Last week, I got a call to meet for coffee with a small group of young pastors and leaders, working with college students at our church. “We’d like to hear how you handle these questions.”
“Why do Christians insist that faith in Jesus is the only way a person can get to heaven? Isn’t that arrogant and disrespectful of other religions?”
None of these young leaders had any doubt that Christ is the only way a person can be made right with God. But they were frustrated that the arguments they’d been using, just weren’t doing the trick. So they were looking for new material.
Perhaps you have an older child or grandchild who’ve voiced the same questions. You’ve tried giving them a Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel book, but you’re not even sure they’ve read it, or ever will. Perhaps what I said to this group will help you as you dialogue with them. Every major religion believes their way, is the “only way.” Here was my first observation; Muslims believe their’s is the only way to God. So do Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and all world religions. I find it ironic that the only people I’ve ever met who think there’s more than one way to God, are those who don’t actually believe in God!
Oh the people asking these questions aren’t atheists. They probably believe in the God of the Chamber of Commerce – the deity they invoke to bless their food and keep America prosperous and safe. They may also be kids who grew up in the church hearing about God and believing at some level. But, these generally aren’t people who really desire to believe in any deity to whom they will be required to give their life and highest allegiance. They’re agnostics at best.
Some may be honestly searching. But most of them I’ve met are bright, educated people who just don’t really want to believe in the God of the Bible, because their friends don’t and they fear the loss of those friendships, more than they fear God. In some circles, to be close-minded is the ultimate sin. So, I think they ask the, “is Jesus the only way?” question not because they really want to find God. They ask it to prove the absurdity, and narrow-mindedness of Christianity with the only clever argument they’ve ever learned. (That’s my sometimes sarcastic, human answer. The spiritual answer to their indifference is at the end of this blog.)
The good news is that Jesus still has a better reputation that his followers. Most people still admire Jesus. So, I will often ask what they personally think of Jesus himself. People generally believe he was a good teacher.
I then remind them that we (Christians) did not invent the claim of Jesus being the only way to God. Jesus himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 and “if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” John 8:24. Then Peter echoed that truth, with these words, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 So, true Christians have no choice but to accept those claims, as exclusive and arrogant as they sound.
To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, “For Jesus to make the claim that he was God and the only way to God, you can only come to these three conclusions; Either he’s a liar, or he was a lunatic (deluded), or he actually was who he said he was. He can’t simply be a good teacher if he’s crazy or a liar.
“So, which one do you think he was?” is my next question.
Another way? You may run into a non-Christian, or a liberal Christian who believes Jesus is the only way, but has an alternative explanation for Jesus’ words. They believe Christians have long misinterpreted the “I am the way…” passage. We (Christians) have mistakenly assumed that Jesus was pointing to himself as the “only way.” Instead he was saying that his way – that is his life, his teachings, the way he thought and lived – those things are the way to heaven!
Whenever I hear that explanation, I ask this question, “If that’s true and we go to heaven by living by Jesus’ philosophy, then what’s the point of the cross and the resurrection?” The night Jesus was betrayed he commanded us to remember forever, in communion, the price he paid for our sins. His death appears to be irrelevant if a person can get to heaven by just living out his philosophy. When a person repents and accepts Jesus sacrifice as the only way, he actually adopts us into the family of God – we become brand new people, not just nicer people!
Holy books and tour books I once used this illustration when asked the “aren’t there many ways to heaven?” question. I brought four travel books to the meeting. “Here’s a travel book that will tell you all about China, what the country is like, it’s laws and customs and how you actually get there from here. The other three travel books are written about France, Russia and India. All these books have this in common; they are all travel books. However, each describes a completely different destination. Nobody believes the book about China describes the way to get to India, or the book about Russia describes France. Likewise, when you read the Bible, the Koran, the Torah/The Old Testament and the five classics of Confucianism, they not only describe a different heaven, they all describe a different, “only way” to get there.
Therefore, the only thing that an agnostic can honestly say is that one of these statements is true;
One of these “holy books” is true
None of these holy books are true
They all contain some truth
But, if you’re intellectually honest, they cannot claim that they all describe a different a different way to the same God!
The truth about spiritual truth The truth is, there’s no human argument that has ever convinced anyone to believe. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. It’s true that I’ve had new believers tell me that a certain story, an argument or testimony moved them, to accept Christ. However, as a Calvinist, I believe it was the Holy Spirit moving them toward faith, that caused them to believe even those stories and ultimately, the story.
Nevertheless, Christians are compelled to tell the story and reason with those who do not yet believe. As it says about Paul in the book of Acts, in city after city, he “reasoned with them” and “all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48b)
The Bible has a phrase that describes the non-Christian. It’s “the natural man.” “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:14
Please don’t treat your agnostic friends as the enemy. The enemy is the enemy!
So my human strategy for dealing with skeptics is four fold:
Pray for their salvation. (Perhaps for years!)
Explain the simple gospel to them.
Try to live out the gospel in front of them.
Give them some reasons to begin doubting their reasons for not believing. (Like the arguments above) (And leave the rest to the Holy Spirit!) Their salvation isn’t your responsibility. God’s in charge of that!
How following Jesus works in real life.
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