Multiple Paths to God?

Multiple Paths to God?

A few years ago, I received an intriguing book for Christmas. The jacket cover reads:

What happens after we die? Philip Gulley and James Mulholland grew up believing that only a chosen few would be saved and go to heaven, while most people would be damned. Even while studying to become pastors, they maintained this traditional view of human destiny. But as they experienced the pain and joy of their parishioners, each of these pastors began to hear a small but insistent voice speaking to them of God’s boundless love and extravagant grace, calling them to a new understanding of divine will and human destiny. As each sought to be faithful to their experience of a loving God whose grace is unlimited and unconditional, both men arrived separately at the same truth: God will save every person.”  (If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person, Philip Gulley and James Mulholland, Harper Collins)

Could they be right? Will God save every person, regardless of his or her chosen path?

Christianity has typically affirmed the following:

  • There are two ways – the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked (Psalm 1). One flourishes; one perishes.
  • There are two roads – the broad road and the narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14). One leads to life; one leads to destruction.
  • No one gets to the Father except through the Son, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

So how do we respond to Philip and James, our pastor friends who believe that everyone will be saved? And how do we respond to the popular opinion that there are multiple ways to God? And what do we say to the grieving mother who wants to know if her non-churched, non-believing son made it? How do we navigate our world of “multiple paths” to “multiple G/gods”?

Lacking a theological plan, many Christians resort to one of two responses – anxiety or arrogance. The anxious response is to help God out, prop God up, save God. The arrogant response is to insist that we are right, end of discussion.

I think there’s a much better way.

What If The Question Is All Wrong?

Are there multiple paths to God? The minute we begin to talk about the paths by which people seek G/god, we are outside the Christian story.

Our story is about a God who beats a path to us. The way/highway/road/path begins in the heart of the God who created us in love and who ever moves in our direction to redeem us. When we begin the discussion by giving humans credit for choosing the right path, we make salvation dependent on what humans do, rather than on what God in Christ has done.

One of the foundational doctrines of Wesleyan theology is prevenient grace. We believe that God is actively seeking every creature with loving intent to save. The Christian story always sees God as the traveler/seeker. God begins the journey at creation, comes to his people in the form of human flesh, and travels to the ends of the earth through his powerful and life-giving Holy Spirit.

In a world awash with multiple paths to multiple gods, I simply ask permission to tell the story of the God who has made a path to us.

But this still leaves open the question about those who have taken other paths to other G/gods. What about them? Is it possible that they may be saved?

Don’t Forget About Prevenient Grace

Before consigning them to hell, let’s remember prevenient grace. What if someone has grown up under the influence of Muslims or Buddhists or other world religions? And they felt in their heart the tug of the Living God whom we have experienced as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? The people of influence in their life named this “tug” Allah or Buddha, and they instructed the person to respond by walking a certain path. Is it possible that this person is responding to the prevenient grace of God in the best way they know? In the only way they know? Should we not leave room for God to determine the sincerity of human response to grace? And should we not go to the ends of the earth and across the street to tell the story that explains the “tug”?

The Apostle Paul did. He went to Athens and became distressed in a city full of gods. He talked his way into a story-telling opportunity on Mars Hill. In a place where scholars and philosophers debated multiple paths to multiple gods, Paul told the story: “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. …” (Acts 17:22-25, NRSV)

Paul talked about their search for the unknown god by telling them the story of God’s search for them. God had been preveniently at work in Athens before Paul arrived, but in Paul’s witness, God offered life to repentant hearers.

In a world of multiple paths to multiple G/gods, Christians are always at our best believing that God beats a path to every person, knocks on every door, and tugs on every heart. And we’re always at our best telling the story—without anxiety or arrogance.

Comments

  1. Been believing this for years. Glad I’m not alone!

  2. Tony Miller says

    Dr. Dan, this was my response when asked about this article:

    Dear ________, I am certainly conservative in my thinking and maybe even old fashioned. As I mentioned, my heart is to win the world for Christ because I love God and man. This article does not bother me due to the fact Dan is identifying the reality that people, by their very nature as God created them, are seeking. This article explains that while men are engaged in this searching, why not explain the answer we know to be true – Jesus Christ and him crucified. The idea I get from Dan’s article is that we as christians need to “pick-up” where the “tug” of the Spirit has brought them; rather than apposing where they are at.

    Tony

    • Tony, right on target. Rather than trying to explain someone out of grace, let’s meet them where they are and believe that prevenient grace has been at work prior to us and name God as active. Great post!

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