Are all religions created equally? Can Jesus really be the only way to know God?
We all know the world is filled with a wide variety of religions. Though not all religions are the same, sometimes the similarities can be striking.
Most religions acknowledge a divine being or beings—for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call that entity God. Furthermore, people of all religious stripes tend to believe there is a barrier between God and humans.
This barrier has been identified as a variety of things—lack of belief, human finitude, a need for enlightenment, suffering, sin. But the commonality is that most religions claim that we can overcome this barrier in our search to know and experience God.
But is it possible that every religion represents a different way to the same God?
Atop the Mountain
Some picture it this way: God is at the top of a many-sided mountain. On one side is Islam. On another is Hinduism. Still another, the way of Christianity. Then Judaism, Confucianism, tribal religions . . . you get the picture. Each side presents an equally legitimate path to the same destination.
In contrast to this optimistic image, many Christians claim that the only true and valid way to God is through Jesus—a claim often considered intolerant and narrow-minded.
So which is it? Do all religions lead to the same place? Or is Jesus truly the only way to God?
Exclusive Claims about What’s at the Peak
Unfortunately, the God-at-the-top-of-the-mountain picture is not as simple as it sounds. For starters, many religions are exclusive in their definitions of who the God atop the mountain peak is.
Some forms of Buddhism and Confucianism do not conceive that a God exists at all. Hindus, on the other hand, believe in many diverse gods. Different still are Christians, Jews, and Muslims, who claim there is only one true God.
With such fundamental differences, not every religion can be right. Either God exists, or he does not. Either there are many gods, or there is just one. Only one of these viewpoints corresponds to reality; the answer cannot be “all of the above.”
In other words, a more accurate picture of religious perceptions of God would be a vast mountain range with countless different peaks.
Exclusive Claims about the Path
A second problem is that religions are also exclusive when it comes to how people make their way up the mountain to God. The journeys to the peak are as diverse as the peaks themselves.
Even if we limit ourselves to the three dominant monotheistic religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—their pathways to God are conflicting.
For Muslims, knowing God must come through the prophet Muhammad and his sacred writings in the Qur’an. But Jews and Christians do not regard Muhammad as God’s spokesperson.
For observant Jews, knowing God comes through keeping his commandments in the Torah and identifying with his chosen people. But while Christians and Muslims respect the Jewish heritage of their faiths, they both believe that Judaism is incomplete. For them, the New Testament and Qur’an respectively teach a more complete way to God.
For Christians, knowing God comes through faith in Jesus as the Messiah and God’s son, and belief in his death and resurrection. But Jews reject the Christian belief that Jesus is the Messiah, and Muslims do not believe Jesus was the Son of God.1
Add onto this the countless number of other religious ideas and the result is a confusing mess of largely incompatible claims and creeds.
Exclusive Claims about Hiking Practices
A third problem comes from each religion’s specific teachings about God’s will for our lives. Were we to enumerate all the practices and behaviors every religion both encourages and prohibits, we would find another lengthy list of irreconcilable elements.
Consider just one example: If there is a God at the top of the mountain, why would he forbid certain practices (like drinking alcohol or worshiping images) for some people but allow them among others?
The only way to make sense of these conflicting teachings is to conceive of God as inconsistent (at the very least), if not schizophrenic. Few would say this is a God worth seeking.
Exclusive Claims of the Guidebooks
Then there is the fact that most religions have their own particular—and often exclusive—religious texts. When it comes to Christianity, the biggest hindrances to a universalistic mind-set—the perspective that all religions lead to the same place—are the exclusive claims of the Bible.
The New Testament writers teach that humans are separated from God by their sinful nature. When Jesus died on the cross, he took on the sins of humanity through his sacrifice. He then offered the forgiveness of sins to all who trust in him.
The Bible also claims that Jesus rose from the dead, fully conquering sin and death for all who would follow him. The apostle Paul described it this way: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”2
The implications of these New Testament claims are far-reaching: there is only one God; there is only one way to be restored to God; that way is through Jesus and his death for our sins; the way was made complete when Jesus rose from the grave.
If Jesus did not die for our sins and rise from the grave, then the Christian faith is a delusion. It may give people a purpose in life (albeit a misguided one), but it does not lead to God. But if the Bible is correct and the claims it makes are true, then all other religious paths to God lead away from the one true path.
To put it another way, if there are other paths to God, then Jesus’ life and death were unnecessary and his teaching about the need to believe in him was false.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what you believe and whether or not you accept the Bible’s teaching. Perhaps you have good reasons for embracing another belief system and rejecting the Bible’s account about Jesus.
No matter what, to have confidence in our beliefs, they must be rational and coherent. And that begins by dispensing with the notion that exclusive religious claims simply offer different paths to the same God.