Several years ago, my TV began to get a black spot in the middle of the screen that would not go away. This was the original TV we purchased just before we got married, so I was excited that it meant a new, cool, “guy” TV with lots of bells and whistles. I walked into a store and I was overwhelmed with the choices.
We have come to expect that anything we want will come with a multitude of choices. Choice is one of the mantras of our society. It is a key quality of the consumer culture we live in. Choice has now become personalized and experiential. You can design your own car on the Internet – one that fits your style and your needs, the experience you personally desire to have on a road trip or commute. A far cry from Henry Ford’s statement that you could get any color you wanted for the Model T, as long as it was black. In our culture today, we equate choices with care and concern. If you care about me, you will give me choices. If you don’t give me any choices, it must mean you don’t love me.
Our consumerism is now applied to every aspect of life. So, if there are many choices for televisions or cars, the same must be true for religion. If God really cared about me, he would give me multiple choices on how to reach him. The idea is that we are all climbing the same mountain and some wind around, others scale the cliffs, yet others walk the wooded trail to the top. Many believe that though the paths differ, they all lead to the same summit, a philosophy that fits perfectly in our day. For a person to say that what they believe is the one path to God, or for someone to say that their belief system is the right system, is looked down upon in our culture – along the same line as believing in unicorns. In fact, that kind of attitude is vilified. The general society says that kind of person is narrow-minded, naïve, foolish, an extremist, and even dangerous. The desire to find a common connection that weaves its way through all, or at least some of the major world religions, is a goal of many people and scholars. Years ago, a cover of Time magazine took on the topic of Abraham, a biblical figure recognized by 3 of the top 5 world religions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The author writes:
“…scholar Reuven Firestone hypothesized, reaching into both Judaism and Christianity. It is set after Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son, whichever son it was. The moment of truth is just past; the father’s hand is stayed. As the boy lies stunned on the altar, God gazes down with pride and compassion and promises to grant his any prayer. “O Lord, I pray this,” the boy says. “When any person in any era meets you at the gates of heaven—so long as they believe in one God—I ask that you allow them to enter paradise.””
There is such a strong desire to find unity, not division, in our world. I understand that desire. Rabbi Schmuley Boteach said,
“I am absolutely against any religion that says that one faith is superior to another. I don’t see how that is anything different than spiritual racism. It’s a way of saying that we are closer to God than you, and that’s what leads to hatred.”
For many in American Christianity, the idea of just one way is just so un-American. One choice – what’s that about? That’s as ridiculous as Henry Ford’s statement. Our very country is grounded in choices. The vast quantity of breakfast cereal choices alone has overwhelmed many foreigners visiting our country. It overwhelms me!
It’s crucial to understand that all religions are exclusive in nature. They believe that they have the Truth or at least a more accurate picture of the Truth. When you get past the surface, all religions have an exclusive truth claim at the core. That is why for Muslims the Quran cannot be translated, why Buddha rejected two fundamental aspects of Hinduism and why Hinduism is uncompromising on karma, reincarnation, and the authority of the Vedas. Even Baha’ism excludes those religions that say they are exclusive, thereby being exclusive itself!
Christianity, like these religions, has an exclusive nature on the path to God but not necessarily an exclusive understanding of truth, as we will see. As we dive into this topic, let’s heed the words of Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias:
“…if truth is not undergirded by love, it makes the possessor of that truth obnoxious and the truth repulsive…in India we have a proverb that says once you cut off a person’s nose, there’s no point in giving him a rose to smell.”
John (1 John 5:10) says that if we believe in the Son of God, we have his testimony in our heart. We understand that what he is saying is that we have passed from death to life. John goes as far as to make the bold statement that if we don’t believe in God, the God who sent his son Jesus Christ, God and Man, we make God out to be a liar.
Often people say that it’s really about sincerity. Maybe if you are sincere enough, then that’s all that matters. If you sincerely believe in another path to God or in another faith system, God will judge only your sincerity. Truth is not important; sincerity is. Sincerity is good, but sincerity does not define truth. I can sincerely believe that I can dunk a basketball like LeBron James, but that doesn’t make it reality!
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end, it leads to death.
Eternal life is not found in the teachings of Jesus, but in Jesus. He is not pointing us to a religious system, a creed or theological statement, but to himself. Life is found in the person of Christ because it was only Christ who could pay the appropriate price for our sins.
