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The Reason for God-Ch9-Exclusivism

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Chapter 9
Is There Only One True Faith?

Them’s Fightin’ Words!

 Walter Chaplinksy had strong opinions about religion and was determined to let everyone know what they were. Blogs did not exist back in 1940 so he communicated vocally, loudly denouncing organized religion as “a racket” and condemning several Christian denominations by name.[1] In an outcome strange to our day, he was arrested and convicted under a New Hampshire state law that made it a crime to speak “any offensive, derisive, or annoying word to any person who is lawfully in any street or other public place.”

Chaplinksy appealed his conviction all he way to the United States Supreme Court. In 1942, the Court unanimously affirmed his conviction, saying that he uttered “fighting words” which fell outside the protection of the First Amendment.[2] The court later clarified their decision by stating that “fighting words” were “personally abusive epithets” that are “inherently likely to provoke violent action.”[3]

A lot has changed since 1942. It is still possible to use “fighting words” but only certain people seem to be able to utter them. It is no longer seen as offensive or derisive to speak out against Christianity. Instead, to denounce Christianity and Christians is popular sport in most arenas. Now, it appears that the only people who speak “fighting words” are Christians themselves. We use “fighting words” when we speak out against certain sins. However, the biggest offense caused by Christians is when they dare to proclaim that Christianity is the only true religion and Jesus Christ is the only true way to God. To utter such declarations cause non-believers to bristle. As Bugs Bunny says in the cartoons, “Them’s fightin’ woids.”  Yet it only goes one way!

The Oprah Winfrey Show

In a now infamous moment on the Opray Winfrey’s television show, the host had the following discussion with a panel and the audience:[4]

Oprah: . . .  there are . . . many ways, many paths to what you call God. That her path might be something else and when she gets there she might call it the light. But her loving, and her kindness, and her generosity brings her to the, if it brings her to the same point that it brings you. It doesn’t matter whether she called it ‘God’ along the way or not.

Audience Member: And I guess the danger that could be in that is that is sounds great on the onset, but if you really look at both sides, I…

Oprah: There couldn’t possibly be just one way!

Audience in general: What about Jesus?

Oprah: What about Jesus?

2nd Audience member over several voices: You say there isn’t only one way. There is one way, and only one way, and that is through Jesus!

Oprah: There couldn’t possibly be only one way with millions of people in the world!

2nd Audience member: Just because you say there isn’t, because you say…

Oprah: No! There couldn’t possibly be…

2nd Audience member: …just because you intellectualize it and say there isn’t. If you don’t believe that, you are all buying into the lie.

Another audience member: But that makes you right and the rest of us wrong!

Oprah: No! You think, do you think that if you are somewhere on the planet and you never hear the name of Jesus but yet you live with a loving heart. You lived as Jesus would have had you to live. You lived for the same purpose as Jesus came to the planet to teach us all, but you are in some remote part of the earth and you never heard the name of Jesus. You cannot get to Heaven, you think?*

2nd Audience member: (indistinguishable comment)

Oprah: Does God care about your heart or does God care that you call his son Jesus?

Oprah Winfrey is a media phenomenon. Her influence is hard to calculate but it is considerable. To make statements like those above would cripple the careers of most people but Oprah seems invulnerable to such repercussions. Instead, her popularity only continues to grow even as she pushes such New Age authors and speakers as Eckhart Tolle[5] and Marianne Williams[6] Amazingly, people continue to fawn over her every word and follow her every instruction (even people in the very church she mocks).

Larry King Live

Oprah’s words may shock some but in our age such statements are increasingly maninstream. Serious television news and talk shows routinely denigrate Christians. Comedy television news shows like Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report routinely make Christianity the butt of jokes. Any guests on these shows who profess a faith in Christ are handled quite differently than other guests. The pressure on Christians to not say any “fighting words” is incredible for fear of being ridiculed or mocked. Often, Christian leaders buckle under this pressure.

Two conversations from 2005 on Larry King Live are met with great approval from the general public and a bored sigh from many in the church.  As you read the following two excerpts from the transcripts, I challenge you to to discern who it is that King is interviewing.

