“You Christians are always judging others,” the young man said after reading the tract I gave him. “Don’t you know that all ways are right? How can you say your way is the only way? You’re so self-righteous!”
We talked briefly about Christ and truth, but he wasn’t interested. For him, all roads lead to God. The only sin is putting up roadblocks, and I was putting up a king-sized one. I had no right to judge someone else’s truth; everyone picks his own.
We live in a pluralistic society. Various religions, world views, and ideologies exist side by side and are more abundant than television channels. But no one world view dominates our culture. We rub shoulders with Baptists and Buddhists, Mormons and Mennonites, Christian Reformed and Christian Scientists.
With so many competing claims to truth, how can any one of them claim to be the truth? The sheer number of religious options dissolves their credibility. For any one of them to claim a monopoly on truth is – well, anti-pluralistic.
“Open the phone book to ‘churches’ and look at all of them!” says a friend of mine. “How could you ever know you picked the right one?” So he doesn’t try.
He’s right, however; there is a lot of religious diversity. And because of that, many people are unwilling to discuss their faith. Faith has become a strictly private matter that, if discussed at all, shouldn’t be “rammed down people’s throats.” So we have politicians who say they’re privately against abortion but publicly support abortion rights.
Religion has become little more than cultural tradition or personal habit rather than objective truth – knowable facts about God, humanity, and salvation. If something makes you “feel good” or “works for you,” fine. Just don’t hit me over the head with it. I’ve found something else.
We’re urged to attend the “church of our choice”; it doesn’t matter which one, any one will do.
So most people refuse to consider the facts of Christianity, especially Christ’s death and resurrection. They don’t want to be bothered. What they feel is true is more important than what is in fact true. Faith is a “religious preference” or “lifestyle,” a matter of personal opinion, not established fact.
Pluralism once meant religious liberty. Today it means that no religion can claim sole possession of the truth. People say that there is no such thing as exclusive truth and will not tolerate a narrow-minded Christianity that claims to be the only way. But the fact is, Christians feel at peace with God only because it is theological fact that Christ died for their sins.
The idea that there are many ways to God, or many truths, is nonsense. Either God exists or He doesn’t; my feelings or opinion has nothing to do with it. God said, “I AM WHO I AM,” not “I AM WHAT YOU BELIEVE I AM.” Either Christ is God or He isn’t – whether we believe it or not. “Let God be true, and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).
As one philosopher said, “Logic stands independent of our whims.” The mushroom eater who says, “I pick and eat any mushroom I want, whatever I feel is right at the time,” won’t feel much for long. Many kinds of mushrooms are deadly. If he eats a poisonous mushroom, he will die. There is only one truth.
“Christ is true for you,” the student said to me. “If you believe it, then it’s true for you!”
“No!” I said. “I’m saying that Christianity is true and I believe it. It’s not true because I believe it. It’s true whether anyone believes it or not. At least understand what it claims.”
“Look,” he sneered, “if it’s true for you, fine; but it’s not true for me.”
Softening the Gospel
Because truth seems so elusive, many people hesitate to adopt any convictions. They call it “being open-minded.” Everything, including the gospel, might be true, and they end up, as C.S. Lewis said, with “a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing together in their heads.” Each entrée in the smorgasbord makes for good fare, as long as you don’t make it a steady diet.
When I received Christ, my friends thought it was just a “phase,” something to experiment with for a while. I certainly wouldn’t stick to it. That would be too narrow-minded. They couldn’t understand that the gospel is a radical call to lifelong obedience to a single truth.
Maybe the problem is that Christians aren’t communicating the real gospel. Sociologist James Hunter has shown that evangelicals tend to “civilize” their faith, softening the more offensive facts of the gospel – sin, hell, God’s wrath – to make it more palatable to others.
I know a Christian who told his friend that he didn’t want to see such a “nice person” go to hell, but hell exists because no one is, in God’s sight, a nice person. Hell is an unpopular fact, but still a fact.
Jesus didn’t mince words about God’s holiness and justice, even when he challenged the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in hell. Christians must speak the truth, and nothing less than the truth (Eph. 4:15).
Some Christians communicate the gospel in pragmatic terms. “It works,” they say. “Let me tell you what Christ can do for you.” True, Christianity works, but if people hear only how fulfilling or exciting it is to be a Christian, the gospel can be misunderstood as just another religious preference, another way to God – not the only one.
Christianity isn’t true because it works; it works because it’s true. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:14).
Hardening Our Stand
A pluralistic society worships many gods and many lords. In other words, “in gods we trust.” Just as Paul challenged the religious plurality he found in Athens (Acts 17), so must we.
First, Christians must learn to think, refuting the “close-minded” label we’ve carried for the past hundred years. All truth is God’s truth, and directed by God’s word, Christians can seek it wherever it’s found. The close-minded bigot says, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind’s made up.” The active-minded Christian says, “Bring on the facts. I’m not afraid of them; I have the mind of Christ.” Augustine said, “The Christian thinks in believing and believes in thinking.”
Second, because Jesus said He was the only way to God, most people who say they are open-minded are not open to Christ’s claims. The Christian’s task is to make them face the questions they are not asking: “Why don’t you think there is no absolute truth – something that is true for everybody? Doesn’t believing that there is no absolute truth take a lot of faith? What makes you so sure you can’t be sure of what is absolutely true?”
The idea that there are absolutely no absolutes is a contradiction, and Christians must make people face that. To reject all absolutes is to make an absolute statement, which is logically false.
A student once wrote a paper arguing that there were no moral absolutes. Although the paper deserved a high grade because of its research and thoroughness, the professor gave him an F. When the student protested, the professor said, “Why should I give you an A? Everything is relative, isn’t it?”
Truth is, by definition, exclusive. The pilot landing a packed 747 has but one option – the narrow flight path that leads to life. Deviation from that path will bring destruction. A question on a multiple-choice test has one correct answer, no matter how many possible answers are listed.
But the truth has to be knowable, a fact. Paul claimed that the resurrection of Christ was a world-shaking objective fact that could be verified by witnesses (1 Cor. 15:1-8), and many modern scholars have shown that Scripture is accurate and trustworthy.
Third, Christians must boldly challenge people’s false beliefs and ideas. Yes, it’s unpopular, uncomfortable, and defies the common attitude of live and let live, but lives are at stake. If someone believes his malignant tumor is just an inflammation, he must be shown the truth. Similarly, Jesus came to divide truth from error and was not afraid to challenge the Sadducees on their understanding of the resurrection. “You are badly mistaken!” he said.
Yet we point them to Christ, not because we’re right and they’re wrong, but because God is offering them salvation. We must not destroy arguments to prove ourselves superior, but out of love, compassion, and humility to help them receive forgiveness from a holy God.