Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No other way

In another report about the Pew survey I referred to below, Fox News reports that:
America remains a nation of believers, but a new survey finds most Americans don't feel their religion is the only way to eternal life — even if their faith tradition teaches otherwise.

The findings, revealed Monday in a survey of 35,000 adults, can either be taken as a positive sign of growing religious tolerance, or disturbing evidence that Americans dismiss or don't know fundamental teachings of their own faiths.

Among the more startling numbers in the survey, conducted last year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: 57 percent of evangelical church attenders said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life, in conflict with traditional evangelical teaching.

In all, 70 percent of Americans with a religious affiliation shared that view, and 68 percent said there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their own religion.

"The survey shows religion in America is, indeed, 3,000 miles wide and only three inches deep," said D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist of religion. ....
If by "their religion," the evangelical attenders mean their own denomination or church, the view expressed is defensible - they are merely saying that there are other Christian traditions that remain within orthodoxy. But if they mean something broader than that....

Rick Moore at HolyCoast, quotes the only person whose opinion matters and then suggests why believers may be ill-informed about their own faith:
Although he wasn't surveyed by Pew, someone else had an opinion on the subject of how to find eternal life:
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. [John 14:6, KJV]
Even in The Message, the most watered down paraphrase Bible out there the text still seems pretty clear:
Jesus said, "I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. [John 14:6, The Message]
I think you can probably chalk up the confusion demonstrated in the Pew poll to the wishy-washy feel-good preaching that has taken over many of our evangelical churches. Everyone is trying so hard to be "relevant" and "topical" that their teaching has become pretty useless. Various seminar-tested church models build churches with lots of people, but don't build people with lots of actual spiritual knowledge.
Update: Get Religion weighs in on what question "evangelical attenders" may have thought they were answering. First, the question that Pew asked, and then the concern:
[IF RESPONDENT HAS A RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION, ASK:] Now, as I read a pair of statements, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views even if neither is exactly right. First/next: My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life, OR: many religions can lead to eternal life.
I am being a bit picky here, but I suspect that if you asked a lot of people that Pew Forum question today, they would think of the great world religions. But many Christians would think more narrowly than that. Not all. Not many, perhaps. But some. What is your religion? I’m a Baptist, a Nazarene, an Episcopalian, a Catholic. Can people outside of your religion be saved? Of course. This is not the same thing, for many, as saying that they believe that salvation is found outside faith in Jesus Christ. There are others who might have a “dual covenant” view of Judaism, but not apply that belief to Islam, Hinduism, Wicca, Buddhism, etc.

Other Christians may believe that, somehow, all people will — in this life or the next — face some kind of spiritual decision about Jesus being “the way, the truth and the life.” But if you asked them if that means that only Christians will “be saved,” they will say that only God can know that. It is highly unlikely that they will say that the Bible is wrong or that centuries of Christian teaching are wrong. Yet it is unlikely that all of them — even Billy Graham — will be strictly dogmatic about what THEY know about eternity. How do they answer this Pew question?
FOXNews.com - Americans: My Faith Isn't the Only Way to Heaven - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News, HolyCoast.com: 3,000 Miles Wide and 3 Inches Deep, Pew views: Questions about Oprah America » GetReligion


  1. It is one thing to believe and profess Jesus Christ to be the Final Judge ... is another pretend to stand in his place and pronounce Judgement for him.

    Who is to say what he will say to the faithful, virtuous unbeliever who might never have been exposed to His Word (in any real measure)? Not me.

    I think perhaps the statement that my faith is "the best way" to salvation and on the Other, to say, "I wouldn't know about that" instead of saying they are either saved or damned.

  2. Good point. That would also seem to be C.S. Lewis's position [e.g. The Last Battle].

    But we are enjoined to "go and make disciples of all nations" and there must be a reason for that. I'm happy to leave the judgment of those who don't hear the gospel [or don't get it] to God. I'm confident in both His love and justice, and I'm not competent even to judge myself.

    But it's pretty clear that part of our responsibility is to proclaim the Good News.


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