Jesus’ “one way” is the truth and the life

The study of apologetics (from Greek ἀπολογία, “speaking in defense”) is the discipline of defending a position (often religious) through the systematic use of reason.  Early Christian writers who defended their faith against critics and recommended their faith to outsiders were called apologists.  Christian apologetics has always been interesting to me for three reasons.  It teaches me new information about God of course.  But more importantly it teaches me to think and beyond that to think about truly important things. Christian apologetics is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defend the faith against objections, and expose the perceived flaws of other world views.  The exclusivity truth claims of Christ, one area of apologetics, are often scoffed at by non-Christians as arrogant and mean-spirited or just plain stupid.  In John 14:6 Jesus is reported as saying: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Is this an outrageous, arrogant claim or is it true?  If it is untrue then we can simply dismiss it and get on with our lives.  But, if it is true that Jesus is “the way,” not simply “a way,” and if He himself is “the truth,” and “the life,” then we’re well-advised to spare no effort in determining exactly what is meant by His statement and what implications it has for the way we live and our future.  Christian apologist C.S. Lewis posed his “Trilemma” argument as a means of exploring Jesus’ claim, which is in essence a divinity claim.  Lewis’ argument was summarized as “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord”, or as “Mad, Bad, or God.”  An earlier approach using this argument was by the Scots preacher “Rabbi”John Duncan (1796–1870), around 1859-60:

“Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.”

During the last year I took two courses with components involving apologetics.  The first was The Truth Project produced by Focus on the Family and taught by Dr. Del Tackett.  The second was Foundations of Apologetics produced by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.  One of the presenters in the Foundations course is Amy Orr-Ewing, the author of the following article regarding Jesus’ assertion that He is “The Way.”  RMF

Amy Orr-Ewing

Amy Orr-Ewing is Director of Programmes for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and Training Director for RZIM Zacharias Trust. She gained a first class degree in Theology at Christ Church, Oxford University, before receiving a Masters degree in Theology at King’s College, London. Amy has written two books exploring key questions in apologetics: Why Trust the Bible? (published under the title Is the Bible Intolerant? in North America) which was shortlisted for the 2006 UK Christian Book Awards, and But Is It Real? (USA title: Is Believing in God Irrational).

Aren’t religions all the same?

by AMY ORR-EWING on 14 OCTOBER, 2011

We live in a context of spiritual longing. Many people are searching for that which will satisfy an inner craving for meaning and significance. The artist Damian Hirst recently said this: “Why do I feel so important when I’m not? Nothing is important and everything is important. I do not know why I am here but I am glad that I am. I’d rather be here than not. I am going to die and I want to live forever, I can’t escape that fact, and I can’t let go of that desire.”

But this does not always translate into people finding Christ and starting to follow him. There is a dizzying array of options when it comes to religion, and the culture around us says that they are all equally valid. It seems absolutely bizarre to people that someone would say, “This one way is the truth and the only truth.”  The poet Steve Turner describes brilliantly what many think when it comes to religion: “Jesus was a good man just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves. We believe he was a good teacher of morals but we believe that his good morals are really bad. We believe that all religions are basically the same, at least the one we read was. They all believe in love and goodness, they only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.”

In my experience, there are usually two motivations for dismissing the idea that Christ is the only way to God, and we need to examine them both. The first objection is that it is arrogant to say that Jesus is the only way. How could Christians possibly be so arrogant as to say that all the other religions are wrong and Jesus is the only path to God? Often the parable of the elephant is used to illustrate the sheer arrogance of Christianity. It goes something like this: “Three blind scribes are touching different parts of an elephant. The one who is holding the tail says, “This is a rope.” Another holding the elephant’s leg says, “This is not a rope; you are wrong. It is a tree.” Still another who is holding the trunk of the elephant says, “You are both wrong. It is a snake!” The moral of the story is that all religions are like these men. They each touch a different part of ultimate reality and therefore any one of them is arrogant to say they have the whole truth.

But take a step back and think about what is being said here. Do you see the breathtaking claim that is being made? Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses, and Muhammad are all blind, but in fact, I can see! These leaders all had a small perspective, but I am the one who sees the full picture. Now who is being arrogant? It is just as arrogant to say that Buddha, Muhammad, and Jesus were all wrong in their exclusive claims as it is to say that Jesus is the only way. The issue is not about who is arrogant, but what is actually true and real.

