Poll Says American Christians Don't Believe Jesus is the Only Way

My response to this article might surprise some of you.

The article discusses a recent report which indicates that 37% of evangelicals rejected the claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven.  52% of American Christians agreed that religions other than Christianity can lead to eternal life.  But what does this data mean?  Should we moan and groan that Christians don’t understand the teachings of their own faith?  Maybe, but I think there’s another side to the story.

There is no doubt, from the Bible, that absolutely nobody gets to heaven without Christ’s death and resurrection, both of which were necessary to reconcile man with God.  The tougher question is this:  how is Christ’s sacrifice applied to people who never hear the gospel?

I, for one, do not like this line of questioning in a survey or poll because it puts the Christian in an awkward position.  The requirement that every person, whether they’ve heard the gospel or not, put their faith in Christ is a nuanced issue that requires some explanation and does not lend itself to multiple choice answers.  It’s like being asked to describe God in five words or less.  It can’t be done!

The truth is that we aren’t given specific knowledge of which other individuals are going to heaven and which aren’t because we don’t know other people’s hearts and minds.  God doesn’t tell us.  Many Christians act as if we do know, but we just don’t.

The New Testament teaches us that we should believe in Jesus for eternal life, and it says this over and over and over again (read the book of John if you don’t believe me).  So we have this positive command, to believe in Jesus, and it is a clear and plain teaching that the biblical authors wanted to make sure we understood.  Another clear teaching is that those who have heard of Christ and rejected Him are in eternal jeopardy.  We can be sure of these truths.

The New Testament, on the other hand, does not spend a lot of time talking about followers of other world religions who have never heard  of the authentic biblical Jesus.   Theologians have tried to explain what happens to those who never hear, but none of these proposals warrant dogmatism because of the scant biblical evidence.

I know that God wants people to believe in Christ.  I know that those who reject Christ will be separated from God.  The Bible teaches those things clearly, but I don’t know, for sure, what happens when a person is unable to hear or respond to the gospel of Christ.

I believe that many Christians know John 14:6 and they know Romans 10:9, but some pollster calls them and puts them on the spot: “Is Jesus the only way to heaven?”  Polls don’t allow for nuanced answers.  They demand black and white answers, and frankly, I can sympathize with those being asked this difficult question, most of whom are not theologians who study this issue every day.

A much better question to put to Christians would be: “Does the Bible teach that believing in Jesus leads to eternal life?”  I think the vast majority of Christians would answer “yes.”

A follow-up question could be: “Should Christians tell others about Jesus so that they, too, can have eternal life?”  Again, I think a great percentage would say “yes.”

Let’s focus on what we know.

  • Scott

    Since we do know that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus, then we know He is the only way.

    I too have heard lots of speculation as to what happens to those lost tribes that have never heard the name of Jesus Christ. The point here is that if they do not accept Jesus Christ as savior and Lord they will not inherit the kingdom of God. God did not make all people to be saved…we know this with the example of Pharoah when God told him He made him for a particular reason to test, free the Israelites and chase them on into the wilderness. God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Who are we to question this awesome God and His purposes.

    I know we don’t have a verse in Scripture that states, “these people who do not hear will be able to get in to heaven based on xyz”. We do not need that statement. All we need to know is who God is and His desire that we glorify Him in all things. We just need to know the nature of our sovereign Lord. I don’t want to take a bunch of your space and time here, but I do think the question is clear that for eternal life, we must repent, accept and believe in Jesus Christ and this would include anyone no matter if they have heard the gospel or not.

    Pressing on in Christ,
    Scott

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Scott,
    Thanks for the response. I’m guessing you’re a five point Calvinist?

    I am not a five-point Calvinist, but consider myself to be a moderate Calvinist. Your statement that God intended some people to not be saved is difficult for most Christians to swallow. Even R.C. Sproul (a strong Calvinist) denies double predestination (that God predestines some to hell), and says that man is responsible for his eternal demise.

    If you read Exodus carefully, you will notice that Pharaoh hardened his own heart first in chapter 7, and God only confirmed this disposition later in chapter 9. God predicts in earlier chapters that this will happen, but I think a strong case can be made that Pharaoh is hardening his heart first and that God is just “helping” him out in order to accomplish His purposes with Israel.

    Also, the Bible never talks about Pharaoh’s salvation. It just talks about him not letting the people of Israel go. It’s a stretch to apply the verses in Exodus to salvation.

    I understand your viewpoint and I know that some Reformed Christians are strong Calvinists. A question, though. I wonder how you deal with babies or the mentally handicapped who can’t understand the gospel. When they die, what happens to them? Also, what happened to Old Testament saints who never heard about Jesus?

