What exactly about fundamentalist Christianity so deeply bothers many people, and how should we respond to their objections?
“I was reading an article about a movie called Gladiator and how Ridley Scott, who directed the movie, deleted a scene.” Pastor Tim Dilena explained in a sermon.
“Before the gladiators came out, they would send Christians into the arena. There's this one minute and 16 seconds clip in the bowels of the arena where the main character is looking out through a portal and seeing a Christian father with his wife and children huddled around him and a lion pacing behind them.
“As he [the gladiator] is looking into the arena, this lion climbs up the back of the father, and the scene stops. They asked Ridley Scott, ‘Why didn't you put that in the movie?’ And he said, ‘Because I couldn't properly portray how persecuted the Christians were for their faith in Jesus Christ.’
“It was the great apologist Francis Schaeffer who really said something that so touched my heart and challenged me. He said this, ‘Why did they kill the early Christians? It was not for worshiping Jesus.’
“It was because they wouldn't worship and acknowledge the other gods of the Roman empire. You can worship your Jesus, but you got to call every other religion legit. That's the generation we're living in today.
“You can be a Christian, but you better call everybody else legit.”
An Intolerant Religious ‘Tolerance’
Michael J. Kruger, president of Reformed Theological Seminary, has made it his life’s work to research the development of the New Testament canon and the historical path of the early church.
He pointed out that one of the biggest issues people have taken with Christianity is its claim to exclusivity, and this has only increased in present times. “When it comes to modern religious discourse, there is no greater sin than to claim your religion is the only one that is true. You can believe just about anything and receive a shrug of the shoulders from an unbelieving world, but say that you believe in one way to heaven and accusations of narrow-mindedness and intolerance are inevitable.”
The most popular objections more or less boil down to two points. First, Christianity is simply one philosophy among many. Second, saying that Jesus is the only way to a happy afterlife is bigoted against other people groups with different religions.
There are a couple reasons for this, as Matt Capps explains in The Gospel Project. “When people of other faiths rival Christian character, we face a tendency to affirm all religions as valid ways to God. We make a theological decision based on social experience…. Understandable but not wise.”
He astutely notes that trying to accept all religions as equal means accepting a mind-boggling level of serious contradictions between different philosophies’ stated beliefs. This doesn’t even touch on how many religions claim to be the sole way to God (or the gods…or just a benevolent afterlife) or at the very least, claim superiority.
Religious pluralism is actually the very opposite of tolerant because it cannot bear the wide gap between the beliefs of different religions.
“The Eightfold Noble Path, the 5 Pillars of Islam, and the Gospel of Christ are not tolerated but told they must submit to a new religious claim–religious pluralism–despite the fact that this isn’t what those religions teach.”
Logically then, claiming that Christianity is merely one option out of several equally viable options is every bit as intolerant as claiming to be the one true way to God.
One says there is no correct answer, and another says there is.
The Madman or the Man of God
The other major claim of Christianity—that Jesus is the only way to God—is equally difficult to do away with quietly.
The foremost reason for this is that Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7 ESV).
This is either the claim of God or of a raving lunatic on the level of Jim Jones.
There’s no nice way around this. A lot of people have claimed to be God, or a descendent of God, throughout history, and the vast majority of them were either madmen or conmen (or just wanted to build giant teapot buildings in Malaysia like Ariffin Mohammed).
In answer to this question, Billy Graham wrote, “Why did He make such a startling claim? Was it out of pride or ego? Or was He mentally unbalanced, or even deliberately lying to trick people into following Him? No, none of those “reasons” stand up once you carefully examine Jesus’ life and teachings. Why, then, did He say He was the only way to the Father?
“Simply this: He knew that He was the unique Son of God, sent by His Father into the world to save us from our sins.”
Lee Strobel carried this discussion even further, pointing out, “Jesus backs up his claim with unique credentials. Jesus authenticated his claim of being God by living a perfect life, by embodying the attributes of God, and by fulfilling dozens of prophecies written hundreds of years before Jesus came to this planet. Unlike other religious leaders, Jesus also authenticated who he was by performing great miracles in broad daylight, in front of skeptics.”
Christ fulfilled 300 Old Testament prophecies. Some would’ve been impossible to artificially fulfill or lie about—being born in Bethlehem, having his father (and possibly also his mother) be a distant descendent of David, being betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, not having any of his bones broken despite his crucifixion—so Jesus must be God.
In the end, though, all of the protests and rationalizing comes down to one simple question: Why does it bother us so much?
Understand How Much I Loved You
If a problem has only one correct solution, then it means that some people will almost inevitably calculate it in error. In fact, we might even be the ones with the invalid answer.
Nobody wants to be wrong. Nobody wants to have loved ones in the wrong.
John Stott wrote in Evangelical Essentials, “I find the concept [of eternal conscious punishment in hell] intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain. But our emotions are a fluctuating, unreliable guide to truth and must not be exalted to the place of supreme authority in determining it.
“As a committed Evangelical, my question must be—and is—not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say?”
On this point, the Bible is abundantly clear. “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).
When we are confronted with pain, rejection, anger or even hatred as a result of this belief, then we might find the parting words of Becket Cook in his book A Change of Affection the most apt.
“After sharing my faith on several occasions with an ex-boyfriend in New York, I later texted him the following: ‘On the last day, you will understand how much I loved you.’
“He responded, ‘Thank you, Becket.’
“And that is truly my motivation…love.”
Actually believing what Christ says about himself and what the Bible says about the consequences of rejecting Jesus means that there is nothing loving in trying to accept everyone else’s errant beliefs. We cannot, if we actually care about others, pretend that we do not have the right answers.
They probably won’t love us, though, for telling them that their answer is wrong.