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 Christian Exclusivism

By Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon

Please Note: Each coloured link within the article will lead you to a related topic on a different page of this site. However while the text is part of the original article, the links are not. The author of this article may or may not agree with the views expressed on those pages, or anything else on this site..

Arrogant Christians?

Also See Sections on   Pluralism   and   Relativism

 

Index

Part I...  What About Other Religions?

Part II...  Why isn’t Christianity intolerant or narrow-minded for teaching there is only one way to God?

 

Part I  What About Other Religions?
When we consider all the great religious teachers, leaders, and prophets who have ever lived, who is the equal of Jesus? Not Moses, Confucius, Buddha, or Lao Tze (Taoism), who never claimed to be anything other than sinful men. Not Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Zoroaster, or Guru Nanak (Sikhism), who never gave any proof they were true prophets of God. Not Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, or Krishna, who were only mythical deities. Not Mahavira (Jainism) or the founder/leader of any other religion the world has known has ever been like Jesus. Neither animism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Mormonism, Shinto, Sikhism, Sufism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism nor any other religious belief outside Christianity has anything that can even be slightly compared to Jesus. [See Section on Jesus]

Thus, if we examine the specific claims of the founders of the great religions, we find that none of them claims what Jesus does. In The Koran the Muslim prophet Muhammad states, "Muhammad is naught but a messenger" and "Surely I am no more than a human apostle." [62] In fact, several times in The Koran, Muhammad is acknowledged as sinful, asks forgiveness from God, or is even rebuked by God. [63] Muhammad confessed he was sinful, but Jesus claimed He was sinless. Muhammad only claimed to be a prophet of God; Jesus claimed to be God. Muhammad was rebuked by God; Jesus never was—in fact. He said, "I always do what pleases Him" (John 8:29). See Islam

Consider Buddha for a more in-depth illustration. The Buddha simply claimed to be an enlightened man, one who could show others how to escape the futility of this world and find eternal release from suffering in a state of individual nonexistence called "nirvana." After his alleged enlightenment, the Buddha said he realized the importance of maintaining an attitude of equanimity towards all things because this attitude helps one to end the cycle of rebirth, attain permanent release from the human condition and enter nirvana:

    Monks, I’m a Brahmana [enlightened being], one to ask a favor of, ever clean-handed, wearing my last body. I am inexorable, bear no love nor hatred toward anyone. I have the same feelings for respectable people as for the low; or moral persons as for the immoral; for the depraved as for those who observe the rules of good conduct. You disciples, do not affirm that the Lord Buddha reflects thus within himself, "I bring salvation to every living being." Subhuti entertain no such delusive thought! Because in reality there are no living beings to whom the Lord Buddha can bring salvation. [64] (Emphasis Added)

Houston Smith in The Religions of Man comments about the Buddha,

    Notwithstanding his own objectivity toward himself, there was constant pressure during his lifetime to turn him into a god. He rebuffed all these categorically, insisting that he was human in every respect. He made no attempt to conceal his temptations and weaknesses, how difficult it had been to attain enlightenment, how narrow the margin by which he had won through, how fallible he still remained. [65]

Clive Erricker, a lecturer and prolific writer in the field of religious studies with a special interest in Buddhism, writes accurately of the Buddha when he discussed what Buddha did not claim:

    Indeed, he did not even claim that his teachings were a unique and original source of wisdom.... [Citing John Bowker in Worlds of Faith, 1983] Buddha always said, "Don’t take what I’m saying [i.e., on my own authority], just try to analyze as far as possible and see whether what I’m saying makes sense or not. If it doesn’t make sense, discard it. If it does make sense, then pick it up." [66]

Buddha claimed merely a personal enlightenment designed to escape human nature; Jesus claimed (in His own nature) to be the light of the world. Buddha claimed it was wrong to consider him one who brings salvation to men because men, having no permanent reality, do not finally exist; Jesus taught that He came to bring salvation to all men and to dignify their existence eternally. Buddha promised to give others enlightenment so that they might find nirvana, a state of personal dissolution in the afterlife; Jesus promised to give men abundant life and eternal personal immortality in heaven. Buddha had the same feelings for good and evil; Jesus exalted righteousness and hated evil.  See Buddhism

Confucius said, "As to being a Divine Sage or even a Good Man, far be it for me to make any such claim." [67] If Confucius denied that he was divine or even a good man, Jesus claimed He was divine and morally perfect.

