Is Christianity the only way to God? [Questioning faith #23]

Ted Grimsrud—May 11, 2023

A number of years ago, my wife Kathleen and I visited a Sunday School class in a large Mennonite congregation. The speaker was a member of the congregation who had just returned from a year in the Far East, and he was reporting on the experience. He talked about how he found the religious beliefs and practices that he had seen so interesting. He then told how he tried to encourage his new friends to be the best Buddhists (or it could have been Hindus) they could be.

I learned later that this comment caused a bit of a furor. People who believed that faith in Jesus as Savior is the only way to find salvation were distressed. The speaker’s embrace of religious pluralism, his implied belief that any number of religions can lead a person to God, raised concerns.

Religious pluralism as a fact of life

This issue of Christian faith in relation to other religions grows ever more challenging for Christians in our globalized world. Here in the United States, we can no longer avoid asking about different religions. Many of us travel around the world, doing business with people from many cultures and religious traditions, and, if nothing else, rub shoulders in grocery stores, ethnic restaurants, and even in our own neighborhoods with other-than-Christian religious folks.

I taught for many years at a tiny Christian college in small, fairly remote town in Virginia’s Shenandoah valley. I had students who were Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Buddhist. Our favorite places to eat in town have included restaurants operated by recent immigrants from Nepal, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Germany, Thailand, India, El Salvador, Mexico, and Ethiopia. A few years ago, I heard that our local public high school had students from sixty-four different countries who spoke forty-four different languages—and represented many different faiths. Religious pluralism has become part of our everyday life, like it or not.

So, what do we think of the various religions of the world? How do we relate our own Christian faith to Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and so on? How does our understanding of the religions fit with our broader theological convictions?

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