A recent survey conducted by LifeWay Research found that while a majority of Protestant pastors believe Christianity is the only way to obtain eternal life, there is a small percentage who strongly feel other religions offer eternal salvation as well.
The survey asked 1,000 Protestant pastors the question, "If a person is sincerely seeking God, he/she can obtain eternal life through religions other than Christianity."
Seventy-seven percent of the pastors questioned said that they strongly disagree with the statement and seven percent somewhat disagreed. Another seven percent somewhat agreed and five percent strongly agreed. Three percent said they are not sure.
The educational level of the pastor played a role in their decision making. Pastors with a graduate degree were more likely to strongly agree with the statement, and less likely to strongly disagree, compared to pastors with a bachelor's degree or less.
The study also found that evangelical Christians held stricter views on the universality of eternal salvation compared to mainline pastors. According to LifeWay, 85 percent of evangelical pastors were more likely to strongly disagree that there are other ways to eternal life other than Christianity than mainline pastors at 57 percent.
Only two percent of evangelical pastors strongly agreed with the statement, while 11 percent of mainline pastors strongly agreed.
Region also played a role in the survey results. The survey found that 11 percent of pastors in large cities strongly agreed with the statement. Only four percent of small city pastors agreed.
Four percent of pastors in suburban areas strongly agreed, while three percent in rural areas said the same.
The question of exclusivity and universality has been a long disputed issue in the church.
As noted by Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, "Rob Bell's book Love Wins kicked off a discussion about the exclusivity of the Christian gospel. But most pastors are more in line with historic Christian beliefs than Bell, who suggested that other faiths lead to heaven."
Bell, former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., started somewhat of a firestorm in the evangelical community when he questioned whether the Bible teaches that there is an eternal hell. His 2011 book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, prompted a bevy of responses from evangelical leaders who released their own books to counter Bell's claims.
In a recent interview with Jake Tapper of ABC News, evangelical pastor Rick Warren said no one deserves to go to heaven; rather, eternal salvation can only be gained through Jesus' grace.
When asked if he believes the way to eternal life is through belief in Jesus Christ, Warren replied, "I do believe that. And I believe that because Jesus said it."
"Jesus said, 'I am the way.' He didn't say 'I'm one of the ways.' He said, 'I am the way, I am the truth, and I am the life.' I'm betting my life that Jesus wasn't a liar," Warren added, as previously reported by The Christian Post.
Warren is the lead pastor of Saddleback Church, located in Lake Forest, Calif. The megachurch's weekly attendance averages 20,000 people.
"I think the only way any of us get into heaven is God's grace. I'm not getting to heaven on my integrity. I'm not getting to heaven on my goodness. I'm getting to heaven on what I believe Jesus said is grace, and the fact is it's available to everybody," Warren added.