‘Is Christianity the one true religion?’
    April 15 2009 by Gary D. Myers, Baptist Press

    NEW ORLEANS — A 2008 Pew Forum survey found that 65 percent of Americans believe many religions lead to eternal life — and that 52 percent of American Christians believe salvation can be found in at least some non-Christian religions.
     
    At a time when American belief is shifting toward religious pluralism — the idea that all religions are equal in offering truth — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s (NOBTS) annual Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum addressed the question: “Is Christianity the one true religion?”
     
    “The topic is very important given the politically correct, tolerance-laden culture we find ourselves living in today,” said Robert Stewart, director of the Greer-Heard Forum and associate professor of philosophy and theology at NOBTS. “Ultimately we need to take a stand on the clear teaching of God’s Word, which teaches us that Jesus is the only Savior of the world.”
     
    Evangelical Christians as a whole are not embracing pluralism, Stewart said, but some are drifting away from an exclusive view of salvation.
     
    “Some Christians are probably more inclusivistic in their theology than pluralistic,” he said. “The recent Pew Forum survey found that a majority of American Christians believe that some non-Christian faiths lead to eternal life and that 37 percent of those Christians were evangelical Christians.”
     
    The keynote speakers for the March 27-28 forum, Harold Netland of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Paul Knitter of Union Theological Seminary, presented divergent answers to the question of pluralism.
     
    Citing the often-conflicting and contradictory views of various religions, Netland rejected pluralism as a viable option. He argued in favor of the evangelical position that Christianity is the one true religion. Knitter, who identifies himself as a Christian and disciple of Jesus Christ, argued that Jesus “is a way open to other ways.”
     
    Netland opened the forum by acknowledging, “The assertion that Christianity is the one true religion for all people strikes many as hopelessly out of touch with current realities.” Such a claim, he said, “seems to display generous amounts of both intellectual naivety and arrogance.”
     
    “Nevertheless, with proper qualification, I do believe that the Christian faith as defined by the Christian scriptures is true and that this sets the Christian faith apart from other religious traditions,” Netland said.
     
    Affirming the truth of Christianity does not deem all aspects of other religions false; Netland said other religious traditions do contain beauty and goodness — often in the area of moral and ethical teachings. However, beliefs that are incompatible with essential Christian teachings must be rejected, Netland said.
     
    Netland said he rejects pluralism in part because the major world religions tend to make often-exclusive truth claims. Religious adherents from most traditions are expected to regard the claims of their religion as true, he said. These truth assertions are not meant to be taken as personal or mythological.
     
    “Each religion regards its own assertions as correct or superior to those of its rivals,” Netland said. “When we consider carefully what the religions have to say about the religious ultimate and the nature of, and conditions for salvation ..., there is significant disagreement.”
     
    Netland suggested focusing on the essential or defining beliefs of a religion in determining its truth; a religion is true only if these essential beliefs are true.
     
    “For Christianity to be true, the defining beliefs of Christianity, namely certain affirmations about God, Jesus of Nazareth and salvation must be true,” Netland said. “If they are true, Christianity is true.”
     
    Netland said that some argue for “epistemic parity” among religions. Epistemic parity holds that no religion can claim rational superiority over another religion because the data is insufficient to prove one claim over another. Netland, however, sees epistemic parity as an argument for agnosticism rather than pluralism.
     
    “For if there are not good reasons for accepting any single religious tradition as true, why should we suppose that all of them collectively are equally true?” Netland said.
     
    On the other hand, Knitter claimed that true Christianity would never make an exclusive claim to truth. He offered a case for pluralism based on four categories: history, ethics, theology and Scripture.
     
    “If we look at our history, there has been a change in Christian beliefs about this question,” Knitter said. “Although at one time, almost all the churches held firmly that Christianity is the only true religion, today many Christian churches do not.”
     
    Knitter cited the 2008 Pew Forum study as evidence that many Christians are moving away from a belief in Christianity as the one true religion.
     
    “The fact that our question has already been answered by a broad group of Christians ... we have to take (this) into consideration,” he said. “Our job as theologians is to work with what people are actually believing.”
     
    Knitter said the shift away from an exclusive belief in Christianity has not diminished the commitment or discipleship of individual Christians. He argued that a further shift could be made — a complete shift to religious pluralism.
     
    Knitter noted that viewing Christianity as the one true religion carries the danger of hindering dialogue among the religions.
     
    “The religions of the world have a moral obligation to engage each other in a peacemaking dialogue,” Knitter said. “Dialogue is the mutual exchange to which all sides seek to help each other grow in the knowing and the doing of what is true and what is right.”
     
    Dialogue is impossible, however, if one side makes an exclusive claim to religious truth, Knitter argued, saying it is a grievous error to hinder dialogue.
     
    If dialogue is “a moral imperative,” he said, “what impedes a moral imperative looks to be immoral itself.”
     
    Exclusive claims to truth not only impede dialogue, but such claims can foster violence, Knitter said. While rarely the cause of violence, he said exclusive truth claims can rally followers to a leader’s cause.
     
    In his theological case for pluralism, Knitter appealed to God’s love. He said that “the God of Jesus is a power of pure unbounded love” and that the New Testament’s teachings show God’s desire to see all people saved.
     