Interview #1

King:  What if you’re Jewish or Muslim, you don’t accept Christ at all?

Guest #1:  You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know. . . .

King: If you believe, you have to believe in Christ? They’re wrong, aren’t they?

Guest #1:  Well, I don’t know if I believe they’re wrong. I believe here’s what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God will judge a person’s heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don’t know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don’t know. I’ve seen their sincerity. So I don’t know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches. I want to have a relationship with Jesus. . . .

King:  So then a Jew is not going to heaven?

Guest #1: No. Here’s my thing, Larry. I can’t judge someone’s heart. . . . I don’t know. To me, it’s not my business to say, you know, this one is or this one isn’t.

King: But for someone who doesn’t share [your belief] is wrong, isn’t he?

Guest #1: Well, yes. Well, I don’t know if I look at it like that. I would present my way but I’m just going to let God be the judge of that. I don’t know. I don’t know.

King: What about atheists?

Guest #1:  You know what, I going to let someone – I’m going to let God be the judge of who goes to heaven and hell. I just – again, I present the truth and I say it every week. You know, I believe it’s a relationship with Jesus. But you know what? I’m not going to go around telling everybody else if they don’t want to believe that that’s going to be their choice. God’s got to look at your own heart. God’s got to look at your heart and only God knows that. 

Interview #2

King:  But what about those faiths – the Mormons and the others that you mentioned – believe in Christ. They believe they will meet Christ. What about those like the Jews, the Muslims, who don’t believe they . . .

Guest #2:  That’s in God’s hands. I can’t be the judge.

King: You don’t judge them?

Guest #2:  No.

King:  How do you feel when . . .

Guest #2:  No, I don’t say, “You’re going to hell” and all that.

King:  How do you feel when you see a lot of these strong Christian leaders go on television and say, “You are condemned, you will live in hell if you do not accept Jesus Christ,” and they are forceful and judgmental?

Guest #2:  Well, they have a right to say that, and they are true to a certain extent, but I don’t – that’s not my calling. My calling is to preach the love of God and the forgiveness of God and the fact that he does forgive us. That’s what the cross is all about, what the resurrection is all about, that’s the gospel.

Both of the guests are men and both are preachers. Both are incredibly famous all around the world. Both have preached live to millions of people. Both have written books that have been read by millions more. Have you figured out who they are yet? The first guest is Joel Osteen[7] and the second guest is Billy Graham[8]

The Clash of Christianity and World Religions

As you can see, not all challenges to Christianity come from outside the faith.[9] Non-theists have argued for years for several propositions that Christians have historically denied and have denied propositions that Christians affirm. Now, some Christians are joining them.

Some argue that there is a second-chance after death for those who have never heard the gospel. Some argue that salvation can be attained through non-Christian religions like Islam or Buddhism. In other words, even though salvation comes through Jesus Christ, it does not follow that there must be a personal, self-conscious faith in Jesus.[10] Others argue that God’s loving nature is not compatible with the belief that many will spend eternity in hell. Beliefs about these subjects fall into three categories:[11]

1.      Pluralism – This view argues that there are many paths to salvation and that Jesus Christ is only one of those paths. All religions ultimately point to God. So, to answer the question “Is Jesus the only Savior?” this viewpoint would say “No!”

2.      Inclusivism – This view argues that the scope of God’s salvation is significantly wider and even includes many who have not explicitly believed in Jesus Christ. Proponents of inclusivism believe that no one is saved apart from the work of Christ on the cross but it is not necessary for humans beings to either know about Jesus or to explicitly believe in Him in order to be saved. The salvation of some people depends on how they respond to the light they have been given (general revelation). So, to answer the question “Is Jesus the only Savior?” this viewpoint would say “Yes, but . . . .”[12]

3.      Exclusivism – This view argues that that faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation. This view can be summarized in four statements: [13]  (1) Jesus is the only savior; (2) In order to be saved, humans must know that they are sinners who need salvation and forgiveness; (3) In order to be saved, humans need to know who Jesus is and that His death and resurrection provide the basis for that savlation; and (4) Humans must place their faith and trust in Jesus alone as the one and only Savior of mankind. So, to answer the question “Is Jesus the only Savior?” this viewpoint would say “Yes! Period!”

