Today we will address a common objection to Christianity. It goes something like this: “So, you think your religion (Christianity) is the true religion, that Jesus Christ is the only way to God? Other religions are false and lead nowhere? Don’t you think that is a bit arrogant? Aren’t those who practice other faiths as sincere in their belief and as faithful in their religious practice as you are?” As we will see in our analysis and response, this complaint, even in this brief form, contains more than one kind of objection. And it is often combined with a long list of associated objections, such as the following: “how likely is it that you just happened to be born where and when the true religion was dominant? Wouldn’t God want everyone to have access to him?” All of these objections and others like them seem to originate from the intuition that religious truth should be universally available and easily accessible. Perhaps we will address this intuition in future posts, but in this post I want to focus on the question of arrogance.
First let’s subject the arrogance objection to a little analysis. Clearly, its power is contained in associating a moral fault with a truth claim, so that asserting truth becomes an arrogant act. No one wants to think of themselves as arrogant or to be thought arrogant by others. Arrogance is an attitude of personal superiority to others. Arrogant people see their real or imaginary characteristics as indicative of their special importance. And for a person to think she or he possesses greater worth or dignity or value than others violates our sense (in the modern western world) that all people are of equal worth. It seems as ugly as it is false.
As I noted above, the arrogance objection explicitly attempts to associate the attitude of arrogance (a moral fault) with the act of claiming that Christianity is true. It implies that an attitude of personal arrogance cannot be dissociated from the truth claim. But here it makes an obvious error. In our analysis of arrogance above we saw that arrogance is a personal attitude that draws an unwarranted moral conclusion from a person’s real or imaginary characteristic or possession. Suppose I really am very rich or brilliant or accomplished in my field. Being rich or brilliant or accomplished in a field does not necessitate personal arrogance. In themselves the statements of fact that describe someone as rich or brilliant or accomplished are either true or false; they cannot be humble or arrogant. Likewise, the statement “Christianity is true” or “Jesus Christ is the only way to God” is true or false. By itself it is not arrogant or humble. Sentences can’t lie or brag or show distain. Only people can be arrogant or humble.
Let’s look at the “arrogance objection” from another angle. Arrogance, as I argued above, characterizes the mood of a false judgment about one’s superior worth based on one’s real or imagined qualities. But when believers express the judgment that Jesus Christ is the revelation of the true God or the only way to God, they are not expressing a judgment about their superiority over others. They are not even making this judgment in reliance on their own (superior) insights into God, other religions, or human nature. Their judgment is not based on a direct comparison of Christianity with other religions, which would require viewing the question from a neutral position and possessing godlike powers of discernment.
Believers’ affirmation that Jesus Christ is the only way to God is a statement of faith derived from their faith in the apostolic testimony to Jesus’ resurrection and glorification. If God raised Jesus from the dead, Jesus is Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36). Paul and the original apostles declare that God raised Jesus from the dead. Either they are correct or they are incorrect. Either they are lying or they are telling the truth. Contemporary Christians believe the apostles are correct when they declare “Jesus is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). My assertion that “Jesus is Lord and Savior” is not my personal assessment attesting to my own superior judgment in matters of religion. It is my confession of faith. And when I confess Jesus’ Lordship, I also confess my trust in the apostolic word of testimony. In their act of confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord of all believers are not vaunting their own personal superiority over others but humbly expressing their reliance on the word of the apostles and their determination to live as disciples of the Lord.
Is Jesus Lord of all? Did God raise Jesus from the dead? These questions call for “yes” or “no” answers. Arrogance has nothing to do with it.