Zoroaster claimed to be only a prophet. "I was ordained by Thee at the first. All others I look upon with hatred of spirit." 68 Lao-Tze and Guru Nanak sum up the attitude of all the great religious founders when they confessed their humanity and even their ignorance. For example, Lao-Tze, the founder of Taoism, said, "I alone appear empty. Ignorant am I, O so ignorant! I am dull! I alone am confused, so confused!" 69 Even in the latter part of his life, Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, still struggled to achieve enlightenment and lamented over his own spiritual darkness: "I have become perplexed in my search. In the darkness I find no way. Devoted to pride, I weep in sorrow. How shall deliverance be obtained?" [70]

In The World’s Living Religions, Robert Hume, Professor of the History of Religions, comments that there are three features of Christian faith that "cannot be paralleled anywhere among the religions of the world." [71] These include

    the character of God as a loving heavenly Father,

    the character of the founder of Christianity as the Son of God,

    and the work of the Holy Spirit. Further,

All of the nine founders of religion, with the exception of Jesus Christ, are reported in their respective sacred scriptures as having passed through a preliminary period of uncertainty, or of searching for religious light. All the founders of the non-Christian religions evinced inconsistencies in their personal character; some of them altered their practical policies under change of circumstances. Jesus Christ alone is reported as having had a consistent God-consciousness, a consistent character himself, and a consistent program for his religion. [72]

Again, Jesus is unique in the claims He makes for Himself. He says, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). How many other men have ever said that? Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). How many other men have ever said that? Jesus even claimed that 1500 years before His birth, Moses wrote about Him and further, that the entire Old Testament bore witness to Him (John 6:46, 47; Luke 24:27, 44). [See The Deity of Jesus Christ. Was He Lord, Liar Or Lunatic?]

Jesus commanded men to love Him in the exact same way that they love God—with all their heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37, 38). Jesus said that God the Holy Spirit would bear witness of Him and glorify Him (John 16:14). Who ever made such a claim? Jesus said that to know Him was to know God (John 14:7); to receive Him was to receive God (Matthew 10:40); to honor Him was to honor God (John 5:23); to believe in Him was to believe in God (John 12:44,45; 14:1); to see Him was to see God (John 8:19; 14:7); to deny Him was to deny God (John 8:19, cf. 1 John 2:23); to hate Him was to hate God (John 15:23). Did any other religious founders in history ever make such statements?

In Mark 2, Jesus claimed He could forgive sins—something all religions concede is reserved for God alone. In John 10:28 and 11:25, He said He could give all who believed on Him eternal life. How can a mere man—indeed, anyone less than God—give eternal life to creatures who die? Yet Jesus raised the dead even in front of His enemies—not in some dark alley, but before scores of eyewitnesses (Luke 7:11-15; 8:41-42, 49-56; John 11:43, 44). Who ever did that? He did other miracles that amazed those who saw them:

    We have never seen anything like this! (Mark 2:12).

    Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind (John 9:32).

In Matthew 25, He said that He would return at the end of the world and that He would judge every person who ever lived; He would personally raise all the dead of history and all the nations would be gathered before Him! Who else ever said that? He would sit on His throne of glory and judge and separate men from one another as a shepherd does the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46, cf. John 5:25-34). Just as clearly, Jesus taught that every person’s eternal destiny depended upon how they treated Him (John 8:24; Matthew 10:32). All these statements, and many more like them, leave us little choice. Either Jesus was who He said He was—God incarnate—or else He was absolutely crazy. But who can believe that?


Part II.. Why isn’t Christianity Intolerant or Narrow-minded for Teaching There is Only One Way to God?

We have seen that Jesus Christ stands alone when compared to the founders of other great religions. We have also mentioned that the creation parallels the nature of its Creator through its unity and diversity. So we could logically expect the same things for the Creator’s approach to salvation. In other words, that salvation itself would stand alone and that, in ways, it would parallel the nature of the Creator and the nature of the creation.

Thus, first, Jesus is unique; Christian salvation is unique. Jesus is exclusively God’s Son; salvation is exclusively through Jesus. Only Jesus died for sin; only Jesus can forgive sin. Only Jesus resurrected from the dead; only Jesus can resurrect others to eternal life.

Essentially, if there is only one true God, then there should be only one true way of salvation because the way of salvation must be consistent with the nature of the one true God—His grace, love, mercy, truth, etc. As Dr. Robert Morey comments, "Logically, since all religions contradict each other, there are only two options open to us. Either they are all false, or there is only one true religion. If there is only one God—there will be only one religion." 73 If so, then isn’t it possible that it is really the person who objects to this who is being narrow—too narrow to accept the truth? The truth may be difficult but that is no reason to reject it.

Second, what we find to be true about God’s creation is also true about the nature of salvation. Like everything else in the world, salvation must be done correctly to be successful. For example, consider some examples of how life works, or doesn’t work:

    What happens if you drive your car in reverse? Or stop in the middle of a busy freeway? What happens if you let your dog drive your car? Or if you drive on the wrong side of the road—or drive drunk?

The result of driving incorrectly is that you injure or kill yourself and others. Driving incorrectly sooner or later has consequences, even for the best driver in the world.

    When you build a house, what happens if you place the glass where wood should be and wood where the glass should be? Or build in a flood zone? Or use highly flammable materials? The result is that your house is not functional, or you risk losing your home.

    Consider playing tennis. What if you try to play tennis with a broken arm? Or use your hand as a racket? Or play with your side of the court under water? The result is you will lose the game.

    Consider learning math or having surgery. What if you try to learn math by reading comic books? What if you’re scheduled for a routine appendectomy and the surgeon takes out your brain instead? In either case, you’re in trouble.

If everything in the world must be done correctly to be successful, and if our lives are literally filled with examples of the problems caused for us when we do things incorrectly, why should we conclude that salvation is any different? Why should we conclude there wouldn’t be consequences for doing salvation wrong?

