Common Objections to Christianity

Can There Be Only One Way to God?

Teaching t07087

Introduction

Today we begin a series responding to the most common objections to Christianity. I have two goals in this series: to help investigators better understand Christianity so you can make an informed decision about how you will respond to Jesus Christ, and to equip Christians to be more helpful and effective in sharing Christ with their friends.

OBJECTION #1: “How can there be only one way to God?” This objection is the voice of religious relativism. Religious relativism is the belief that all religions are simply different perceptions of the same ultimate reality, or "Many faiths are but different paths leading to one reality, God." (DIFFERENT MOUNTAIN ROADS WHICH ALL LEAD TO SUMMIT). Over the last 30 years, religious relativism has become such a consensus in America that most people uncritically accept it. Several factors have led to this situation.

The roots & “new-speak” of religious relativism

Life in a “global village” confronts us with the tremendous diversity of humankind. Travel, immigration, and communications technology have shrunk the world as Marshall McLuhan predicted. We can no longer live our lives in contact only with people who look like and live and believe as we do.

This fact has influenced most Americans to unconsciously accept a new definition of appropriate diversity that lumps together two very different matters: matters of culture (dress, food, music, language, etc.)—in which acceptance of diversity is appropriate and important, and matters of truth (religious belief and morality)—in which acceptance of diversity is much more problematic, as we will see.

History teaches us that religious absolutists often persecute people who disagree with them. Sometimes this has been consistent with the religion, as with Islam (ISLAMIC JIHAD); sometimes it has been inconsistent, as with Christianity (CRUSADES; N. IRELAND). This fact has promoted a fear of all religious absolutism, and has forged a new definition of “religious tolerance.”

The former (and biblical) definition of “tolerance” made a distinction between people and their religious beliefs. It meant that people should have the legal freedom to practice the religion of their choice, and that you should personally respect and love them, even if you conclude that their beliefs are false.

Today’s “tolerance” has removed the distinction between persons and their beliefs. It means that you must never call others’ beliefs false or untrue, or you are an arrogant, intolerant bigot.

This comes across in a recent “Dear Abby:”

Dear Abby: Your answer to the woman who complained that her relatives were always arguing about religion was ridiculous. You advised her to simply declare the subject off-limits. Are you suggesting that people only talk about trivial, meaningless subjects so as to avoid potential controversy? It is arrogant to tell people there are subjects they may not mention in your presence. You could have suggested she learn enough about her relatives’ cult to show them the errors contained in its teachings.

Abby: In my view, the height of arrogance is to attempt to show people the “errors” in the religion of their choice.

Consider this recent USA Today article:

"Paige Patterson, the leader of the 15.8 million member denomination (Southern Baptist Convention) that includes (President) Clinton as a member, said he was offended by White House spokesman Joe Lockhart's comments Dec. 16 (1999).

According to the Baptist Press, Lockhart was asked about a Baptist campaign to pray for and share the Gospel with Hindus, Jews, and Muslims.

'I think the president has made very clear . . . how one of the greatest challenges going into the next century is dealing with intolerance, dealing with ethnic and religious hatred and coming to grips with the long-held resentments between religions,' Lockhart said. 'So I think he's been very clear in his opposition to whatever organizations, including the Southern Baptists, that perpetuate ancient religious hatred.'"[1]

Most importantly, philosophical relativism now dominates our culture. This is the idea that “There is no such thing as absolute truth; different people can define truth in conflicting ways and still be correct.” A recent survey indicates that 64% of American adults strongly agree or agree somewhat agree with this statement. The percentage who agreed with this statement was obviously greatest among young people (Baby Busters: 71%), and (more surprisingly) adults associated with Protestant churches (73%)![2] This leads to the position that to claim one’s beliefs are absolutely true (true for everyone regardless of their beliefs) is arrogant dogmatism, and that it is therefore inappropriate to “proselytize” others. There are two tremendous ironies here that most people miss.

First, the claim of philosophical relativism is itself an absolute truth claim. The claim that “there is no such thing as absolute truth” is an absolute claim. And as such, it is self-defeating because for this statement to be true, there must be at least one absolute truth, which means that that statement is false.

Second, while philosophical relativism condemns religious proselytizing, it aggressively proselytizes people! This is a pernicious hypocrisy. Religious relativism is profoundly intolerant and aggressively evangelistic—but no one else is allowed to be the same! It condemns absolute religious truth claims as bigoted, but it is the new dogma, and you will be shamed, scorned and mocked unless you accept it.

So much for the background of religious relativism. What about a response to it?

Religious relativism is intellectually untenable.

