World View
Many Faiths, One Jesus (Part 4)


The Same or Different?
Figuring out the uniqueness of Christian faith can sometimes be a challenge. Perhaps a friend who is Muslim says to you, “How can I be a good Muslim and not love Jesus?”1 If he accepts Jesus, why isn’t he a Christian? Then there is the Buddhist co-worker who reminds you that the problem of existence is that all of life is marked by suffering and that we do not find ultimate happiness or satisfaction in anything we experience. How come he sounds so much like the book of Ecclesiastes? What about the ardent atheist in your dorm who rejects all notions of transcendence yet seems to thunder about moral law in a way Moses might have admired? Where does this passionate moralism come from, given he’s sawed off the legs of anything that would support it? There may not be many Marxists left, but historically Marxism has been committed to a vision of a future new world order of justice and righteousness where everything is finally put right. Were they all channeling N.T. Wright! How did that happen?

Typically, our way of dealing with the question of other religious traditions is to use categories of light and darkness, truth and lies. We bring light, all others deal in darkness; we announce truth, the rest is all lies. In an ultimate sense these binary categories are true. At the end of the day, there is no gospel in Islam. When all is said and done, neither Buddhism nor Hinduism is the way to life everlasting. It is true that Satan’s kingdom is a kingdom of darkness and he is the father of lies (Col. 1:13; Jn. 8:44).

A Missional Lens?
However, is it necessary to nuance this for both biblical reasons as well as missional reasons? In the traditional account of the origin of the Qur’an, Muhammad was outside Mecca in the cave of Mount Hira when the angel Gabriel appeared to him and said, “Recite!” “What shall I recite?” the Muhammad replied. Again, the angel commanded, “Recite, O Muhammad.” Yet a third time, Gabriel demanded, "Recite in the Name of Your Lord Who created. He created the human being from a clot. Recite and your Lord is Most Honorable, Who taught (to write) with the pen, taught the human being what he knew not..."2 And so, the first revelation was given, the first of many over a period of about 23 years. It is these many revelations that together comprise the Qur’an.3

Many Christians, reflecting on this story, have interpreted it as a story, not of angelic visitation, but of demonic possession. While it may be argued such a take can’t be ruled out altogether, does the apostle Paul point us in a different direction in Romans 1:18 – 25 that might prove more theologically insightful and missionally helpful? As we noted in the second article in this series, God has so clearly revealed Himself in conscience and nature that the human race is without excuse. This revelation is active and constant with respect to every human being with the result that we are without excuse with regard to the knowledge of God. He has made who He is plain to all (v. 18-21).

Man Engaged with God
But that’s not the end of the story. Recall, if you will, Bavinck’s definition of religion, “Religion is our response to God. It is our response to God’s revelation of Himself in creation and conscience. And it is the response of the whole person. It is the response of everything we are. In Biblical terms, it is the response of the heart.” There is God’s revelation and then mankind’s response. There is always a response and, apart from God’s grace in Christ revealed in the gospel and given through the Spirit, our response, Paul says, will be one of rebellion (v. 21, 24), repression (vv, 18b, 25a), and replacement (vv. 22, 23, 25b).4

In other words, man is not neutral toward God. Apart from the saving work of Christ, we are rebels, covenant-breakers. Made for God, we declare Him our chief enemy and seek to banish Him from our conscious awareness. However, what we have sought to repress from our awareness cannot be fully hidden away. Like the beach ball we try to hold down under the water, what we “can’t not know” always seeks to resurface – and does! In the form of idols – imitation gods, substitute gods.

Street Level Relevance
So, you may ask, what does that help us explain or understand? Well, a couple things at least. First, it helps us understand the formal (and sometimes more substantive) similarities that exist between Christian faith and other faiths. Is it possible that the emergence of a radical monotheism in a cave outside of Mecca in the context of a deep-seated polytheism – was not because Muhammad was demon-possessed but because he was wrestling with God? Is it possible that the great religions of history are humankind’s response to God’s revelation? This is what the process of repression and replacement looks like as it flows from the depth of human existence, as it emerges from the human heart.  With reference to Romans 1, Bavinck reminds us, “God concerns Himself with every man. Buddha would never have meditated on the way of salvation had God not touched him. Muhammad would never have uttered his  prophetic witness if God had not concerned Himself with him. Every religion contains, somehow, the silent work of God.”5 And yet the tragedy of our sinful condition is that we suppress this silent work and replace God’s revelation with idolatrous substitutes.

Second, what a great encouragement this approach to Romans 1 provides in understanding our role in evangelism. We don’t initiate a conversation about God with anyone! God is already in conversation with everyone! Graciously, he calls us to take those conversations to a new level as we bring the good news of the God who has revealed Himself in the Lord Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. Coming along side our neighbors in humility, aware of our own ongoing struggle to resist the heart dynamic the Apostle Paul describes, we bring the Word that alone has the power through the Holy Spirit to bring the ever turning gears of repression and replacement to a grinding halt.

1Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet of God who is virgin born and they anticipate his second coming.  However, they also reject traditional Christian teaching with respect to Jesus Christ as the Eternal Son incarnate in history, his death on the cross, and, therefore, his resurrection.  According to Islam, Jesus did not die but was assumed bodily into heaven.

2Surah 96:1-5.

3I trust the reader understands that I am describing the Qur’an and its origin as a Muslim would.