Do we say it is being narrow-minded, intolerant or bigoted for us to drive sober or for surgeons to operate on us properly? Indeed, our very lives may be at stake. And if our lives are already at stake in worldly things, isn’t it also possible that our souls may be at stake in spiritual things? But a life is only for a short period of time; a soul is forever.

Then how much more vital is it that we be certain that salvation be done correctly if our very souls are at stake? The point is that the Christian claim to exclusivity is not something that is out of harmony with how people experience life and with how the world functions. God made the world this way because He had to. Given His character. He also had to make the way of salvation through Christ and Christ alone. A fascinating, if detailed study of this can be found in the late Canadian scholar Arthur C. Custance’s The Seed of the Woman (1980).

Christianity is indeed exclusive—it claims that only those who believe in Christ will find salvation—but it is not narrow-minded, intolerant, or bigoted. People can be broadminded or narrow-minded but not ideas. Ideas are neither broad nor narrow—they are true or false. The claim that Christ is the only way of salvation is either true or false. This can be determined only on the basis of the evidence, which we briefly address below.

Those who think Christianity is intolerant should ask whether other religions and philosophies are really as tolerant as they claim. In fact, they usually aren’t. So why should only Christianity be singled out for criticism? Merely because Christianity is the most honest about its beliefs?

When people claim to be tolerant, open-minded, objective, and fair, one must question such claims based on biblical revelation. Biblically speaking, if people in their natural state, prior to regeneration, are said to be God’s enemies (Romans 5:10) who deliberately suppress the truth by unrighteousness (Romans 1:18) and who, actually, hate God (Romans 1:30) where can we logically expect to find tolerance, neutrality, or objectivity regarding religion and philosophy?

Ironically, it is frequently those people who claim to be accepting and tolerant of almost anything who are not tolerant of one thing—Christian faith. Literally thousands of examples could be cited of bigotry, hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness, and intolerance expressed towards Christians for doing no more than living out the logical consequences of their own religious faith [74] —something that those who malign Christian faith often claim to defend in all religions. Indeed, we challenge our readers to find a single religion anywhere that accepts Christianity as being fully true. Obviously, there are none, because all religions claim they are fully true.

Also See The Gospel A Hate Crime? Welcome to the 21st Century

Christianity is exclusive, but it is not intolerant. While it seeks to convert others to faith in Christ, it respects the right of all men to choose their own destinies. But if men’s destinies are at stake in the issue of salvation, people everywhere should also rejoice that Christians are sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because if Christianity really is true, Christians have no other choice.


Is The Quality of Evidence for the Truth of Christianity Compelling?
.. Christianity is unique in both the evidence upon which it rests and the doctrines it teaches. Dr. Robert A. Morey writes, "There is more than enough evidence on every hand from every department of human experience and knowledge to demonstrate that Christianity is true.... [It is] the faith of the non-Christian [that] is externally and internally groundless. They are the ones who leap in the dark. Some, like Kierkegaard, have admitted this." Further, no one anywhere can deny that "Christianity stands unique and apart from all other religions by its doctrines."

.. “Obviously, if the God of the Bible has revealed Himself and if He is the only God—and if Christ is the only way of salvation—then we would expect convincing evidence in substantiation. Not just some evidence, or inferior evidence—so that a person has a dozen equally valid options in their choice of religion—but superior evidence”

 Also See Articles in  Reasons to Believe

Particularly A Remarkable Book Called The Bible

The Section on Jesus (Especially Resurrection).

 

Notes

62 Sura 3:138, "The House of Inram," A. J. Arberry, Trans., The Koran Interpreted (NY: Macmillan, 1976), p. 91; Sura, "The Night Journey," in N. J. Dawood, trans., The Koran, (Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1972), p. 235.

63 The Koran, J. M. Rodwell, Trans. (NY: Dutton), pp. 244, 384, 423, 460, 468, etc. (Sura 4:106; 40:57; 47:21; 48:2; 110:3).

64 Robert O. Ballou, The Portable World Bible: A Comprehensive Selection from the Eight Great Sacred Scriptures of the World (NY: The Viking Press, 1968), pp. 134, 147, 151.

65 Houston Smith, The Religions of Man (NY: Harper & Row, 1965), p. 99.

66 Clive Erricker, Buddhism (Chicago: NTC Publishing, 1995), pp. 2, 3.

67 Arthur Waley, trans. The Analects of Confucius (NY: Vintage, 1938), p. 130.

68 Yasna, 44:11; Moulton, Ez. 368; from Robert E. Hume, The World’s Living Religions (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959), rev., p. 203.

69 Tao-The-King, 20:3, 20:5-7 cited in Hume, p. 136.

70 Hume, p. 95.

71 Ibid, p. 283.

72 Ibid., pp. 285-286.

73 Robert A. Morey, Introduction to Defending the Faith (Southbridge, MA: Crowne Publications, 1989), p. 38.

74 For illustrations in science see Jerry Bergman, The Criterion (Richfield, MN: Onesimus, 1984).

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