    Let me know your thoughts!

  • Wes

    I don’t like polls that put the focus on the wrong thing. The exciting news about Christianity is that there is a way for us to be saved from the penalty of sin. The poll question that focuses on whether other ways are valid misses where the focus should be. The drowning man does not engage in debate about whether another life preserver will come along, he jumps at a chance to be saved.

    My usual response to these types of questions is that the Bible tells us the sure way of salvation. If you want to gamble your salvation on God making an exception just for you, that’s a big risk. I believe God can make exceptions when He pleases (I don’t deserve the grace He offers me, after all), but He outlines a clear path for anyone who reads the Bible.

    Interesting post, Billy. Thanks.

  • Bill Pratt

    Very well put, Wes. I think you hit the nail on the head.

  • Pingback: Does the Bible Teach That There Are Many Ways to Eternal Life? « Tough Questions Answered()

  • Sukirtha

    Children and Handicapped reach God when they die… Why? The answer is in Luke 18:16. Jesus said “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”.

    I also believe the only way to heaven is Jesus because He said “I am THE way, THE truth and THE life”. He did not say “I am A way, A truth and A life”.

  • I know this article is from earlier this year but I just found it!
    The question, “Does the bible teach that believing in Jesus leads to eternal life?” would be answered yes even by atheists and other non-Christians. No one would disagree with that. The questions should be, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father but by Him?” That would give a more accurate picture of who is a believer and who is not. In Romans 1 it’s clear that God has made it plain to all about who He is so that no man is without excuse.

    Yes, we can know who is and isn’t a child of God*. If we didn’t then we wouldn’t know if someone was misleading us or not or if someone was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. God gives believers the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, who will guide us into all truth if we will yield to Him and abide in Christ. We will see with spiritual eyes what others without the Spirit cannot. And Jesus even tells us, “You will know them by their fruit.”

    ~Lisa

    *1 John 3:10
    This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Lisa,
    I don’t think the verses you cite, in context, mean that we can look at a person and determine whether they will be going to heaven or hell. Certainly if a person is behaving wickedly or denying the gospel, then we should question their salvation, but I believe it is very dangerous to go around pointing to folks and claiming we know where they’re headed when they die.

    The NT writers were encouraging believers to reject the testimony of false prophets and to stay away from those who were publicly sinning. They were very concerned about sanctification during this life, and hanging around false teachers and sinners in this life is not the way to become more Christ-like.

    Does that make sense? Also, you may want to read my post on Christian judging.

    God bless,
    Bill

  • Hi Bill,
    I just read the article on judging – thank you, that helped. If only Christians would understand that. From what you wrote in the article I commented on it sounded as though you were saying we can’t know who is a Christian and who isn’t, that we can’t know their hearts. So my comment wasn’t referring to Christian’s being the final judge on judgement day but that here and now we can know whether or not someone is a Christian. There’s so much that could be said about this.

    You’re absolutely right. God will judge us all, the sheep and the goats. However, I hear all the time from Christians that we can’t know someone’s heart, but we can, which is what I picked up in your article. Jesus says that what comes out of a man is what makes him unclean, not what goes into him. Certainly, we can see this. Of course we all have our off moments. But a life identified with Jesus Christ is a life of faith (that person, when they sin, will confess and repent). A life not identified with Jesus is not (they will sin and justify it). I agree that sitting on the throne and condemning someone to hell is not a Christian’s place. I’m glad we cleared that up.

    ~Lisa

  • Bill Pratt

    Lisa,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    BP

  • Bill Rice

    Im a believer that GOD speaks to all peoples hearts and reveals himself to all to accept or reject him as the one true GOD. General revelation. I heard a story told of a remote tribe who knew nothing of the bible or GOD certainly not Jesus, and a missionary who was heading out their way to preach the good word, while all along dreading the absolutely long amount of time it would take to transform the word to their world so to speak. When the missionaryfinally arrived and the tribal chief saw his bible, the chief said he had been waiting for that book. It turns out the chief, turning in for the night, staring at the multitiude of stars was thinking that someone must have made this beautiful sight, and dreamt of a man coming with a book that would explain and answer his questions. So profound was his dream, he told his whole tribe that a man would come with this book…it took 10 years,,,as the missionary kept putting off his trip, argueing with GOD that it would be to hard to teach the word to this ignorant remote tribe. It turned out to be the easiest conversion ever. GOD is in control, sometimes we need to just be quiet and let him work on the hearts that don’t know him. I believe he reveals himself to everyone or that might make him an unjust GOD and I just cant buy that.

  • Bill Pratt

    Bill,
    Was that story recorded in the book Eternity in Their Hearts? I think I may have read it there.

