Do All Roads Lead to God
with Sean McDowell
George Lucas, in a magazine interview, made a comment that represents what many people think today about world religions: “I remember when I was 10 years old, I asked my mother, ‘If there’s only one God, why are there so many religions?’ I’ve been pondering that question ever since, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that all religions are true.’”1 Madonna concurs: “I do believe that all paths lead to God. It’s a shame that we end up having religious wars, because so many of the messages are the same.”2 Sixty percent of young people today would agree that all roads equally lead to God.3
The Bible is very clear that Jesus is the only path that leads to God. Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
Ironically, though, Christianity is not the only religion to claim to be the sole path to God. Most other religions (as you can see in the chart below) teach that their beliefs are true and others’ are wrong. According to Islam, the Qur’an is the true word of God and the only avenue to salvation. Mormons believe that ultimate salvation is found only through Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church. But it seems Christianity takes all the heat for saying this.
Are all religions the same?
When it comes to the fundamental teachings of world faiths they can all be wrong, but they can’t all be right. Consider the differences between Hinduism and Islam. Hindus believe in many gods (polytheism) whereas Muslims strictly believe in one God (monotheism). For Hindus Jesus is one of many Gods, but for Muslims he is merely a good prophet. In fact, according to Muslim doctrine, to believe in more than one God is to commit the sin of shirk and to destine one’s soul to hell for eternity. The afterlife for Hindus involves a karmic process of paying off debt with the purpose of becoming one with the impersonal Brahman. Muslims believe in Heaven and Hell for people upon death, according to how they lived their earthly lives in relationship to Allah. While there may be surface similarities between these two faiths, there are core disagreements on the fundamentals. They can’t both be true.
|GOD||MEANS OF SALVATION||VIEW OF OTHER RELIGIONS|
|BUDDHISM||No God||Self-reliance||True Way|
|HINDUISM||1,000’s of Gods (Impersonal)||Reincarnation||All True|
|JUDAISM||One God—Yahweh||Works||Just Judaism|
|ISLAM||One God—Allah||Five Pillars||Just Islam|
|CHRISTIANITY||One God, Three Persons||Grace||Just Christianity|
While Madonna and George Lucas are wrong about the fundamental beliefs of world religions, they are right about secondary issues. For example, most faiths have some form of the “Golden Rule.” Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Buddha said, “Consider others as yourself” (Dhammapada 10:1). Other religions, specifically Islam and Judaism, are monotheistic and affirm there is only one God (of course, they get it wrong when it comes to who that God is and what He is like). So while the core tenets of other religions (particularly when it comes to the nature of God and the nature of salvation) are generally false, we must be careful not to dismiss truth discovered in those religions.
If a religion says to love your neighbor, to serve the poor, or to treat people equally, then we have common ground. This is precisely what Paul did on Mars Hill (Acts 17). He didn’t completely dismiss the beliefs of the Athenians; he used truth in their beliefs as common ground to discuss the resurrection of Jesus. Respecting other faiths can go a long way in our witness to non-believers.
The Uniqueness of Christianity
While many religions claim to be able to lead people to truth, Jesus uniquely claimed to be the truth. In other words, Jesus did not merely consider himself a path to God—he considered himself to be God! This is why Thomas fell down when he saw the risen Jesus and proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
Jesus did not merely make grandiose claims about his identity and ask people to blindly accept him; rather, he backed them up with compelling proof such as the working of miracles, the fulfillment of prophecy, and ultimately his own resurrection. Of the major religious figures of the world, for example, Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, Krishna, only one—Jesus—is reported to have resurrected from the dead. This report, further, is backed up by a compelling body of historical evidence. Jesus stands out as unique among the religious figures of the world.
The resurrection of Jesus confirms for the whole world that Jesus is Lord. The apostle Paul, who had seen the risen Jesus, writes that Jesus was “declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). This is why the gospel of Jesus is considered good news. If Jesus truly is God in human flesh, then God is like Jesus. It means that God is not remote, arbitrary or unreal. He is a God who loves us and who came to earth so we could know Him in a personal way.
Isn’t it arrogant to claim to have the only truth about God?
On a subway in London I [Sean] met a woman of the Bahai faith. She proceeded to tell me that she embraced all religions, and that as long as people held their beliefs with sincerity their religion was true for them. Despite her attempt to be inclusive, she was just as exclusive as any other religion or belief, for even she excluded the exclusivists! Philosopher Ravi Zacharias notes:
All religions are not the same. All religions do not point to God. All religions do not say that all religions are the same. At the heart of every religion is an uncompromising commitment to a particular way of defining who God is or is not and accordingly, of defining life’s purpose. Anyone who claims that all religions are the same betrays not only an ignorance of all religions but also a caricatured view of even the best-known ones. Every religion at its core is exclusive.4
Jesus did not come down to earth to exclude anyone but to lead as many people as possible to the knowledge of God. Unlike some religions that exclude females, those in poverty, or people of certain races, the message of Jesus is inclusive for all. Colossians 3:11 says, “In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.” Christ makes no human distinctions—he died and rose again so that all people could have a personal relationship with the living God.
1 Time, April 26, 1999.
2 Q Magazine, March 1998 issue, http://www.fortunecity.com/tinpan/underworld/437/qmagazine.htm.
3 Christian Smith, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 74.
4 Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods (Nashville, TN.: Word, 2000), 7.
Sean McDowell is a speaker, author and popular high school teacher. In 2008 he received the “Educator of the Year” award in San Juan Capistrano, California. Sean graduated summa cum laude from Talbot Theological Seminary with a double Master’s degree in Theology and Philosophy. Learn more at: www.seanmcdowell.org
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