Connecting with Dave Claassen

Home Page       Blog      Videos       Sermons       Other Writings       Photography       My Church's Web Site      Bio      E-mail me

"The BIG Questions”
Part 6:

"Is There One True Religion?”

Based on Luke 19:28-44 and Selected Texts
Delivered on March 27 and 28, 2010
by David J. Claassen

Copyright 2010 by David J. Claassen

When I was growing up on a farm in Iowa, our nearby hometown was Parkersburg. It was a town of about 1500 people. It had, as I recall, seven religious centers of worship. They were all Christian churches: six Protestant and one Catholic. I didn't know a single Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim. I didn't know a single atheist, though there were farmers who worked their fields on Sunday, so I wasn't too sure about them! (Even many seemingly lukewarm Christians — Christmas and Easter Christians — didn't work their fields on Sunday.)

The world's different now. Though many people have lived for years in a pluralistic society where they know people of many faiths, there are a lot more of us now than before who live among people of other faiths or of no faith. It easily prompts a question — a really big question. It's the question we're addressing this weekend in our “The BIG Question” series.

The BIG Question

The religious question that’s asked most often is stated in different ways. “How can anyone say their religion is the only true religion?” “How can you insist that Jesus is the only way to God and heaven?” “What about all the good people who don't believe in Jesus? Aren't they going to be in heaven?” “Isn't it narrow-minded to believe that one person, group, or religion has a corner on truth?”

It can all be summarized in the really big question that we're addressing this weekend: “Is there one true religion?” The general consensus today — the politically correct view — is that there isn’t one true religion. It’s often believed that all religions have a lot in common and that we should emphasize that fact. Many people believe that all religions lead to God and to heaven. Mark L. Y. Chan, a philosopher from Singapore — a very pluralistic part of the world where many religions thrive — wrote, “Some professing Christians in Asia regard Christ as but one avatar among many possible manifestations of the divine.” (Christianity Today, Feb. 2010, p.46)

I want to share with you how I respond to such views. I want to share some logical arguments that have thoughtfully been laid out by people much smarter than I am. These arguments, I believe, prove that it makes sense to hold to the uniqueness of Jesus, that He alone is to be worshiped and followed, and that we’re supposed to spread the Word about Him.

All Religions Are Exclusive in What They Believe

People sometimes try to argue that only Christianity claims to be the true religion. They propose that we accept the fact that all religions are equally true, or that we accept the best of each religion.

The reality is that all religions make exclusive claims. A Muslim acquaintance of mine who’s a retired pediatric physician tries to tell me that Judaism, the Muslim faith, and Christianity have much in common: particularly Moses, the prophets, and the whole Old Testament (as we call it). My response to him is that only Christians believe Jesus to be God in the flesh, and the greatest miracle is His resurrection from the dead. Muslims believe that Mohammed is God's greatest spokesman and that the Koran is the greatest miracle. Judaism believes neither of these views. They disagree as much with Christianity as Christianity does with their views.

Even if my Muslim friend wants to be inclusive by putting the three great religions together, how about Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and other faiths? Is he going to exclude them? It would appear so.

Every religion has exclusive claims and beliefs. Hinduism and Buddhism don't believe in a personal God whom we can relate to. Either God is personal or He's not; both views can't be right. Hinduism believes in the law of Karma, that existence is cyclical, and that we’re reincarnated. We believe that existence is linear, not cyclical, and that once a person dies there's a judgment of what future we have for eternity. The Jewish faith, Muslim faith, and Christian faith have this general view. Both views — reincarnation and a heaven (and hell) — can't be right. They’re mutually exclusive views.

Even if one grants that all religions have an element of truth and that we should agree that they’re all true, what do we say to an atheist? By believing in God, we're excluding his belief in no God.

Christianity isn’t the only religion to hold mutually exclusive views, and we shouldn't let people get by with saying that. All the religions do! We’re doing them an injustice by not entering into an engaging dialogue where we point out their wrong assumption.

Truth Is Exclusive

The fact is that all truth is exclusive. 1 + 1 = 2. That means that 1 + 1 can’t equal 3 or any number other than 2. It's mutually exclusive. No one who understands math would call a person narrow-minded for insisting that 1 + 1 = 2.

