It’s popular in today’s world to blur the lines between different faiths and take the ‘best bits’ of each, designing our own hybrid superfaith. And why not? Surely they all have virtues, and no single one can have all the facts of the universe straight, right?
This thought isn’t a sinister one. One thing I like about the modern world is that we’ve become allergic to exclusivity, and find it disrespectful and arrogant to claim that only my opinion is correct. We’re exposed to a myriad of cultures and beliefs, and we’re more concerned than ever about treating each other well. This is a very good thing.
However, on some issues, there really is a single correct answer amidst an ocean of mistaken or imprecise ones. We know this to be true of certain things, like math or physics. Even modern philosophy, despite popular belief, generally insists that absolute truths must exist.
It’s tempting when looking from the outside to conclude that all religious people are expressing the same beliefs and desires with a few superficial differences, but it doesn’t take much of a peek under the hood to realise otherwise. For example, many westerners look upon religions like Hinduism and Buddhism as being the same kind of thing. They’re both mystical eastern religions that believe in many gods, aren’t they? Well, maybe — apart from the fact that Buddhism was conceived as a radical diversion away from Hinduism! Their beliefs about the nature of God, the origins of life, the purpose of existence, and the destiny of the human soul are all poles apart. These being basic questions of existence and faith, the two can hardly be called siblings. They aren’t even cousins. While they at first appear fundamentally the same and only superficially different, they are in fact fundamentally different and only superficially the same.
The same goes for Islam, Christianity, and Judaism (though these share the common history of many Old Testament scriptures). They all make exclusive claims of truth which are irreconcilable with those of their peers. Jesus, for example, is either the embodiment of God (as Christians believe), just another teacher or prophet, or worse, an imposter. These aren’t subtle differences of form, and to say that these religions are ‘all the same’ because of common elements is lazy and disrespectful.
Based on such incompatibilities, there are really only two options: Either all of these religions are misguided in their fundamentals, or one of them is correct. This may come as a shock to our modern sensibilities, but we must face it. The politically correct approach of throwing them all a bone and saying that each is beautiful and true in its own way is naive and ridiculous, however polite it may seem.
Jesus: Liar, Madman, or God?
The central and wholly incompatible claim of Christianity is that the good creator God, who existed before time itself, has seen the plight of humanity and entered the material world as Jesus, a common Jewish boy who grew into a great spiritual teacher. He proclaimed a coming reality in which humanity’s self-imposed separation from God would be reversed, and new life would be attained by all who believe. He was a man, but far more than a man; he was ‘God made flesh’ (John 1:1–14).
Crucially, by his own testimony, he is the only means by which this reconciliation to God (and the new life that results) can be attained (John 14:6). By claiming such divine authority, he surrenders the right to be ‘just another teacher or prophet.’ Put plainly, he was either a liar, a madman, or exactly who the scriptures say he was: the embodiment of God.
After his death, the most unexpected event occurred. Even the grave couldn’t hold him! He rose again, opening the way for God’s plan to proceed. A new reality had been unleashed, and he was the firstborn of a new creation (Col 1:15, 1 Cor 15:20–23). He welcomes us into his new world, calling us to build it alongside him.
The great support of Jesus’ exclusive claim of being the ‘only way’ is his own resurrection. You can count the references to his death in the book of Acts on a single hand, but his resurrection drives everything. If true, it completes a victorious work of God. If he really did vanquish death, then he’s a man worth listening to. If he didn’t, we might as well all close our church doors. The early church was built almost entirely on the strength of the apostles’ faith in this astounding event.
Can you believe in the resurrection of Jesus? By its miracle, a humble Jew was revealed as the very person of God, bearing the answers to our deepest questions and carrying the keys to a whole new world. If you can, then it’s natural to make a decision to trust and follow him. This commitment makes you a Christian. It’s that simple.