While Christianity has historically been exlcusive, there is a noticeable increase in both pluralism and inclusivism. While the increase is obviously more pronounced in the non-Christian world, there is an appreciable increase in the church as well.  Why the increase in the church?

Why Inclusivism is Spreading

There are a number of reasons to account for the increase in the first two beliefs mentioned above and the abandonment of Exclusivism.[14]

1)      Increase in globalization – We do not live in isolation from the rest of the world any longer. Television, the internet, and ease of travel have made the world much smaller. Cultures and religions that once seemed exotic or dangerous are now commonplace in our “own world.”

2)      Immigration – Chicago has over 100,000 Hindus, 150,000 Buddhists, and 250,000 Muslims. These religions are becoming much more well-known and common all over America. Our neighbors may be Muslim or Catholic or Jewish or Mormon or one of any number of religious faiths. The fact that these people are most likely very noble and sincere and moral confuses us and makes us rethink our exclusivism. The exclusive claims of Christianity are quickly eroding as we strive to “get along” with our new neighbors.[15]

3)      A redefinition of tolerance – Tolerance used to be defined as the deliberate decision to refrain from prohibiting or hindering with conduct with which one disagrees or disapproves. However, in our politically-correct age, the definition has changed to include the idea that one must never say anything negative about another religion’s beliefs or practices. To suggest that another religion is incorrect or insufficient is offensive and intolerant.

4)      An unbiblical theology – People will use biblical terminology to begin arguments and then define those terms in non-biblical ways. For instance, inclusivists routinely begin with assertions that God is love. That is true. However, they then quickly shift to philosophical grounds to assert that a loving God would not withhold his love from all people in not giving them an opportunity to hear the gospel.

5)      Love trumps truth

6)      Sincerity trumps content.

7)      Relativistic pragmatism – There is a growing sense, even in the evangelical church, that “whatever works for you” is a good thing. The best religion for you is the one that brings you the greatest fulfillment, pleasure, self-growth, and sense of well-being - no matter what the content of that religion contains.

8)      A widespread loss of confidence in Christianity and the Bible as a source for truth. The truth is “out there somewhere” but it surely cannot be localized in just one religion. This can be called the “Oprahfication” of Christianity!

Such a wide divergence on this single issue leads to a great clash between Christianity, world religions, and non-believers of all stripes (just watch the crowd reaction and the rise in Winfrey’s voice in the Oprah clip from footnote #4).  It is amazing to see how far some are willing to go to lessen the distinctions between religions. There are three approaches that civic, cultural, and religious leaders around the world use to address this divisiveness.[16]

Solution #1: Outlaw Religion

There have been several efforts to curtail religious strife through controlling the practice of religion. In the twentieth century alone, Soviet Russia, China, the Khmer Rouge, and Nazi Germany all determined to control religious practices. Instead of promoting peace, this policy only brought more strife and oppression. Alister McGrath rightly noted the irony that “the greatest tolerance and violence of that century were practiced by those who believed that religion caused intolerance and violence.”[17] As we have seen since the age of the Roman Empire, the outlawing of religion does not work.

Solution #2: Condemn Religion

Religion is not going away. The strident atheists of today (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennet, et. al.) know this and have changed their strategy accordingly. Their goal is not to eradicate religion but to ridicule the notion of theistic faith so that it becomes socially awkward to cling to such antiquated notions. These men hope that people will eventually be embarrassed to make such “unenlightened statements” of religious exclusivity. According to many non-Christians, the best course of action is to urge all citizens to admit that each religion is just one of many equally valid expressions of faith. It is hoped that everyone would admit that there are many paths to God. Those who do not will be stigmatized as foolish or even dangerous.

