One of the most common accusations flung at Christians is that they are arrogant. “How can you believe that you’re right and Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims—all the thousands of other religions—arewrong?” Isn’t it the height of arrogance to claim that Jesus is the way to God? A way, possibly. But the way?
This issue haunts many Christians and makes us reluctant to talk about our faith. We don’t want to appear arrogant, bigoted, or intolerant. This pluralistic view of religions thrives very easily in places like Canada or Europe where tolerance is valued above everything else. It’s very easy slip from the true claim—”all people have equal value”—to the false claim that “all ideas have equal merit.” But those are two very different ideas indeed.
Let’s take a brief look at the “all religions are essentially the same” idea. Suppose I say that I’ve just got into literature in a big way. This last year, I’ve read William Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf and Tolkien, but also Harry Potter and The Very Hungry Caterpillar—and I’ve concluded that every author is identical. Would you conclude that: (a) this is the most profound statement on literature you’ve ever heard? Or would you conclude (b) that I don’t have the first clue what I’m talking about? I suggest that you’d probably choose (b). Now, what about the statement “all religions are the same”? Doesn’t it likewise suggest that the person making it hasn’t actually looked into any of them? Because once you do, you realize it’s not that most religions are fundamentally the same with superficial differences but the reverse is the case: most religions have superficial similarities with fundamental differences.
A further problem with the idea that all religions are essentially the same is that it ignores a fundamental truth about reality: ideas have consequences. What you believe matters, because it will effect what you do. To claim that all religions are essentially the same is to say that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere—and this neglects the fact that you can believe something sincerely and be sincerely wrong. Hitler held his beliefs with sincerity—that doesn’t make them true.
However, truth, by its very nature, is exclusive. If it is true, as Christianity claims, that Jesus was crucified, died, and rose from the dead, then it is not true, as Islam claims, that Jesus never died in the first place and that somebody else was killed in his place. Both claims cannot be true. Truth is exclusive.
But just because truth is exclusive, that doesn’t make truth cold and uncaring. Truth for the Christian is personal. The Jesus who said “I am the only way” also said “I am the truth.” In other words, ultimate truth is not a set of propositions but a person. As the Bible says in 2 Timothy 2:12, “I knowwhom I have believed.” Not what I have believed or experienced but whom. Jesus Christ.
To ask why we think that Jesus Christ is the only way is to miss the point entirely. Jesus does not compete with anybody. Nobody else in history made the claims he did; nobody else in history claimed to be able to deal with the problems of the human heart like he did. Nobody else in history claimed, as he did, to be God with us. To say that we believe Jesus is the only way should have nothing to do with arrogance and everything to do with introducing people to him.
Andy Bannister is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Toronto, Canada.