It seems that people confuse universal truth and personal taste. When I say 1 + 1 = 2 I'm stating a truth. When I say that the color red is the best color, I'm expressing my personal taste: that I prefer the color red. What we believe about God shouldn’t be seen as an expression of personal taste, of what we prefer to believe. Either God is a personal God or He isn’t. Either Jesus has always been the Son of God, the second member of the Godhead, or He hasn’t been. There's no gray area in such matters. One view is going to be right and one view is wrong — or maybe they’re both wrong, which is what an atheist would argue. We may prefer that God exists or not, and we may prefer Him to be a personal God or not, or we might prefer to believe that Jesus is or isn’t God in the flesh — but what we prefer really doesn't matter. What matters is what is. Our taste in colors may vary, and red may or may not be your favorite color. However, the truth of 1 + 1 = 2 stands no matter whether I prefer odd numbers rather than even numbers. We mustn’t confuse truth and taste.

The Truth about Jesus

In a previous message we explored the claim that the Biblical text is a compilation of trustworthy documents and that there's no reason to question their historical accuracy. Many people — even non-Christians — affirm that Jesus was a great teacher and that what He taught was true.

One of the subjects Jesus taught about was Himself! For instance, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Even His enemies saw clearly in His teaching that He claimed to be God, and they charged Him with blasphemy: “For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (John 5:18)

Jesus not only said amazing things about Himself, He did amazing things. We have record of Jesus' amazing power over nature when He stilled a storm and walked on water. He healed many people with diseases and even raised dead people back to life. Next weekend — Easter weekend — we'll explore the proofs for His resurrection from the dead.

Certainly the people who knew Him best were convinced that He was God in the flesh and the one and only bridge to God. Peter declared in a message that he delivered to a large crowd, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

The issue of who Jesus was came to a head when He entered Jerusalem accompanied by a huge crowd that was declaring Him to be king. People waved palm fronds and threw their coats in front of the donkey He rode. They shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38) Of course they thought that Jesus would claim the throne and rule their land, taking it away from Roman rule. As we know with 20/20 hindsight, Jesus had bigger plans! He was heading to a cross to claim victory over the greatest tyrannical rule of all: the rule of Satan and sin.

The religious leaders observing this red-carpet treatment and massive parade for Jesus came up to Him and said, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” (Luke 19:39) The last thing they wanted to happen was to rile the Roman authorities. Jesus' response to their request was amazing. Though the Palm Sunday parade account is in all four gospels, only Luke included this exchange between the Pharisees and Jesus. Jesus replied, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40) Jesus was declaring that He will be praised even if inanimate stones have to be animated to have it happen!

The Palm Sunday event is a vivid proclamation that Jesus is to be praised and worshiped. It’s a clear, distinct affirmation of the truth that there’s no one like Him!

The Uniqueness of Jesus

People ask, “Do you mean that the only way to get right with God, to go to heaven, is through Jesus? What about good people who don't know Christ or who weren't Christians, someone like Gandhi?” My answer to such questions is that I don't know where any one particular person's heart is in reference to God. That's for God to know. All I know for sure is that everyone who’s with God for eternity, who’s in His heaven, is there because of Jesus.

I watched the crucifixion scene in the movie The Passion of the Christ; the movie portrayed what unbelievable suffering Jesus went though. I thought to myself that if there’s any other way on God's earth to get right with God, through good works or believing in Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, or whoever or whatever, Jesus would never have put Himself through that! He did it because it was the only way — because He was the only way!

Theologian R. C. Sproul stated, “Moses could mediate on the law; Muhammad could brandish a sword; Buddha could give personal counsel; Confucius could offer wise sayings; but none of these men was qualified to offer an atonement for the sins of the world. . . . Christ alone is worthy of unlimited devotion and service.”

Does this mean that we should be intolerant of others' views or faith? No. Anyone can believe however they want to believe, and we want to respect that. Even God allows people to believe as they want! However, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to winsomely and lovingly convince people to follow Jesus.

Do we think, as followers of Jesus, that we’re better or smarter than other people? No. It's just that as D. T. Niles put it, we're “one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.” We want to do just that, because we believe that we’ve found the Bread of Life — and it’s Jesus!

My Picture of the Week
Click on my books below to get a description and to order.