This week saw the release of a survey of 35,000 Americans, the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Now I don’t know that I’m a cynical person but for some reason I wasn’t surprised to read that large numbers of Christians do not believe that their faith is the only way to heaven. Even among Evangelicals this proved to be true as 57 percent of evangelical church attenders said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life. Of course, surveys are notoriously misleading especially when semantics are in doubt. For example, by the word “faith” or “religion” do responders mean various denominations within Christianity who differ on some things yet hold fast to central Christian assertions (e.g., justification by faith in Jesus Christ)? Or are they meaning that Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and African Animistic religions are all different sides of the same egg?
But I suspect that the Pew Survey isn’t far off the mark (it’s very efficient as a rule). So if American Christianity has become as convoluted as all that, what does it mean? And does it matter? Rabbi Gary Huber of the Congregation Beth Tikvah in Worthington (Ohio) says, “Nothing could be more American than the idea that we each forge out our own path” (reported by Meredith Heagney of the Columbus Dispatch in her article “Most Americans believe many religions lead to heaven”, June 23, 2008). Even as Huber lauds open-mindedness and inclusiveness, it occurs to me that we’ve rendered moot the role of faith in the life of Americana if we can’t possess it with any degree of confidence and surety. And as you might suppose, if one has no conviction about what one believes, than the by-products of faith are eroded away as well. There is no anchor, for instance, for morality if it cannot be moored to absolute truth: “right and wrong” will drift anywhere popular opinion takes them.
That same report says that 80% of Americans believe that religion is somewhat important to their lives but the question arises, “Why?” If it’s merely because religion gives them some encouragement for every day or makes them feel good about themselves, why do they really need religion? Why not get a dog? Or join a coffee club? Or read a Robert Frost poem every night?
Of course, it may be that those who believe that each religion is a different way to God are simply ignorant about the worldviews that they espouse. “The findings can be taken… as disturbing evidence that Americans dismiss or don't know fundamental teachings of their own faiths,” said Eric Gorski, Associated Press writer (in his article “Believers see more than one way to eternal life”, June 23, 2008).
One can hardly deny that dismissal of a truth that we prefer to ignore does not in any way diminish the fact that it is truth. Nor does ignorance of truth remove its power over one should one step too far beyond the boundaries of safety. If one drinks well water contaminated with lead or C8 or DDT (pick your poison), denying that it is foul water does not alter the fact of its presence nor quell its capacity to harm those who unknowingly drink it. This is no less true of spiritual matters.
And because this IS true, men and women everywhere are again and again confronted with the challenge of Elijah on Mount Carmel. “Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’ But the people said nothing” (1 Kings 18:21 NIV).
I realize that making claims about the exclusivity of truth is unpopular, but saying that all religions lead to God (aside from not even making sense) is a cop out. Making a commitment to follow truth takes courage and I wonder if folks aren’t just a wee bit cowardly about following God.
Well, I suppose that people can continue in their ambivalence (at least for as long as God continues to tolerate it in a season of gracefully extending people an opportunity to accept His gift of salvation). But truth is truth and if one has placed himself at the feet of that truth, embracing it and discovering as he does so that it has given him the only assurance for eternal life that can be had, then he is not only bound to that truth, but he is bound to share that truth as well. This is why my heart echoes the words of Joshua in Joshua 24:15, “… Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Obviously my hope is that each reader of this article will surrender his or her heart to the love of the God, manifested in His Son’s laying down of His life. I hope that you will consider trusting Him as your Lord and Savior. But, at the very least, don’t play games. If God is God, then follow Him. If you aren’t interested in taking such a “radical” or “close-minded” stance, remember that everyone who sits on the fence is going to be knocked off sooner or later onto one side or the other. Instead, why don’t you “choose this day” to receive Jesus as Lord of your life. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6 NIV).