This approach to the control of religious belief is realized by stating and restating certain axioms that eventually achieve the status of common sense. Sadly, in our sound-bite world, this strategy seems to be working. Several of the axioms are listed below:[18]

1.      All major religions are equally valid and basically teach the same thing. Of course, it must be noted that when this statement is made, it does not apply to the numerous sects and cults and splinter groups that dot the world. It is the rare individual who puts the Jim Jones Peoples Temple or David Koresh’s Branch Dividians in the same category as Christianity and Islam. Instead, this view deals with the major religions of the world: Christiantiy, Judaism, Islam, Buddhims, and Hinduism. The problem with this belief is that it is self-defeating and insulting to all of these religions. Each religion makes some exclusive claims to truth that put each at odds with the others. Inclusivists usually charge Christians as being arrogant and narrow. However, inclusivism is also arrogant because they state that adherents of religions that claim exclusivity do not really understand their own religions. Instead, it is up to the acadmicians to instruct people of faith in what they should believe about their own religious heritage.

2.      Each religion sees part of spiritual truth but none of them can see the whole truth. The person who makes this point often uses the illustration of the blind men and the elephant. Each man touches a different part of the elephant (leg, tusk, ears, trunk, etc.) and makes a proclamation of what the elephant is based on his partial experiential knowledge.However, this illustration backfires because it is told from the perspective of someone who is not seen. In other words, the story is humorous because we can see the entire elephant and laugh at the men who cannot. How could someone possibly know that no religion can see the whole truth unless that same person can see the whole truth?

3.      Religious belief is too culturally and historically conditioned to be “truth.” This statement means that the only reason you are a Christian is because you were born in a “Christian nation.” You would be Muslim if you were born in Saudi Arabia and Hindu if born in India. Howvever, this fails for two reasons. Alvin Plantinga reverses the situation and says, “The same goes for the pluralist. . . . If the pluralist had been born in [Morocco] he probably wouldn’t be a pluralist. Does it follow that . . . his pluralist beliefs are produced in him by an unreliable belief-producing process?”[19] Plantinga points out that what this person is actually saying is that “all claims about religion are historically and culturally conditioned except for the one I am making right now.”

Secondly, this statement may in fact be true but it has absolutely no bearing on the issue. For instance, consider two men. One is a pediatricisn in American and the other a pygmy witch doctor in Africa. In discerning why a child is sick, the pediatrician faults germs and the pygymy faults evil spirits. The pediatrician prescribes medicine. The pygmy doctor uses magic. Which of the two men is correct? You will notice that the answer has nothing to do with their culture. Their cultural influences tell you nothing about germs or demons. In the same way, cultural influences may be real influences but they do not speak to the truthfulness of that influence.

4.      It is arrogant to insist that your religion is right and all others are wrong. It is also wrong to attempt to convert others do your religion.  Members of the Southern Baptist Convention raise a fuss in the national news almost every year at the national Convention. Part of each convention is a concentrated effort to evangelize the surrounding city and suburbs. Each year, newspapers and reporters make much of the fact that Baptists are arrogantly trying to convert Jews and Muslims and atheists to the Christian faith. Once again, we can easily see the inconsistency in such a statement. Non-believers say that any exclusive claims to a superior spiritual truth cannot be true. However, that very objection is a spiritual truth claim and therefore it cannot be true. Ironically, people who make this statement assume that they have a superior claim to the truth. If all such views are to be dropped, then so should this one. If it is arrogant to claim that your opinion on religious matters is the correct one, then it is arrogant to claim that this particular opinion is the correct one. It is no more narrow to claim that one religion alone is correct than to claim that one way to think about all religions together is correct.

Solution #3: Keep Religion Completely Private

This third solution is often touted as the most sophisticated approach to religious devotion and practice. In essense, it tells us to “don’t ask, don’t tell.” People may believe anything they want to believe but those religious beliefs should be kept completely out of the public arena. Proponents of this view say that they are not opposed to religion but merely want to make the playing field even and neutral. By now, you realize that this is a fool’s dream. There is no such thing as neutrality. We all have a worldview or an account of the meaning of life along with a recommendation of how to live based on that account of existence.

When you enter to public square, it is simply impossible to leave your convictions about ultimate values behind.  The world often decries fundamentalism and say that such belief leads to violence. This is surely true on occasion. However, we all have certain fundamental, unprovable faith commitments (even atheists) that we think are superior to others.

Not Acceptable!