The second motivation in dismissing Christ is often a question of exclusion. How can you exclude all of these religions? Jesus may have said he was the way to the Father, but how can I follow him and become an intolerant person who excludes others? Again, we need to think carefully about this view because the reality is that whatever position we hold will exclude something. Even the person who believes that all ways lead to God excludes the view that only some ways lead to God or that only one way leads to God. Every view excludes something. Again, the issue is not about who is excluding people, but what is actually true and real.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6). There are a number of possibilities here for why he might have said this, and exploring these possibilities is crucial. First, perhaps he was genuinely a good person but he was deluded.  He was sincere, but he was wrong; he believed that he was the Son of God, but he wasn’t. In other words, he was mentally imbalanced. Or second, perhaps Jesus knew he wasn’t God but went around telling people that he was the only way to God regardless. In other words, he was a sinister character purposely telling lies. Or finally, perhaps Jesus was who he said he was. Perhaps he made these radical statements because they were true and real. In other words, he is indeed the way to God.

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About ronfurg

Former naval officer, federal investigator, forensic scientist, senior executive service member and pastor. In retirement serves as volunteer and life group leader at New Life Christian Church (www.newlife4me.com). Devoted to beautiful wife, kids and grandkids. Looking forward to the time when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
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2 Responses to Jesus’ “one way” is the truth and the life

  1. Darla Givan says:

    The problem is that reason alone is not enough, or the truth about Jesus would be accepted as easily as two plus two equals four, and that, of necessity, excludes three and five and all the other numbers. You would think, after all, that the historical evidence that Jesus was the only one who was raised from the dead and came back to PROVE He was telling the truth would have been enough. That was pretty impressive, especially since He appeared to so many people who had seen him crucified, and there were also those who came up out of their graves! But God, in His awesome wisdom, has fixed it so that the real truth can only be received by revelation. In Matthew 11:27 Jesus said, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

    Apologetics are wonderful–but only those who are called to understand will understand, and the rest will only hear thunder!

    Great article! Keep up the good work! Darla

  2. ronfurg says:

    You are so right. And thanks for adding to this posting. I really like the way A.W. Tozer approached the issue of how men come to God, i.e., with the concept of prevenient grace. E.g., Tozer wrote:
    “Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which briefly stated means this, that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man.
    “Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him; imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow.
    “We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. ”No man can come to me,” said our Lord, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him,” and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him.”¹
    “When the great God brought salvation to men, He put it in the form of a message, and according to Paul in the Corinthian epistle, He decreed that men should be saved through preaching. That is, they should be saved through hearing that message. We call that message, the Gospel.
    “What was before that? Some theologians refer to this as ‘prevenient grace.’ That is the grace God brings to their hearts before they hear, and before they believe. I don’t know too much about ‘prevenient grace,’ and I don’t think anybody else does. So when you hear anybody expostulating on that learnedly and at length, write him off, because he knows more than the Bible reveals. But there must be some preparation of God in the heart or there would be no believing at all. On the other hand, there isn’t enough preparation to save the man, so he has to hear something.”²
    ¹ Tozer, The Pursuit of God (1961, Marshall Morgan & Scott Ltd., London, UK), pp. 11-12
    ² Tozer, Fellowship of the Burning Heart (2006, Bridge-Logos, Alachua, FL, USA), p. 102

    Now, that being said, apologetics definitely has a place in the means whereby God may intervene in a person’s spirit and soul with the end result being salvation. To me the most compelling reason for us to be concerned with apologetics comes from Scripture. The First Epistle of Peter reads: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Also, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). Praise God that He gave us brains and the ability to reason, the ability to evaluate the historicity of the Bible, the ability to evaluate and reject the world’s vain philosophies, etc. I’m reminded of guys like Josh McDowell, “Evidence that Demands a Verdict,” and Lee Strobel, “The Case for Christ,” and “The Case for Faith,” who came to Christ through their efforts to disprove the Bible and Christianity. I believe that it was God’s prevenient grace plus the evidence for the truth claims of the Bible and Jesus, which they found intellectually reasonable, that led them to faith in Jesus. Jesus said: “…for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37). It seems to me that God’s grace, acting to reach out to man, coupled with reason and evidence, result in a faith that is of a type which God wants us to have.

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