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Is Jesus the only way? (part 1)

Editor’s note: This column by Mike Licona of the North American Mission Board is the first column in a four-part series on the exclusivity of Christianity.

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–A June report by the Pew Research Center revealed some interesting stats: 57 percent of the evangelical surveyed reported believing that “many religions can lead to eternal life.”

But that result was not as surprising as another discovered by Pew: 21 percent of those who identified themselves as “atheist” said they believe in a God or universal spirit. One must wonder whether many of those polled understood what it means to be an evangelical or an atheist. I also suspect that Kelly Boggs is correct in a recent Baptist Press article that many evangelicals confused the term “religion” with “denomination” — which, if true, casts doubt on the validity of the 57 percent figure. (A LifeWay Research poll found that 31 percent of Protestant churchgoers believe a person can obtain eternal life through “religions other than Christianity.”) The Pew Forum said that further research will be conducted to answer these questions.

But it would be helpful to understand why Christians in the U.S. who refer to themselves as evangelical believe that other religions can lead to eternal life. Is it a result of cultural influence from political correctness? I have spoken on numerous university campuses and know that many of today’s Christian students, including evangelicals, are biblically illiterate. This is alarming. So, let’s take a look at this matter of whether Jesus is the only way to God.

Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” I must admit that of all the biblical teachings, the claim that Jesus is the only way to God is one of the most troubling for me. Is God being unfair in requiring others to believe only in Jesus in order to get into heaven? Or is it merely a matter of some Christians interpreting the Bible in this manner?

Jesus Himself claimed to be the only way to God. Not only are His claims multiply attested, but His earliest followers Peter and Paul taught that he is the only way (Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22; 12:8-9; John 3:36; Romans 10:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; 1 Timothy 2:5; Acts 4:12; Heb. 10:26-27). In fact, there are no claims to the contrary by the earliest Christians. Consider these statements of Jesus:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).

“For unless you believe that I am who I say I am, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).

These are pretty amazing claims. Imagine if a famous Christian pastor were to appear on “Larry King Live” and utter similar statements. We may still regard him as a nice guy who has done much for society. But make no mistake about it: We would also think of him as being a few French fries short of a Happy Meal! Jesus’ claims appear as outrageous today as they were to many of those who heard Him and His disciples utter them. So, what are we to do with Jesus’ unrestrained claims to be the only way to God?

Since many have made similar claims to having the exclusive truth about God, we may first ask whether these claims of Jesus are true. When asked for proof that He was whom he claimed to be, Jesus replied that He would provide only one: His resurrection from the dead. This is a pretty good test and differs from those offered by other religions. The Koran tells us that its divine inspiration is verified by the fact that no human can create a sura like one in it (a sura is an independent chapter, like a psalm. The Koran is composed of 114 suras). The Book of Mormon tells us that God will inform us of its truth if we read it and ask God with a sincere heart to show us whether it’s true.

For anyone interested in taking these tests, read Koran 108:

“Lo! We have given thee Abundance;

“So pray unto thy Lord, and sacrifice.

“Lo! It is thy insulter (and not thou) who is without prosperity.

It is not difficult to conceive of something else having at least equal beauty and meaning. Now, consider Psalm 117:

“Praise the LORD, all nations;

“Laud Him, all peoples!

“For His lovingkindness is great toward us,

“And the truth of the LORD is everlasting.

“Praise the LORD!”

Or how about the following early Christian hymn preserved in 1 Timothy 3:16? It is said that Jesus:

“Was revealed in the flesh,

“Vindicated in the Spirit,

“Seen by angels,

“Proclaimed among the nations,

“Believed on in the world,

“Taken up in glory.”

A Muslim may claim that Koran 108 contains superior linguistic beauty when read in Arabic. But a Christian or Jew may counter that Psalm 117 is a song that contains similar linguistic beauty when read in Hebrew. The hymn in 1 Timothy 3:16 was Greek in its original form and has beauty in both its sound and grammatical structure when read in that language. So the test provided by the Koran boils down to a matter of personal taste. Do you prefer the beauty of Arabic, Hebrew or Greek? This is similar to choosing between Bach, Beethoven and Bernstein.

I have also read much of the Book of Mormon while praying sincerely that God would show me through his Spirit whether it is true. Although I read and prayed, God was silent while a number of archaeological facts weighed against its divine inspiration. So, the tests provided by the Koran and the Book of Mormon are quite subjective.

The test Jesus provided, however, is quite impressive: His resurrection from the dead. Such a test does not depend on one’s personal taste or a warm feeling. He either: 1) rose from the dead confirming his personal claims or 2) He didn’t, revealing Himself to be just another false prophet. Space does not permit me to provide a historical case for Jesus’ resurrection. Gary Habermas and I have done so in a book, “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.”

If we may assume for the moment that Jesus was truly who He claimed to be, this goes a long way toward reconciling His claim to being the exclusive route to God with the uneasiness it brings. Notwithstanding, there are still a number of objections which pop up that I would like to address. It is my opinion that we can come to terms with most objections to Jesus’ claims to being the only way by answering three rudimentary questions. We will discuss these over the course of my next three columns.
Mike Licona is coordinator of interfaith and apologetics at the North American Mission Board. For a better understanding of today’s world religions and for resources that will help you defend your faith, visit NAMB’s apologetics website at www.4truth.net

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  • Mike Licona