Only One Way?

In school you may have read the poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” by John Godfrey Saxe. It describes how six blind men wanted to learn what an elephant was like. Each explored a different part of the elephant, and each had a different way of describing it. When examined from the side, the animal resembled a wall. From its tusk, it seemed like a spear; from its trunk, like a snake,  from its ear, a fan, from its tail, a rope.

“And so these men from Indostan / disputed loud and long. / Each in his own opinion / exceeded stiff and strong / though each was partly in the right / and all were in the wrong!”

The author was making a theological point. He wanted his readers to assume that there is more than one way to think about reality, more than one way to God.

The way our world is today, the problem with Christians is that we think we have the only way to salvation. We claim to worship the only true God. To many people, this is narrow minded bigotry.

Philip Ryken wrote, “Insisting that Jesus is the only way is an especially unpopular stance in a culture based on freedom of choice. . . . Religion is now called a ‘preference,’ which makes it sound like  a soft drink or a shade of paint. If you can go to the college of your choice, root for the football team of your choice, watch the cable channel of your choice, and eat the yogurt of your choice, why can’t you pray to the god of your choice?”

Colossians is a letter written by Paul to first century  believers living in a city which was a hotbed of religious and cultural pluralism. Colossae had a mixture of the pagan gods of Rome, Greek philosophy, eastern mysticism, and Jewish legalism. Many of these influences were blended into  a system of thought that was a precursor to Gnosticism.

This new cult taught that faith in Jesus was not enough. A secret, higher knowledge was needed to obtain wisdom and enlightenment. It taught the worship of angels and sought mystical experiences through secret rites and astrological mysteries.

If you read and study Colossians, you will discover that Paul borrows from the vocabulary of this new philosophy to argue against it. He uses some of their own words to teach what they denied: the sufficiency and supremacy of Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote with unfiltered clarity that Jesus Christ is sufficient: “In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14). He is all we need to have a right relationship to God. He is the totality of the divine fullness. He is the cosmic agent of creation. He is the reconciler of people to God. He is over all spiritual forces, both angelic and demonic. By his death he secured victory over sin and the powers of darkness. By his resurrection he is proven to be the pre-eminent one. He is indeed the only way.

This is strikingly relevant today in America as people are being told that all religions are equally valid. They are merely different roads up the same mountain. No single worldview has an exclusive claim on the truth. No religion can claim to be superior to any other.

The only absolute creed in America today is pluralism, the theory that there can and must be more than one kind of ultimate reality. Edward Gibbon wrote about the last days of the Roman empire: “All religions were regarded by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false, and by the politicians as equally useful.”

This is why Paul puts such emphasis on the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. The first chapter of Colossians is one of the great Christological passages in the New Testament (along with John 1, Hebrews 1, and Philippians 2). There is a finality and authority in his teaching about Jesus in Colossians. I recommend that you read it carefully.

The Colossian believers had “heard the word of truth, the gospel” (Colossians 1:5). They had believed what it taught about Jesus (Colossians 1:4). You and I need to do the same thing as we navigate life in a pluralistic culture.

Pastor Randy Faulkner