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.