The Christian will not find any of the above “solutions” to be acceptable. All three would require the believer to deny his faith and to sin against God by disobeying direct commands found in Scripture. Christians would have a much easier time in this world if we would make one simple change. All we have to do is to say that Jesus Christ is “a god” and that Jesus Christ is “our way” to believe and to be saved. All we have to do is agree that this might be true for us but these statements are not necessarily true for anyone else.

The Christian cannot say these things. Christians should be unashamed to state unequivocally that there is but one God. All others who claim divinity are false gods. Furthermore, there is only way to approach God and that is through the person and work of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Other religions do not lead to the one true God. People cannot be saved apart from particular faith in Jesus. Those who do not hear the gospel of Jesus Christ will be dealt with rightly by God.

The Exclusivity of the Christian Faith

As you can imagine, these are “fighting words.” Are believers justified in saying these words? Do Christians have ample reason to make such exclusive and restrictive statements? I believe we do on both theological and philosophical grounds.

We will first examine our theolgical foundations. To answer these questions, we must show the following: (1) The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the only savior of the world and there is no salvation to be found in any other religion; and (2) Since Jesus is the only savior, a person must believe in Christ in order to be saved.

Theological Foundation #1: Jesus is the Only Savior of the World

Peter Declares Exclusivity

Peter, one of Jesus disciples, once said of Jesus Christ of Nazareth that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). That is an amazing statement. Since there is salvation in “no one else,” this means that those who seek salvation in the words or actions of other men will not be saved but be damned forever. There is no truth in the teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism, or any of the other hundreds of false teachers that have filled this earth.

Paul Declares Exclusivity

The apostle Paul agreed, saying that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Only one stands between the one true God and mankind – the man Christ Jesus. This means that there is only one avenue to peace with God and that is through the mediation offered by Christ. Paul was asked by the Philippian jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Paul’s answer is revealing: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). If Paul were an inclusivist, he could have said, “Calm down, you might already be saved!” Paul could have questioned the jailer’s response to the saving content of general revelation and discovered he was one of the several million non-Christian “Christians” in the world.[20]

If Paul were an inclusivist, he never would have said, “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). It is only if Paul had been unfaithful in declaring the gospel that he would think he had “blood on his hands.” For the inclusivist, there can be no such “blood” because God will save whether you preach the gospel to someone or not. There is no culpability with man because God saves unevangelized people all the time.[21]

In fact, Saul of Tarsus was the perfect “case study” for inclusivism in the Bible. He not only believed in God’s existence, but was remarkably sincere in his devotion to God. Paul described he life prior to Damascus in Acts 26:4-11 and Philippians 3:4-6. If inclusivism is true, the Paul was saved prior to the time he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. However, Paul later wrote that his righteousness was a purely human righteousness that cannot save (Phil 3:9) instead of the true righteousness that comes from Christ. If Paul is not saved inclusively, no one is![22]

We know Paul would be shocked to see this rise in inclusivism because he was shocked to hear it happening in his day – in churches. He acknowledged that some were “turning to a different gospel--not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal 1:6-7). It stunned the apostle that some would turn to a different teaching from the only true teaching. As he said, there is not another gospel, only the gospel of Jesus Christ. He further instructed his readers that “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (Gal 1:8).

Every single religion that has existed, save Christianity, falls under this condemnation. Those who teach salvation through reincarnation are accursed. Those who teach salvation by following the words of Joseph Smith are accursed. Those who teach salvation by merit in the Roman Catholic Church are accursed. Those who teach salvation through following the five pillars of Islam are accursed. Only those who teach salvation through faith alone in Christ alone teach the truth.

Jesus Declares Exclusivity

Finally, Jesus Christ himself believed in the exclusivity of the faith he established. He said that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6a). The reader will note that the article used by Christ is the definite article, “the.” He did not use the indefinite article “a.”  He is not “a way” or “a truth.” Jesus believed this about himself: He is the only way and the single existing truth about salvation and eternal life. Jesus was extremely exclusive in his soteriology.

Jesus went on to say that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6b). This is clear. Jesus speaks in a universal negative – “no one” who has ever existed or will exist will have access to the grace of God the Father unless that person goes through the proper channel. Jesus Christ is the only way to be with God.

