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 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.