It is usually not too long into a discussion about the merits of Christianity with a skeptic that he or she trumps out their favorite rebuttal: “So you believe Jesus is the only way people can be saved, huh? That is the most arrogant religious claim I have ever heard.”
This is a serious charge and we need to be considerate to those who ask it. Because at first blush it does seem to be personally arrogant for someone to consider their faith as the “only way.”
Firstly in answering this charge it is critical we qualify who said what. If I were to say, “Jesus is the only way because that is my way,” then that would be an arrogant claim because I would be excluding “other ways” on the basis that they are not “my way.” But that would be a gross misunderstanding of the Christian claim. Jesus is not the only way because he happens to be my way; rather Jesus said he was the “only way” and that no individual can come to the Father except through him (Jn 14:6). *
So the question we need to ask the skeptic is, “Do you think Jesus is being arrogant? Ultimately these discussions will always goes back to the critical point: “What do you do with Jesus? Who is Jesus to you? What claims upon your life does his life make?”
Secondly we need to turn the charge of arrogance back around on the skeptic and ask him to consider the following. If it is true that Jesus is the Son of God who came and died for our sins to restore us to fellowship with God, wouldn’t it be of the utmost arrogance to dismiss his life and claims as irrelevant to our lives?
I like the way the author Rick Joyner once put it: “Those who say that Christianity is an arrogant religion because it claims that Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God are, in fact, the arrogant ones. What could be greater pride than to have the Son of God come and make atonement for us, suffering as He did for our sin, and then say that we do not need His provision and that we can be reconciled to God on our own? Pride led to the first fall of Satan, and it is pride that keeps us under the power of the Fall. By humbling ourselves and acknowledging our need for the cross, we begin to be delivered from the power of sin.”
Thirdly we need to help the skeptic to understand that every worldview has its own points of exclusivity. Buddhism was birthed out of a rejection of three cardinal doctrines absolutely fundamental to Hinduism– 1) the authority of the Vedas (Hindu scriptures), 2) the cast system and 3) an eternal soul or independent self (atman). And of course Hinduism excludes the Buddhist worldview since it affirms the very points Buddhism rejects! Moreover Buddhism excludes Christian, Islamic and Jewish worldviews wholesale on the basis that it dogmatically insists belief in a Creator God is irrelevant if not utterly false.
Fourthly atheism is exclusivistic by its very nature. Atheism denies the absolute claims to reality that all religions make and seeks to substitute in its own brand of fundamental humanism that it claims apprehends the world aright. Even New-Age spiritism and Unitarianism are exclusivistic. Their attempts to meld and blend together all religious ways into one “tolerant” uniformity can only be done at the cost of offending and excluding certain core doctrines inherent to the very religious expressions they are borrowing from.
The point is ultimate truth should never be dismissed on the basis that it happens to be exclusive. The very nature of truth excludes other claims that are false. Just because a particular way is “narrow” does not mean it is arrogant. I’m sure every open-minded skeptic is grateful his airline pilot is willing to be “narrow-minded” when he lands his plane on a narrow runaway as opposed to the open cow pasture nearby. Every worldview, whether or not one can admit it, has its particular points of departure and exclusivity that define it in contrast to other worldviews. Furthermore each worldview lays claim to ultimate reality (“this is the way the world is”) according to their own interpretive paradigm.
Whenever I hear people say, “All religions are the same” I want to (gently) scream out, “REALLY!! Are you freakin’ serious?” Such a claim can only be made in gross ignorance. I have never heard any religious claimant say anything close to the central message of Christianity. Consider the following point of departure: Most religions try to pump up their God, inflating his transcendence in order to disassociate him from the crud of our world. But Christianity is God bending low, stooping down into our miserable, rebellious earth to take upon himself all our filthy sin and crud and be executed for us!
Now one can certainly choose to dismiss that story line as the greatest hoax in history. Even the apostle Paul conceded if Christ did not die and rise from the dead our beliefs are pitiful and worthless. But if it’s true, the one thing you cannot do is dismiss it all as irrelevant to your life. If Jesus was needed for my sin, he is needed for the sin of all. To deem him irrelevant to your life is to reject your only source of rescue and freedom from sin’s enslavement. It would be no different than a shipwrecked survivor rejecting a life preserver thrown to him as irrelevant because he misjudges it as being nothing more than floating seaweed.
My pastor once said it best when he said, “Heaven and Hell is not a separation between the good and bad. It is ultimately a separation between the humble and the prideful. The humble recognize they are in desperate need of God’s grace and mercy, whereas the arrogant deem God’s provision through Christ to be beneath them and irrelevant to their lives.
* The question as to whether it is possible certain individuals who are ignorant of the gospel can still come “through” Christ and be saved is a separate matter of discussion. In short I would say yes. The N.T. makes it clear the blood of bulls and goats did not take away sin from the O.T. saints. Therefore in some way the atonement of Christ was applied to O.T. persons despite their ignorance of Christ. Personally I believe the N.T. makes clear God’s judgement and our accountability is based on a 1 to 1 ratio in relation to the amount of revelation we receive.