Can You Get to God Without Following Christ?

Today, at Grace Church PCA, we had a discussion on the second chapter of Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God.  In the book (and accompanying video) Keller responds to common objections contemporary people have about Orthodox Christianity.  This morning, we watched a video where Keller posed the question, “How Can Christians Claim to Know the Only Way to God.”

The respondents, predominantly religious skeptics, added to the question a variety of concerns, making comments like —

As a deconstructionist, I understand a religion’s motives for making exclusive claims.  I just don’t know if I can trust them.

It would be unfair for God to selectively reveal the Truth to only some and not others.

All religions share common ethical teachings.  To say one is True above all others is an arrogant claim.

Keller listened carefully and responded prayerfully to each concern and question raised.  He concluded the segment with an appeal to understand that when Christians make exclusive claims about Christ, it is not because they have an infantile need to always be right.  It is because we strive to be faithful to the One who said,

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except by me.”

One thought I came away with was that there is a distinction between religious pluralism and inter-faith dialogue.  Religious pluralists make the arrogant assumption that no religion has the Truth and tries to pour all truth claims into a melting pot of their own making such that all who profess faith get burned.

Inter-faith dialogue occurs when two or more Truth seekers, each committed to distinct truth claims – who humbly recognize the Truth is bigger than their own understanding – share their unique faith openly and honestly.

I believe Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – yet I do not “possess Christ” more than any other flawed human being.  It is very possible that some poor fisherman in Indonesia who hasn’t even read the Bible is following Christ more closely than I am.

As a faithful Christian missionary, then, it is not my job to convert lost souls to become more like me.  Instead, it is to genuinely commune with those very different from me in such a way that together we might grow in the knowledge and spirit of Christ.

There is a story (perhaps legendary – yet it reveals truth) that Mahatma Ghandi was once asked what he thought about Christianity.  He replied –

I rather appreciate the teachings of Jesus.  I might even had become a Christian, had I ever met one.

“ghandi” from Nadja Cx in Family

14 thoughts on “Can You Get to God Without Following Christ?

  1. People had relationships with HaShem (G-d) before Christ. HaShem wants a direct relationship with people. We don’t have to go through anyone to come to HIm.

    • I was not familiar with the term “HaShem”, so I looked it up and found this at an “Ask the Rabbi” page on the website “Ohr Somayach”. The Rabbi writes –

      “We use the word Hashem to refer to G-d. Literally, Hashem means “The Name.” The word Hashem actually appears in the Torah, as in “…fear the great and awesome Hashem (Name) – the L-rd your G-d.” (Deutoronomy 28:58).

      Essentially, the reason for using a substitute is out of respect. The actual name of Hashem has inherent sanctity and must be treated with respect; for example, it may not be erased.”

      I hope this represents your definition.

      We certainly share a common spiritual heritage (as Jesus was Jewish) and a sacred text (the Torah is within our Bible).

      Where we would differ is that I believe Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, the embodiment of the One he called Father who bridges the distance between us creatures and our Creator caused by our sin.

      I appreciate you reading the post and sharing your perspective. May you be blessed.

  2. I have a friend who works half the year at American University in Beirut and regularly has Bible studies with a group of devout Muslims. They are very devout in their following of Islamic traditions and laws but they also revere Jesus. While they don’t “accept” Jesus as the divine son of God, my friend said they follow his teachings closely and align their lives according to those teachings. Those teachings don’t directly conflict with their belief in the Qu’ran. My friend says their lifestyle is more Christlike than most Christians he knows and he is convinced of their salvation.

    • Interesting point. While I hesitate to “sanction someone’s salvation” (including my own), I certainly believe in the value of inter-faith dialogue as a means to grow in Christ.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • I don’t mind that people pray for me or themselves or anyone else, but it’s private.

        When people start talking about religion in a publice setting, it’s either (a) preaching to a choir that I don’t belong to, or (b) ‘spreading the word’, i.e., trying to bring people to god. That I don’t enjoy.

        But best wishes to you on your journey, kind sir.

  3. Do you think that that Indonesian fisherman who has never read the bible, who may not have had anyone tell him about Christ, knows Christ in his own way? Has Christ revealed himself to that person within a framework he can understand?

    • I wouldn’t rule it out. The Bible says creation reveals the glory of God. It is entirely possible for Christ to reach those “beyond the flock” in whatever way He deems best.

  4. Thanks for this Tony. I like that quote from Ghandi, and can relate to it. I’ll nab that for my “quotes I like” page if you don’t mind, My own take on this, after looking eastwards for a bit is that all religions are describing the same thing, and differ only in their terminology, their illustrative material, and their worship traditions – apologies for my oversimplification. I think your mention of the Indonesian fisherman hit the nail on the head. One doesn’t need to identify specifically as Christian in order to lead a Christ-like life. I think this puts a different spin on many of the things Christ said, widens things, makes them all embracing, rather than exclusive to the followers who proclaim him.

    Speaking personally, and again with great respect, I’ve always found the written language of “Christianity” to be convoluted, very difficult to understand. It failed to hold my attention as a boy and I cut loose from it as soon as I was old enough to say no to my parents. While I’ve never entirely lost faith in some kind of benign guiding principle, I’ve had to read around the subject for a long time, learning from other faiths in order to get a decent translation of what Christianity is on about, and it’s a looser description of meaning now for me, entirley void of dogma, and much more mystical. You never know, at this rate, maybe I’ll wind up right back in that Anglican pew I left forty years ago, but with a better understanding of what the preacher was on about.

    Can you follow God without following Christ? Trick question, I think – depends how narrowly you define Christianity. There are as many paths to Christ, as there are paths to God.

    Always a pleasure, Tony. Very thought provoking.

    Regards

    Michael

    • I appreciate your thoughtful response.

      You point to a shortcoming of much Christian literature and that we have often favored theological jargon over poetic punch. Most translations of the Bible, for instance, are compiled by committees rather than composed by someone who has “a way with words”.

      One resource I would highly recommend you check out is Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible called, “The Message”. You can sample it at biblegateway.com before you buy it.

      There have been many great minds that have found their bodies sitting in Anglican pews after a time of searching. C.S. Lewis, to name one. Who knows, you could be next?

  5. “it is not my job to convert lost souls to become more like me. Instead, it is to genuinely commune with those very different from me in such a way that together we might grow in the knowledge and spirit of Christ.” I agree completely. I think too much time is wasted debating over whose view is better when we should really just be loving our neighbor. Thank you for sharing!

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