Lay Christians less likely than pastors to hold to exclusive salvation

J Warner Wallace of Please Convince Me tweeted this alarming news on Friday.


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.

3 thoughts on “Lay Christians less likely than pastors to hold to exclusive salvation”

  1. Preach it.

    I have a simple message for anyone who claims the name of Christ. The Bible has at least 100 verses saying explicitly or implicitly that Jesus is the only way to salvation (it isn’t just John 14:6). That isn’t what makes Christianity true, of course. Jesus’ resurrection does that.

    But it does mean that it is something that all Christians should affirm. If you can’t state that Jesus is the only way to salvation then Christianity isn’t the religion for you. Please get on board or get out of the way and stop confusing people by identifying as a Christian.

    Here are 10 passages to get someone started. Then just skim the New Testament and note how nothing makes sense without the truth of Jesus’ exclusivity.

    John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
    Acts 4:11-12 He is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
    Acts 16:30-31 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
    1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
    1 John 2:23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
    1 John 5:11-12 And this is the testimony: 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.
    Luke 10:16 “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
    Luke 12:8-9 “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.
    John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
    John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
    John 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”
    John 10:7-8 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.


  2. Very poorly worded question, which negates the results.

    But I hope the answer they think they are getting is at least as high a %.


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