Sunday, April 17, 2011

Christianity: The Most Liberal Faith on Planet Earth (or, a logical defense that Jesus is the only way to God)

 For those accustomed to this blog, you are well aware (even painfully so) that my blog titles, though a bit edgy at first glance, often play out in ways unexpected, but never misleading. Case in point, the overt title here, but then mitigated by the subtitle.

Christians and Christianity are often the object(s) of hyperbolic (over-the-top) accusations and mis-characterizations.  One continual challenge leveled by would-be-faith-attorneys revolves around the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, and His unique claim to be the only way of salvation for mankind.  The favorite mantra recited ad infinitum by these litigants is some flavor of the following:

"Christianity is the most intolerant and narrow-minded belief-system because it teaches that Jesus is the only way to God. Don't all religions lead to God?"

Fair enough counselor...can my witness please take the stand? Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the plaintiff has alleged that Christianity is small-minded and intolerant, perhaps the worst offender in the spiritual spectrum...and why?

Because it is historically false? No.

Because it is contradictory or disproved? No.

Because it fails to accurately describe and solve the human condition? No. 

It is being attacked, not on evidential grounds, or practical grounds, no, no, no. It is being assailed because it takes a firm position on an important topic, a topic that is perhaps the single-most important topic that could ever be considered.

The following humorous story from helps to put this discussion into perspective:

Recently a religious tolerance advocate said Christianity wasn't true because it was intolerant. We  offered to give evidence that Christianity was true and what he believed was false. Immediately, he said, "That's what I mean. You're wrong because you judge me. Whatever anyone believes is true." We answered: "Be tolerant. Don't say we're wrong. Stop judging us. Whatever we believe is true." Realizing he had been self-contradictory, he tried to recover, "Well, it's true for you, but not for me." Sadly, he only dug his hole deeper. We replied, "Our truth for us is that you don't have truth. So that must be true, because it's our truth. So you're still wrong." Frustrated, he said, "No, you don't understand. If it's true for you, it only applies to you, not to anyone else. It's true for you, but not for me." We couldn't resist one more round: "It may be true for you that our truth is only true for us, but our truth is that what is true for us is also true for you, so you lose, because that's our truth, and you can't apply your truth to us because that's your truth!" He finally threw up his hands and admitted that his system was getting nowhere. "

This sets the backdrop for our discussion, which considers what is arguably the most important question we could ever think about:

How is a person made right with their Creator?

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what is actually on trial here today is not Christianity, per se, but logic. That's right---logic. For the question you must actually consider is not about intolerance, or narrow-mindedness, it is about the question: Is there only one way to God? If the answer is Yes, then one could not call Christianity intolerant (properly), and it certainly is not narrow-minded to simply accept the truth about a topic.

So let's rephrase the question/challenge: Is it logical to believe that there is only one way to God? Now that's a question worth discussing. Now, to speak of intolerance, narrow-mindedness, or bigotry is to invite the unwelcome participant of emotion into a courtroom discussion of logic, and this bench must preclude emotional arguments.

For example, there is only one Mount Rushmore. Yet, it is not intolerant or narrow-minded to tell someone that, if they want to visit the impressive mountain carving, then they will have to travel to the Black Hills of South Dakota (Keystone actually). There was only one George Washington, first president of the United States. There is only one Hope Diamond, there is only one Nile River in Egypt, and only one original Mona Lisa.

Can you imagine walking into the crowded halls of the famous Louvre Museum in Paris, France, and then proclaiming: "It is arrogant, intolerant, and narrow-minded that the French think that they have the only original Mona Lisa!" I'm sure you would gather a few stares, and then business would return to normal, with the patrons eager to pass by your illogical rant to see the ONLY MONA LISA. It is not intolerant or narrow-minded to say that the Louvre houses the one and only Mona Lisa---it is a statement of fact, logic.

Distinguished members of the jury, what is on trial is not Christianity but logic, or more specifically, the issue of whether or not there is only one way to God. Some will say that ALL religions lead to God, or that there are MANY ways to God. If valid, those statements should be able to stand up to investigation, and scrutiny. Let's dissect this issue, and review the evidence concerning this monumentally important topic.

Exhibit A: There is only ONE problem.

Think about it logically--for people to assert that there are many ways back to God, or that all religions can lead to redemption, then there is another deeper and even more fundamental issue to discuss. Do you see it? It's right there, so obvious that most overlook it completely. Both of those statements assume that there is: a problem---a reason that man needs to "find his way back" or to be "redeemed/forgiven/saved/etc." WHY?