What about some of the other great founders of world religions? What do they say about themselves? What do they say about entering into eternal life? What do they point to? Jesus’ birth was not by natural means. That cannot be said of Buddha, Muhammad, or Krishna. Jesus was without sin, the perfect sacrifice, but by the witness of their own scriptures, neither Buddha, Muhammad nor Krishna can say the same thing. Jesus again said that in fact He was the message. He was the Bread of Life, He was the way, the truth, and the life. He who believes in Jesus will never be thirsty. In contrast, all the other major religious founders don’t point to themselves but to their teaching or a particular way. Muhammad points to the Quran, Buddha to the Noble Path, Krishna to his philosophy and Zoroaster to his ethics. Are you feeling a little offended yet? Uncomfortable? If so, why? Sometimes we find that our culture has influenced us more than we realize.
Only Christ points to himself.
Some will say it is not fair that there is just one way to God. Think about the world we live in and the rebellion that has been part of mankind since the beginning. The evil that so saturates all cultures. Perhaps the better question is to ask why, despite our rebellion, God provides any way at all?
As John writes, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” 1 John 5:12
Christ is the path – the only path – to the “top of the mountain,” but the Bible and Christianity do not have a corner on truth.
God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in
the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work
from beginning to end. -Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT
Even when Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, instinctively follow
what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong.
They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them, for their own
consciences either accuse them or tell them they are doing what is right.
-Romans 2:14-15 NLT
There is truth in other religions. The Quran shares several truths with the Bible. The emphasis on one God, not a pantheon of gods, for example. Another key tenet of Islam is giving to the poor. Muslims and Christ-followers share many of the same moral concerns, from pornography to abortion and divorce. Confucius said, “Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you.” This is sometimes called the negative Golden Rule, which is in line with what Jesus said, “Do to others what you would have them do to you…” Buddhism is in harmony with Christianity on the issues of respecting our parents and that murder is wrong.
We must commit to have honest dialogue with others. It is important to be so confident and yet humble in what we believe that we feel no need to attack others out of insecurity. We must break through the walls of suspicion and meet the person on the other side of the “street.” In doing so, we meet people where they are at, just like Christ met us where we were at. A study came out several years ago revealing that all forms of Christianity in the United States, and that includes Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, etc., are in a state of decline. They are no longer growing while adherents to Islam and various forms of Buddhism and other Eastern religions are on the rise. We must be willing to build real friendships with our neighbors who believe another religion with prayer, love and understanding as we dialogue about what we believe about Jesus.
As we engage others in the context of real relationships, the claims of Christ cannot ultimately be avoided. Jesus said,
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the
Father except through me.” -John 14:6 NIV
Jesus died on the Cross so we could have life. The Quran teaches that Jesus did not die on the cross. Hinduism believes in a pantheon of gods and at its core says everything is god. Hindus also believe in reincarnation, which is in stark contradiction to what the Bible says. Buddhism understands craving as the core issue of man and the resolution is the cessation of craving through the Noble Eightfold Path.
We can’t get away from Jesus. He is central. He is the way and the truth. He is life.
Today we stand at a Jesus encounter. The central figure of history, the only man who claimed to be God and was, in fact, God. The one who conquered death to give us life on this side and the next of eternity. Jesus asked the disciples who he was.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples,
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; Others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are The Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”
-Matthew 16:13-17 NIV
Peter – the man who so often stuck his foot in his mouth. Peter – the man who would deny Christ three times before his crucifixion. Peter – that one who would be jealous of John. Peter – always the speak-before-you-think guy gets it exactly right. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I think, it doesn’t matter what the person next-door thinks, it doesn’t matter what the individual on the other side of the world thinks. What matters is what you think about Christ. What matters for me is what I think about Christ. We don’t have to be scholars; we don’t have to be perfect (none of us is). We just need to be like Peter – a man willing to believe and willing to say that Jesus is the Son of the Living God. He is the Christ, the way, the truth, and the life.
 Van Biema, David. “The Legacy of Abraham.” Time, 30 Sept. 2002.
 Gungor, Ed. “What Bothers Me Most About Christianity.” What Bothers Me Most About Christianity, Simon & Schuster, 2009, p. 77.
 “Numbers of Adherents of Major Religions, Their Geographical Distribution, Date Founded, and Sacred Texts.” Religions of the World: Numbers of Adherents; Growth Rates, www.religioustolerance.org/worldrel.htm Christians declining in US.