Erwin Lutzer is the senior pastor at the Moody Church in Chicago. He’s a disciple of Billy Graham — and for the record, he does quite a good imitation. Last Friday night, he gave a speech entitled “Christ Among Other Gods: Why Jesus is the Only Way to the Father.”
After the service, I was privileged to speak with him for a few moments. He asked me what I thought of the speech, and I told him that I thought quite a few things, but I didn’t want to keep him from others whose urgency was greater than mine at the moment. I assured him that I would comment in detail on my blog, so here it is.
There were quite a few things I found interesting about the presentation, but for the sake of brevity and precision, I’ll focus on the central message, which is that Jesus has five qualities that logically dictate that he’s the only way to get eternal salvation.
Jesus’ Five Unique Qualities
1. God Has Personality
When I heard this, I cringed. The pantheon is full of gods with lots of personality. How could he possibly be starting with this point!? But he clarified quickly. God is Personal is really what he meant. He followed with a story of a Muslim man who read the Word of God and experienced an instant conversion.
I’m not sure how much I want to dwell on this point. The definition of “personal” is squirmy, and I’m not sure if debating it would lead anywhere. There are certainly people in the world other than Christians who feel like they have a direct line of communication with a deity. There are plenty of religions — some of them quite ancient — in which spirits or gods are believed to directly inhabit worshipers.
For the moment, I’m going to leave this as read. My final observation should render it a moot point anyway.
2. The Humanity of Jesus
The story of Jesus becoming a man is unique, so says Lutzer. This is an especially odd claim, since mythology is full of examples of gods in human form. Odin often took human form to appear to his followers. Apollo took human form as the shepherd to King Admetus. Demeter became human as a nursemaid to Triptolemus. In Japanese mythology, Susanoo was exiled from heaven by Amaterasu and forced to walk as a human until he killed a dragon, got married, and earned re-admittance.
These are just a few examples of literally hundreds from mythology, both ancient and recent. So… I don’t know what else to say. This is just not a true claim.
3. Christ’s Character — The Only Sinless Human
This is a really interesting claim. On the surface, it sounds pretty good. But if we reduce it down a bit, we see that it’s not all that special.
I heard a comedian talking about “X-treme Sports” on the way back from the conference. He was making fun of people who participate in obscure sports, but get lots of “street cred” for being world champions. He said, “Yeah, well guess what? I’m the world champion in curb hopping. It’s a small sport. I’m the only one who does it. But YEAH!!! I’m THE BEST!!”
In Christian mythology, God is the one who invented and defined sin. He set the parameters. He made the rules. Then he patted himself on the back for being awesome at following the rules. Is this unique? Hardly.
Lutzer made an odd point about Islam. He noted that Muhammed sinned. To which I immediately thought, “So what?” Muhammed wasn’t god. He was a prophet. Allah is the god, and he claims to be just as perfect as Yahweh or Jesus.
But that’s not the extent of the problem. Christian mythology has its own version of sin. That is, Yahweh, or Father, or whichever name you like, created the universe with the Christian version of sin. Many other religions have their own versions of morality, and many use the word sin. But none of them has the exact same moral system as Christianity. So when we’re saying that no other god lived sinless, we’re making the banal observation that no other god bothered to practice Christianity. DUH.
4. The Authority of Jesus
This struck me as a very odd point as well. I felt like the fabric of the Matrix was breaking down a little as Lutzer repeatedly made references to Stalin and Hitler (and made a polite plug for his book Hitler’s Cross.) Maybe I wandered off when he made his salient point, but I am at a loss to understand how the idea of a god having ultimate authority is unique to Christianity.
5. Triumph of Jesus
The resurrection of Jesus is a unique, say Christians. No other god has died and been resurrected.
Which is nice. Except… Innana. A deity who predates Jesus, who was crucified, spent three days in the underworld, from which no one was allowed to return, and was resurrected. Interestingly, there’s also one story of Innana that includes a god taking Innana’s place in return for redemption.
The pure Ereckigala seated herself upon her throne. The Anunnaki, the seven judges, pronounced judgment before her. They fastened her eyes upon her, the eyes of death. At their word, the word that tortures the spirit, the sick “woman” was turned into a corpse. The corpse was hung from a stake. After three days and three nights had passed, her minister Nincubur… fills the heavens with complaints for her… Before Enki he weeps: “O Father Enki, let not thy daughter be put to death in the nether world…” Father Enki answers Ninshubur: “What has happened to my daughter! I am troubled, what has happened to Inanna…! What has happened to the hierodule of heaven! … Surely Inanna will arise… Inanna arose. Inanna ascends from the nether world. (Trans. Samuel N. Kramer, ‘Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World,” in James B. Prichard, ed., ANET, pp 52-57)
Oh… it’s also Sumerian, so it’s an ancestor of Christianity.
I make all of these points as a bit of an exercise. In the end, I don’t really see any of them as relevant for one simple reason. If Jesus was exactly the same as any other god, then he wouldn’t be Jesus. He’d be another god. We can say precisely the same thing about any other deity. Every deity in the history of deities has at least one unique quality. Even granting that Jesus had five unique qualities, what does that prove? Absolutely nothing, except for the fact that someone somewhere penned some new memes.
Let’s extend the idea a little further. Perhaps Christianity is unique in the presentation of this message:
Man was created by God, fell from grace, and receives redemption through the belief and acceptance of God’s sacrifice of himself to himself.
If uniqueness is the measure of a religion’s truth, then I can make the following claim:
Ahura Mazda is the uncaused cause of the universe. He is the ultimate force for good, locked in a struggle with the ultimate force for evil, Angra Mainyu. By doing good works and thinking good thoughts, humans keep the forces of chaos at bay until the end of times, when a savior — the Shaoshyant — will come to raise the dead and reunite them with Ahura Mazda for all eternity in the new perfect earth.
No other religion believes exactly the same thing as this. Since it’s unique among all religions, it’s true… right?
Hopefully you can see that uniqueness doesn’t convey truth value. Just… uniqueness. So don’t let yourself be fooled by the smoke and mirrors. Even if I’m wrong about Innana and Allah and Ahura Mazda, and even if Jesus was unique in five ways, there’s a logical step missing from the argument:
1. Jesus is unique in five ways.
3. Therefore, Jesus is the only true god.