Is Jesus Really the Only Way to God? - page 1


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From the Spring 2009 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Is Jesus Really the Only Way to God?

by Dennis P. Hollinger, Ph.D.
President and Professor of Christian Ethics, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

 

ast year the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a major study on religious affiliation, beliefs, and practices in the United States. One of the significant findings was that 70 percent of all Americans believe that many religions can lead to eternal life, including 65 percent of all self-identifying Christians. Perhaps the most surprising finding of the study was that 56 percent of all evangelical Christians believe that there are many paths, other than faith in Christ, to God and eternal life. (See http://pewforum.org.)
  Many were so shocked by these numbers that the Pew Forum went back and did further polling to make sure that by the word “religion” respondents did not have in mind other Christian bodies or denominations. Their earlier results were essentially confirmed.
  In this most recent study, large numbers of Americans believe that actions or a combination of beliefs and actions can lead people to God. Even among the 30 percent of Americans who say that eternal life depends on one’s belief, nearly half designate belief in God, a higher power, or other generic beliefs as sufficient for salvation. Among evangelical Christians, only 45 percent clearly affirm that a personal belief in or relationship with Christ is essential for eternal life.
  Increasing numbers of Americans, Christians, and even evangelicals are questioning the long-held commitment of the Church that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ. Among all Americans who are affiliated with a religion, 52 percent believe that Islam leads to eternal life with God, 53 percent believe that Hinduism leads to God, and 42 percent even believe that atheism leads to God. Among evangelicals, the numbers are 35 percent, 33 percent, and 26 percent, respectively. Clearly in recent years in the midst of growing cultural and religious pluralism large numbers of Christians are troubled by or ignore the claim of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).
  What are we to make of all this? Is Jesus really the only way to God? In a pluralistic world, why shouldn’t we accept an inclusivity that embraces multiple ways to salvation? Isn’t it arrogant to believe otherwise?

Our Pluralistic Context

  The perspective that there are many ways to God is essentially one variant of universalism, the belief that ultimately all humans will be embraced by God and experience eternal life. To be sure it is an old belief that was occasionally found early on in Christianity. In the third century the theologian Origen contended that in the end God would restore the whole of creation, including Satan, to a perfect state. This meant that people who never trusted Christ would be saved. Origen’s beliefs were condemned by a Church council in the fifth century.

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