Of course, unless you've been living in a cave, you've already heard the hoopla. "Rock star" pastor Rob Bell hit a sensitive evangelical nerve by raising provocative questions about hell, universalism & exclusivism in his forthcoming book Love Wins. We'll have to wait for the book before we can determine where Bell lands, but skepticism of Bell's orthodoxy on this issue is certainly justified. Nonetheless, the controversy provides an opportunity for Christians to get clear on the issue. “Jesus is the only way to God” (and what it entails, namely hell) may be the most controversial claim of Christianity, so we had better have good reason for it. And I think we do.
What does Jesus say? Let’s start with Jesus. We certainly don’t want to claim something for him that he wouldn’t claim for himself. If the Gospels are historically reliable (and we have overwhelming evidence they are), then we have Jesus’ own words and we discover he claims to be the only way to God. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus doesn’t leave much room for debate. Indeed, Jesus says whoever rejects him “rejects the One who sent [him]” (Luke 10:16). So according to Jesus, there’s no other path to God. If you think highly of Jesus, eventually you have to grapple with his claims about himself.
Is Jesus special? Those who claim all religions are basically the same simply haven’t studied them closely. Religions make contradictory claims. Hinduism says God is an impersonal force while Christianity teaches God is a personal being. Both cannot be right. Also, Jesus is completely unique among the religions of the world. Jesus’ disciples taught that Jesus is God (John 1:1, Philippians 2:5-7) because Jesus claimed that himself (Mark 14:61-64, John 10:30-34). No other founder of a major world religion claimed to be God. Now, Jesus was either right or wrong and he provided a standard to verify his claims. Jesus said His resurrection from the dead would be confirmation (Matthew 12:38-42, Mark 14:28). Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism, is still in his grave. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, is still in his grave. But not Jesus. He is risen, providing the ultimate evidence for the truth of his unique claims.
Why is Jesus the only way? We are conditioned by our culture to think of religion as a personal preference. We are told, “You’ve got yours, I’ve got mine and there’s no right one.” So, to claim Jesus is the only way to God is like claiming chocolate ice cream is the one true flavor. It sounds absurd. However, preference is the wrong category for religious truth, ice cream the wrong analogy.
Instead, we ought to think of religion the way we think of medicine. Each religion recognizes the world is sick and offers its own diagnosis, just as a doctor would. In addition, each religion offers a potential cure. And we don’t choose medicine like we choose dessert. It would be absurd to say, “Doctor, I prefer aspirin over chemotherapy.” Instead, we want to know what’s true. Which cure actually works. When you examine the diagnosis and cures offered by other religions, you discover they differ radically from Christianity.
In John 8:24, Jesus says “if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” Here Jesus offers both diagnosis and cure. Sin is the disease we’re all infected with and Jesus is the cure. So, why is Jesus the only way? Because Jesus is the only medicine that can cure the spiritual disease—sin—that is killing us.
I really hope Bell's book doesn't undermine the good news of Jesus. But I'm not holding my breath.
*Used with permission. Some of the content from this article first appeared in the Apologetics Study Bible for Students published by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, Tenn. For information, click here.