No Other Name

This month I want to offer a few reflections on the relationship between Christianity and other religions, so let’s begin with the claim made by the apostle Peter in the book of Acts: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Jesus himself, according to John’s gospel, says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” These texts, along with some others, have been variously a motivation for evangelism, a grounds for Christian exclusivism, and a source of considerable antagonism among non-Christians.

It’s not hard to see why. If Jesus is the only way to salvation, then some compassionate Christians will have a great sense of urgency to proclaim the gospel, lest nonbelievers die before accepting Christ as their Savior and their souls be lost forever; and they will carry a special burden for loved ones who have not yet come to Christ. Less charitable Christians may be tempted to triumphalism, feeling that they’re on the side of God while other souls are simply lost, and presumably less favored by God. Many non-Christians, meanwhile, find this note of spiritual supremacy to be insufferable. In their view it makes Christianity more off-putting than inviting.

Recoiling from the exclusivist tone of this One Way theme, some Christians try to avoid texts like Acts 4:12 and John 14:6. They may not know what to make of such claims, but they can’t believe that a loving God would condemn billions of people just because they have not become Christians—especially if they were raised in cultures where the Christian gospel was not readily available.

Is there some more attractive alternative, besides exclusivism on the hand and simple avoidance on the other? I think the answer is clearly yes, and it has to do with taking what the Bible says about Jesus quite literally, rather than trying to explain away the texts.

The prologue to John’s gospel opens with the majestic claim that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and goes on to say, “All things came into being through him.” John clearly echoes the story in Genesis 1, where God creates things by calling them into existence through a spoken word. Jesus is that Word made flesh, John says, and without him not a thing was made. Paul says something similar in Colossians: “All things have been created through him and for him.”

If Jesus really is the Word of God, then it’s almost self-evident that the only way to find God is ultimately through Jesus. How else would anyone come to God but by the Word of God? If the premise of John’s prologue is right, then Acts 4:12, John 14:6, and related texts are simply telling us the way things are. The obvious question, then, is the one we’ll take up next time: What about those who have not come to accept Christ as the living Word of God?

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