EDITOR’S NOTE: This column by Mike Licona of the North American Mission Board is the second column in a four-part series on the exclusivity of Christianity.
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–In yesterday’s column I ended by saying we can come to terms with Jesus’ claims to being the only way to salvation by answering three rudimentary questions. Today we will take a look at the first of these questions: What is truth?
When Jesus was brought before the Roman governor Pilate, he said he had come into the world to proclaim the truth. Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” Many today get upset when a Christian repeats Jesus’ claim to be the only true way to God and often respond by saying something like, “Truth is broader than your narrow concept and differs between people.”
So, what is truth?
A statement is true to the extent that it corresponds with reality. My wife Debbie and I have been married for 21 years. Our ideas of comfort differ. She has a lot of German blood and is comfortable in cooler temperatures, while I’m more comfortable in warmer temperatures (my dad was from Honduras). If it’s 70 degrees in our house, she’s turning on the fans and I’m putting on a sweater. In this case, truth is both personal and relative: Debbie is warm and Mike is cool. But there is a truth irrespective of our perceptions: It’s 70 degrees in the room.
This applies in other areas. I’ve always been fascinated with outer space. When I was a child I wanted to be an astronaut. I was glued to the television -– as were most Americans –- when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. When the Hale-Bopp comet neared Earth in 1997, it was visible to the naked eye. There was also some news at the time related to the comet: A speck appeared in the sky next to it that astronomers claimed was the planet Mars. But the leader of a small cult, Marshall Applewhite, convinced 38 of his “Heaven’s Gate cult” followers that the speck was a spaceship trailing the comet and that it would rescue them from earth before destroying it. Applewhite’s followers trusted him so much that they followed him in committing suicide, believing that the spaceship would take their souls to another galaxy named Heaven.
Let’s assess the truth-claims of the Heaven’s Gate cult. The earth was not destroyed as Applewhite had predicted. And Applewhite was a shady character: he was arrested at age 43 for stealing credit cards and fired from his job as music professor because of what the school called “health problems of an emotional nature.” If we can assess the truth-claims of the Heaven’s Gate cult, we can assess the truth-claims of other religions. There was a truth that is personal and relative: members of the Heaven’s Gate cult said they obtained peace, hope and fulfillment from following Applewhite. But there is an objective truth that holds true for everyone: Applewhite was a false prophet and his followers were duped. Sincere belief to the point of taking their own lives did not change the truth.
Followers of other religions may find that their religious beliefs and practices bring them peace, hope and give them a purpose for living. In fact, a number of valuable benefits have been realized by followers of non-Christian religions. However, if Jesus’ claim to be the exclusive way to God is true, then the following statement is false: Muhammad provided an effective way to be acceptable to God. In other words, a religion can be true in a subjective sense while being false in an objective one. I am interested in following religious teachings that are true in both senses.
I realize that this can be quite offensive. But we must not be so captive to our politically correct culture that we are led astray from truth. Since the truth of a statement can be measured by how closely it corresponds with reality, if Jesus claimed to be the exclusive way to God and rose from the dead in order to confirm his claims, the following statement has a very high probability of being true: Jesus is the exclusive way to God. Tomorrow we will take a look at a second question that will help us come to terms with Jesus’ claim.
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