This is because it violates the law of non-contradiction. This is the most foundational law of logic: If two statements about one particular issue contradict one another (“The earth is flat.” And “The earth is a sphere.”), then they are both false or only one of them is true, but they cannot both be true. To say that they are both true is literally "nonsense" because it violates the most basic common sense there is.

It is inconsistent with how we form conclusions on other important truth issues. We don't operate like this in other important areas of life that deal with truth claims. If we did, life as we know it would cease!

No traveler receiving contradictory directions to a destination ("I-71 NORTH GOES TO CLEVELAND." vs. "I-71 NORTH DOES NOT GO TO CLEVELAND.") concludes “They’re both correct in their own way, so it doesn’t matter which directions I follow.”

No financial institution says “We say you owe us $43,000 on your mortgage, but you say you only owe $4300. Both are true.” Would you want to work for this banker?

No engineer says “8 + 32 = 40 or 8 + 32 = 53. Both answers are fine with me.” Would you want to trust a bridge this engineer built?

Why is it that we reject such thinking in all other areas of life, but accept it when it comes to the issue of religious truth? Though the truth in religious truth claims may be more difficult to determine, the law of non-contradiction still applies.

While all religions have superficial similarities (WEBSTER'S: "The service and adoration of God or a god expressed in forms of worship"), they make contradictory claims about foundational issues. “We believe that all religions are basically the same . . . They all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God and salvation.”[3] Is this a caricature of the facts? Hardly! Consider the disagreement between the five great religions of the world on these crucial issues:

WHAT IS GOD?

OUR SPIRITUAL DILEMMA

WHAT IS SALVATION?

THE WAY OF SALVATION

CHRISTIANITY

Personal & Trinitarian

Separation from God because of moral guilt

Conscious, personal fellowship with God for all eternity

Receive the gift of God's forgiveness by faith in Jesus Christ

JUDAISM

Personal & Unitarian

Separation from God because of moral guilt

Conscious, personal fellowship with God for all eternity

Turn to God & live a moral life

ISLAM

Personal & Unitarian

Separation from God because of moral guilt

Enter Paradise for an eternity of sensual pleasure

Perform the 5 Pillars of Faith

HINDUISM

Pantheistic or Polytheistic

Ignorance that all is one

Freedom from conscious, individual existence ("moksha")

Better reincarnation by improving karma

BUDDHISM

Pantheistic or Atheistic

Ignorance that all is one

Freedom from conscious, individual existence ("nirvana")

Escape reincarnation by following 4 Noble Truths & 8-Fold Path

NOTE: There is no assurance of salvation in the other four because it salvation is dependent on your works. But there is in Christianity because salvation depends on Christ's work (PRODIGAL SON: accepted back with undeserved forgiveness vs. BUDDHIST STORY: work off the penalty of past misdeeds by years of servitude).

SUMMARIZE: God can’t be personal and impersonal at the same time. Salvation can’t be conscience existence and personal annihilation at the same time. The way of salvation can’t be a free gift and a wage earned at the same time. Consider the conclusion of these two world-renowned scholars of world religions:

ANDERSON (Christian): “The fact is that generalizations about religion are almost always misleading. Nothing could be further from the truth than the dictum . . . ‘Religion has not many voices, but only one.’ . . . Even the most cursory examination of the theology of these different religions reveals far more contradiction than consensus.”[4]

ZAEHNER (Hindu): “To maintain that all religions are paths leading to the same goal, as is so frequently done today, is to maintain something that is not true . . . (T)he basic principles of East and West . . . simply are not starting from the same premises. The only common ground is that the function of religion is to provide release; there is no agreement at all as to what (we) must be released from. The great religions are talking at cross purposes.”[5]

CLENDENIN (Christian): "Contrary to the idea that all the religions teach the same thing, by virtue of their historical particularity and specificity the many religions offer us radically divergent pictures of God, the world, life, death, the afterlife, and humanity . . . Historically and empirically it is obvious that a common essence is precisely what religions do not have; they aim at different goals, teach contradictory doctrines, and prescribe radically different experiences. Religion as a common genus simply does not exist."[6]

NETLAND (Christian): "It is difficult indeed to escape the conclusion that some of the central affirmations of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Shinto are opposed; as long as the meanings of the doctrines within the respective religious communities are preserved, they cannot be jointly accepted without absurdity."[7]>

PANIKKAR (Pluralist): "(Pluralists must abandon their quest for a common essence because) the incommensurability of ultimate systems is unbridgeable . . . (and any) alleged common denominator is a sheer reductionist abstraction."[8]

Therefore, the “DIFFERENT MOUNTAIN ROADS WHICH ALL LEAD TO SUMMIT” analogy is simply untrue. The roads are on different mountains, they lead in fundamentally different directions and they end on completely different summits!

