Here’s the audio from the message.
We live in pluralistic, relativistic, syncretistic, individualistic culture, and it is into this culture and many others cultures that we are called to share the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and His good news. As we share the gospel with the people in our world, the question that often comes up is this… Is Jesus the only way?
So as we ask this final and possibly most important question in our YouAskedForIt series, we’re going to look at four themes: (1) the Philosophy of Religion, paying special attention to our culture’s take on exclusive religious truth claims; (2) the Plurality of Worldviews, giving us a quick snapshot of worldviews and religions that are vying for our attention and our hearts; (3) the Primacy of Christ, where we’ll discover what makes Jesus Christ unique and different from every other religion; and lastly we’ll end up with (4) the Priority of Mission, the call and command to share Jesus and His gospel in our world.
#1 Philosophy of Religion
We live in an incredibly pluralistic, relativistic, syncretistic, and individualistic culture. By pluralistic, we have many, many worldviews competing for airtime. By relativistic, we hear “what’s true for you is not necessarily true for me.” By syncretistic, we like to mix in a lot of different worldviews to create our own. And by individualistic, we believe “don’t tell me what to believe… I’ve got to figure it out myself.” So when we as followers of Jesus Christ come along and say that Jesus is the only way, here’s one of the most common responses that we hear…
“All religions are equally valid paths to God.” Another way to put this is “no one has the fully correct and exclusive viewpoint on God.” All of the different world religions are saying the same thing… all roads lead to God.
There’s a famous illustration based on an old Indian folktale that people use to help us see the “truthfulness” of their perspective that no one has the fully correct or exclusive vantage point on God (which is an exclusive truth claim in and of itself… but we’ll discuss that more in a moment).
Several blind men were walking along and came upon an elephant that allowed them to touch and feel it. “This creature is long and flexible like a snake,” said the first blind man, holding the elephant’s trunk. “Not at all—it is thick and round like a tree trunk,” said the second blind men, feeling the elephant’s leg. “No, it is large and flat,” said the third blind man, touching the elephant’s side. Each blind man could feel only part of the elephant—none could envision the entire elephant. In the same way, it is argued, the religions of the world each have a grasp on part of the truth about spiritual reality, but none can see the whole elephant or claim to have a comprehensive or exclusive vision of the truth.
Here’s the ultimate intellectual problem with the elephant illustration and the claim that “all religions are equally valid paths to God.” The only way you could know that the blind men only saw part of the elephant is to assume that you have the whole picture of the elephant, the whole truth which you are claiming no one has. When you are saying that no one has a superior or exclusive take on reality and God, you are actually making a superior and exclusive statement on reality and God. When you are saying that no one should make a listener convert to their view of reality and God, that’s exactly what you are demanding of other people: convert to your one “superior” and exclusive claim and view of reality and God. Here’s the way Tim Keller, who I’m deeply indebted for helping me figure this all out, explained it in his book The Reason for God:
By now the fatal flaw in this approach to religion in general and to Christianity in particular should be obvious. Skeptics believe that any exclusive claims to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality cannot be true. But this objection is itself a religious belief. It assumes God is unknowable, or that God is loving but not wrathful, or that God is an impersonal force rather than a person who speaks in Scripture. All of these are unprovable faith assumptions. In addition, their proponents believe they have a superior way to view things. They believe the world would be a better place if everyone dropped the traditional religions’ views of God and truth and adopted theirs. Therefore, their view is also an ‘exclusive’ claim about the nature of spiritual reality. If all such views are to be discouraged, this one should be as well. If it is not narrow to hold this view, then there is nothing inherently narrow about holding to traditional religious beliefs (12).
So as you navigate this pluralistic, relativistic, syncretistic, individualistic culture that we live in, recognize some of the flaws in the arguments that are used against a Christian worldview when we claim that Jesus is the only way.
#2 Plurality of Worldviews
Here’s a very quick and far from comprehensive snapshot of the major worldviews and religions that we find in our culture and in our world.
- Judaism. Christianity has its roots in Judaism, yet Jews reject Jesus Christ as God, Messiah, and Savior. In Judaism salvation is determined by moral behavior that’s in accordance with the Law. The Jews’ sacred book is the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, which is our Old Testament.
- Islam. Islam was founded by the 7th century AD prophet Muhammad. He’s viewed as the last prophet in a line that includes Abraham, Moses, the biblical prophets, and Jesus. Muslims worship Allah, and Christianity is rejected because of the doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. Islam’s sacred book is the Koran, and salvation is dependent upon man’s obedience and actions, and the balance between good and bad deeds determines eternal destiny.
- Hinduism. Hinduism is a polytheistic (many gods) religion with many different sects that has no one founder. Some people say Hinduism was founded between 1800-1000 BC and some will way that the Aryans, the same people group that developed Greek culture, conquered much of present day India and mixed their pantheon of gods with indigenous Indian traditions of meditation. There are many sacred writings in Hinduism, including the Vedas, a collection of ancient sacred texts. In Hinduism, God or Brahman is “The Absolute” and salvation is release from cycles of reincarnation and ultimate absorption or union with Brahman.
- Buddhism. Buddhism arose out of atheistic strands of Hinduism in the 6th century BC by Gautama or Buddha (“the awakened one” or “the enlightened one”). The Buddhist sacred writings are called the Tripitaka (“The Three Baskets”) as well the Mahayana Sutras. There is no absolute God in Buddhism and salvation and the goal of life is nirvana, a permanent, transcendent state where the individual ultimately eliminates desires and cravings, and in this way ultimately escapes suffering.
