Good news! God doesn’t require you to be a Christian. Nope. And you can still experience heaven if you’re not!
Spending many a day in the Conservative/Evangelical world, I was taught in no uncertain terms that Christianity is an exclusive religion. The only way to attain eternal life in God’s presence was to claim Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. It didn’t matter whether you were a good person, bad person, or, like the vast majority of us, somewhere in between. God doesn’t “save” good people, it was said. God only saves forgiven people.
So that’s your “good news?” That’s the gospel of Christ? Is this the God we want to worship: one who decides who’s forgiven and who gets the grand prize of eternal damnation?
Well, that’s not the God I worship. Not anymore.
I hold firm to the notion that there is a place for all of us in God’s house. “Wait, Matt. What about John 14:6? Didn’t Jesus tell the apostle Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”?
Yes. Yes he did. Those were Jesus’ words. I just don’t believe he was referring to some Invitation Only club where Jewish people, Muslim friends, and men and women who are unsure about their faith are simply out of luck. But, as is always the case, consider the context. “Christianity” was not a thing 2,000 years ago. And it certainly was not a major world religion. What it was could be described as a marginal community in the ancient Mediterranean world. One that had nothing to do with what your pastor says in a sermon in 2021 on American soil.
As one who considers himself post-evangelical, I can proudly say that our faith is radical not in its exclusiveness, but in God’s inclusiveness. For all. I remember preaching a sermon on Ruth a few years ago and saying, “Your eternal destiny comes down to a decision about one person. The sin question leads to the son question.” If I heard that today, I’d walk out of the church building and never look back.
The late author Marcus Borg considered John 14:6 not to be a proof text for Christian exclusivism, rather a statement relative to its historical moment. Let’s keep in mind the community of Christian Jews (Jesus followers) was sharply at odds with non-Christian Jews. “As a result,” Borg said, “some of John’s community may have been tempted to return to their community of origin.” Put differently, they may have thought about taking the wrong way. The “way” of Christ leads us down a path of transformation. It enables us to travel from our old way of life to a new reality. This transformation is not exclusive to Christianity, but it is part and parcel of many worldwide religions. What we believe about Jesus is not the way to him. One’s doctrine does not affect one’s salvation.
I recall teaching a class a lifetime ago when I asked the questions, “What happens to the family living in a remote area that has never heard the Gospel? If they never had an opportunity to ‘accept Jesus,’ what do we make of their eternal fate?”
“That can’t be true,” I was told. “The Bible says, ‘this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations’ (Matt. 24:14). So they really have no excuse.”
I don’t buy that anymore. If I did, I’d be placing limitations on God. And my God is a pretty big God. A God whose love is larger than any bible verse. A God who I simply can’t imagine would condemn someone who never heard of Jesus.
We each find God on our unique path. It’s far from a one-size-fits-all process. My Jewish friends practice their spirituality one way. It’s not wrong. It’s simply a different path I choose to walk. However you discover God, discover God that way. Even if it’s not directly through Jesus of Nazareth, the way of your walk will involve a transformation of some sort. And there’s nothing more valuable than that.
Christianity is not the religion, rather it is one of many. We certainly do not have all the answers. For me, it’s been wonderful. For others, it doesn’t work. I am committed to following Jesus Christ. Others are not. Both they and I experience this world in a specific way, truth, and life. What that looks like may surprise you.
Do all roads lead to Christ? That’s not my call. But I do believe this: if there’s only one road leading to heaven, it’s entirely possible that everybody’s on it.
In Christ’s Name,