They assume (rightly so) that man is separated from God, that we are "off-track", that we are in some type of spiritual-unfitness, and that we need repair, recovery, renovation, or redemption. Maps are not for those who know where they are, or where they are going, but most maps are for those who are lost or are unsure of the way.

The Bible makes it clear that mankind's one problem is SIN. The scripture says that this problem is universal and all-encompassing. "For ALL have sinned, and have come short of the glory of God" the apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23.

In the Psalms, King David proclaims: "There is NONE who does good,
no, NOT EVEN ONE." (Psalm 14:2-3). The famous prophet Isaiah reminds us: "ALL we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, EVERY ONE, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him(Jesus) the sin of US ALL." (Isaiah 53:6)

It's pretty clear. Man has a problem, and that problem is sin--rebellion against our own Creator. It is also clear that this spiritual disease has infected all of us. We can't deny it, we all know our own shortcomings, the lying, lust, greed, and thanklessness that creeps into our everyday lives. The newspaper headlines and the cable news channels are overflowing with chilling descriptions and graphic images of the fallen creature that man is. Murders, rapes, violence, and corruption fill our eyes and ears, with the only respite being the regular interruption of commercial breaks. Sin: we all got it...and we got it BAD.

So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, returning to our Exhibit A: There is only ONE problem--sin. Removing all emotional appeals, merely looking at it logically, reason would dictate that since there is only ONE problem, then it is entirely probable that there is ONE perfect solution to this ONE universal problem.

(Plaintiff's attorney jumps up) "I object! I can give examples of many instances where there is more than one solution to a problem!" The judge and jury look back at me, some with raised eyebrows.

I make a slow and deliberate turn to the jury. The objection has been raised, but. there is a fatal logical flaw to the argument presented. We are not talking about some simple math problem, or a some type of construction challenge, but we are talking about sin, the willful and deliberate breaking of God's law. This isn't about arriving at a computational solution, such as x=4, no, no, or, how can you build a tower that can withstand hurricane-force winds? No-- it is about resolving an offense between a sinner and an infinitely holy and righteous God. That is an altogether different matter. The logical probability is that a perfect God would have one perfect way to deal with sin. There couldn't be multiple perfect ways, in a sense. One way would have to be (in some way) superior to others.

If there were many competing ways, this leads to inequality, since different "paths" to God would have to vary in their terms of requirements, standards, admission, and success/failure for the participants.  A faith in Tibet may have a more difficult path, and a religious tradition in Bolivia may be entirely different, and much simpler and easier to follow. If true, this would mean that the Creator of the Universe is partial to some people groups and has favored them with "easier" ways for getting "right" with Him. Nonsense. A perfect God would have one perfect way that applies to all EQUALLY. A universal problem requires a universal solution.

Exhibit B: All Religions Can't Be True.

Distinguished members of our jury panel, let us turn our attention to another important aspect of this inquiry. Namely, "Do all religions lead to God?" Are all faith-traditions basically the same, just with different terms and rituals? A casual observer of "religion" might say that most spiritual teachings involve things like doing good to others, and being a nice person, and believing in some type of god. They would say that good people are rewarded, and bad people are punished, and that some type of heaven or hell awaits all. I would venture to estimate that most people think that all religions are pretty much equal (except for some of those more revolting pagan religions, or satanic cults)

But is this true? That is the issue we must answer in this investigation. Are all religions equally valid and do all of them (or, most of them...) lead to God? Once again, leaving emotional appeals aside, we can quickly apply logic to this question.  Before we answer it, consider the following two statements:

(1) Benjamin Franklin was an important colonial who helped to forge the birth of the American nation.

(2) Benjamin Franklin is an imaginary person who never actually lived, but was invented by zealots to help simplify American History.

Let me ask you a simple question: Are both of these statements true? Well, most of you would say, "Of course not, it is impossible for both of them to be true, because they say opposite things!" would be right. Two statements that directly contradict each other CANNOT both be true.

Make no mistake about it, they CAN both be false. Substitute the name Dweezil Zappa for Benjamin Franklin in those 2 statements above. Now, are both of them true? No. Both would be false. A contemporary musician, inventor, and producer (born in 1969) cannot have helped to found America in the 1770's.