    “As my teacher back in Germany, Karl Rahner, insisted, ‘if God wants to save all people then God will act in a sure way as to make this a real possibility for all people,’” Knitter said. “Rahner went on to claim that the religions are among the most available and ready at hand ways in which God will make this offer of His saving grace. A God who loves all will offer that love to all.”
     
    For his scriptural argument, Knitter claimed that the exclusive language of the New Testament is confessional language, or love language that was intended to be superlative, not exclusive. Statements such as “no other name,” “one mediator,” and “no one comes to the Father except by me” are meant to communicate something positive about Jesus, not something negative about other religions, Knitter said.
     
    “I must confess my faith that Jesus is indeed the way that is open to other ways and that in order to be a faithful follower of this Jesus I must recognize and engage the truth that the Spirit may be offering me in my Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Native American and Shinto brothers and sisters,” Knitter said.
     
    After the event, Greer-Heard director Robert Stewart said he hopes students learn to be “both properly charitable and properly critical in evaluating claims with which they disagree.” While he disagrees with the position of Knitter and other pluralists, Stewart sees value in engaging their ideas. He hopes exposure to scholars such as Knitter will help NOBTS students better defend the truth of Christianity.
     
    “As a philosopher I don’t find the hermeneutical arguments that pluralists make on this point strong enough to overcome the case for the traditional reading of passages like John 14:6 and Acts 4:12,” Stewart said. “The purpose of the Greer-Heard Forum, however, is that we are training Christians for ministry in today’s world and must thus trust that we have given them what they need to interact critically with the wide range of opinions that they will encounter in real-world ministry.”
     
    (EDITOR’S NOTE — Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)
     
     

    4/15/2009 5:51:00 AM by Gary D. Myers, Baptist Press | with 6 comments




Comments
Gene Scarborough
I was amazed in college Sociology to discover all cultures have a belief in a Supreme
Being and individuals have a "God shaped vacuum" as Pascal put it. That was a remarkable discovery for me as a young Southern Baptist preacher's son who thought he had all the answers to religious questions. I didn't!

Now, as a 63-year-old wiser person, I would like to give the benefit of the doubt to those espousing faiths outside Christianity. I think eternal judgment should safely be left in God's hands, but we should do our best to share our belief that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.

As Romans says, "Believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that God raised Jesus from the dead, and you will be saved." Isn't that simple, however it says nothing about those who believe in another prophet like Budda, Mahamed, etc. No matter what the prophet followed I believe it's not how high you jump, it's how straight you walk when you hit the ground.

Rather than criticize, condemn, and hate other believers the wise person would share his faith in love and listen in love to the other person. In sharing honestly and giving one of different faith the right to believe as his heart leads, we will find more opportunities to win people to Christ than in taking them on with a sword and gun. Too much of this attitude has been a part of the Iraq war and now in Afghanistan. Remember, those who flew planes into the Twin Towers believed to the point of death they were following God's command through Islam. Remember also that the majority of Islamic believers have denounced such activity as a distortion of the real teachings of Mohammad, their prophet. If we followed some OT teachings without the NT, we also might follow [i]lex talionis[/i]--an eye for a eye and tooth for a tooth. All you end up with is blind and toothless people who continue to hate rather than forgive!
4/16/2009 11:18:40 AM

Tim Marsh
I agree with Chadwick.

Much of what has been labeled Christianity in the last two thousand years has done what many above are saying about other religions - it has contained half-truths and led many away from Jesus. May we never forget some of our own follies.
4/16/2009 7:30:39 AM

Chadd Snider
I have some friends that I talk with about sometimes. Looking back on what I studied at Campbell Divinity School, I came to the conclusion that Satan never outright lies, he does something more deceiving and dangerous, he tells half truths. I came to the same conclusion with other religions. I feel that people are always truly searching for God, because that is how He made us. I have come to believe that there is a grain of truth in all religions, which is how people get hooked on them … Satan’s half truths. Most people can spot a lie a mile away. Half truths, on the other hand, can be almost impossible to spot … and sometimes are. That is why I think people are choosing pluralism in religion. They are trying to take the grains of truth and mess them together. It can’t be done. Christianity by itself is the only religion that is made up of absolute truth, making Christianity (the belief that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, is the Only Son of God who came to die for our sins and the third day after He was buried He rose from the grave and is alive) the only true FAITH in this world. I do not see Christianity as a religion, it is FAITH.
4/15/2009 4:32:01 PM

Charlie Rice
some religions have some good points. But the devil is tricky, he will use whatever he can to make us avoid JESUS. JESUS is real.
4/15/2009 3:35:54 PM

Perry Comer
The simple truth for the Christian is all religions lead away from God rather than to God. On this there can be no discussion, no compromise and no playing semantics. To give validity to any religion is to diminish Jesus the Christ.
4/15/2009 2:21:57 PM

chadwick
The superficial question to ask is: [b]“Is Christianity the supreme religion?”[/b]

The supreme question to ask is: [b]"Is Jesus Christ the Supreme Ruler of the Universe?"[/b]

(Jesus Christ,according the the Holy Writ, is the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.)

[b]If Jesus Christ is the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, He ALONE should be supremely worshiped![/b]
4/15/2009 12:59:08 PM

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