4For a much fuller and extended treatment of Romans 1:18-25, see Bavinck, ch. 5, “The Impact of Christianity on the non-Christian World” in The Christian Faith and the Non-Christian Religions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948);  Part II, ch. 1,“The Nature, Place and Task of Elenctics” in An Introduction to the Science of Missions (Philadelphia: P&R Publishing, 1960); ch. 9, “Human Religion in God’s Sight” in The Church Between Temple and Mosque: The Study of the Relationship Between the Christian Faith and Other Religions ( Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1981).

5The Church Between Temple and Mosque, 200.

Next Steps

Do you agree or disagree with Bob’s assessment of other religions, i.e. that while they’re wrong they aren’t necessarily demonic? Does your assessment of these religions square with what Paul teaches in Romans 1:18ff?

Further Reading
For an article that will help you articulate the uniqueness of Christ, download “Why Jesus Is the Way” from the Colson Center Library. Or from the Online Store, you can purchase this book for a study on the various religions of the world: Comparing Christianity with World Religions.

Many Faiths, One Jesus (Part 3)

ReligionsWhat makes me different from my Muslim neighbor, or you different from your Buddhist co-worker? We might be tempted to look at certain kinds of external differences. Yet, go to a Pakistani restaurant one night for dinner and then a Middle Eastern restaurant the next, each run by a different Muslim family, and you’ll quickly learn there is no distinctive Muslim cuisine. Compare how a Muslim man from Turkey and a Muslim man from India dress and you’ll discover that there is no uniform Muslim dress code. On this basic level, two Muslims might be as different in many ways from one another as each is different from you or me. And it gets more complicated yet. Let’s consider some broader cultural categories. Christian England and Muslim Saudi Arabia are both monarchies. Hindu India and Christian America are both democracies. Japan, with its Buddhist and Shinto roots, and France, with Christian roots, are both part of the G7 family of industrialized nations despite such different religious histories. Cultural differences and similarities are probably not the best way to understand the religious differences that exist between friends and neighbors.

American Sniper and the Wisdom of J.R.R. Tolkien

American_Sniper…[They] have misled my people, saying, 'Peace,' when there is no peace…. Ezekiel 13:10a

A Box Office Hit

The Clint Eastwood film American Sniper broke box office records in its opening weekend, and simultaneously lit a firestorm of controversy over the story of America’s most lethal sniper, Chris Kyle. Was Kyle a hero, as his friends, family, and supporters claim? Or was he a psychotic murderer and coward, as his critics claim?

My husband and I were one of millions who packed into their local theater opening weekend to watch this film. And, except for when I attended a screening of Schindler’s List, I have never sat among so many people who were so utterly still and silent—from the moment the movie started, until after they had walked out of the theater. From what I’ve read, that response has been nearly universal; I saw only one post where the writer said the audience at his screening erupted in applause after the closing credits.

Why such reverence? Because despite those who want to turn American Sniper into a commentary on the validity of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan (it’s not), or despite those who claim it’s nothing more than a piece of propaganda celebrating American jingoism (it’s not), Eastwood’s film tells a far simpler tale—one that is resonating in the souls of viewers. It’s the story of the toll war takes upon the men who fight it and upon the families they leave behind. These men do not start wars or make policy; they just go and do their job.

Many Faiths, One Jesus (Part 2)

ReligionsLet’s start with a question: Is everyone religious? That depends on what you mean by religious. If religion is about observable behaviors and practices related to the worship of a personal God, then not everyone is religious. There are many around us who don’t go to a religious building with others and engage in rites, rituals and practices centered on a deity of some sort. Indeed, many of our neighbors want to distance themselves from such things when they say, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.”

But what about the idea of God? Many might insist that religion at minimum involves some commitment to a divine power which saves even if it doesn’t take any outward form in a religious community. Not necessarily. Taoism, Buddhism, and some forms of Hinduism don’t have a personal God at the center.

If religion isn’t necessarily about a relationship with a divine savior (of one sort or another) or about behaviors and practices we call religious, then what is it? And is it possible to say everyone is religious.

Many Faiths, One Jesus (Part 1)

ReligionsWhat are you supposed to think? All your life you’ve been taught that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But the Muslim parent with whom you serve on the local schoolboard is nicer than some of the Christians you know. What about the Hindu woman in the next cubicle at work? She’s shown more integrity at work than your supervisor who professes to a follower of Jesus.

For many of us, encountering men and women of different faiths is a reality that our parents seldom faced and our grandparents almost never. Immigration has brought the world to our doorstep in new ways. More and more immigrants come from cultures not shaped by a Christian past. Knowing men and women who are Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, or Buddhist is no longer unusual. Even in the small mid-West town where I live, I’m often surprised how many Muslim women I see in the stores or driving minivans full of kids.

Yom Ha’Shoah

holocaust_survivor_300x200And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27 ESV

Recently, I happened to read about a Jewish memorial day that I was unaware of: Yom Ha’Shoah. It is a day in April, meaning “Day of the Holocaust,” that commemorates the Holocaust, and the heroic suffering of the Jews who experienced it. It is a day on which parents teach the next generation of the evil that man can do to man if he does rejects the belief that we are created in the image of God, equal to one another in His sight. Shortly after reading about this remembrance, I watched the news about the slaughter of four Jewish worshippers—murdered by an ax-wielding assassin while praying in the synagogue. I saw the bright red blood smeared on the white linoleum; the emptiness of a room now changed forever. War against our Jewish neighbor—still.

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