Jesus also explained, in his communication with the Father, that “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).  Eternal life is knowing God AND Jesus Christ.

How can Christians be so “Narrow?”

How can the Bible make such claims? These statements are centered on the answers to the three important questions of the Christian faith: Who is man?; Who is Jesus?”’ and What did Jesus do? No other religion in the history of the world teaches these same things in the way the Bible declares them. Other religions may mention Christ and the cross but they distort both in some way (see Gal 1:7 above).  

The Bible teaches that man is separated by God because of their sin (Rom3:9-10; 6:23). All men are in need of forgiveness by God but this forgiveness cannot simply be proffered. The sins of men against the Holy One must be punished. If God did not judge sin, He would not be just and righteous. Our moral goodness are not sufficient because the effect of just one sin tarnishes our entire existence. Other religions do not deal with the fact that sin demands the punishment of death.The only way a person can be saved is if someone takes their punishment in their place, thereby paying the death penalty for them.

The one to do this must meet at least three qualifications: (1) He must have no sin of his own or else he too would need a substitute; (2) He must be infinite so that his life would be sufficient to cover the infinite penalty mankind’s sins deserve; and (3) He must be human so that he could justifiably stand in the place of other humans. Only Jesus Christ meets all three requirements. He is fully man and fully God and totally sinless. Jesus Christ is the only possible savior. There is no one else.

God sent Jesus to earth to live a life of utter moral perfection. He committed no sin during his lifespan. Though he did not desreve the death penalty, he took on that punishment. On the cross, God judged our sin and poured out all of his holy wrath that sin deserved on the person of Jesus. Jesus bore our sins as a substitute. Now, because of this historical event, man has two options: (1) Reject this substitution and attempt to pay the penalty yourself; or (2) Accept this substitutionary atonement and be saved.

Either way is sufficient for God – the penalty is paid in either situation. God’s justice and wrath are satisfied either in the death of His Son for those who put their trust in Christ or in the death of those who spend eternity in hell absorbing God’s anger against their sin. God is just becaues the penalty for sin will be paid in one way or the other. If a man refuses Christ’s payment for sin, then he must make the payment himself. There is no possibility of escaping this eternal death bcause “if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal 2:21).

Only Christianity teaches this truth. All other religions are in error and have no saving truth because no other religion teaches salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. Jesus Christ will not be reduced to an “add-on” to any other religion that one wants to keep practicing. Jesus plus anything equals nothing!

Theological Foundation #2: One Must Believe in Jesus to be Saved

If Christianity alone claims to be the only true religion, then it seems quite logical that those who refuse to accept the teachings of Christianity are not saved. However, this is not so clear to all people – even Christians. Some will argue that even though Christ is the only source of salvation, it does not follow that sincere adherents to other religions are necessarily damned. Christ’s work on the cross is vital and necessary but the effects of the cross can be accessed and acquired through sincere devotion to the only religion they know. These people seek after God the only way they know how and Christ’s sacrifice will suffice in ths situation.  Is this true?

The foundation for this understanding is that the sincerity of men in their religion is a sign that he is seeking after God. This is not true. All religious exercise outside of Christianity is not man’s search for God but is actually man’s flight from God. Non-Christian religions are an attempt to replace the one true God with something else – anything else. God hates this. In fact, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18). Men through the centuries have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:22-25).

As we read earlier, Jesus Christ could not be any more clear than when he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Those who do not come to Jesus Christ do not come to God. Elsewhere, Jesus said “unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).[23] Jesus makes a strong statement here that a single condition must be met in order to avoid dying in one’s sins – one must believe in Jesus.

Earlier in this same gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying that “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). Even earlier, Jesus said, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). The writer of this gospel later wrote that “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23).  Later, the apostle writes that “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:2-3).

A Quick and Easy Defense of Exclusivism

Exclusivism is the Christian doctrine that one must put personal faith and trust in the name, person, and work of Jesus Christ to be saved. Many will object, even from within the evangelical world. The following is an easy-to-remember way to discuss this topic:[24]

·         Go – Why have the Great Commission if Christ and the Gospel are not the only way to salvation? See Matthew 28:190-20 and Acts 1:8 and Romans 10:13-17.