Wait--what does Dweezil Zappa and ole Ben Franklin have to do with the issue of whether or not all religions are basically the same? Actually---everything. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it is IMPOSSIBLE that all religions are basically equal, and that they all lead to God.


Because, they often teach completely opposite and contradictory premises, not just in small matters or fine details, but in the very foundation of their teachings. Take this simple (yet profound) example:

(1) Christianity teaches that Jesus is God in the flesh, calling Him the Son of God.

(2) Islam declares that God has no son, and that Jesus was merely a prophet.

Now, just using logic, we know that BOTH Christianity and Islam cannot be equal or true, because they completely contradict each other. To put it mathematically, one teaches that A=1, the other says that A doesn't even exist, and it certainly isn't "1" regardless.

To be fair, they could BOTH be false. But that would be impossible to prove just by using those two statements above. They could both be false, but they can't both be true. Consider this example:

(1) Judaism and Christianity proclaim that there is one God, and that He created the Universe, therefore He is not a part of the Universe.

(2) Most Eastern faiths, such as Shintoism, teach that there are multiplied millions/billions of gods, and that nearly everything in nature has an indwelling god in it (much like pantheism whereby everything is a part of "god"--God=Universe)

Can Shintoism and Judaism/Christianity both be true? Absolutely not. One God cannot equal millions/billions of gods, and God cannot be totally separate from His creation(Judaism/Christianity), and yet, God IS the creation (many Eastern faiths). They can both be false, but they cannot both be true. How about the death of Jesus?

(1) Christianity teaches that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.

(2) Islam (the Qur'an) teaches that Jesus was NOT crucified, and that He never died for anyone's sins.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, considering just these three compelling evidences (examples) of the contradictions between major religions, we can easily see that the assertion that all religions are basically the same is a statement from shallow ignorance, not informed fact.

To claim that most religions are essentially the same, or that they all "lead to God" is to be:
(a) passively mistaken
(b) actively deceived
(c) deliberately lying.

To claim that all religions are basically the same is a myth at best, and a willful misrepresentation of the truth at the worst.

It is easy to see that a perfect God could not have "inspired" all of these various religions, whether Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Scientology, Buddhism, Pantheism, Animism, Spiritism, Paganism, or Christianity. They could all be false, but they can't all be true, in fact, one could easily demonstrate that not even any three of them could be true.  Some teach that "god" is not knowable, and is more of an emotionless force, whereas others portray Him/It as a real person, with feelings, a will, and love towards His creation.

Some teach that there is no judgment, no hell, and that all creatures just go through endless cycles of birth, life, death, and rebirth (reincarnation), but yet Christianity says: "It is appointed unto a person to die once, and after this, the judgment." 

Many faiths teach that a person must find ways of removing their own sin, either through endless cycles of reincarnation to get "better and better", or by physical punishment, or perhaps endless earthly rituals and "sacraments", yet Jesus proclaimed that He Himself would be the One to take away our sin, by dying for us in our place. When John the Baptist saw Jesus he shouted to the multitudes around him: "Behold, the (sacrificial) lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John the apostle said of Christ: "And He is the payment for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world." 

Most religions teach that a person has to "earn" their own salvation, to try and be "worthy" of God letting them into heaven. Some imagine that God will have this big scale, and, well, if you have more "good deeds" than "bad deeds" then the pearly gates will open wide. The problem with that vision of the judgment is that it only exists in fairy tales and cartoons. The Bible teaches that salvation is a FREE GIFT, and that we CANNOT earn God's favor. It says that He already loves everyone, and that is why Jesus came and gave His life on the cross so that ANYONE could be saved. The apostle Paul makes it very clear when he wrote: "For it is by grace you are saved, through faith, and not of yourselves, it is THE GIFT OF GOD, not as a result of works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8,9)

Distinguished jurors, it is impossible to say that you have to pay for your own sins, but yet that Jesus paid the price for your sins. It is neither logical nor even possible that all (or even most) religions lead to God. If someone has sold you that bill of goods, please demand a refund, with interest.

Philosopher and apologist, Gregory Koukl, makes this stinging rebuke:

"Religious pluralism is the idea that when it comes to religious issues, all roads lead to Rome. In other words, it doesn't really matter what philosophy or religion you follow, as long as you've got God in there somewhere and you're following your religion sincerely. This is an approach to religion that is quite popular now, but it admits of a serious flaw. Forgive me for stating something so obvious, but there is a difference between choosing an ice cream flavor and choosing a medicine. When choosing ice cream, you choose what you like. When choosing medicine, you have to choose what heals. Many people think of God like they think of ice cream, not like they think of insulin. In other words, they choose religious views according to their tastes, not according to what is true. The question of truth hardly even comes up in the conversation."

