“I think everyone has to find his own spiritual path to God,” my fellow shopper said.
I don’t remember how we got on the subject of finding God. He may have asked me what I did for a living and I told him I was a pastor. At any rate, we were in a deep spiritual conversation in the fairly long checkout line at Best Buy.
“Wouldn’t that be cool if it were true?” I responded.
“What do you mean?” he queried.
“It would be great if everyone could find his or her own spiritual path to God,” I answered. “But that’s not what Jesus said would happen. He claimed there was onlyone path and that no one can get to God except through Him” (John 14:6).
Whenever I get in a spiritual conversation with others, a part of me cringes as I talk about the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ. I love Jesus and I have come to believe his claims, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with the idea that Christianity doesn’t allow for the position that each person can find his or her own path to God. It seems to me that if a person is open to spiritual reality in general, that that should be enough. After all, isn’t Jesus big enough and gracious enough for allreligious impulses and thoughts to ultimately find their way back to Him? Surely open-mindedness, humility, and liberality fit into the Christian ethic, why not into Christian theology? Why can’t faith be this open?
EVERYTHING ELSE IS RELATIVE
Unless you have been living in a bunker for the past 30 years, like Brendan Fraser in Blast from the Past, you know that we are living in a world of relativism. Relativism is the belief that all points of view are equally valid. What you think is right and wrong is right and wrong for you, and what I think is right and wrong is right and wrong for me. Though our lists may be different, our lists are equally legitimate.
There is something very seductive about this view. If a thing is right just because I think it is, then being right is an easy proposition. Being able to select one’s own right and wrong fuels a sense of personal empowerment. It means I can do whatever it is I want to do. And if that isn’t freedom, it certainly feels like freedom. You can see how embracing this perspective would help us to stop judging one another and to begin respecting each other’s personal convictions. Why wouldn’t we? Relativism fosters the sense that everyone is right, which delivers personal empowerment, the debunking of judgment, and a respect for others and their opinions. These are all good things, right?
Of course, this view also means there are no absolutes, no truth that is true for everyone—just relative ideas that are true to each one. What’s good for me is not necessarily good for you, and vice versa. Thus, everyone must find his or her own way. This view engenders a sense of unity in matters of faith, because what you believe about God and what I believe about God are equally good and equally true, simply because we believe what we believe. We can stop focusing on what one believes and applaud all belief in general, because all paths lead to God. Who wouldn’t love that?
But as appealing as relativism is, and while the intellectually elite and culturally en vogue espouse that it is the only tenable position, it doesn’t appear to be an option for the Christ-follower. Why? Because the claims of Christ are absolute and universal. Jesus claimed to be “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that “no one comes to the Father” except through him (John 14:6).
THE PROBLEM WITH TRUTH
The problem with the concept of truth is that it is exclusive by nature. Any time a person makes a truth-claim, he or she is saying all other contradictory claims are false. Hence, truth is non-negotiable; it is stark and raw. For example, the notion that the earth is orbiting the sun is either true or it is not. There is no room for negotiating, though it seems as if the sun is orbiting around the earth from my perspective. Truth has no interest in what I think or feel about the matter; subjective views are irrelevant.
If truth exists, then there are people who are right and people who are wrong. But we don’t like that. It’s too judgmental. Consequently, two-thirds of Americans now deny there’s any such thing as truth. We prefer opinion to truth. It’s more civilized.
Yet, As a Christ-follower I’m faced with the challenge that Christianity is not just presented as another subjective, religious philosophy. Christians see the claims of Jesus Christ as objectively true—true in the sense that gravity is true. And if the gospel of Jesus Christ is truth, then it is absolute and true for all people. The problem is, there are so many knotty and untenable implications with that position.
At first blush Christ’s claims seem to smack of arrogance, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. And, in a cultural milieu that holds pluralism and tolerance sacrosanct, claiming that Jesus of Nazareth is the only path to God is a proverbial slap-on-the-face to all other belief systems. Pluralist Rosemary Radford Ruether labeled this as “absurd religious chauvinism,” while another religious leader called it a “spiritual dictatorship” that encourages smug superiority and unnecessary judgment. All of us have witnessed the hatred and violence that comes from religious one-upping. As a culture we are more open to comments like that of Indian philosopher Swami Vivekenanda who said, “We [Hindus] accept all religions to be true.” He claimed the real sin was to call someone else a sinner.
Atheist Charles Templeton claimed it was an “insufferable presupposition” to claim that “salvation is found in no one else” but Jesus (Acts 4:12). Templeton writes, “Christians are a small minority in the world. Approximately four out of every five people on the face of the earth believe in gods other than the Christian God. The more than five billion people who live on earth revere and worship [other] gods. Are we to believe that only Christians are right?”
I honestly don’t know what to do with these arguments against Christian absolutism. And, truth be told, on some level I want to agree with them. How can it be possible that so many have it so wrong? And what of those sincere souls who never have the opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ? Will they really go to hell?
I wish I could tell you I have all of this settled in my mind. I don’t. The wrestling match continues to this day. The only solace I have found is that I believe that God will work all the details out in the end because he is good and he is fair. Though it may sound like an intellectual cop out from dealing with the problem, something in me finds rest in the promise of God’s goodness and fairness—like a young child who trusts that all will be well just because they are with their father or mother, not because they understand what’s really going on.
So, after careful analysis, I take the position that Jesus Christ is the truest reflection of the one true God. In the same breath (and at great risk), I believe the gods of other religions are not gods at all—they are worthless idols. Ooooo … those are fighting words for many. And that’s the problem with Christian truth—it is too exclusive to let you fit everywhere. And adhering to it can get you into some deep trouble. That’s why Jesus warns us: “The world would love you if you belonged to it; but you don’t—for I chose you to come out of the world, and so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave isn’t greater than his master!’ So since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you” (John 15:19-20 NLT).
Though I would love to be liked by everyone, I choose to believe Jesus…even if that gets me in trouble and I’m accused of being closed-minded. I figure it just goes with the territory.