·         Only-Way Passages – There are several passages that say that salvation is only through Jesus Christ.  See John 14:6 and Acts 4:12.

·         Son of God – Only Christianity stands and falls on the ability of its head to save. Jesus is unique in his personage and in his works. Why would the Father send His Son into this world to experience the humiliation of pain and death at the hand of His own creation if the Cross were not absolutely necessary?

·         Pluralism is condemned – In Exodus 20:2-3, God said that man was to have no other God.  All other so-called gods are said to be false gods (Is 40). The Old Testament clearly teaches that God did not want any intermingling of truth with falsehood. This would clearly argue against any notion of pluralism, since pluralism is relativistic by nature.

·         Exclusive Truth – The Bible claims that there is truth and this truth can be known. This truth is found in the person of Jesus Christ (see John 14:6).

·         Lake of Fire – the Bible teaches eternal damnation for those who do not accept the gospel message of Christ. See Rev 20:15; Matthew 7:13-14; and Matt 25:46.

It is necessary for those who access to the Gospel to believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ to be saved. However, this truth leads to a third question that we must address: What about those who never hear the gospel? Can they be saved by Christ without knowing Christ? We will examine that question next.


Table of Contents


Chapter 9 Is There Only One True Faith?. 1

Them’s Fightin’ Words! 1

The Oprah Winfrey Show.. 1

Larry King Live. 2

Interview #1. 3

Interview #2. 3

The Clash of Christianity and World Religions. 5

Why Inclusivism is Spreading. 6

Solution #1: Outlaw Religion. 7

Solution #2: Condemn Religion. 7

Solution #3: Keep Religion Completely Private. 8

Not Acceptable! 9

The Exclusivity of the Christian Faith. 9

Theological Foundation #1: Jesus is the Only Savior of the World. 9

Peter Declares Exclusivity. 9

Paul Declares Exclusivity. 9

Jesus Declares Exclusivity. 10

How can Christians be so “Narrow?”. 11

Theological Foundation #2: One Must Believe in Jesus to be Saved. 12

A Quick and Easy Defense of Exclusivism... 12



[1] Adapted from Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 145-146.  See for the rest of the cartoon and other legal visual teaching tools.

[2] See Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942).  See also

[3] See Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971). See also

[4] “Oprah Denies Christ!” See, accessed 28 October 2008.  See the 0:52 mark of the video.

[5] See and pkganewearthwebcast/20080130_obc_webcast_marketing. For a critique of Tolle’s writings, see and

[6] See Williamson is a proponent of “A Course in Miracles” which began in 1965 when Helen Schucman, an Associate professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University in New York, began receiving channeled messages from a speaker who would later identify himself as Jesus Christ. The course uses common Christian terms with a completely new meaning that is metaphysical with the intent of correcting errors in the Bible that have offended unbelievers because of their “narrow- mindedness.”  See and

[7] Transcripts, CNN Larry King Live: Interview with Joel Osteen, aired 20 June 2005, 9:00 PM ET,, accessed 24 October 2008. In an open letter on his own website, Osteen later apologized, saying, “It was never my desire or intention to leave any doubt as to what I believe and whom I serve. I believe with all my heart that it is only through Christ that we have hope in eternal life. I regret and sincerely apologize that I was unclear on the very thing in which I have dedicated my life. Jesus declared in John 14: I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me. I believe that Jesus Christ alone is the only way to salvation. However, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to review the transcript of the interview that I realized I had not clearly stated that having a personal relationship with Jesus is the only way to heaven. It’s about the individual’s choice to follow him.”  The apology has since been removed from the website but you can read of it here:

[8] Transcripts, CNN Larry King Live: Interview with Billy Graham, aired 16 June 2005, 9:00 PM ET,, accessed 24 October 2008.  Dr. Graham has said similar words on numerous occasions the last several years.