  • Dana Whisler

    Bill, great post on judging. It is amazing how everyone knows Mt 7:1 and no one knows John 7:24.

    The Bible clearly teaches Jesus is the only way to eternal life. Obedience to the gospel is not optional. We are told, “… when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power ( 2Thess 1:7-9).” BTW notice that we are not saved ” by faith alone”.

  • Thomas Peter

    Hi Bill,
    The only way to heaven is thru Jesus and the gospel of the Cross. This I know when a great man of God asked of the Lord Jesus that he wanted to preach the Gospel with authority, the Lord showed him Isaiah 53. There is no other way except thru the cleansing of the Blood of Jesus can we be with him. Most of the answers or explanation to the queries in the earlier postings may be found in the 3 CDs titled: “Insight into Heaven”. It is a documented evidence of the 3 decades of visitation he had to heaven. He is the only late Apostle of God who has seen Father God and talked wth him face to face and been with the Lord Jesus so many times. The only person whom I know who has been in the Heavenly Council of the Elders. Oh yes, he did mention sometihing on the Second Coming also. I can’t say much here as so much in there to tell like how God the Father looks like, how Jesus looks like and who he really is, the 3 Heavens …remember the Apostle talked about the 3rd Heaven etc. Keep the faith. Get the CDs or the Book and get the revelation and carry out the great commission he had given to each one of us…we are indeed in the last days. God Bless.

    Oh before I forget here is the link to the CDs and Book:
    https://www.prayertoweronline.org/jcstore/product.asp?intProdID=259&intcatID=5

  • krissy

    On this particular comment the book of Hebrews states that through the new covenant the law of the Lord is written on every ones heart. Which is the ten commandments. Therefore this tells us that our own conscience declares us guilty of breaking Gods laws….the bible is very clear that we much preach his word to all nations and all mankind. Because those who have never heard from far off lands will go to hell we are obligated as believers to tell them. Gods new covenant deems them guilty and we must tell them so they have the opportunity to choose wether or not they will see Christ as truth. And the same goes for those Americans who have never heard the gospel. We as believers will be held accountable for those who are sick with the disease of sin yet never are offered the cure or antidote of Christ. Many people turn to false religions or faiths because they know and feel they have a sickness and need relief and take the first medication offered to them. And unfortunately they chose the wrong medication for their illness. Which is sin. But they feel relieved and comforted by the kind helping hand given to them even though its not the actual cure. Which is Christ. So we as Christians must beat those with false and temporary cures to the sick. Before they purchase the wrong medicine that will kill them…

  • I’m somewhat with Bill on this one. John 14:6 is clear–Jesus is the way the truth and the life. This is ontological. That is, no one has imputed righteousness on any other basis than the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

    However, to say it is necessary to believe on Jesus Christ and his sacrifice in order to receive imputed righteousness creates more problems than it solves. 1. Mentally disabled. In many cases, their disability is so severe that they cannot believe in any real sense with comprehension. 2. Babies. 3. Old Testament saints. If one allows any exceptions within these categories he has to amend his axiom. It also will not do to tack on “except for…” on to the axiom–for the axiom is to explain by what means or method are the exceptions saved!

    Romans 1 gives us a hint, though I hesitate to be dogmatic. I think we can make a theological case that God makes one responsible for the light he does have, and in the case of a fully-functioning person of sufficient mental capacity, if he accepts the one true God and does not reject him or his son Jesus Christ, God will grant him these benefits of imputed righteousness. However, as William Lane Craig mentions, Romans 1 also doesn’t give me much hope there are very many of these people. Probably very very few. Anyway, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus is the only basis–if one rejects this, he will go to Hell, sadly.

  • Not You

    That’s why I believe in Universal Reconciliation. Jesus is the way that we will ALL get to God and Heaven.

  • Not You, I would als like to believe in universal reconciliation.
    The largest stumbling block, at least for me, is that Jesus Himself didn’t seem to believe in it.

    Most of the truly troubling passages in the New Testament about dividing between ” the sheep and the goats” or those inside and those cast out are from the Gospels, from the mouth of Jesus.

    You could make the case that he was drawing the picture worse than it is, in order to frighten people to belief, but I think that would be a hard sell. Or you could claim that all those passages are not authenticly from Jesus, but were added later. But you would have cut the text so drastically that the only thing left would be a “Christianity” of your own making.

    For these, as well as other theological and rational reasons, I just cannot apopt that universalist hope. It smacks far too much of obeying my wishes rather than either reason or scripture.

