It has been fashionable for some time now to affirm that all religions are beautiful and true, each in its own way. People are prone to say something like “I believe what I believe, and that’s good for me. You believe what you believe, and that’s good for you.” This notion even has increasingly crept into the church, where Christians, for fear of being thought bigoted or unkind, are reluctant to say that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to true life.
Telling the truth is difficult in a culture that rejects the very idea of truth as fixed, universal, objective, and absolute. Indeed, one of the reasons that some people are opposed to Christianity is its claims about the realness and exclusivity of truth. This challenge makes it necessary for Christians to consider how we can share the Gospel in a way that is both faithful to the Bible and relevant in a pluralistic world. As we do so, we ought to ask ourselves: What does the Bible teach? How should we communicate that to our friends, neighbors, and family members? And what can we learn from the Christians of the past who have already faced this challenge?
Christians must affirm what the Bible affirms. It’s important, then, that we understand what Scripture teaches regarding the exclusivity of Christ.
To begin with, the Bible speaks clearly about God’s identity and mankind’s predicament. Scripture firmly teaches that there is only one God, who created all things (1 Cor. 8:6; 1 Tim. 2:5) and that all human beings are in rebellion against Him (Rom. 3:23) and will one day be judged for the wrong they have done (Acts 17:30–31).
Yet the Bible is also clear on the fact that there is a way—only one way, in fact—to peace with God: through Jesus. He Himself declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The apostle Paul wrote, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Peter likewise proclaimed about Jesus, “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 4:11–12).
These statements are direct, unequivocal, and unapologetic. They were, in their day as much as in our own, viewed with cynicism and distaste. But as the apostles became convinced of the truth that Jesus had risen from the dead and the reality that He was God made flesh, the implication was unavoidable: there is no other Savior, because there is no other person who is qualified to save.
The Scriptures also define the endpoint of history as the time when Christ will rule over all things forever. That is not a position that He can share with Krishna or Muhammad or anyone else. If we’re going to take seriously the instruction of the Bible, then, we must affirm that God has given to Jesus Christ “the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9–11).
As Christians, we’re not free to believe what we like. As Augustine said, “To believe what you please, and not to believe what you please, is to believe yourselves, and not the gospel.” To live as believing Christian people, we must accept the fact that Jesus’ name is the only means to forgiveness of sins and peace with God. The Bible is clear: the one way is through Jesus, the one Mediator is Jesus, and the one name is Jesus.
How Should We Talk about Christ’s Exclusivity?
Being convinced of the truth that Jesus is the only way, however, is only part of what God calls us to. Once we are convinced, we also have the privilege and responsibility to share this good news of salvation with others. This is where living in a pluralistic culture can feel like a major obstacle. How can we present the truth of Jesus’ exclusivity to a world that is fundamentally committed to denying it, even as we endeavor to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15)? If we’re going to succeed, it’s going to require us to rightly understand what it means to be humble, tolerant, and relevant.
The Truth about Humility
In a Western context where there is no truth but only “truths,” no principles but only preferences, those who proclaim that Jesus is the only way to peace with God are often regarded as arrogant. Opponents of the Gospel argue that Christians are supposed to be humble, and that if we really were humble, we would not insist that Christianity has it right and everyone else has it wrong. But as G. K. Chesterton argues, this view is ultimately upside down: “A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.”
There is no other Savior, because there is no other person who is qualified to save.
What that means, first, is that the truth is not a matter of pride or humility; it’s a matter of fact. Speaking the truth of the Gospel doesn’t make someone arrogant, nor does remaining silent about it make them humble. Either the truth is right, or it isn’t the truth. Once we have become convinced of the truth of Jesus Christ, there is nothing arrogant about saying that it is true, even to the exclusion of contradictory claims.
On the other hand, some of our affirmations may be justifiably described as arrogant, not because of the truth we affirm but because of the manner in which we affirm it. It’s possible to hold to the truth in a way that undermines the very truth to which we hold. Speaking the truth about Jesus, then, pairs best with love, grace, and tact. We should be neither snide in our comments nor harsh in our judgments. Instead, our interactions should be marked by traits like charity, authenticity, kindness, integrity, and sensitivity, which will indicate a posture of true, Christlike humility.
The Truth about Tolerance
Another reason some are silent about the exclusive truth of the Gospel is because they’re afraid of being thought of as narrow-minded or intolerant. But tolerance doesn’t mean just accepting every viewpoint as equally true and valid or denying that differences ultimately matter. Rather, it means—at least in part—acknowledging that differences, while sometimes uncomfortable or painful, are a part of our life together on earth; it means treating with integrity and humility even those whose opinions I believe to be untrue.
We can hold points of view that are in complete conflict with those of our neighbors and still practice true tolerance. The point is that differing views will not keep us from living alongside others, talking with them, and showing them respect. To be tolerant doesn’t mean affirming that falsehoods are actually true in some sense; it means showing grace and kindness to those with whom we disagree.
The Truth about Relevance
Finally, some Christians may be rightly concerned about the relevance of the Christian message to our culture yet have a mistaken understanding of what relevance actually entails. They may even be tempted to try and “make the Gospel relevant” by making it sound more like what the world already loves, or at least accepts. But the problem with watering the Gospel down so that others will drink it is that what they end up drinking is not the Gospel at all. The Gospel doesn’t need to be “made relevant.” It is relevant. Our eyes simply need to be opened to the great need we have for the salvation Christ offers.
It’s possible to hold to the truth in a way that undermines the very truth to which we hold.
Our world is filled with alienations: men alienated from their wives, parents from their children, neighbors from one another, governments from their people, and even individuals from themselves as they experience psychological turmoil. All of these alienations, however, are ultimately rooted in our alienation from our Creator, who may rightly judge us for our sin. The relevance of the Gospel, then, couldn’t be clearer. On the cross, Christ took our penalty and died our death for us. In the resurrection, He defeated death and paved the way for us to eternal life with God. In Him there is reconciliation with God and the possibility of peace among God’s people.
Remember Those Who Have Gone Before Us
The early Christians faced challenges that were similar, yet far greater, than our own. Their pagan neighbors pressured them to capitulate to the notion that while Jesus was something more than a man, he was not quite God, or to simply include Jesus among the Roman pantheon, another god among many. But they didn’t and they couldn’t—and their steadfast proclamation often led to their deaths. Like Jesus before them, they were rejected by men. God, however, accepted them, since they had been reconciled to Him in the cross of Christ.
God has given us the privilege of sharing the truth of the Gospel with an increasingly confused world. We have every reason for confidence in the truth, relevance, and the power of His good news, and we can count on His help in keeping us from shame or frustration before the pressure of our prevailing culture. By His grace, we can—and will!—press on in obedience like the faithful saints who lived before us.
This article was adapted from the sermon “Is the Exclusivity of Christ Unjust?” by Alistair Begg.