One of the most common questions I receive is on the topic of the unique truth claims of Christianity. This is also known as the problem of pluralism. The basic issue is that there are many religions that claim to be valid ways of knowing God. But Christianity claims it is true and the other ideas are false. Isn’t this a bit arrogant and intolerant? And probably false and stupid too?
There are many related questions on this topic. Let’s look at them in turn.
Does Christianity Claim To Be Uniquely True?
The straight and honest answer is an unequivocal “yes.” I could quote from dozens of passages and look at broad Biblical themes on this issue to thoroughly establish this point, but for the sake of time and space, let’s cut to the chase. Here’s what Jesus said to his disciple Thomas, in an important speech right before his crucifixion (John 14:5-6, ESV):
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The context of this passage is that Jesus has plainly stated he is about to leave them and return to God. Thomas feels confused and frustrated. How can I follow you to God if I don’t know how to get there?
This is, on a much lesser level, how I feel when people ask me to meet them somewhere new. “I’ll see you at CQL at 2pm.” CQL? What’s that? A new coffee shop? Where is it? How do I get there? I’m hopeless at directions. I feel this gnawing sense of despair that instead of ending up at CQL, I’ll end up cold and hungry under a bridge somewhere, with no clue where I am or how to get home.
Jesus reassures Thomas that the way to find God is through his relationship with Jesus. If you know and trust Jesus, then you know and trust God, because Jesus is the only way to God. At the same time, no one comes to the Father except through Jesus.
Clear enough. Jesus is the only way to God. This is part of the Christian message.
Can Christianity Justify Its Claim To Be True?
If I claimed to be the only basketball player in the world, that would be an absolute, exclusive truth claim. The statement “Only I can properly play basketball” implies that no one else is a legitimate basketball player.
Unfortunately, this claim has no evidence in its favor. In fact, there are literally no good reasons to think this statement is true. So you can see that someone can make an exclusive truth claim, even if they are misinformed and ignorant about the subject.
Many people think that Christians are doing this. “Jesus is the only way to God!” sounds, to many people, a lot like, “I’m the only basketball player in the world.”
This is why I think the discipline of apologetics is so important. Apologetics is giving evidence and reasons that make a rationally compelling case for the truth of Christianity. This article isn’t the place to offer a full-blown defense that establishes the truth of the Christian worldview, but I’ve written dozens of articles for those who are searching for God and assembled many resource pages with excellent reasons and evidence for the existence of God.
So in light of what I’ve written elsewhere, and the resources I’ve provided, I think there is good reason to conclude that Christianity is true. Of course you will have to do your own investigation of the facts and the evidence, and assess the arguments carefully, but they are freely available for your consideration.
Does This Mean That Every Other Religion Is Completely False?
No, definitely not. As I shared above, I am terrible at directions. Back when I was dating the woman who became my wife, I would often walk from her apartment to her church, and back, which was about a three minute walk, involving exactly one turn, on a grid-like system. To avoid getting lost on this long and dangerous trek, I had her draw me a map that I carried around with me. It is a wonder that she still married me.
Given this deficiency, I’m quite interested in the accuracy of the map program on my smartphone (which I bought in large part because of the GPS system). When I learned about the bug in Apple Maps that was sending some people in Australia to the middle of the desert, my worst fears were confirmed, and I switched to using Google Maps as quickly as possible.
Both map programs are attempting to model the real world. The question is, do they get it right? In 99% of the cases, my understanding is that they get you to the same destination. But Google Maps is more accurate (for now) than Apple Maps. Wherever they happen to agree, they are both right. But where they diverge, only one of them is right (or both of them are wrong), and it happens that Google Maps is the more accurate program.
Similarly, many of my atheist friends believe that we should all care for the poor. We agree. Jesus taught and lived this. It is a central Biblical theme. We all agree. So when Christianity teaches the truth about our duties to the poor, it does not do so uniquely. Many religions and worldviews teach us this value, from agnostics to Buddhists to you name it. This is a shared moral conviction. And thank God for that! It is very good when the poor are cared for and empowered, whether or not this is done by Christians.
But Christianity is still obviously unique in its truth claims. Whenever we can agree, by all means, let’s do so. But I affirm, for instance, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so that when we repent of all we have done wrong and ask for forgiveness, God will accept us as His beloved sons and daughters, fill us with his Holy Spirit, and lead us to love God and love our neighbors. Most atheists I know do not affirm that is true. Right? Muslims do not agree with me on this point. And so on.
When Apple Maps is saying “taking a left” and Google Maps is saying “no, you need to go to the right,” well, only one of them (at least in the Australian desert example) is a true model of reality. One road leads to the city, the other route leads to the desert.
It doesn’t do us any good to get upset that we disagree with each other. That happens all the time! We’re going to walk around pretty angry and frustrated if we can’t handle disagreement. Rather, let’s graciously reason with one another about which set of directions is true. For instance, when my wife and I are deciding the best way to get home, in my experience, calmly reasoning with one another has been far more effective than angrily disagreeing.
Does This Imply That Christians Are Arrogant and Intolerant?
But this is a red herring. It isn’t the real issue, but a distraction. When you’re disagreeing about the best directions to some place, what good does it do to call someone names?
Imagine saying something like, “Oh yea?! You think you know the only way home, and that my way won’t get us there? That is so arrogant of you! How dare you claim to know the right way home, you intolerant kn0w-nothing!”
I haven’t tried that out myself, but my guess is that it wouldn’t help me get home any faster. It would be more likely to get me into a wreck.
The issue is: is this set of directions true? Does it actually get you to your destination?
Does knowing and loving Jesus connect you with God? Or is God an imaginary sky fairy who has never existed, does not exist, and will never exist, so Jesus, who is dead and powerless, cannot connect you with God?
Answering those questions with kindness, reason, logic, evidence, listening, humility, and gentleness is going to help us figure out which ‘map program’ or worldview is right – and which is wrong – and where they are both right (or wrong). Calling each other names is counter-productive.
For instance, when I “converted” from Apple Maps to Google Maps I don’t think that made me an intolerant, arrogant person who hates people who use Apple Maps. I just think Google Maps is a better product with more accurate maps. If you want to keep using Apple Maps, that’s fine with me. But if you’re interested in having an evidence-based, good-spirited, open-minded conversation about it, I’d be happy to share with you why I changed my mind about the best map software. The same thing applies to the question, “Is Christianity true?”
I think it is. You may not. If so, the practical next step is simply to look at the evidence and the reasons together.