Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Is Jesus really the only way?

A June report by the Pew Research Center revealed some interesting statistics. Of the American evangelicals surveyed, 57 percent reported believed that "many religions can lead to eternal life." I am not sure that Canadian evangelicals would score any higher; perhaps we might even score lower. Of course, this figure may be somewhat off. Some have suggested that perhaps many evangelicals may have confused the term "religion" with "denomination." If true, this would cast doubt on the validity of the 57 percent figure. However, a recent LifeWay Research poll wasn’t much more encouraging when it found that 31 percent of Protestant churchgoers believe a person can obtain eternal life through "religions other than Christianity."

In the fall of 2006, Christianity Today asked a number of evangelical theologians what they believed would be the greatest challenge that they would face in the next fifty years.

Most answered that they believed that evangelicals will face increasing pressure to compromise the exclusive gospel for a pluralistic world.

I agree. This trend has been evident for many years but more so in recent years.

Evangelicals need to have a clear answer to the simple question, “Is Jesus really the only way to God?” Of course, this question begs several others.

• What about other religions? Aren't they evidences of people seeking after God?

• Surely sincerity must count for something?

• Won't God just accept someone's faith as being directed towards Him, if they never had the chance to hear and respond to the gospel?

• Certainly it can't be fair, if they never had the chance, can it?

• What makes us think we're the only right ones?

For many, even among those who call themselves evangelicals, evangelism has become a dirty word, an imperialistic sentiment. What we really need to do, it is asserted, is to dialogue, find common ground, discuss, and learn from each other's faith. But evangelize, proselytize? How dare we! How dare we presume to hold the only key to salvation!

This is the issue. And behind it is the question, "Is Jesus really the only way?”

A number of years ago, when I was serving as a pastor in southern Manitoba, a member of my church came to my office one morning, honestly seeking some answers to this question. She had gotten into a discussion with some of her relatives on this issue and was confused. I told her that I'd give it some thought and get back to her in a couple of days. That evening, after supper, I drove back to my office and, sitting down at the computer, I began to compile some of my thoughts. As I looked through my files and thought about discussions and study that I had done on the topic. As I worked, two things became clear to me.

The first was the realization that any discussion on this issue must, inevitably, be centred on what the Bible teaches. As a Christian, I must believe that the Bible is absolutely true in all that it speaks about. It is the revelation of God's will, a setting forth of reality from a God who knows all things and who has chosen to reveal truth to mankind in such a way that mankind can understand, yet without error. In all that the Bible affirms, it is to be believed; in all that it commands, it is to be obeyed; in all that it touches upon, it is authoritative. Without this basic tenant concerning Scripture firmly established right from the beginning, any discussion on this topic will, inevitably, degenerate into a confusing, philosophical debate and conjecturing where differing opinions are pitted against each other, each claiming equal authority. Without such a view of Scripture, meaningful discussion on this topic will prove to be virtually impossible. The Scriptures must be the foundation for our opinions on this issue. If two people can agree on this, and believe that what the Bible says is true, then they can talk; they have a common denominator for determining truth. If not, than any talk will probably be futile. I cannot emphasize this strong enough! We must allow the Bible to speak, allowing it to determine our beliefs in this matter (as in all matters of faith and practice), if we claim to be followers of Jesus. The revelation of Scripture must be kept centre.

The second thing that became clear to me that evening were the theological ramifications that accompany the question, "Is Jesus really the only way?" Think this through with me.

• The doctrine of God comes under scrutiny. Is He just? Is He fair?

• The doctrine of Christ is at stake. Was Jesus mistake when He claimed to be the only way to the Father in John 14:6? And if He isn't the only way, what was the purpose of His coming?

• The doctrine of salvation must be examined. Did Jesus really have to die if people could be saved apart from faith in Him? Was the cross really necessary?

• The doctrine of mankind becomes suspect. Is man really inherently sinful as the Bible depicts him to be? Is he truly a rebel against God, or does each person possess a element of good (or godliness) within that makes him basically good, needing only a push in the right direction?

• The doctrine of sin becomes an issue. Is a person really responsible for his/her actions? Isn't sincerity good enough? Isn't evil just a matter of personal opinion, cultural standards, or societal expectations?

• The doctrine of end-times must be evaluated. Is there a future reckoning; a time of reward or punishment? And on what basis will people be judged? Will be a second chance after death?

• The doctrine of the church is challenged. Is the church really responsible to share the good news with those who have never heard? And if so, could it not be conceivable that the "good news" could become "bad news" if a person was saved before a missionary comes but rejects the gospel when the missionary brings it to his community? Is the church really God's unique witness to the world? Perhaps He will find other ways of having the gospel given to all people. Added to the fact, why bother to undergo persecution and suffering if the faith of your persecutors is just as valid as yours? Why not just convert and end the suffering? Surely God will understand? Why die for something that isn’t so exclusive?

Is Jesus really the only way? It becomes obvious, doesn't it, that this is more than just some academic question best left to be debated in scholarly journals or seminary classrooms, but which really has very little "practical" impact on "real" life. It is a question that touches upon every major doctrine of the Christian faith. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that the issue goes to the very core of the Christian faith. How we answer this question has profound implications on what we believe and how we will fulfill Christ's commission.

So what does the Bible have to say?

Watch for my blog tomorrow….

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