Religious relativism is personally dishonest.

It necessitates a willful distortion of the different religions’ truth-claims.

The above chart and quotes make this clear. Hinduism or New Age or Bahai may seem more “inclusive” when they acknowledges Jesus as “the blessed Lord Jesus Christ,” but this statement is a deliberate distortion of the biblical meaning of this title. When you look into it, they are really saying, “Jesus lied or was mistaken. He is not the unique Savior of the world who died for humanity’s sins against a holy and righteous God. He is one of many avatars who realized his oneness with the All.” This is a deliberate distortion of Jesus’ claims, not a more “inclusive” religion.

Therefore, the claim to accept all religions as equally true is actually a rejection of all religions as false! Wouldn’t it be more honest to just say “I don’t believe in any of them,” or “I haven’t yet decided which one is true?”

No one really accepts all religious views as true or valid.

How many of you are really prepared to say that Baalism (with mandatory child-sacrifice), or African Islam (with mandatory clitorectomy), or Papua New Guinea animism (with headhunting) are valid religions? How open-minded would you be about your children converting to these religions? How many of you would be able to say with a clear conscience “I’m glad you’ve found what’s true for you?”

How many of you are ready to accept Hinduism’s teaching that women cannot enter the eternal state, or the Koran’s teaching that (Jihad) holy war is a virtuous way to spread the faith?

"Do we really want to say . . . that all religions and religious practices without exception are pathways to God? . . . What about Hindu widow-burning, female infanticide, or Aztec human sacrifice (Hans Kung notes that 20,000 people were sacrificed in four days at the consecration of a temple in Mexico in 1487)? . . . But in assessing religion, pluralists have the problem of avoiding radical relativism, which . . . is inherent in their position. In fact, consistent relativism would render both praise and blame impossible. As the pluralists themselves acknowledge, without some criteria it is impossible to distinguish between Jim Jones and Mother Theresa, between an Amish village and David Koresh's Waco compound. To make critical judgments of any sort requires some standard or standards, but to introduce such criteria in order to judge religions is to no longer accept them all as equally true and good."[9]

It often masks a desire to avoid investigation and decision about religious truth-claims.

Maybe the most honest thing to admit is “I’m too apathetic to investigate and decide, but I want to be viewed by my peers as tolerant and enlightened.”

Jesus is up front about the nature of truth and the necessity of choice.

He demands that you either accept him and his claims as absolute truth or reject him as false. There is no middle ground. Consider the following statements:

Read Jn. 3:16-18. Not only is belief in Jesus proclaimed as the means to avoid death and gain eternal life; refusal to believe in Jesus will be judged.

Read Jn. 8:24. Failure to believe that Jesus is who he says he is results in dying in your sins.

Read Jn. 14:6. Jesus is far from saying "Believe what you want because all roads ultimately lead to God." Not only does he proclaim himself to be the way, truth and life; he also says no one comes to God except through him.

Why is Jesus so absolutist on this point? Maybe it’s because our sins really do separate us from God, because we really can’t earn God's acceptance by good works, and because only Jesus really has paid the penalty for our sins for us.

GOSPEL: On an issue as important as this one (ULTIMATE DESTINY & DIRECTION IN THIS LIFE), and with an offer as appealing as this one (FREE GIFT), you owe it to yourself ask God to lead you to the truth, to examine the evidence, and to make a decision (Check out Christianity: The Faith That Makes Sense)! If there is good evidence that Christianity is true, what good reason is there for not trying it out?

NEXT: “Does evolution discredit the Bible?”

Footnotes

[1] "Baptist Leader Blasts Clinton," USA Today, December 23, 1999, p. 2A.

[2]George Barna, What Americans Believe (Ventura: Regal Books, 1991), p. 83

[3]Steve Turner, British Journalist; quoted by Ravi Zacharias in Harvard lecture "Is Atheism Dead? Is God Alive?" in November, 1993.

[4]Sir Norman Anderson, Christianity and World Religions: The Challenge of Pluralism (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), p. 15.

[5]Colin G. Chapman, The Case for Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1981), p. 143.

[6] Daniel B. Clendenin, Many Gods, Many Lords (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), pp. 64,108.

[7] Harold Netland, Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), pp. 110,111.

[8] Raimundo Panikkar, "The Jordan, the Tigris, and the Ganges," in Hick and Knitter, eds., The Myth of Christian Uniqueness (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988), p. 110.

[9] Daniel B. Clendenin, Many Gods, Many Lords, pp. 50,51.