“God is more than any one religion; the very idea that any one tradition can encapsulate that totality should be for us ludicrous!”
So said the internationally recognized Jewish leader, Rabbi David Rosen, to the applause of thousands at the 2018 Parliament of World Religions in Toronto. Was Rosen right? Are Christians who proclaim Jesus Christ as the only way to God being ludicrous?
Only Two Religions
Many Christians are starting to think so. After all, given the vast diversity of religions around the world, isn’t it the height of presumption to proclaim Christianity as the only pathway to God? Perhaps, if Christianity really was one among many religions. In fact, it is one of only two.
That’s right! The Bible reveals very clearly that in the end there are only two religions. So says the Apostle Paul in Romans 1. Diagnosing the root cause of humanity’s fall into sin, Paul summarizes:
“For they exchanged the truth of God for [the] lie, and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is forever praised. Amen.” (Romans 1:25)
Did you catch that? The fall of humanity hinged on a single religious exchange. We exchanged the true worship of the Creator for the false worship of the creation. Logically speaking, these are the only two options.
This may strike you as an extreme oversimplification. Let me assure you it’s not. That’s because regardless of particular beliefs, creeds or ideas, there is one basic question that every religion must answer first: “Where did everything come from?” British theologian Colin Gunton points out that there are only two possible answers.
“…[Either] that the universe is the result of creation by a free personal agency, or that in some way or other it creates itself.1
One or Two?
This means there are ultimately only two ways of looking at the world, both of which are inescapably religious. Either everything is made up of two realities, (a Creator and Creation), or one (the Creation alone). Dr. Peter Jones rightly points out that “everything you do and think is affected by how you answer this question.”2 This means that the way we understand God, the world and our lives depends entirely upon whether or not we follow a religion of ‘one’ or ‘two’.
A Religion of ‘One’
Simply put, a religion of ‘one’ views the universe as if nothing else exists. This is true if you’re actively religious and believe in a spiritual realm, or if you’re technically non-religious and believe the universe is just atoms and energy. Either way, a religion of ‘one’ considers everything in existence as belonging to the same universal whole.
We could represent a religion of ‘one’ like this. In this illustration, everything in existence is inside the green circle. From coconuts to comets, people to planets, gods to galaxies; it’s all included in the same universal package. In short, all is ‘one’.
A Religion of ‘Two’
On the other hand, the Bible teaches us that all is not ‘one’ but ‘two’. God exists outside of the circle, and so all of reality is made up of two things, not one.
“But wait a minute,” you say. “Christians aren’t the only ones who believe in a god.” That’s true, but the point isn’t our belief in a god. The point is who our God is.
No Mistaking God
The first thing the Bible tells us about God is that he is the Creator (Gen. 1:1) Other religions teach about a ‘creator’ too. The difference is the absolute distinction or separation the Bible makes between God the Creator and the creation he has made. They are not ‘one’, but ‘two’, and must never be confused with each other.
This is why God forbids idolatry. (Gen. 20:4-5) Making an idol out of anything to represent God is a sin because it denies God’s holiness. The word “holy” literally means “set apart”, and so God is holy because he stands apart from everything else. He is completely ‘other’ than that which he has made.
Learning to Spot the Difference
Grasping this basic but profound truth about God will help you begin recognizing the presence of the Religion of One whenever it appears. To help you begin spotting it, here are three of the most common forms it takes.
#1 – “God and the Universe are One”:
The “Force” of the Star Wars saga is a classic pop-culture example of the Religion of One. Obi-wan Kenobi explains it to Luke Skywalker this way:
“The Force is an energy field created by all living things: it surrounds us, penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”
In Star Wars, the Force is an impersonal, universal power that exists in and through everything. It shares many similarities with the Hindu idea of Brahman. Brahman is not a personal God as in Christianity. Rather, it is an ultimate principle of existence that “is hidden in all and is the cause, source, material and effect of all creation known, unknown and yet to happen in the entire universe.”3 In essence, everything is a part of Brahman.
Even when it uses Christian vocabulary, you can spot the Religion of One wherever you
see any attempt to blur the distinction between God and creation. It also any attempt to locate the cause of the universe within the universe itself. If the power of creation is somehow within the universe, then the universe is its own Creator. In essence, the Creator and Creation become one and the same.
#2 – “God and I are One”:
This second form of “the lie” is a logical by-product of the first. After all, if God and the universe are one, and I am part of the universe, then obviously I must in some way also be part of God. Listen to how Hollywood stars like Morgan Freeman promote this idea.
“They say God is in all things. If God is in me, then I am in God. Therefore, I am God. God does not exist without me.”4Actor – Morgan Freeman
This idea of being a part of the divine influences much of our culture’s views on spirituality. Because there is so much shared vocabulary, it can sometimes be difficult to spot. But here are a few of its tell-tale signs.
- Searching for God by looking inward.
- Emphasis on discovering God through inner experiences rather than Biblical revelation.
- A tendency to make spirituality private and verifiable only by personal experience or intuition.
- Placing a high degree of trust in intuition, personal feelings, strong desires, or an “inner voice” for spiritual guidance in place of Scripture, teaching or godly counsel.
#3 – “All Truth is One”:
This last form that a Religion of One takes is perhaps the most deceptive. It redefines the nature of truth by shifting truth’s location from outside to inside myself. After all, if I am in some way a part of God, then the truth about God is also a part of me. This goes beyond words and ideas that describe truth to the inner experiences that “feel” true.
This is why leaders like Rabbi David Rosen can affirm that God’s truth may be found in many diverse religions. Because even if their beliefs and doctrines disagree with or even contradict one another, what really matters is that they help practitioners gain deeper experiences of their innermost being. Since on this view God is found within, deeper experience with yourself is equated with a deeper experience of God.
Spotting this form of the Religion of One can be tricky, but in general, you can spot it wherever you encounter messages that encourage:
- unaided reliance on feelings or intuition for guidance
- moving beyond conscious thought
- emphasis on “personal authenticity” or “being true to yourself”
The spiritual landscape of our culture has changed dramatically. Many Christians have been caught off guard and confused by the deceptive forms that the ‘Religion of One’ can take. But take heart! God has given us all that we need to stand firm and confident in his truth. It is crucial, therefore, that we allow God’s Word to renew and shape our minds. Learning this simple framework of ‘one’ and ‘two’ will provide you with an indispensable foundation of truth upon which to do so.
I am greatly indebted to Dr. PeterJones for his fine work in articulating many of these ideas, and I would highly recommend his books which are recommended in the footnotes.5
For Further Reading:
- Colin E. Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical Systematic Study (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 3-4.
- Peter Jones, One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference, (Escondido, CA, Main Entry Editions, 2010) Loc 135.
- Vedic Knowledge Online, http://veda.wikidot.com/brahman, [accessed online Nov 11, 2019].
- Marlow Stern, “Morgan Freeman on God, Satan and How the Human Race Has Become A Parasite,” The Daily Beast, 28 January 2014. http://www.thedailybeast.com/ articles/2014/01/28/morgan-freeman-on-god- satan-and-how-the-human-race-has-become-a- parasite.html
- Books by Peter Jones: