Flight 409 from Dallas to Birmingham was as crowded as usual. Familiar with his tendency to wilt in mid-afternoon, Tom was planning to snooze a little on the plane before his evening meeting in Birmingham.
As he settled in next to the window, a tall, slim, college-age girl took the aisle seat next to him. They exchanged greetings as she settled an overstuffed bag into the space under her seat. Leaning back, Tom closed his eyes and tried to doze off. He kept his eyes closed until they began their take-off roll. Then he looked out the window just in time to see the ground drop from under them. Dallas became smaller and smaller and finally disappeared as they poked a hole in the cloud layer that made a ceiling over east Texas.
Tom did not always feel compelled to talk to the people he sat next to on a plane. But this time he was definitely convicted to give this girl a chance to talk about Christ. His guilt was temporarily relieved when he hesitatingly peeled himself away from the window to glance over at her. She appeared to be sound asleep. What a relief! “Well, God,” he prayed, “if You want me to talk with this girl about Jesus Christ, You wake her up.”
He had barely finished his prayer, dumping the responsibility on God, when the stewardess plowed into the back of the girl’s chair, throwing her forward so hard she almost hit the bulkhead.
“Good morning,” Tom said with a grin.
“Really!” She grinned back. “Well, I guess I’m not going to be able to get any sleep.”
“My name is Tom,” he offered. “What’s yours?’
“Jan,” she returned. As she put her seat back in an upright position, she asked. “You going to Birmingham?”
“Yep,” he answered. “You, too?”
“What for?” he inquired.
“I’m getting married tomorrow,” she answered with a big smile that betrayed her excitement – though she was striving for composure.
“Congratulations,” he offered. “Tell me about the groom.” That, of course, flipped on her “favorite topic” switch. She told him about Jim. He was a football player for the University of Alabama, and they both had one year of college left. After only a few minutes, Tom got the distinct impression Jim could walk on water.
She seemed to feel self-conscious rambling on about Jim, because after a short time she stopped rather abruptly and asked Tom why he was going to Birmingham. He told her he was leading a discussion about the Bible.
“Really?” She seemed pleasantly surprised. “Would you mind If I asked you a question?”
“Not at all.”
“Well,” she continued. “Jim and I are trying to decide whether to go to church or not. We’re not very religious, but we can see the need of establishing roots in some church. Frankly, though, we have a serious question about Christianity. How come Christians act like they have a hotline to God? We’ve had opportunities to know some couples from several other religions, and they are really neat people who are sincere about their faith. Can you actually say two-thirds of the world’s population is going to hell when many of them are more sincere than most Christians?”
“Sincerity,” Tom began, “is a very admirable trait, but it doesn’t determine truth. I remember a Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown is lamenting the fact that they have just lost twenty-seven baseball games in a row. In the last frame he turns and looks back at the empty baseball field and says, ‘How can we lose when we’re so sincere?’ Sincerity does not change reality.”
“But aren’t all religions working toward the same goal of getting to God?” Jan insisted. “Don’t they just use a different path up life’s mountain to get there? Mohammed, Buddha, and Krishna all claimed to be or to have ways to God, but none of them were exclusive about it.”
“Jesus,” Tom answered, “did not just claim to be the only way to God. He claimed to be God. If God had inspired several key people of the world like Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, and Jesus, and then we came along and claimed Jesus is the only one that’s any good, that would be unfair.”
“Right. That’s what I mean,” Jan nodded.
“But,” he continued, “that’s not the case. The Bible teaches that God Himself became man in Jesus of Nazareth and died for all who would believe in Him. Is there anything unfair about God doing that?”
“No, I suppose not,” Jan answered cautiously, “but what makes Christians so narrow-minded? I’m not sure I want anything to do with a God who would encourage His people to be so narrow and exclusive.”
“Truth,” Tom answered, “is always narrow. I want this airplane to have a narrow-minded pilot. I want him landing only at airports that are big enough. Besides that, I want him landing on the runway at the airport, not between the runways or in the parking lot. That’s narrow, but it’s not bad, because it’s right.”
“It just seems condescending, intolerant, and unloving to go around telling people that they’re going to hell if they don’t believe like you do,” Jan persisted.
“Do you believe in polio vaccinations?” Tom asked. “I mean, do you believe that everybody ought to get themselves and their children vaccinated?”
“Isn’t that condescending, intolerant, unloving, and narrow?”
“Yes – No! – But that’s different,” Jan insisted.
“Not if both are really true.”
“But Christians sure do turn a lot of people off.”
“Oh,” Tom agreed, “a person can be obnoxious with the truth. It’s not good to be repulsive about anything, but that doesn’t stop the truth from being narrow.”
“It doesn’t bother me if others believe in Christ,” Jan claimed, “as long as they don’t tell me and everybody else that we have to do that too. Even if I believe that Christ is true for me, that doesn’t mean He has to be true for the rest of the world.”
