Is it Intolerant to Say that Jesus is the Only Way to God?
Our world is obsessed with the notion of tolerance; we despise those things that seem intolerant to us. That’s a good thing in a lot of ways. For example, it is bad to be intolerant toward a Muslim simply because they are Muslim; similarly, it would be bad for an employer to be intolerant toward a Christian simply because they are a Christian. There is no question that intolerance can be a pernicious form of evil.
So, is it intolerant for the majority of Christians to claim that Jesus is the only way to get to God? Well, yes, it is intolerant for Christians to claim that our way is the only way. Intolerance is, after all, a refusal to accept opinions different from your own. When Christians say that Muslims are wrong in thinking that they can get to God through their religious system, we are refusing to accept a different position as valid. We are instead saying that our belief is better. While Christians must be tolerant in that we are not to try to oppress Muslims for believing something different—at least if we do, we must drop the name “Christian,” for Christ never oppressed dissenters—this is at least a mild form of intolerance. We are, in effect, claiming that everyone who disagrees with us is wrong.
But, it gets worse. Christians who claim that rejecting Christ on earth has eternal ramifications have biblical backing. In John 14.6, for example, Jesus explicitly says: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” That’s about as clear a statement as one could want, especially given the biblical context. The fact is that this position, which is at least moderately intolerant, has wide acceptance in Christendom for good reason.
But here’s a crucial point that our culture misses over and over: intolerance is necessary for society to function. Think about prison; we put people who have done bad things in prison. If you murdered someone, you should go to prison. If you raped someone, you deserve to do years behind bars. If you disagree with that, you probably have something seriously wrong with you, such that you probably need to be locked up too. Here’s the thing: prisons are necessary because intolerance is necessary. What society is doing with prisons is looking at people who do bad things and saying: “We are not going to tolerate that.” Even if a person has a serious mental defect such that they really think that murder is okay, society would still lock them away, though maybe not in a prison per se. Prisons are evidence of the necessity of intolerance. There are some actions which are so bad that society cannot tolerate them. Imagine if we let rapist and murderers continue doing those actions with no ramifications for their sins, and you’ve thought of a society void of intolerance.
Here’s a second point that our culture misses: truth is intolerant. Think about math; 2+2=4, and it doesn’t matter what you think about it. If your child took a math test at school and wrote that 2+2=5, then you wouldn’t argue with the teacher for marking it wrong. It doesn’t matter if your child tried their hardest, honestly thought that 5 was the answer, or got confused; they simply were wrong when they wrote 5. That’s a mild form of intolerance; the message the teacher conveys by marking that question wrong is that it doesn’t matter why your child wrote 5 in the answer blank, because 5 is wrong.
Saying that Jesus is the only way to God is intolerant; however, if it’s true, then we shouldn’t back down from it any more than we back down from believing that 2+2=4.