The survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors asked respondents for their reaction to the statement, "If a person is sincerely seeking God, he/she can obtain eternal life through religions other than Christianity." A full 77 percent of pastors strongly disagreed while 7 percent somewhat disagreed. Another 7 percent somewhat agreed, 5 percent strongly agreed and 3 percent were not sure.
"Rob Bell's book Love Wins kicked off a discussion about the exclusivity of the Christian Gospel," said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. "But most pastors are more in line with historic Christian beliefs than Bell, who suggested that other faiths lead to heaven."
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Pastors' beliefs regarding the exclusivity of Christianity differ from those of their parishioners, according to a new study conducted for the upcoming book "Transformational Discipleship" by Eric Geiger, Michael Kelly and Philip Nation. When presented with the same statement, just 48 percent of adults who attend a Protestant church once a month or more disagreed strongly and 9 percent disagreed somewhat. A total of 26 percent agreed, including 13 percent who agreed strongly and 13 percent who agreed somewhat. Sixteen percent indicated that they neither agreed nor disagreed.
"One fact is clear: pastors are less universalistic than their church members," Stetzer said. "A few heads nodding or an occasional 'Amen' does not indicate everyone believes Christianity is the only way. Church leaders will never know where their congregation stands unless they ask."
According to the survey of pastors, those in large cities are more likely to believe that other religions lead to eternal life than their counterparts in other settings. Eleven percent of pastors in large cities strongly agreed. In comparison, 4 percent of pastors in small cities, 4 percent in the suburbs and 3 percent in rural areas feel the same.
Pastors identifying themselves as evangelical are less universalistic than those self-identifying as mainline. Compared with mainline pastors, evangelicals are:
-- Less likely to strongly agree that other religions can lead to eternal life (evangelical pastors, 2 percent; mainline pastors, 11 percent).
-- More likely to strongly disagree (85 percent to 57 percent).
David Roach is a pastor and writer in Shelbyville, Ky.
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