“But, you see, Jan, that’s not the case when you are dealing with objective truth. That’s OK if we are talking about our own individual feelings and opinions, but not when we are considering facts.”
“I think I’m starting to get your point,” Jan answered. “If Jesus was right, that would really make a difference.”
“Yes,” Tom continued. “Suppose I told you, ‘I believe this airplane will get us to Birmingham.’ If you said, ‘That may be true for you,’ I’d disagree. It’s not true for me unless it’s true for everybody on board.”
“But what about other planes to Birmingham? Couldn’t Jesus be a way to God without being the only way?”
“The trouble is,” Tom answered, “that would mean what He did say is not true, and the opposite of what He said is true. It seems to me we’d be starting a new religion. It would not be Christianity, since we would be decidedly contradicting Christ.”
Tom and Jan discussed five different aspects of the question, “Is Jesus Christ the only way to God?” Let’s take a minute to think them through.
First, is it enough to be sincere?
Although sincerity is an admirable quality, to sincerely follow something that is wrong is to be sincerely wrong. Sincerity does not change reality.
During my undergraduate days at Michigan State University, we had an unusual snowstorm. Normally, Michigan snow is rather damp and forms solid snowdrifts that will pretty well hold you up when you jump into them. One particular storm, however, lasted for three days and left very dry, powdery snow almost up to the second-story windows of some dorms. Lots of kids thought it would be great fun to jump into that huge snowdrift from the third- and fourth-floor windows – having all the confidence in the world that it would hold them up.
We had students in nearly every class with broken legs from jumping out windows. One guy on our floor who hurt his leg in basketball even wore a sign around his neck: I Did Not Jump into the Snow.
Now, those kids were sincere.
They had so much conviction that the snow would hold them up that they jumped out the window. That is sincere faith! They not only believed it, they also acted on their faith. Only problem is – they were wrong! The same thing is true in religion. No matter how many people believe it and regardless of how sincere they are, if they are wrong, the results can be disastrous.
Second, what is the difference between Christianity and the other religions?
In a sense, nearly all founders of the major world religions claimed to be ways or have ways to get to God (though they all defined God differently). But Jesus claimed to be God. Many non-Christians find it difficult to believe that a man (Jesus) could become God; but that is not what happened. The Bible teaches that God became man in the form of Jesus of Nazareth – not the other way around.
The reason He took on humanity was so He could die – in the place of those who would believe in Him as their Savior. Jesus said that He came “to give His life a ransom for (the Greek word literally means ‘as a substitute for’) many” (Matt. 20:28).
Third, aren’t Christians too narrow-minded?
People are often quick to recognize that Christianity is intolerant of other beliefs. That is true. But the reason is that Christianity emphasizes objective truth. That is, it is based on real history – real people, places, and events. Christianity is basically news, not views. Truth is narrow by definition. Tolerance in personal opinions is a virtue, but tolerance when dealing with facts is ridiculous.
Fourth, is it unreasonable to say, “That’s OK for you but not me”?
Anything that is true objectively and universally cannot be applied only privately. If it is true, then it is true for everybody, and if it is not, then it is not true for anybody.
I shall always remember a large, loud, elderly, lady math teacher I once had. I can still hear her bellowing: “Remember, DeWitt, if you don’t come up with the same answer that I have, either you’re wrong or I’m wrong, but we can’t both be right!” If Jesus said that He is the only way to God, and Mohammed or anybody else said that there is some other way to God, then either Jesus is wrong or Mohammed is wrong. They cannot both be right.
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (Jn. 14:6). Before this, He said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30). He went on to say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). Either He is the only way to God the Father, or He is not. If He is, then that is true for you and me as well as everybody else, no matter where they live or what they believe. If He is not, then it is no more true for me than for anybody else, no matter how much I believe it.
Fifth, could Jesus be one of many ways to God?
To claim Jesus is just one of many ways to God is to say the opposite of what He said. If that were true, He would be wrong. If His basic message is wrong, then He is not a reliable way to anything. His claim to be the only way was not just a sidelight; it was the heart of His whole message. He was the only way because He was God, the Creator of the universe (Jn. 1:11-13; Col. 1:16-17). So if there is any other way, then His basic message is wrong and He is not a way at all.
Let’s look back in on Tom and Jan for a minute. Their DC-9 began its descent into Birmingham. As the seat-belt light came on, Tom asked Jan if she had ever made the decision to trust in Jesus Christ as her God and Savior. She said she had not. Next, he asked her if there was anything standing in the way of her trusting Christ as her Savior right then. Before the wheels touched the runway, she prayed with him to trust in Jesus Christ as her Savior. He gave her some verses to read and encouraged her to share what she learned with Jim. Tom said goodbye to her as they got off the plane.
About a year later, Tom got a letter from Jan. She had had some good discussions about Christ with her new husband, which resulted in his receiving Jesus Christ as his God and Savior.
David DeWitt, Kindred Spirit