Why religious pluralism is unreasonable and what the Bible teaches about the exclusivity of salvation in Christ alone.
Have you ever heard someone say about Christianity, “it’s too narrow?” And they follow it up with another claim like “many roads lead to God” or “all religions are basically the same?”
In a 2008 poll of 35,000 Americans, the Pew Research Group found that 57% of Evangelical church attenders believe many religions can lead to eternal life. This response was not from mainline Protestant or Hindu believers, but from those who claim they believe the Bible where Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
So why would so many Evangelicals claim there are many ways to God?
One of the reasons people say all religions are so similar are the similar ethics we find among the religions. For instance, the major world religions each include some version of Jesus’ “Golden Rule” where he said “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:31). We find similar dictums in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and others. And so – the argument goes – each religion teaches the same thing since their ethics are similar.
Another reason people say all religions are the same is the underlying desire for peace with people of different religious persuasions. Who can forget the difficult conversation about religion with your relative at Thanksgiving? Or what about the many wars fought over religion in our past – including some in recent memory spurred on by Islam. People generally want to avoid conflict in social situations and there is a psychological incentive to blur distinctions between religions when they are not justified.
(As an aside, in the monumental Encyclopedia of Wars, the authors categorized found only 121 of all 1,763 wars since 3500 BC/BCE were fought for religious reasons. That means only 6.8% of wars were religious wars.)
Although we may find similarities in ethics among the world religions and we may all want peace with our friends and family, it does not follow that all religions are the same. There are two reasons we should reject this view about religion and affirm the biblical truth there is only one way to God.
Major Reason Religious Pluralism is Wrong
The underlying belief popularly expressed as “all roads lead to God” is known as religious pluralism. Dominic Marbaniang defines religious pluralism as “the belief that the world religions are true and equally valid in their communication of the truth about God, the world, and salvation.”
|GOD||MEANS OF SALVATION||VIEW OF OTHER RELIGIONS|
|BUDDHISM||No God||Self-reliance||True Way|
|HINDUISM||1,000’s of Gods (Impersonal)||Reincarnation||All True|
|JUDAISM||One God—Yahweh||Works||Just Judaism|
|ISLAM||One God—Allah||Five Pillars||Just Islam|
|CHRISTIANITY||One God, Three Persons||Grace||Just Christianity|
Table Source: Do All Roads Lead to God with Sean McDowell
Exclusivism in the Bible
The Bible opposes religious pluralism and affirms a different view: exclusivism. Dominic Marbaniang also defines exclusivism in Christianity as “the theological position that holds . . . there is no salvation in non-Christian religions.” In other words, only those who consciously believe in Jesus for their salvation can be saved from eternal judgment. This is the traditional view in biblical Christianity because it is found in Scripture. Here are a few verses that teach salvation only comes from God and specifically from believing in Jesus.
- Our God is a God of salvation, and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death. (Psalm 68:20)
- I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. (Isaiah 43:11)
- She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
- For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:14)
- Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)
- I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins. (John 8:24)
- For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)
- And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:21)
- And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
- For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, (1 Timothy 2:5)
In all of these passages, we see the Bible belaboring the point that salvation does not come from any other source other than God himself. God does not approve of any other way to be reconciled to himself. Only through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus, can we expect to be reunited to the Father after our rebellion. Jesus, himself, placed an exclamation point on biblical exclusivism when he declared, “‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6) Bottom line, we know there is only one way to God because the Bible teaches it.
Illustration: How Shall We Escape If We Neglect this Salvation?
In an extended segment of a sermon, R.C. Sproul responds to whether there was only one way to God. He recounts a story of when he interacted with an English professor who was antagonistic to the Christian faith. In an effort to justify the exclusivity of the Christian faith, he describes a seemingly hypothetical scenario where God did numerous things to a wayward and sinful people to save them, but ultimately they rejected him. Sproul said in his message (16:30-20:25):
“And so finally God says, “Ok, I’m going to send to this people – who reject everything I do for them – I’m going to send my only begotten Son. And I am going to take the sins of my people and transfer them to the back of my own Son who is perfectly righteous and perfectly innocent. And they kill the Son. And God said, ‘That’s okay, you killed him, but if you will just put your trust in him and honor him I will forgive you of every sin that you have ever committed against me and against him. And I will give you a eternal life where there will be no more death, no more tears, no more wickedness, no more pain, no more suffering, and you will live forever in unending bliss. My only requirement is that you honor the one who has died in your place.
Buddah didn’t die for you. Moses didn’t die for you. Mohammed didn’t die for you. And I require that you honor and embrace my only Son.’ And I said to my teacher, just suppose that’s true, you don’t believe it’s true, but I’m just asking you, hypothetically, if it were true would you dare to stand before God on the day of judgment and say, ‘God you have not done enough for me’? Would you look into the face of God and say, ‘one way of salvation is not enough’?
The author of Hebrews raised a rhetorical question that haunts my soul when he raised this question, ‘how shall we escape if we neglect so great a Salvation.’ Beloved, I don’t think that people who believe in Christ or any better than people who believe in something else. We’re not talking about the superiority of the people. But I’m sure it rankles God Almighty to hear any human being even mentioned Buddha in the same breath with Jesus Christ.
Because Christ Alone is sinless. Buddha was a sinner, Buddha couldn’t save himself let alone anyone else. Mohammed was a sinner and Mohammed never saved anyone. Only Christ is sinless. Only Christ has offered an atonement. Only Christ has provided redemption for us. If that’s not enough for you, if that’s too restrictive for you, then go your own way. But it’s the only way that God has provided. You choose that or you perish.”
Conclusion: Only One Way To God
In conclusion, there may be many social incentives to soften the hard edges of the Christian faith. Biblical Christianity is not exactly the sure road to popularity in our world today. However, we must never obscure what God has made clear. There is only one way to God: repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. To uphold this truth reminds us how gracious God is to save us believers, and makes it clear to unbelievers the only way they can get right with God.
Steven J. Nichols: Where the Bible Teaches We Are Saved by Christ Alone
Amy Orr-Ewing: Don’t All Religions Lead to God?
Josh McDowell: Is Jesus the only way to get to God?
Featured image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay.