Is Jesus the Only Way?

During times when I have been immersed in Christian life and enthusiastically proclaiming the gospel message, there has been an urgency to my endeavours owing to a passion for Jesus and a fear that everyone who isn’t saved is going to hell. This is the basis for Christian evangelism, and this is why Christian evangelists can often seem pushy. It’s because they genuinely feel they have an exclusive claim to truth, and that the only way to avoid eternal punishment is by becoming a believer.

But if God is the omnipresent creator of the universe, then He has created every religion, not just Christianity. He is the creator of millions of Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Sikhs and Jehovah’s Witnesses. He is also the creator of all those people who are atheists, or agnostics. He has created literally billions of people who have lived and died outside of the Christian faith. Can it really be the case that all of these lives, with all their richness and diversity, are meaningless, because they are empty of Jesus Christ?

An alternative view would be that creation is a rich tapestry in which every thread, or every person, has a distinct and meaningful role to play. Existence can be seen as a grand performance in which God is expressing His infinite power by creating great diversity. Everyone who has lived and died has played out their role in God’s grand game, and God will bring everything together in a coherent way in the future.

Some Christians argue that nonbelievers are judged ‘by the light they have received’, meaning that even if they haven’t heard the gospel, they are still morally culpable, as they have been exposed to good and evil and have had to choose accordingly. This is a way of accommodating all those outside of the faith into the Christian worldview.

But I wonder whether every life might be valuable to God in its own right, because if God is the sovereign creator, sustainer, and animator of all there is, then everyone’s life has unfolded in exactly the way God intended, even if they did not embrace Jesus as Lord and Saviour and live a Christian life.


The above article is a modified extract from my essay entitled An Almighty Predicament: A Discourse on the Arguments For and Against Christianity which is available as a free PDF download from my Essays page.

28 comments

  1. In response, I defer to Matthew 7:13-23. They are eleven terrifying verses. They should sober up both those claiming faith, and those who don’t. There is a difference, as declared in these verses, but we may be very poor judges of who belongs to which group.

    One more observation, your position presupposes a peaceful tapestry as a metaphor for the Creator and His creation. The Bible depicts a cosmic conflict instead. And, from Scripture, we know the outcome of the war, but we also know the battles are sometimes lost. Ultimately, this life, this existence, and this universe, is not really about us at all.

      1. Yeah, the world doesn’t seem as peaceful as I’d like as often as I’d like.

        The move is going well so far. There is still much to do, but we should be all moved by Monday. A scary thought.

        I’m glad your interview went well. And I hope you get your permanent residency.

        Blessings upon you!

        1. Glad to hear the move is going well so far. Praying that everything goes really smoothly over the next few days.

          Regarding my accommodation – I would be so happy if I got the permanent contract, but am just having to take things one day and one week at a time. In any case, I have so much to be thankful for.

          Blessings upon you too, Matt!

  2. In a way, it looks as though since you are a proponent of a non-free will position, you’re exploring a more universalist position of those going to heaven rather than the classical ‘elect’ predestined position. Of course, this is all why I avoid using the word ‘salvation’ in my review of your post here because without free will, the idea of salvation would be silly, but the lack of ‘salvation’ in Jesus’ eschatological preaching makes little sense.

    Although, I will say that even in his own parables ‘will’ seems to be confused. In regards to the seeds sown on rocky ground or in thorns, it doesn’t appear that is those individuals fault, unless one argues that the anecdote represents the wills of those individuals. The parable of the wheat and the tares, I think supports more of a free will position as an appeal not to pull the tares for the sake of not losing the wheat.

    I will say this Steven, I don’t agree with your position, but I love how it gets me thinking about these issues. I love how you present your position in a friendly manner.

    I also wonder how well your position holds up against New Atheism’s challenge to the Classical Salvation narrative of Christianity. Have you had any encounters on your threads here ?

    Thanks,

    Philip

    1. Thanks, Philip, great to read your thoughts on my post and I’m glad some of my writing has got you thinking. I appreciate the kind tone of your comment.

      No doubt about it, my belief in God’s literal omnipresence creates a lot of problems in terms of the Christian worldview. As you suggest, salvation doesn’t make much sense if we are not free sinners. This is why, as much as I love Christianity and Jesus and the Bible, I struggle to commit to the Christian faith. But I have said as much in many other places on this blog so don’t want to frustrate my readers by repeating myself too much.

      I also wonder how well your position holds up against New Atheism’s challenge to the Classical Salvation narrative of Christianity. Have you had any encounters on your threads here?

      I’m not sure which specific arguments from the New Atheists you’re talking about, but if you’d like to elaborate I’d be happy to respond.

      Thanks again and God bless you!

      Steven

      1. There are several different various means of the argument, but I pulled this from a New Atheist blog: “Deism can be defended because you can posit a disinterested creator. The Christian, though, proposes an interested, mindful god,” The argument tend to point towards the pointlessness of salvation and God’s intervention anytime in human history.

        So would you argue more towards a deist position of God or more towards the Christian?

        Hope this makes sense.

        1. Hi Philip,

          I’m much less a deist and much more of a panentheist as I believe the whole of existence is an expression of God (because God is boundless, logically everything must exist within God).

          So it follows that salvation is a difficult concept for me because God would be saving people from aspects of their lives over which He has always had sovereign control.

          I hope that clarifies my position? If you’d like me to explain this further, or if you have any related questions, I would be happy to answer them.

          Peace and blessings,

          Steven

  3. This attitude is a key manifestation of monotheism – “there is only one God”. This produces outcomes ranging from missionary activity through to local witnessing and in extreme cases of murdering others because they disagree with the “believer”.
    The reality is that prior to the 6th century BCE Noe-Babylonian Captivity and Exile, the monotheists were a very minor and irrelevant part of the Israelite community. It was dominated by monolatry – they had their national god yet they recognised the real existence of other gods, with the other nations having their major national god. The Judahites even permitted temples to these other gods in Judah, for example.
    Today, we read the propaganda that was produced through that minority party of monotheists, who also wanted religious worship to become centralised in Jerusalem.
    The Captivity/Exile enabled the monotheists to dominate and Judaism was born, with its monotheistic “only one God” mantra. A key writer of that period is the anonymous Exile known as “Deutero-Isaiah”, whose writings were attached to the book of Isaiah, and begin at Chapter 40.
    Doug

    1. Hi Doug!

      It’s interesting that you look at the history of monotheism, and see this as important. It interests me a little, but I’m much more interested in the objective reality concerning what is true about God (rather than how God has been perceived over time). Do you think this is a valid distinction?

      Most of what I understand about God has not come from historical study, but rather inward enquiry, meditating on certain concepts, and reading sacred texts and other theology.

      I know that history is very important to you, but I just wanted to say something about my own approach to understanding God, by way of contrast.

      I hope that makes sense!

      God bless you and I hope you are well.

      Steven

  4. Hi Steven, You’re certainly not the first Christian to worry about the fate of people outside the faith. That is a serious challenge to the Christian message (as also to other faiths that proclaim they are the only way to God). But the Bible envisages situations where people form a relationship with God, despite a lack of knowledge of the teachings of the Hebrew, and later Christian, faith. Psalm 19 speaks of the witness of creation itself to the truth of divinity. And Paul picks up this thought in Romans 1:18-20, hinting that everyone on the planet has access to the truth. Paul was too intelligent to have believed that everyone on the planet could hear the gospel message that he was proclaiming. Until well into the 20th century there was no possibility of any message being heard right across the world.

    I don’t want to prolong this response, so will conclude with the answer that C S Lewis implied in the last of his Narnia books. In “The Last Battle”, a warrior who has spent his life fighting on the enemy side (i.e. against Aslan) is killed in battle and, stumbling through the doorway, is amazed to find himself welcomed by Aslan. Questioning how that could be, Aslan tells him that all the time he was serving the enemy he was really serving Aslan. I think you can see what Lewis was suggesting there.

    The question for us is, having found Jesus, then considered this question about his mercy (or otherwise) to non-Christians, do we want to abandon him? For me, the answer is a definite “No!” Whatever holes I have found in the broad range of doctrines that make up the Christian faith, I keep coming back to the incredible power of the Resurrection. Evidence that was strong enough to turn the disciples from scared, weak, disorganised failures into committed messengers of the Gospel, must have been overwhelmingly persuasive. Believing in Christ changed their lives experientially – and it is experience as much as study that has changed my life too. That doesn’t lead me to regard all non-Christians as ‘lost’. Though I am short of arguments to prove how God will deal with the many lovely people who have never come to faith in Jesus, I trust the matter to him.

    1. Hi Derrick,

      I love your comment, very thoughtful and insightful.

      I agree that the resurrection, and the many other miracles associated with Jesus, provide a compelling argument in favour of Christianity. I have witnessed astonishing miracles in the name of Jesus first hand. Then again, people of other religions also experience amazing encounters with God, and some of my most amazing spiritual experiences have been at those times when I have not been a committed Christian. So I don’t know whether miracles are exclusive to Christianity.