Exhibit C: Jesus Claimed to be the Only Way to God.

At one time, financial giant E.F. Hutton embarked on a lengthy media campaign. Their humorous commercials depicted businessmen who received advice from E.F. Hutton. Every time they would speak, everyone else would go silent and lean in to hear their "sage" wisdom. The commercial would invariably end with the slogan:

"When E.F. Hutton talks...people listen!"

The point is, when certain people speak, due to their wealth of experience, or their position, or their track-record, or their accomplishments--other people should listen. Consider the following observation about Jesus Christ:

"Jesus was born in a stable in an obscure village in an even more obscure nation in the remote regions of the Roman empire. He never traveled more than about 200 miles from His birthplace. During his life, He never ran for public office, yet hundreds of millions have followed Him over two millennia. He never wrote a book, yet hundreds of thousands have been written about Him. He was never formally educated, yet He confounded the most brilliant sages of His time.
And all the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life--Jesus Christ."

So when JESUS speaks about a subject, and when His immediate followers convey His teachings to us, then we had better listen. So, just what did Jesus say about the subject of how many ways there are to be right with God?

Your honor, I call the very words of Jesus Christ to the witness stand. 

"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6)

Notice that He did not say: "I am A way, A truth, and A life..." He said that He was THE way.

(Plaintiff's attorney jumps up) "I object! These are obviously the words of a self-centered, self-absorbed, self-appointed messiah!"

I turn to the attorney. "Let me ask  you a question, counselor..." I begin. "Can the President of the United States give a speech and say to the audience that he is the President of the United States?"

The attorney's eyes race back and forth as he tries to analyze my question and it's implications.

"Of course he can. What is your point?"

I smile. "But, isn't that a bit self-centered, self-absorbed? I mean, come on, to call yourself the President of the United States?!"

The attorney smiles back smugly and stands up. "It's not self-centered or in any way inappropriate if it's TRUE!" He then gets a sick look on his face, and stares around, slowly sitting down.

"Thank you, counselor, for making my point perfectly." I go on to demonstrate that we have to take Jesus' claim at face value, and then examine it in the light of evidence and logic. We cannot evaluate it emotionally, because emotions only refer to our inner reaction to something, they do not reveal the truth or falsehood of any thing or any statement.Regardless if we do not emotionally "like" or appreciate what Jesus was implying, we have to critically examine it the way we would any other important claim, based upon history, evidence, reasoning, and logic.

Some would object to this one verse and say that we are perhaps misinterpreting it or taking it out of context. Consider some other statements from Jesus about being the only way:

"Unless you believe that I am (the savior), you will die in your sins."

"For God so loved the world that He gave" (not a bunch of ways but only one way of salvation)--"His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." 

What about His earliest and closest followers? What did they say about Him? Maybe we have misunderstood His claims, but what about them?

"Neither is there salvation in ANY OTHER, for there is NO OTHER NAME, under Heaven, given among mankind, whereby we must be saved." (the apostle Peter in Acts 4:12)

Paul tells us: "For there is one God, and ONE MEDIATOR between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus."

The apostle John reminds us: "(Jesus) is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins, but the sins of all the world."

So Peter says that there is no other NAME, Paul says no other MEDIATOR, and John says that there is no other SACRIFICE. It's pretty clear, both Jesus and His earliest/closest followers taught that Jesus is the only way to be made right with God. But is this intolerant, is this arrogant? If it is true (that He is the only way), then absolutely not. Remember our earlier assertion, mankind has one problem---SIN. Jesus said that He had come to die on the cross to pay for those sins, to remove them. Has anyone else DIED to pay the penalty for your sins, or my sins? No.

But extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof--and Jesus has provided that level of evidence through the resurrection. Jesus said that He would die to pay the penalty for our sins, and then He would RISE FROM THE DEAD to prove that He was Who He said He was. So what of the evidence for the resurrection? Let's consider a few legal minds from history:

After a long investigation into the weight of evidence for the resurrection, Lord Darling, Chief Justice of England, stated, ". . . there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true." 

