Biblical Christianity claims to be an exclusive faith. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (Jn 14:6). This claim was echoed by the apostles as they preached Jesus: “And 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 4:12). The claim that there are many ways to God is utterly incompatible with biblical Christianity.
But it is precisely this exclusive claim that many modern people find so objectionable. And so this week’s question is one of the most common – if not the most common – objection to the Christian faith in Western countries: there cannot be only one true religion.
One way to begin to answer this objection is with a question: why not?
Why should there not be only one true religion? After all, few people get upset about exclusivity in other aspects of reality. Take physics, for example: when was the last time you heard somebody protest that the laws of physics only work in certain ways? Or take human physiology: do people waste ink writing editorials protesting the intolerance of the human lungs as the only true way to breathe?
Of course not. People are willing to accept that gravity is gravity and lungs are lungs. This is simply how reality is. But if we accept the fact that physical and biological reality is exclusive, why do we object to the same claim applied to spiritual reality?
The reason is that there is a hidden assumption in the objection, there cannot be only one true religion. The assumption lurking in this objection is that religious truth is not a matter of fixed principles (like gravity and lungs), but rather a matter of personal preference. But is this true?
If it is true that religion is merely a matter of personal preference, then God – however one chooses to define ‘God’ – is ultimately indifferent to the spiritual behavior of human beings. Now at this point one might simply shrug and say, So what? That doesn’t sound too bad! What’s the problem?
The problem is that the belief that God is ultimately indifferent to our spiritual behavior is itself an exclusive religious claim! Christianity says there is only one way to God. Critics say there is not only one way to God. Each of these positions makes a religious claim that, if correct, rules out the other. In other words, as Timothy Keller puts it in his book The Reason for God, “It is no more narrow to claim that one religion is right than to claim that one way to think about all religions (namely that all are equal) is right. We are all exclusive in our beliefs about religion, but in different ways.”
The fact is that every person on this planet is exclusive in their religious opinions, whether they will acknowledge it or not. So it is no good objecting that there cannot be only one true religion. None of us truly believes that. Deep down, we are all exclusive – just in different ways. The question to ask then is not, can there be only one true religion, but rather, what is the one true religion?
Some say that this question – what is the one true religion? – is unanswerable. But is it? Let us consider the necessary qualities which the one true religion must possess.
Firstly, the one true religion must explain both the diversity and unity in reality. Reality is divided into numerous objects, but all objects are united by overlapping logical categories. For example, we see individual apples for sale at the store, yet we know that each individual apple is also part of a larger class of objects called ‘apples.’ Philosophers call this the problem of “universals” – the problem of “the one and the many.” What explains it?
In the history of human thought, many attempted explanations have been offered to this problem. Plato thought universals such as “appleness” existed in a separate realm from actual apples. Aristotle thought that “appleness” existed in the shared mass of all individual apples. The Scottish philosopher David Hume believed “appleness” was a figment of human imagination, and the German philosopher Immanuel Kant thought “appleness” was a category existing in the human mind and imposed on the chaos of reality. The problem with all these views is that none of them can explain how “appleness” actually connects to apples.
Secondly, the one true religion must explain the existence and universally binding character of all the laws of nature: laws of language, logic, physics, etc. All of these laws make reality work – but what made the laws themselves, and what makes them continue to work?
Thirdly, the one true religion, whichever it may be, cannot be a religion which originates from man. Why not? Because human beings are finite. We are neither all-knowing nor all-powerful. We lack both the knowledge and power to make any universally binding spiritual pronouncements. Any pronouncements we make would simply be our subjective opinions. Consequently, the one true religion must be a religion of revelation. The authority of this revelation cannot come from any man, otherwise we are back to the problem of subjective opinions. No; in the one true religion, the revelation must be self-authenticating – it must get its authority directly from the divine.
Only biblical Christianity fits all three qualifications. Only the God of the Bible – who himself is one God existing eternally in three Persons – is able to create many particular apples that all share in the one universal quality of “appleness.” In the same way, it is only because the God of the Bible both created and continues to sustain the universe that the laws of nature exist and work everywhere (Col 1:16-17, Heb 1:2-3). Lastly, it is only biblical Christianity that is based not on human authority, but on the revelation of the Old and New Testaments “breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16) and in which the “Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth,” (1 Jn 5:6).
Want to experience biblical Christianity, the one true religion? Join us for worship at Resurrection OPC this Sunday!