in the world (obviously), and that our desires are often at the root of that suffering. Buddhism also teaches many things that I can appreciate and affirm as clearly moral: you shouldn’t engage in murder, you shouldn’t steal, you shouldn’t engage in immoral sexual behavior, and you should not lie.
But just because there may be goodness and truth in other places doesn’t mean you have also found an equally legitimate way to God. In fact, the full teaching of that religion may involve a road that is heading in the totally opposite direction. Let’s stick with the example of Buddhism. While there is some common ground between Buddhism and Christianity, there are also enormous tension points. The Dalai Lama himself has stated publicly that the central doctrines of Buddhism and Christianity are not compatible. He has been quite open with the fact that you cannot be a Buddhist Christian or a Christian Buddhist. And he is right. Christianity believes in a personal God; Buddhism does not even believe in a Higher Being (Buddhism is, essentially, an atheistic religion.). That is a divide that is simply insurmountable. That is not two different ways up the same mountain; those are different places on the map.
This is true when you compare Christianity to the other major world religions as well: Christians believe there’s one God; Hindus believe there are millions. Christians embrace Jesus as God Himself in human form; Muslims don’t even rank Jesus at the top of the prophets, much less the Savior of the world. When you have divisions like this, you only have two options. You can either say that somebody is right in that particular area and everybody else is wrong, or you can say that everyone is wrong. What you can’t say is that everybody is right—that it’s all the same path, the same idea, the same God. That would be intellectually confused at best and intellectually dishonest at worst. And the areas of disagreement are not trivial in nature. They deal with the very existence of God and, if He does exist, how we enter into a relationship with this God (not to mention the identity of a person like Jesus).
And yes, that’s still how I would answer.
This article about finding any way to God originally appeared here, and is used by permission.