In the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and '70s, the "One Way" sign — the index finger held high — became a popular icon. "One Way" bumper stickers and lapel pins were everywhere, and the "One Way" slogan for a time became the identifying catchphrase of all evangelicalism.
Evangelicalism in those days was an extremely diverse movement. (In some ways it was even more eclectic than it is today.) It encompassed everything from Jesus People, who were an integral part of that era's youth culture, to straight-line fundamentalists, who scorned everything contemporary. But all of them had at least one important thing in common: They knew that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. "One Way" seemed an unshakable belief that all evangelicals held in common.
That is no longer the case. The evangelical movement of today is no longer unified on this issue. Some who call themselves evangelicals are openly insisting that faith alone in Jesus is not the only way to heaven. They are now convinced that people of all faiths will be in heaven. Others are simply cowardly, embarrassed, or hesitant to affirm the exclusivity of the gospel in an era when inclusivity, pluralism, and tolerance are deemed supreme virtues by the secular world. They imagine it would be a tremendous cultural faux pas to declare that Christianity is the truth and all other faiths are wrong. Apparently, the evangelical movement's biggest fear today is that Christians will be seen as out of harmony with the world.
Why has this dramatic shift taken place? Why has evangelicalism abandoned what believers once all agreed is absolutely true? I believe it is because church leaders, in their desperate quest to be relevant and fashionable, have actually failed to see where the contemporary world is going and why.
The dominant worldview in secular and academic circles today is called postmodernism. To the postmodernist, reality is whatever the individual imagines it to be. That means what is "true" is determined subjectively by each person, and there is no such thing as objective, authoritative truth that governs or applies to humanity universally. The postmodernist naturally believes it is pointless to argue whether opinion A is superior to opinion B. After all, if reality is merely a construct of the human mind, one person's perspective of truth is ultimately just as good as another's. "Truth" becomes nothing more than a personal opinion, usually best kept to oneself.
That is the one essential, non-negotiable demand postmodernism makes of everyone: We are not supposed to think we know any objective truth. Postmodernists often suggest that every opinion should be shown equal respect. And therefore, on the surface, postmodernism seems driven by a broad-minded concern for harmony and tolerance. It all sounds very charitable and altruistic. But what really underlies the postmodernist belief system is an utter intolerance for every worldview that makes any universal truth-claims — particularly biblical Christianity.
Postmodernism and the Church
The church today is filled with people who are advocating postmodern ideas. Some of them do it self-consciously and deliberately, but most do it unwittingly. (Having imbibed too much of the spirit of the age, they are simply regurgitating worldly opinion.) The evangelical movement as a whole, still recovering from its long battle with modernism, is not prepared for a new and different adversary. Many Christians have therefore not yet recognized the extreme danger posed by postmodernist thought.
Postmodernism's influence has clearly infected the church already. Evangelicals are toning down their message so that the gospel's stark truth-claims don't sound so jarring to the postmodern ear. Many shy away from stating unequivocally that the Bible is truth and all other religious systems and worldviews are false. Some who call themselves Christians have gone even further, purposefully denying the exclusivity of Christ and openly questioning His claim that He is the only way to God.
The biblical message is clear. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). The apostle Peter proclaimed to a hostile audience, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). The apostle John wrote, "He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36).
Again and again, Scripture stresses that Jesus Christ is the only hope of salvation for the world. "For there is on God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). Only Christ can atone for sin, and therefore only Christ can provide salvation. "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:11-12).
Those truths are antithetical to the central tenet of postmodernism. They make exclusive, universal truth claims, declaring Christ the only true way to heaven and all other belief-systems erroneous. That is what Scripture teaches. It is what the true church has proclaimed throughout her history. It is the message of Christianity. And it simply cannot be adjusted to accommodate postmodern sensitivities.
Instead, many Christians just pass over the exclusive claims of Christ in embarrassed silence. Even worse, some in the church, including a few of evangelicalism's best-known leaders, have begun to suggest that perhaps people can be saved apart from knowing Christ.
Christians cannot capitulate to postmodernism without sacrificing the very essence of our faith. The Bible's claim that Christ is the only way of salvation is certainly out of harmony with the postmodern notion of "tolerance." But it is, after all, just what the Bible plainly teaches. And the Bible, not postmodern opinion, is the supreme authority for the Christian. The Bible alone should determine what we believe and proclaim to the world. We cannot waver on this, no matter how much this postmodern world complains that our beliefs make us "intolerant."
Postmodernism's veneration of tolerance is its most obvious feature. But the version of "tolerance" peddled by postmodernists is actually a twisted and dangerous corruption of true virtue.
Incidentally, tolerance is never mentioned in the Bible as a virtue, except in the sense of patience, forbearance, and longsuffering (cf. Ephesians 4:2). In fact, the contemporary notion of tolerance is a pathetically feeble concept compared to the love Scripture commands Christians to show even to their enemies. Jesus said, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you" (Luke 6:27-28; cf. vv. 29-36).
When our grandparents spoke of tolerance as a virtue, they had something like that in mind. The word once meant respecting people and treating them kindly even when we believe they are wrong. But the postmodern notion of tolerance means we must never regard anyone else's opinions as wrong. Biblical tolerance is for people; postmodern tolerance is for ideas.
Accepting every belief as equally valid is hardly a real virtue, but it is practically the only kind of virtue postmodernism knows anything about. Traditional virtues (including humility, self-control, and chastity) are openly scorned, and even regarded as transgressions in the world of postmodernism.
Predictably, the beatification of postmodern tolerance has had a disastrous effect on real virtue in our society. In this age of tolerance, what was once forbidden is now encouraged. What was once universally deemed immoral is now celebrated. Marital infidelity and divorce have been normalized. Profanity is commonplace. Abortion, homosexuality, and moral perversions of all kinds are championed by large advocacy groups and enthusiastically promoted by the popular media. The postmodern notion of tolerance is systematically turning genuine virtue on its head.
Just about the only remaining taboo is the naïve and politically incorrect notion that another person's alternative lifestyle, religion, or different perspective is wrong. One major exception to that rule stands out starkly: It is OK for postmodernists to be intolerant of those who claim they know the truth, particularly biblical Christians. In fact, those who fancy themselves the leading advocates of tolerance today are often the most outspoken opponents of evangelical Christianity.
Why is that? Why does authentic biblical Christianity find such ferocious opposition from people who think they are paragons of tolerance? It is because the truth — claims of Scripture — and particularly Jesus' claim to be the only way to God — are diametrically opposed to the fundamental presuppositions of the postmodern mind. The Christian message represents a death blow to the postmodernist worldview.
But as long as Christians are being duped or intimidated into softening the bold claims of Christ and widening the narrow road, the church will make no headway against postmodernism. We need to recover the distinctiveness of the gospel. We need to regain our confidence in the power of God's truth. And we need to proclaim boldly that Christ is the only true hope for the people of this world.
That may not be what people want to hear in this pseudo-tolerant age of postmodernism. But it is true nonetheless. And precisely because it is true and the gospel of Christ is the only hope for a lost world, it is all the more urgent that we rise above all the voices of confusion in the world and say so.
Adapted from Why One Way? © 2002 by John MacArthur. All rights reserved.