Extra: one way to God?
"It's arrogant and intolerant to claim that Jesus is the only way to God"
There’s no doubt in Paul’s mind that Jesus holds an exclusive position in the world. Paul prays that the Philippians will be ‘filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ’ (1:11 CSB) and ‘at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — in heaven and on earth and under the earth — and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’ (2:10-11 CSB). Paul rejoices that he doesn't have ‘a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ’ (3:9 CSB). Paul presents faith in Jesus Christ as the path of salvation and declares that Jesus Christ is Lord over all things. Jesus reigns supreme.
And this claim, perhaps as much as in Paul’s day as in our time, is likely to be met with the following objection: It's arrogant and intolerant to claim that Jesus is the only way to God.
Rather than trying to argue against this objection, I want to tell us a story.
There was once a mountain surrounded by many villages. At the top of the mountain there grew a species of flower that was found nowhere else in the world – it was a beautiful flower with alternating pink and yellow petals, a deep ruby centre and the faint but distinct scent of cinnamon and vanilla. It was the dream of all travellers to reach the summit and gaze on the flower, but the face of the mountain was too sheer to climb. At the base of the mountain were hundreds of tunnel entrances inviting travellers to enter in the hope that their lucky choice might take them all the way to the mountain top.
One day, three travellers came across one another at the entrance to one of the tunnels.
The first traveller said: “This cave will lead us to the summit. The other caves lead nowhere.”
The second traveller said: “You’re wrong. All of the caves lead to the summit if you know which route to take.”
The third traveller said: “How can either of you be certain since you have not tried every single tunnel? Perhaps this tunnel leads to the summit, but there may be others.”
But the first traveller was not deterred. He continued: “I have not tried every tunnel, but I met a man on my journey to this mountain. He told me that he built this tunnel and that it’s the only tunnel that reaches the summit where he lives.”
The second traveller was skeptical: “Anyone can say that. There are numerous guides in the villages who claim they can take you to the top. But they run off with your money leaving you alone in the tunnels to find your way back down. Why should we trust the man you met?”
As she was speaking, a faint sound of tumbling pebbles was heard coming from the tunnel entrance. The rhythmic sound of footsteps grew louder and, as they peered inside, the light revealed a young man coming into view, a smile creasing his face as he saw the weary travellers.
The first traveller exclaimed: “That’s the man I met on my journey. This is the guide.”
“Hello, good friends.” said the young man at the tunnel entrance. “Are you here to take the journey back up the mountain with me? The view is delightful at this time of year. ”
The second and third travelers looked skeptical, and asked: “Good Sir, why should we believe you? How can we trust you when you say that this is the only tunnel to the mountain top?”
The young man welcomed their spirited objection, and it was only then that the travellers noticed something cupped in his hands. He slowly unfurled his fingers and revealed the delicate shape of a flower... with alternating pink and yellow petals, a deep ruby centre and the faint but distinct scent of cinnamon and vanilla. And with that, the young man turned on his heel and entered the tunnel, and the three travellers followed close behind.
I know that every story and analogy is imperfect*, but stories have a way of helping us to see things from a different angle.
It’s true that a Christian could not live long enough to ‘try out’ every different spiritual and religious offering in today’s world. So why do Christians believe that Jesus is the only way to God? Surely, like the third traveller, it is more honest (and perhaps humble) to concede that we all have limited knowledge, and therefore it’s safer to say that Jesus may be one of several ways to God. Even if Jesus made exclusive claims, surely he could have been mistaken like plenty of other religious leaders. What makes Jesus a reliable spiritual guide?**
For the Christian, Jesus’ trustworthiness is not rooted in his teaching or his lifestyle, admirable though they are. Christians believe that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is what vindicates him as being sent by God. In Christian theology, the resurrection is the climax of the story. It’s the definitive act of God in history, defeating the power of sin and death, ushering in a new creation in the midst of the old and revealing Jesus as Lord. The resurrection is what makes Jesus unique and distinct among every other religious and spiritual teacher in history.
We started out by looking at the objection ‘It's arrogant and intolerant to claim that Jesus is the only way to God’ and there is much more that could be said. But I hope you can see the question beneath it all is: How do we know whether we should trust Jesus and what he teaches about God?
For the Christian, the resurrection seals the deal. And believing in the resurrection of Jesus is not as crazy as it might seem, as Adrian Holloway taught us in this talk.
*I recognise that the various world religions propose different and conflicting ideas of god/s, but this was much harder to fit into the story. Tim Keller offers a very good response to the question of: Are all religions equally wrong?
** For Christians, Jesus is not simply a spiritual guide, but is the incarnate Son of God. However, believing that Jesus is a reliable spiritual guide who speaks the truth is a precursor to accepting that he is the Son of God.