Nearly eight in 10 Protestant pastors strongly disagree that eternal life can be obtained through religions other than Christianity in a new survey.
The survey, conducted by LifeWay Research, of 1,000 Protestant pastors asked respondents for their reaction to the statement, “If a person is sincerely seeking God, he/she can obtain eternal life through religions other than Christianity.” A full 77 percent of pastors strongly disagreed while 7 percent somewhat disagreed. Another 7 percent somewhat agreed, 5 percent strongly agreed and 3 percent were not sure.
[…]Pastors’ beliefs regarding the exclusivity of Christianity differ from those of their parishioners, according to a new study conducted for the upcoming book “Transformational Discipleship” by Eric Geiger, Michael Kelly and Philip Nation. When presented with the same statement, just 48 percent of adults who attend a Protestant church once a month or more disagreed strongly and 9 percent disagreed somewhat. A total of 26 percent agreed, including 13 percent who agreed strongly and 13 percent who agreed somewhat. Sixteen percent indicated that they neither agreed nor disagreed.
“One fact is clear: pastors are less universalistic than their church members,” Stetzer said. “A few heads nodding or an occasional ‘Amen’ does not indicate everyone believes Christianity is the only way. Church leaders will never know where their congregation stands unless they ask.”
According to the survey of pastors, those in large cities are more likely to believe that other religions lead to eternal life than their counterparts in other settings. Eleven percent of pastors in large cities strongly agreed. In comparison, 4 percent of pastors in small cities, 4 percent in the suburbs and 3 percent in rural areas feel the same.
Pastors identifying themselves as evangelical are less universalistic than those self-identifying as mainline. Compared with mainline pastors, evangelicals are:
- Less likely to strongly agree that other religions can lead to eternal life (evangelical pastors, 2 percent; mainline pastors, 11 percent).
- More likely to strongly disagree (85 percent to 57 percent).
I’ve written about how people who do not think that Christianity is true are more likely to think that religion is really about happy feelings, community and being a good person, especially when confronted by nice people doing nice things in other religions. The further a person gets from truth and apologetics, the more likely their theology is going to degrade into people-pleasing. That’s why apologetics is so important.
It’s much easier to say to a person “you are not saved” when you know enough to ask them “did the universe have a beginning?” and “was Jesus crucified?”. When they answer no to both questions, you take the religion question out of the realm of community, happiness and good deeds, and put it in the realm of truth. It is much easier to see why God would separate away from someone who doesn’t care enough about HIM (not other people, but HIM) that they would spend the time to study cosmology and history, etc. in order to form true beliefs.
As an evangelical Christian, it’s easy for me to believe that non-Christians will not be saved. I ask them questions, I find that they have beliefs that are obviously false. Then, when I propose that they do some studying, they tell me they won’t because religion is about being happy and being liked by your family and friends. When you understand salvation as being about truth, it’s very easy to understand why refusing to study religion to see what is and isn’t true isn’t just another flavor of ice cream – it’s sinful. It’s rebelling against God. It’s telling God “I don’t value you enough to know if you are really there and what you are really like”. And God isn’t obligated to spend eternity with people who don’t want him and who don’t want to know him.
People like Rob Bell and Brian Maclaren and Dan Barker start their drift away from orthodoxy by caring more about the people around them than the Person above them. A relationship with God is not the same as happy feelings and popularity. A relationship with God is work and being unpopular. That’s everywhere in the Bible, too. Followers of Judaism and Christianity are always taking the heat for sticking up for God. Nobody likes them except God. They perform for an audience of One, and they don’t care whether anyone approves or not. We need to get that back in the church. We need to get apologetics back in the church. Nobody feels guilty about telling someone who thinks that eating chocolate will prevent cavities. That’s what evangelism is – you tell the truth, graciously. If people get offended, that’s no reason to change your message.
I wrote a post before showing how to falsify a religion using science or history. We need to be comfortable doing that.