  • jeff

    ISIAIh 41 BRING forth your IDOLS did they PREACH to you see they can’t speak they can’t DO ANYTHING all they do is cause confusion. spalms 115 and spalms 135 thier IDOLS are FALSE cant speak can’t hear cant smell and those that make them shall become like them. Jeremiah 10 they nail their IDOL down like a scarecrow it can’t move can’…t speak can’t move must be carried these are nothing but the WORK of CON men.john 10 jesus christ sais his sheep hear his voice and another voice thy will not follow and if another person tries to preach to them they WILL FLEE from him. jeremiah 5 the priests bear rule on their own authority what will you do when your judged my word is not inside them. Now here is the kicker john 5 son of man voice goes back in time mathew 16 jesus christ claims to be the son of man.‎1 cor2 mind of CHRIST preached internally and john 16 sais the spirit of truth comes in the future. Ezekiel 13 lying prophets of ISRAEL my word is not inside them saying god sais god sais god sais wrote hoping mankind would CONFIRM their WORDS. all of this is EASILY verifiable.

  • Savvyskin

    Hi Bill,

    How do I get hold of this Poll where most christian don’t believe Jesus is the only way

  • I seem to have lost the link. The article was on Al Mohler’s website. I looked for it for a couple minutes but cannot find it. Sorry about that.

  • mishle

    The problem with Christian idiology is that the books true contents get overlooked because most don’t read it. Another major factor are the mishaps in translation. Yahshua was put here to fulfill the prophecies and restore the covenant between the Israelites and Yahweh. All that embrace his messiahship and obey Yahweh laws will be considered for salvation. Yahshua was 100% human but was not 100% Yahweh. Exodus 34:6 seals the cake on that concept of pure god status. Yahshua is understood to return for his bride (Israelites) but no one pays attention to that part. If Christians realized all the laws to obey, they would look into Freemasonry instead. I am not anti messiah, I have actually invested time learning Hebrew and reading what is originally written. Christians would be upset to learn there is no rapture and that the laws apply to them and it isn’t a measly 10 like they think. They would also be upset that the messiah would not know them because they don’t keep Yahweh laws nor worship Yahweh as “Jesus” actually taught. They would be real upset to learn how many of their temples are corrupted by Freemasons in secret. Bottom line…. People are too lazy to do the research and unwilling to listen to truth when confronted with it. Goodness… If I got paid for every person I upset with truth, I’d be rich…lol Shalom!

  • mishle

    God Himself marked the laws with 613 for observance and Yahshua restored the covenant between Israel and Yahweh. There is no “j” in Hebrew and Jesus translates to “horse” not salvation. Yahshua is not to be worshipped because only Yahweh gets the praise and worship as this was what original Hebrew texts report regarding the true teachings. This is why Jews accuse Christians of blasphemy and gloat about the crucifixion topic. I’m not taking side. I’m just stating fact. Christians are lawless and are not set apart according to Gods laws. If you were, you’d look more like a Jew just like the Messiah did since he was one. If Yahshua wasn’t exempt from the law of his father, why would a Christian think they were? In Hebrew Matthews 5:17 seals the fate for Christians .. They fall short from lawlessness and in the end will be denied “grace” they live by. It is sad to say but I give you truth in hopes that you research the laws and end up being the small few that actually get there. Shalom

  • mishle

    Think again! Yahshua will act like he never knew you because of lawlessness. You worship the messiah instead of Yahweh who is your rightful God that gave the messiah. Never worship the prince when you have an everlasting King!

  • mishle

    Do yourself the favor and learn Hebrew and then read original texts without translation. You will seethe huge difference from what you believe in contrast to what is actually written. You are worshipping the messiah and neglecting the laws and worship of Yahweh the 1 and only God.

  • mishle

    Your post was very valid until the Jesus Christ part. You believe in Yahshua because he died for us to obtain salvation. Only the name of Yahshua will there be salvation and all knees bow. This is the true name of who you call Jesus Christ. Know his name and worship Yahweh with all your heart, soul and might. You will definitely be on the right path.

  • David

    Hey, the problem with saying that people who never hear the gospel of Jesus Christ might can be saved by some other way b/c they haven’t had the chance to reject the gospel is a big one.

    A thought for you; if this were true It would be foolish to attempt to complete the Great Commission in areas where the gospel has yet to spread because we would be opening the door to hell, when they already had the “door” to heaven.

    So the only answer then, as it always is, let us preach what Scripture says; John 14:6 (Jesus is the ONLY way)

  • John Revell

    It looks like 52% of American Christians are wrong. John 17:3 tells us that eternal life is to know God, the Father, and Jesus Christ who he has sent. John also tells us that eternal life has already started. That’s it. The Jews started knowing him, but broke up with him because they wanted to be like the rest of the world. Then they abandoned him altogether.

    John