‘Contentious Questions’: How Can Christians Think Our Way is the One Way to God?
Because some questions are just that way.
Christianity has a problem: We believe there’s only one way to God but most of America doesn’t. Listen to Oprah speaking that “there are many paths to get to what you call God. … There couldn’t possibly be just one way!”
That’s just one entertainer’s position, and for my money she speaks with as much authority on religion as actor Hugh Laurie does on medical practice. None. Yet she’s influential, and she also reflects widespread public opinion. So yes, we have a problem. We think Christianity is the only way, and a whole lot of people think we’re wrong on that.
Oprah’s Problem: Making Jesus Optional
But Oprah has a problem, too: She’s making Jesus optional. That’s pretty hard for one who says, “I am a Christian.” In the video here she acts like she wants to honor Jesus’ teachings, but she doesn’t seem to know (or care) that His teachings include trusting in Him alone. “I am the way, the truth, and life,” He says. “No one comes to the Father but by Me.”
She doesn’t seem to know how unique Christianity is, either. Other religions teach we have to live a certain way, “with a loving heart,” as Oprah puts it in the video, and I’m sure she would add some other standards. It means doing the right things, in other words, and it puts all the burden on us to measure up.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve tried very hard to measure up, and on my own I’ve never been sure I met the standard. I wasn’t even clear on what the standard was — are you? — and yet I was quite sure I wasn’t meeting it.
So we all have a problem there; all of us, including Oprah. And Christianity, alone among all religions, says God Himself will take that burden off us and solve it for us. Instead of us reaching up to heaven with our good works, such as they are, God came down to us in the person of Jesus Christ, to meet us where we are.
Everyone’s Problem; God’s Answer
We really needed Him to do that. Our sin isn’t trivial. It’s open rebellion against the good God who created us. They deserve a death penalty, separation from God forever.
Jesus not only lived for us and taught us, He submitted to extreme suffering on our behalf, showing He was with us in all things. And then He died for us, paying that death penalty for our sins so we could be forgiven in His name. We don’t have to measure up first; He did it for us just as we are, and if we’ll just come to Him, He accepts us just as we are.
That’s unique. Alone among all religions, too, Christianity’s founder proved He had the authority to say He was the one way to conquer death and lead us to heaven. He did it by conquering His own death, rising bodily and physically from the grave on the third day after His crucifixion.
How could there be just one way? That’s most of the answer right there.
How Could There Be More Than One Way to God?
But I’ve got a question to match Oprah’s: How could there possibly be more than one way?
Think about what that would mean. It’s saying that there are many ways to God. The way of Jesus is one of them, but it’s your choice. It’s optional. Jesus is optional, and His death on the cross was optional.
Now, have you ever seen Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ? Have you seen what Jesus endured before He was executed? Have you seen the brutality of His crucifixion? Have you seen His agony? The movie was horrific, but it was also accurate in its depiction. The Cross was awful.
The Bible tells us Jesus endured it for “the joy set before Him,” which was the door it would open us to heaven and eternal life with Him.
The Cross Can’t Be Optional
That’s what the Bible says. Oprah basically says that Jesus didn’t have to go through the torture. He didn’t have to endure the agony, and God the Father didn’t have to watch His Son writhing in bitter pain. He didn’t have to die on the cross. He had all the power He needed to avoid it, or once on that cross, He still could have called those thousands of angels to take Him down.
All of that was a matter of take-it-or-leave-it, if there’s more than one way. He could have walked away from it all and we’d have been just fine. The universe has lots of nice ways to get to God, after all. Sure, Christianity is one of them. But it’s one just one good choice among many, so really, it doesn’t matter if Jesus died that way for us all.
That’s where Oprah’s thinking leads. I say it’s either woefully ignorant or completely irrational. It’s almost inhuman! If Jesus didn’t have to die on the cross — if that wasn’t the only answer to human sin and death — then who could possibly think He would have gone ahead and done it anyway? Remember how he prayed for “this cup to pass” from Him? It didn’t, because it couldn’t; not if men and women, boys and girls were be forgiven and come to God. There was no other option.
The News Is Still Good!
So we all have to make a choice. If you think Christianity is a way to God, you have to conclude it’s the only way. If you think some of those other ways work, then you have to conclude that Christianity is a brutal hoax of a lie — because the message of the Cross can’t be true and optional, both at the same time. If Christianity is true at all, it must be exclusively true.
But that’s okay: It’s also really good news, because God did come to us all, to be with us all, to show us all the way, and to die for us all so we could live with Him forever. Who needs another way, when God has given us His very best?
What do you think? We always encourage thoughtful comments here at The Stream, but this is the first in a series of special opportunities. There’s a lot I didn’t have space to say here, a lot of questions left unanswered, so I’m sure you’ll have some for me. Leave your thoughts here, and I’ll interact with them live on The Stream’s Facebook page, next Tuesday at 4 pm Eastern time.