In a Newsweek interview with Jon Meacham on 14 August 2006, Graham was asked if heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or secular people. He replied, “Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won’t. . . He said he gave his son for the whole world and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have.” In the same article, we read “Such an ecumenical spirit may upset some Christian hard-liners, but in Graham's view, only God knows who is going to be saved: ‘As an evangelist for more than six decades, Mr. Graham has faithfully proclaimed the Bible's Gospel message that Jesus is the only way to Heaven,’ says Graham spokesman A. Larry Ross. ‘However, salvation is the work of Almighty God, and only he knows what is in each human heart.’” See Jon Meacham, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” Newsweek, 14 August 2006, /46365/page/1. 

In an interview with Cathy Lynn Grossman for USA TODAY on 16 May 2005, Graham said, “There are a lot of groups that feel a little bit strange around me because I am inclusive.”  See Cathy Lynn Grossman, “The Gospel of Billy Graham: Inclusion,” USA TODAY,  In a televised interview by Robert Schuller in the Crystal Cathedral on 31 May 1997, Graham speaks of Muslims, Buddhists and others in the non-believing world and says “They are members of the Body of Christ, because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something they don’t have and they turn to the only light they have, and I think they are saved, and that they are going to be with us in heaven.. . .  They have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible and never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a God.” See axxlXy6bLH0. 

Also, in an interview titled “I Can't Play God Any More” with McCall’s magazine in January 1978, Graham said “I used to believe that pagans in far countries were lost if they did not have the gospel of Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that.” 

It is not popular to most to post anything negative about Billy Graham. I understand that and tread very lightly. However, I also fail to see the consistency when evangelicals freely excoriate Joel Osteen for his statements and then conveniently overlook statements made by Graham when both preachers said exactly the same thing. To be sure, Graham has earned a measure of restraint from critics. However, as can be shown, this has been his view for a number of years. 

[9] Paul R. House, “Biblical Theology and the Inclusivist Challenge,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 2:2 (Summer 1998), 2. Also available online at, accessed 28 October 2008.

[10] D.A. Carson, “Responses to Inclusivism,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 2:2(Summer 1998), 50.

[11] Ronald H. Nash, “Is Jesus the Only Savior? The Answer to Religious Pluralism,” The Christian Research Journal, 27:02, 24.

[12] Of special interest is the statement from Vatican II of the Roman Catholic Church: ““But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the creator. In the first place among these there are the Moslems, whom professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Those also can attain salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or his church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do his will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.”  See John H. Leith, Creeds of the Churches (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1982), 467. This shows the influence of Catholic theologian Karl Rahner (1904-1984).

[13] Ronald H. Nash, “Is Belief in Jesus Necessary for Salvation? The Answer to Religious Inclusivism,” The Christian Research Journal, 27:03, 23-31.

[14] Sam Storms, “Religious Pluralism,” Enjoying God Ministries,, accessed 28 October 2008.

[15] We must assure ourselves that our situation is no different than the situation in which the authors of the Bible lived. Paul was a Roman born into the Jewish faith while living in the context of the Roman imperial cult. Also, he had to deal with the Greco-Roman pantheon of deities. In Corinth alone we have found temples or shrines to Apollo, Athena, Aphrodite, Asclepius, Tyche, Dionysus, Zeus, Neptune, Demeter, Kore, Palaimon, Sisyphus and the Egyptian gods Isis and Sarapis. Our situation looks almost monotheistic next to his.

[16] The following comes from Tim Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008), 5-18.

[17] Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (New York: Doubleday,  2004), 230.

[18] Keller, The Reason for God, 7-13.

[19] Alvin Plantinga, “A Defense of Religious Exclusivism,” in The Analytic Theist, ed. James F. Sennett (Eerdmans, 1998), 205, as quoted in Keller, The Reason for God, 10-11.

[20] Nash, “Is Belief in Jesus Necessary for Salvation?” 28.

[21] Nash, “Is Belief in Jesus Necessary for Salvation?” 28.

[22] Nash, “Is Belief in Jesus Necessary for Salvation?” 29.

[23] Note here that the English word “he” is italicized. This convention is utilized by several translations to reveal that the English word is supplied by the translators but does not have a literal equivalent in the Greek language. Jesus actually said “unless you believe that I AM.” This is taken as a strong self-indication of the divinity of Christ in his use of the name of YHWH from the Old Testament.

[24] Michael Patton, “The Destiny of the Unevangelized,” The Theology Program.

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