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Can Only One Religion Be True? Considering This Question Robert B. Stewart Of any ethnic religion, therefore, can it be said that it is a true religion, only not perfect? Christianity says, No. The attitude of Christianity, therefore, towards religions other than itself is an attitude of universal, absolute, eternal, unappeasable hostility. —William C. Wilkinson, at 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions1 Howsoever men may approach me, even so do I accept them; for, on all sides, whatever path they may choose is mine. —John Hick2 I am now, you might say, a card-carrying Buddhist. In 1939 I was baptized. In 2008 I took refuge. I can truly call myself what I think I’ve been over these past decades: a Buddhist Christian. —Paul Knitter3 The church bus was dark that night as our youth group made its way back home. I don’t remember where we had been, but I do remember the subject of the conversation. A friend of mine asked what happens to people who die without ever hearing of Jesus. I had never considered that question prior to that night. Our youth minister declared authoritatively that nobody would be saved apart from knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior. The implication was that people 1 who had never heard of Jesus were still in their sins and faced eternal torment in hell when they died. It seemed unjust. A little more than a year later, I was a student at a state university, living on campus with members of other world religions. I was struck by their sincerity and their moral way of life. In very many ways, they seemed just like me. Yet I believed them to be lost. There was a definite tension in my beliefs. On the one hand, I believed the Bible, and in the Bible, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). The apostle Peter also declares, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NASB). On the other hand, I was seeing with my own eyes young people who did not claim Christ as their personal Savior and were as serious about their religions as I was about mine. They seemed as moral and spiritual as I. How was I to make sense of these seeming contradictions? I don’t want to make it appear as though I was existentially undone or troubled about these issues every moment of every day; I confess I was not. Most nights, I did not lose sleep pondering these questions. I just told myself that God was God and he could work it all out even if I didn’t know how he would do so. But at times, I pondered these issues with great seriousness. Would I be a Christian if I had not been born into a Christian family? What if I had been born in Asia or the Middle East? Though I would never have put it this way, the philosopher Rousseau expressed my feelings: You announce to me God, born and dying, two thousand years ago, on the far side of the world, in some small town I know not where, and you tell me that all those who have not believed in this mystery will be damned. These are strange things to be believed so quickly on the authority of an unknown person. Why did your God make these things happen so far off, if he would compel me to know about them? Is it a crime to be unaware what is happening half a world away? Could I guess that in another hemisphere there was a Hebrew nation and a town called Jerusalem? You might as well hold me responsible for knowing what is happening on the moon. You have come, you tell me, to teach me of it; but why did you not come to teach my father? Or why do you damn that good old man for never having known anything about it? Must he be punished throughout eternity for your laziness, he who was so kind and helpful, and who sought only for truth? Be honest and put yourself in my place; see if I ought to believe, on your word alone, all these incredible things 2 | Can Only One Religion Be True? which you...


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