      I would say that there is an amazing peace and joy that comes from surrendering to Jesus, and I wish I didn’t have the intellectual problems I do with the Christian faith and could simply surrender to Jesus, and follow Him with my whole heart. I have tried to do this on several occasions, but the problems I have with various aspects of Christian doctrine refuse to go away. I often cry out to God about this – it’s a real struggle, because there is so much about Christianity that is compelling.

      God bless you and thanks for reading.

      Steven

  5. The philosophical weakness of monotheism is that it requires that God be demonstrably better than any other god. That leads to a kind of “deist arms race” that I call “escalatory monotheism.” Once we reach “God is everything” then we lose any creative potential, and there’s really no point talking about salvation or any other process of self-realization. Life becomes uninteresting.

    The essential nature of God was demonstrated by Jesus throughout his ministry: unconditional love. The conundrum elaborated in the Bible is “Can living creatures receive unconditional love without abusing it?” The Fall put us on the rocky path. Jesus was the “gate” because he was the existence proof that it was possible. He is the pattern that all of us must follow to reach “salvation” – which is to graduate from our material limitations into a realm in which we all are allowed to manipulate the powers that swirl around the Most High in heaven (read Revelation 21 and 22).

    You see the same basic message in all of the redemptive religions. That they don’t use the name “Jesus” doesn’t mean that they don’t counsel us to submit to the dictates of love. That is what is important, as Jesus simplified the Law (Love God and your Neighbor – don’t worry about yourself!)

    In that realm, many new things are possible – things unimaginable to us, and perhaps even unanticipated by God, who as love wishes for nothing more than that we manifest possibilities of relation that are unique to each of us.

  6. Unless there is some other perfect person totally devoid of sin – and there isn’t! – who lived a flawless life, shaping the world through history past, present, and future; who died in my place; overcame the shackles of death, and alone has the power – all by Himself – to create (ex nihilo: out of nothing), maintain, and speak life into all people, places, and things, both known and unknown to me and many others, then yes! As the Bible attests, HE IS THE ONLY WAY.

    Of course, there are always other paths that one can follpw, but there is really only one way that will take us where we want to go in the end. 🙂

  7. The wrath of God is an interesting concept is it not? But it’s His love and mercy that characterizes Him most. Wrapping my mind around this paradox has been a life-long endeavor, and I thank you for this thought.

  8. Hi Steven

    As you know, I believe that all humanity will be united with God, eventually.

    If there is an experience we would describe as “Hell”, I do not believe that it is for eternity, as some Christians do. Also, if I believed the scriptures that suggest Adam and Eve condemned us to sinfulness, I would have to believe that Christ, as part of the Trinity, has the salvific power to redeem us all. Some scriptural quotes below affirm some of my beliefs:

    When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself. Jn. 12.32

    The Father sent his Son as Saviour of the world. 1 Jn. 4.14

    If anyone hears my words and does not keep them faithfully it is not I who shall condemn him since I have come not to condemn the world, but to save the world. Jn. 12.47

    Like you, I cannot accept that people who have no access to Christ because they live in an autocratic Theocracy that is not Christian can be excluded from eventual unification with God; not that we will become “Omni” in all His attributes but that He will reclaim His creatures as I believe His desire is to conserve His creatures and not to destroy them utterly. I believe also that creatures who have become extinct on this earth have been reclaimed by Him.

    There is an alternative view but that depends on the freedom to make choices. Below is a link to commentary on some OT scripture and I would like to know your views on it, God willing, if you please.

    http://reknew.org/2008/01/what-is-the-significance-of-deuteronomy-3019/

    Peace and love to all,

    Dinos

    1. Hi Dinos,

      Many thanks for your comment, and for the link. I read the article, which presents an interesting perspective. Obviously you know my views pretty well, so you could probably predict how I would respond (i.e. we don’t have free will).

      I’m about to publish a post which elaborates further, although because you’ve been a reader of this blog for a long time (thank you!) you might be familiar with the gist of my arguments.

      God bless you and have a great week.

      Steven

      1. Thank you, Steven!

        I find your steadfastness in your belief that there is no free will endearing. I find myself swayed by arguments that offer some sort of compromise and I cannot fully settle with the notion that there is only God expressing Himself through everything.

        Peace and love to you,

        Dinos

        1. Hi Dinos,

          In many ways I wish I could just embrace the Christian worldview in a simple way. But yeah, it’s an ongoing struggle.

          I really appreciate the fact that you genuinely search for answers to all of life’s important questions. May God bless you for your efforts!

          Peace and blessings,

          Steven

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