One

The Problem with Christians

The problem with Christians is that they insist they have the only way to salvation. Sometimes they talk about being "born again." Sometimes they tell you to "believe in Jesus." But it all boils down to the same thing in the end: Christians think they worship the only true God.

But how can Jesus be the only way? Is Christianity anything more than narrow-minded bigotry?

One writer who objects to the uniqueness of Christianity is Alan Watts. Once a minister in the Anglican church, Watts gradually grew disaffected with the Christian church and was attracted to Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. He has now written some twenty books trying to combine the religions of the world into one universal faith.

Over time Watts has found Christianity strangely resistant to being incorporated into a global religion. In the end he has had to leave it behind altogether. As he writes in the preface to Beyond Theology:

There is not a scrap of evidence that the Christian hierarchy was ever aware of itself as one among several lines of transmission for a universal tradition. Christians. . . did not take at all kindly to ideas that even begin to question the unique and supreme position of the historical Jesus. . .Christianity is a contentious faith which requires an all-or-nothing commitment to Jesus as the one and only incarnation of the Son of God. . . . My previous discussions did not take proper account of that whole aspect of Christianity which is uncompromising, ornery militant, rigorous, imperious and invincibly self-righteous. They did not give sufficient weight to the church's disagreeable insistence on the reality of a totally malignant spirit of cosmic evil, on everlasting damnation and on the absolute distinction between Creator and creature. These thorny and objectionable facets of Christianity cannot be shrugged off as temporary distortions or errors. (New York:

World Publishing, 1967, p. xii)

Watts is right about one thing at least. Christianity is the one piece of luggage that refuses to be stuffed into his theological trunk. It requires an all-or-nothing commitment to Jesus Christ.

Authentic, biblical Christianity has always been an exclusive religion. This became apparent during the Roman Empire. When the Emperor Alexander Severus heard about Christianity, he placed an image of Christ beside the other gods in his private chapel, just to be safe. The Romans were happy to welcome Jesus into their pantheon.

What the Romans could not understand was why Christians refused to reciprocate. If the emperor was willing to worship Christ, why weren't Christians willing to worship the emperor? Yet the early Christians insisted that in order to worship Christ at all, they had to worship Christ alone. They were even willing to stand up for this conviction by playing "Christians and lions" at the Colosseum.

Jesus Christ refuses to have any colleagues. This is why Christianity has always seemed like such a scandalous religion. It is scandalous in the sense of the Greek word skandal, meaning "that which gives offense or arouses opposition." The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is "a stumbling block" to those outside the Christian faith (1 Cor. 1:23). For the past 2,000 years, Christianity's claims about the unique truth of Jesus Christ have aroused no end of opposition from Jews, pagans, Muslims, Communists, humanists, and atheists.

Insisting that Jesus is the only way is an especially unpopular stance in a culture based on freedom of choice. After all, our culture invented shopping malls and mail-order catalogs, where anything and everything is for sale. Religion is now called a "preference," which makes it sound like a soft drink or a shade of paint. If you can go to the college of your choice, root for the football team of your choice, watch the cable channel of your choice, and eat the yogurt of your choice, why can't you pray to the god of your choice?

These are fair questions. If Christians are going to insist that their religion is true—and that all other religions are false—then they have some explaining to do. The rest of this booklet was written to help explain how Jesus can be the only way.

 

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