Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Way, A Truth, and A Life?

AP reports on a new study has just been released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that offers a bit support for the notion that religious "tolerance" in America is on the rise. When evangelical churchgoers were asked the following question ...
Question wording: Now, as I read a pair of statements, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views even if neither is exactly right. First/next: My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life, OR: many religions can lead to eternal life.
  • 36 percent said that their "religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life."
  • 57 percent said they believe "many religions can lead to eternal life."
  • Among Catholics, the numbers were 16 percent and 79 percent, respectively.
  • In all, 70 percent of Americans with a religious affiliation shared that view, and 68 percent said there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their own religion.
The higher percentage of inclusiveness among Catholics is expected. The Catholic Church teaches inclusivism (You can get to heaven if you do the right stuff, even if don't believe in Jesus). The higher overall percentage of folks who believe this is also not surprising considering our culture is rife with the promotion of pluralism (Everybody gets to heaven regardless of what they believe) as a remedy to avoid offending anyone's religious beliefs, no matter how nutty they are.

Another slant on this survey is that it is not very specific on what one's "religion" is. A fellow apologist points out that some may think "denomination" when you say "religion." In that case, the numbers are actually a little more encouraging to me. But sadly, the fact is that our culture trains us that to disagree is to be "intolerant." Nobody wants to be intolerant. (This is a subject for another post but most don't stop to think that, in order to be tolerant, it is a requirement that you disagree!). So we say things like, "All roads lead to heaven," or, "Faith is like climbing a mountain. We all may be climbing a different path but eventually we arrive at the same place."

Problem: That's not what the Bible teaches. So it is eye-opening to see that only just over one-third of evangelical Christians believe Christ is the only way to heaven, while almost two-thirds are inclusivistic (if not pluralistic).

Wow.

Believe me, I understand the inclination to avoid offending people. And, earlier in my life, I would have happily called myself a pluralist. But considering what the Bible actually says about the subject, not to mention what Christ clearly states about himself, it is hard to see how you can claim to hold to the tenets of Christianity and not believe it is the only way of salvation.

Let me be clear. Those of us who do believe Christianity is true would be silly (or cowardly) to not insist that it is the only way. We may be wrong of course, but you cannot have it both ways. You can't say Christianity is true out of one side of your mouth and then say other religions are also true out of the other. Christ specifically said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Notice, he didn't say, "A way, A truth, and A life." In other words, He was exclusivistic (this is the only way to heaven) -- so we should be too. No, we should not be arrogant or judgmental toward others. We shouldn't be out shoving our faith down people's throats or condemning them to hell. None of that is in keeping with Christianity either. But at the same time we shouldn't be capitulating about the subject or pretending it doesn't matter what one thinks. It does. If you claim to believe in Christianity, Christ taught that you need also be an exclusivist. He didn't leave us another option.

He didn't intend to.

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