Professor Thomas Arnold, chair of history at Oxford (author of the famous work, History of Rome) "I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is PROVED BY BETTER AND FULLER EVIDENCE of every sort...that Christ died and rose again from the dead." 

Dr. Greenleaf, the Royal Professor of Law at Harvard University (to this day considered one of the greatest legal minds of history). declared: "it was IMPOSSIBLE that the apostles could have persisted in affirming the truths they had narrated, had not JESUS CHRIST ACTUALLY RISEN FROM THE DEAD . . ."

One of the great atheists of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis  was an ardent opponent of any who called themselves theists of any flavor, Christian or otherwise. Upon considering the evidence for Christianity, the great Oxford scholar and professor traded his skepticism for reasoning and became a follower of Jesus Christ. In his challenging appeal to skeptics, Mere Christianity, Lewis makes this interesting observation:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' ...A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse...But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us."

As we bring this court case to a close, having called many witnesses to the stand, witnesses who have been experts in their fields, from scholars, lawyers, historians, and theologians alike. We have heard testimony from Jesus Himself, and from those of His earliest and closest followers. We have considered logic and reasoning, scripture and history.

This began with a challenge by the plaintiff, a challenge that Christianity is an intolerant and narrow-minded faith, even a dangerous one at that. Those who propagate this type of character assassination will invariably laud and applaud all religious traditions, claiming that all faiths share fundamental core values and that all religions lead to God.

In this trial, we have demonstrated that, since mankind has ONE UNIVERSAL PROBLEM---SIN, then it makes logical sense that a perfect God would have ONE UNIVERSAL REMEDY, one perfect way to deal with that one problem. If there were many competing ways, this leads to inequality, since different "paths" to God would have to vary in their terms of requirements, standards, admission, and success/failure for the participants. Different "ways" or "paths" to God would necessitate easier/harder ways for getting right with God. This is illogical and violates our universal understanding that God is impartial and cares for all equally.

We also revealed that it is impossible for all religions to lead to God. Since most religions teach fundamental issues that completely contradict other faiths, it is both illogical and impossible that they could all be equally true, or that God has inspired all of them. Many teach billions of gods, others one God, some say that God became a man and died on a cross for us, others scoff at the very idea. Some deny heaven or hell, others say that all will eventually end up in torment or paradise. Some maintain that salvation must be earned or worked for, while Christianity teaches that it is a free gift, paid for by Jesus on the cross. This confusion of worldviews denies the naive belief that all religions are basically the same.

Finally, we have listened to the very words of Jesus Christ, Who claimed to be the ONLY WAY of salvation. He said that He was going to die on the cross, and pay the price for the sins of the whole world, for your sins, and mine.

He said that His death would form the basis of God being able to forgive us of our rebellion against Him. He then predicted that His resurrection from the dead would be undeniable evidence of the truth of His words. And according to historians, legal minds, philosophers, and former atheists alike, He did just that.

Now let's turn the table (you knew this was coming, didn't you?!). I am going to make a bold statement, and support it with evidence.

I believe that Christianity is the most liberal and open-minded faith in the world.

Proof:  What faith, other than Christianity, provides a way of guaranteed salvation for ANY person, ANY where, of ANY age, at ANY time in their life, regardless of ANY thing that they have done?

Proof: What faith, other than Christianity, says that God loves you so much that He would become a man and live a perfect life, then DIE for you, on the cross, to pay the price for your sins?

Proof What faith, other than Christianity, provides a guaranteed salvation that is ABSOLUTELY FREE and requires no effort or "good works" on your part in order to receive it?

I'm not sure where the "intolerant" and "narrow-minded" adjectives came from in an attack on Christianity. Jesus will save ANYONE at ANYTIME forgiving them for ANYTHING that they have done. That is the most tolerant faith that I have ever heard of in the 40 plus years I have roamed this Earth.

And narrow-minded? Excuse me? Christianity is so WIDE OPEN (not narrow) that it will allow anyone willing to be saved to actually be saved. Most faiths say that first I have to do this one thing, then go visit this one special place, then give this much to others, and don't do this-and-such. Rules, rituals, and requirements. Not Jesus. He died to make it all possible.

"For it is by GRACE you are saved, through FAITH, and this is not from yourselves. It is the GIFT of God, NOT as a result of good works, so that NO ONE can boast." Ephesians 2:8,9

"For God SO LOVED the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have everlasting life." John 3:16

(If that isn't liberal, tolerant, and open-minded, then I'm not sure what is...)

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