An Evangelizing Christian ("EC") and a guy who Wasn't Having Any ("WHA") had a conversation in a coffee shop yesterday. I totally eavesdropped on them. Here's the gist of their exchange:
EC: But you can't get into heaven unless you're a Christian.
WHA: Why not? I'm a good guy. I lead a moral life. Why should I be kept out of heaven?
EC: Because in the Bible, Jesus says, "No one comes to the Father except through me."
WHA: But that doesn't say you have to be a Christian in order to get into heaven. That just says that Jesus decides who does and doesn't get into heaven. "You have to go through me to get into heaven" isn't the same as, "You have to be a Christian to get into heaven."
EC: Yes, it is.
WHA: No, it really, really isn't. If Christ had meant, "Only Christians get into heaven," he would have said that. But he doesn't say that in this quote -- which is weird, since that's the quote Christians invariably rely upon as their ultimate proof that only Christians get into heaven.
EC: But that's what, "No one comes to the Father except through me" means. It means you have to accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior in order to gain eternal life with our heavenly Father.
WHA: Well, that may be what Christians have decided that quote means, but that's not what the words of that quote actually say. All Jesus actually says there is, "You have to go through me to get into heaven." In other words, "When it comes to admission into heaven, I am the decider." [Fear not: I squelched my laughter by jamming half a croissant in my mouth.] It doesn't say anything whatsoever about what you have to think, believe in, or be before you can make the cut. It doesn't say anything beyond that Jesus will determine who is and isn't acceptable to him. That's it. There's nothing there to indicate that Jesus would necessarily refuse a Muslim or a Jew into heaven. That quote only refers to the process by which people do or don't gain entry into heaven. It doesn't stipulate any kind of qualifications for getting in at all. And for Christians to assert that that quote does mean what its actual, literal words clearly don't support it meaning, isn't good for Christians. It can't help but make them seem exceptionally dense, willfully irrational, or lying. Either way's not exactly an inducement to join their club.
Quite the speech! It worked, too: My evangelizing brother in Christ shut down like a Hummer dealership.
After the Christian effected an exit, I started up my own conversation with Mr. Articulate Atheist. I liked him; he was a decent, forthright guy. In the course of our talk, I promised him that here, on my blog, I would do as I have done, and recount his conversation with the proselytizing Christian. Furthermore, I promised him that I would ask whether any of my readers would be willing to take a stab at refuting his assertion that "No one comes to the Father except through me" doesn't, in fact, say anything whatsoever about whether or not one has to believe in Christ in order to get into heaven.
If you're inclined to answer this earnest seeker, he's listening.
Respond to my new (and refreshingly open) atheist friend here.