“For most of us truth is no longer part of our minds; it has become a special product for experts” – Jacob Bronowski
“Truth matters more than man…” – George Steiner
I’m merely an infant as a Christian! However through my experiences trying to discuss my faith with both believer and unbeliever alike there seems to be one issue that so many want answers to. This question is rooted in the ever-increasing pluralistic worldview. In today’s world to say that what I believe is correct while someone else’s beliefs are wrong is considered… well… wrong! Somewhere along the line it has become politically incorrect to declare something as being the TRUTH. What’s more, it seems that when trying to discuss these oh-so-very important issues on faith and life there is far more heat generated than there is light. For us to learn we must be patient. We must listen to each other. Most importantly we must dialogue about the issues and process the words fully with open minds! Below I am going to try and tackle the issues of absolute truth in a pluralistic worldview. I’m not going to cut any corners so this might be a long ride but one well worth your time.
At the risk of offending some readers I’m just going to jump into the issue at hand. Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NIV) Then Peter, speaking of Jesus, tells us “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”” (Acts 4:12 NIV)
This is the TRUTH.
I am claiming this as FACT.
I know it may seem wrong to many of you for me to make a truth claim. But I know without a doubt in my heart, soul, and very much in my mind that this is unequivocally TRUE. By stating this I am also fully implying that Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), Confucius, Bodhidarma, Muhammad, Songtsan Gampo, Charles Russell, Gerald Gardner, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, L. Ron Hubbard, and even our beloved Oprah Winfrey were and are… wrong. This is not to say that some of what they taught and teach isn’t “good” or “nice”. In the end though, no matter how “good” or “nice” it sounds it is still… not the truth! There’s no grey area, no picking and choosing of teachings that best suit our lives. Plainly, there is but one TRUE God and the only way to God is through Jesus Christ. (For more on my beliefs look HERE.)
In G.K. Chesterton’s 1909 Orthodoxy he writes about the modern rebel or activist. Although over 100 years have past since he penned this it is still so relevant:
“But the new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”
The idea of TRUTH regarding almost any subject matter has fallen by the waste side. Nowhere more is this exemplified than in the subject of religion. Yet as a Christian, this is exactly what my faith contends. In fact it is the only religion that makes that truth claim and produces solid evidence on it’s behalf!
Let’s look at the teachings and logic of the New Testament to first learn what it is I, as a Christian, belief, assert and defend. “Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12) Here, Paul is reminding the new followers of Christ about what life was like before their salvation. Paul uses the opening chapters of his letter to the Romans to show just how fallen humankind was. In Romans 1:20 he writes ”For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” He also reminds us that God’s moral law has been written on the hearts of everyone in Romans 2:15 as it was written in stone in Exodus. God offers us all an everlasting life in eternity through His general revelation in nature and conscience as long as we respond to it appropriately. This is made clear in Romans 2:7. Sadly ever increasingly, people of today choose to brush God aside. They choose to give in to sin’s temptations and temporary fulfillment. Take a look at Romans 1:21-32. What we must now realize is that we are all fallen people. We all sin and in Romans 3:9-12 Paul tells us this. Paul then clearly addresses an issue that has been raised so many times in my presence. He tells us that simply living righteously is not enough. “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” (Romans 3:19-20) This is where Jesus Christ enters into the picture. Rob Bell on page 107 of Velvet Elvis says it so well “Humans are guilty because of our sin, and God is the judge who has to deal with our sin because he is holy and any act of sin goes against his core nature. He has to deal with it. Enter Jesus, who dies on the cross in our place. Jesus gets what we deserve; we get what Jesus deserved.” It is through Jesus we can be saved and spared an eternity of death.
It is completely clear what we have been taught by God in the New Testament. One, the entire human race is without exception sinful. And more importantly two, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ’s death and His resurrection provide the only salvation from our sins.
Paul’s claim to knowing the truth literally cost him his head. What we often forget is that what he and the other apostles were preaching was considered even more absurd in the years following Jesus’ crucifixion than it is today. The apostles and early Christians were persecuted and killed for there beliefs conflicting with the polytheistic Roman Empire. Their lives where threatened because of their refusal to believe in the major religion of the day yet they still embraced Jesus and accepted His grace. Through their undying faith, Christianity soon spread throughout the empire. To Europe it was clear that because of the universality of the Christian doctrine it had to be true. Meaning, how could what so many believe to be true be false.
It wasn’t until the European Expansion that people came to doubt Christianity again. For three hundred years the world was becoming much smaller through advances in knowledge and technology. New continents, new civilizations, new races were discovered. And with them came all new customs, new beliefs, and new religions!!! News of these new cultures brought something else as well. It was clear that the majority of the world was not Christian. In fact most had never heard of Jesus Christ. This realization had affected religious thinking in many ways.
First, it made religious beliefs relative to one’s circumstances. Contrary to what was previously believed, faith in Jesus Christ was not the religion of the whole world but in fact segregated to a very small part of it. No religion could possibly claim to be universally true. Each newly discovered land and people group believed and served a God the was best for them at that time. Even more, it made the Christian view seem cruel, closed minded!! The people of the time were asking how faith in Christ could be the only way in a world so large and Christianity so underrepresented and exclusive. Enter the enlightenment rationalist!! The thinkers of the enlightenment then brought questions regarding the fate of the thousands or millions of people who not only don’t believe in Jesus Christ but who haven’t ever heard of Him.
All this happened between 1400 to the 1700. Today we have the internet, cable, telecommunications. We live in a far smaller world than the people of the enlightenment. With the advances in technologies we have also become aware of the diversity of mankind and over time we have again subscribed to religious pluralism. And many of the same issues have arisen.
Let’s now look at these issues most commonly brought by the religious pluralist and see if there are answers to them. The most popular is that by believing Christianity as being true and the only way to God, that person is undermining or negating the importance of all the other world religions. It’s also asserted that the Christian is immoral, arrogant and closed-minded because of the exclusivity of their claim and anyone who disagrees with that claim is mistaken. As we will see, this objection is completely illogical. Here the pluralist is trying to oppose a position by speaking to the character of the individual holding it. This is an ad hominem argument. You cannot declare something false wholly because of the character of the persons believing it to be true. Even if all Christian’s were found to be immoral, bigoted and closed-minded it would do nothing to the claim that Christ is the only way to God. The truth of a position is completely independent and separate from the individual who holds the belief. In asserting this, the pluralist is also assuming that all believers are arrogant and immoral because of the claim. What if the particularist has searched high and low for the answers, looked into every question that has arisen and come to the conclusion that Christianity is true. I am a perfect example of this and during my search I have found that God has given us the most amazing gift of all through Jesus. Am I arrogant and closed-minded for believing this in all honesty? Lastly, this argument when applied inversely works against the pluralist!! See, they believe their view to be correct and all the other views to be false, especially the particularist’s. If holding to a belief, which many other people disagree with makes you arrogant and closed-minded then the pluralist would be just as arrogant and closed-minded as the particularist.
There is also another objection brought by the everyday pluralist, one of relativism. Often times it is suggested that our religious beliefs are what they are because of where we are born, leading to the contention that Christian particularism cannot be true. An example of this would be… Say I was born in China, more likely than not I would subscribe to an Eastern religion. This for some makes Christian beliefs untrue. This is known as the genetic fallacy. Here the pluralist is trying to falsify the truth claim of the Christian by criticizing the way a person came to the claim. In this instance, where he was born. However, and I think we will all agree, where or when one is born does not make their beliefs necessarily true or false. For example, if you were born in pre-1400 Europe you would probably believe the Earth to be flat. Now, does this somehow make the fact of the Earth being round any less true? I really don’t think so. There is one more thing to mention in regards to the genetic fallacy. The particularist can use the same logic and argue that the only reason the pluralist holds that view is because of the time and place they were born. If they had been born in Turkey more than likely he/she would subscribe to the Muslim faith and they themselves would be a religious particularist. By using their own logic, it would be acceptable for me to assume that the only reason the pluralist holds that view is because they were born into twentieth century America. Again by using their own standards their views become false.
These two issues, in my opinion, aren’t the “real” issues though. Once discussed, I think we start to open up the door to the more sophisticated problems the pluralist has with the truth claim of Christianity. I think that the main issue people have with Christianity is the condemnation of all people how do not subscribe to that particularistic view, in this case Christianity and the whole hell thing!
This is where we run into the issue of an all loving, all powerful God sentencing His people to hell. How could this be? By God sending people to hell He couldn’t possibly be all loving. If God was truly all loving He would save everyone and not send anyone to hell… Wouldn’t He? Let’s look what God says about this:
“The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9)
“He desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).
“Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? “ (Ezekiel 18:23)
“For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32)
“Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11)
Three of the above passages of scripture are God speaking to Ezekiel. It is clear that God is trying to get everyone to turn from there sinful nature and walk with Him. From the text it seems to me that God is almost pleading with His people to live righteously. You see, God gave us freewill. If you use that gift from God to turn from him, it is of our own volition and the resulting consequences are our own. God does not send anyone to hell. In fact we end up sending ourselves by rejecting Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. We have the option to freely choose where we are to spend eternity, heaven or hell. Even more amazingly, God not only wants everyone to be saved but he actually grieves the lost!!
OK, so God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell. And, because of our freewill, it’s impossible to “make” us all believe. But isn’t a sentence of eternal hell a bit much? This is the next question at hand. Sure, no one commits an infinite number of worldly sins. Even the murderer/rapist doesn’t deserve an eternal sentence. So, shouldn’t hell be more like a jail instead of a prison. You know, short term stay. Or like a treatment facility? Shouldn’t the punishment fit the crime? Actually, if we look at the crime it does. We also see that the pluralists focus has shifted from God’s love for us to His sense of justice. To the pluralist hell is now longer incompatible with God’s love but His justice.
Here are two possible answers to this objection to God. First, it was stated that no one commits and infinite number of sins in their life and if no single crime constitutes an eternal sentence, then how can God justify sentencing people to eternal hell? This has a simple explanation: It is true that no single crime committed here on Earth deserves an eternal sentence. It is also true that even if counted and summed all of one person’s sins still equal a number less than infinity but we are over looking something. What if that person continues to sin while in hell? What if once committed to hell the person continues to turn from God and reject Jesus as savior?! This is an eternal cycle of sin and thus an eternal cycle of punishment is warranted.
A second solution, in case the first does nothing for you would be the following. Does every sin only have a finite punishment? I mean, worldly sins like adultery, theft, lying, even murder and rape should have a finite sentence. But these aren’t the sins that keep us away from God. Jesus Christ washed us of all those sins. It is through Him we have been forgiven of these and given the chance of eternal life in the first place. Those debts in the eyes of God are paid when you turn to Jesus. But the refusal to accept that sacrifice and rejection of Christ is the rejection of God Himself for which has infinite repercussions. All the crimes and sins in the world stacked end to end can’t compare to the rejection of God’s love and sacrifice. Let’s look at Mathew 22:34-38 “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’” To reject God is a sin only measured by infinity! So, the penalty of an infinite sin to be infinite is a just sentence.
Another objection to the Christian particularist is the issue of people who have never even heard of Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. What happens to them? It’s often taught that these people are automatically sentenced as sinners. You have no idea how many times I have heard people, Christians at that, answer this question incorrectly and doing our faith a great disservice!! When faced with tough questions such as this one, as Christians, we have to look to the Word of God for an answer. In the Bible, God is clear that He does not judge people who haven’t ever heard of Christ using the same criteria as He does people who have. It would be unfair to judge someone because they haven’t placed their faith and life in Christ’s hands if they haven’t ever heard of Him. Instead God judges them by their adherents to His general revelation in nature and conscience that He placed in everyone’s soul. In Romans 2:7 it says “To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.” This is very definitely an offer of salvation to people who have never heard of Jesus Christ.
One side note that has to be mentioned: This does not mean that people are and can be saved apart from Christ!!! And this is huge!! What God is telling us is that people with no knowledge of Christ’s atoning death can benefit from it. A great example of this would be the salvation of Job from the Old Testament. He obviously had no knowledge of Jesus Christ since Jesus hadn’t come yet. What saved him is he had a relationship with God. In all reality there could be people just like Job, living in the corners of the globe where The Good News of Jesus hasn’t reached yet. Job was exceptional and to be honest I very seriously doubt that there are many Jobs in the world today but that’s nether here nor there. The point of this is that God has offered salvation universally to us all through His general revelation in nature and conscience.
Please understand that these are just possible answers to the main objections brought by the religious pluralist to the Christian particularist. You may have answers of your own or maybe these ones may not do it for you. You may also have some more questions and please ask them. Maybe I can answer them!! I don’t have all the answers and everyday I discover new and beautiful things about our loving God. It’s in the questions where truth is found. Sean Penn has said, “When everything gets answered, it’s fake. The mystery is the truth”
So, with that I think we’re done!! This has been a long one but I really think it’s so important to address the issue of religious plurality!! And even more it’s important to show that the Christian belief is in fact logical and entirely possible. Over the past few pages we have seen that the Christian Gospel is not disproved by the worlds diversity!! For me it reaffirms the Great Commission and drives me to spread the Good News!!! For me, for the first time in my life I see TRUTH!!!!
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” Acts 17 24-27