- Atheism. Atheism is a worldview that states there is no God or gods or the absence of belief in any deity. Atheism has its roots in some Hindu, Buddhist, even Greek thought, but in Western culture its most famous proponents were people like Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche. There is a rise in the “new atheism” with writers like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. And I think that it is this new strain of atheism that fueled many of the comments in the Seattle PI article.
- Syncretism. This last category is a “catch all.” Syncretism is the attempt to reconcile disparate beliefs together and meld many beliefs and practices together. From a religious standpoint, people take a little from here and a little from there and create their own worldview because once again, we live in a highly individualistic and relativistic culture.
You can also see the BBC’s guide to world religions
#3 Primacy of Christ
Here’s the key question in this theme: What makes Jesus Christ unique and different from all of the other worldviews and world religions? In a syncretistic culture that is trying to find the commonality between all the worldviews and world religions, we need to understand what makes Jesus Christ and the gospel so different and unique. 1 John 4:1-6 will help us answer this question:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from 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 from God;and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Once again, I am indebted to Pastor Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, NY and a message that he preached on this very topic as well as his book The Reason for God. Here are three truths that he presented that make Jesus Christ and the gospel unique and different.
- The origin of salvation. Take a closer look at 1 John 4:2 “Jesus Christ has come…” He was somewhere else before He came to earth. Every other world religion’s founder is a human, but Christianity’s claim is that Jesus Christ, God Himself, has come into the world.
- The purpose of salvation. Once again, look at v. 2. “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh…” There is something very important about Jesus Christ coming in the flesh – the incarnation. Every other world religion sees the primary purpose of salvation as liberation from the flesh and the physical world. In the Eastern religions, the physical world is an illusion and salvation is escaping the illusion. In the Western religions, the physical world is bad but you can escape it through morality and spiritual enlightenment and then go to heaven and leave the physical world. But in Christianity, Jesus Christ, God Himself, put on a body and the salvation of God is the ultimate redemption and renewal of this physical world… the “new heavens and the new earth.” God ultimately restores and fixes what was broken, which includes us and all of creation. Salvation in the Christian sense is the ultimate re-creation that we find so powerfully expressed at the end of the Bible in Revelation 21-22.
- The method of salvation. This last truth about the uniqueness and difference of Jesus Christ is the most powerful and freeing. In all other religious systems, you have to perform truth. Love God and love people, and if God sees you doing all of the truths of your religion, he will bless and save you. So you’ve got to work hard for salvation. But here’s the Christian vision and method of salvation wonderfully encapsulated in 1 John 4:10: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” God comes and sacrificially gives Himself for the people who do not love Him. Jesus is the Savior who lives the life we should have lived and who died the death we should have died in our place and pays the penalty we should have paid so that non-loving, non-virtuous people can be saved by radical grace. “Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!”
# 4 Priority of Mission
We’ve got to recognize and respond to the priority of mission… the priority of us giving our lives to share the wondrous uniqueness of Jesus Christ and His great gospel in our pluralistic, post-modern world… locally and globally. This is Jesus’ command and final marching orders to us in Matthew 28:18-20: “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” In a passage that we know well, Jesus calls and commands us to “make disciples” – to invite the people of our world to Him and into His life-transforming community. And how we make disciples if we don’t “go” across the street and across the globe. And Paul gives us the same vision of the priority of mission in Romans 10:14-15: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”
Here are some ways to apply the priority of Jesus’ mission to our world.
- Experience salvation through Jesus Christ. We’ve got to start here. For some of you today and for some of you listening, you need to come to Jesus. You need to know that there truly is a God in heaven who created you and loves you. But you’ve also got to be honest, recognize, and confess that you like to be in control. The Bible calls this sin. It’s a rebellion against the God who created you and loves you. But God loves us too much to keep us in this condition of rebellion and distance from Him, so He comes to us. Jesus Christ, God Himself put on flesh to come and rescue us. He died on a cross for our sin, dying a death we should have died, dying in our place as our substitute and therefore paying the penalty for our sin, rebellion, and treason against the Creator God. He was raised from the dead, the first glimpse of this re-creation of God. And He offers us reconciliation and life back with Him by believing in Him and giving our lives fully to Him.
- Pray for the lost. If salvation really is a supernatural event, then shouldn’t we agree that it takes a supernatural power to change a heart to see Jesus for who He fully is and to understand what He has fully done for us? Prayer is how that supernatural power is released. There are a couple of things that we need to pray for. First, we must pray for compassion for the people in our world who don’t know Jesus. This is what softens our hearts to see peoples’ need for the gospel. And then second, we pray for the people of our world that their hearts might be softened to see their need for Jesus.
- Share Jesus. And then we go to the people of our world, local and global, and share Jesus. We share the good news, the gospel, that even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, in our place. And He is now the Risen Lord over all creation and we come to Him and give our lives to Him because He fully gave His life for us. We’ve got to continually look for and be ready for those opportunities to share Jesus with the people in our world. And this also includes sharing Jesus globally. We have numerous cross-cultural, global short-term trips this year where you’ll have the opportunity to share Jesus. Here are many different ways in which we can serve our world, locally and globally.
We live in a culture and world where many religious and non-religious ideologies clamor for our attention and our hearts. And in the midst of the many voices, I fully believe that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation… a salvation that changes our lives and fills them with grace right now but also a salvation that lasts into and for eternity. Christianity is the only religion where God has fully come to us… to rescue and renew us… with His sacrificial love even when we don’t love Him in return. What a powerful reality! We’ve been offered and given this great gift of life and salvation through Jesus, so let’s give Him away to our world with great passion and joy across the street and across the globe.