Monday, July 31, 2006

What About Other Religions?

I've gone back and forth a bit on this issue, so if you've thought about it, I'd love some input. Here's the question: How much value is there in other world religions? How much time should we spend studying them? When we study them, how should we study them?

Before I went to college, I was of the mindset that there was very little value in getting to know other religions in a meaningful way. For good or for ill, by the time I was done at Heritage, I had come perilously close to being convinced that we needed to know other religions. Buddhists were asking better questions than Christians. Many Muslims are more devout than Christians. World religions like Hinduism, Sikhism, even the Bha'i people, had accumulated great wisdom over the centuries, and Christians would do well to learn from them.

Or would we?

Once out of that environment, I began to realize that there were some serious inconsistencies in the ways that I thought. My good friend Rielly had taught me some about the import of the noetic effects of sin (the effects of sin on the mind). My belief in the doctrine of original sin and mankind's total inability also seemed to be at odds with finding wonderful positives in godless, man-made religions.

Today I was pondering a little bit more what exactly I believe with regards to elements of truth in other religions, and how we should react to / interact with them, and I got to thinking about the Bible.

Obviously, things are pretty clear in the Old Testament. God was straight-out against his people having anything to do with the godless nations around them. But much of the crowd at my college seemed (if not always with words, then with attitudes and hermeneutics) to dislike this 'God' and this 'ethic' of the Old Testament and were very happy to proclaim that we have advanced far beyond that type of thing now.

So what about the New Testament?

This is where I got stuck. We have Paul's interaction with the pagan philosophers on Mars Hill in Acts, which seems to be the thing that everyone seems to appeal to in order to make their point on this topic. Remarkably, everyonse seems to have their own take on his this interaction should impact our interaction with other religions and our apologetics today. I'm wondering: what other New Testament texts do we look to here? What texts have you found helpful?

What about Jesus? Many emerging-types like to claim that they are 'red letter Christians', not 'Paulians', so we should deal with Christ. They claim that his harsh words were always for the religious hypocrites (Pharisees), never for anyone else. But it seems to me that Jesus would often use the 'Gentiles' / 'nations' (ie. 'pagans') as a negative example. In other words, 'Don't worry, because that's what the pagans do.' Or, 'Don't just love your brother, because that's what the pagans do.'

Am I wrong? It would appear that Jesus felt free to hold up the false religions as examples of godless 'morality', whose standards and thoughts ought to be avoided at all cost. As I said, I've gone back and forth on this, so I am open to being wrong again. If you've thought about this already, please advise.

8 comments:

DErifter said...

Hey.

You're right about Mars Hill. That was the first thing I thought of while I was reading your post. I thought Paul did an excellent job making his case with the philosophers there. So much so, that I get chills sometimes reading that part (even though I know what's coming). I can almost see him and hear his voice as he explains about their "unknown god". He obviously had studied their religions (or schools of thought anyway) some, and I think that is part of the reason they listened to him. That and the fact that they were intrigued by his "strange ideas", which is what the gospel is to those who are perishing.

My old supervisor knew nothing about God except what he learned through his wife who, along with her family, are Jehovah's Witnesses. The fact that I knew something about what Witnesses believe gave us a wonderful place to start a discussion that lasted about a year and a half. It was exciting to watch him move slowly toward the Truth! He eventually did receive Jesus, and told his daughter so shortly before he died of cancer. I'm convinced that if I had known nothing of JW's, he wouldn't have listened to me preach at him. It gave us a middle ground, a no-man's land where I think he felt he could safely discuss beliefs without being at war with me.

On the other hand, there's the second chapter of 1 Corinthians, where Paul may have had Mars Hill in the back of his mind when he said,

"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God."

Although "I" was impressed with his message at Mars Hill, evidently not everyone there was.

So I think it's definitely helpful to know something about the people you're trying to share the gospel with, but it's the gospel you're sharing, not your knowledge of their religion. That's only a bridge.

Beyond that, I don't think that just because other people's beliefs happen to be part of their religion that they're automatically wrong. There is knowledge and wisdom that are not godly, yet can be helpful. One of the best things I learned from Confucious is,
"Don't concern yourself with gaining recognition. Rather, concern yourself with being WORTHY of recognition." (There probably is a biblical verse somewhere that says something similar, but this I learned from Confucious.)

I just think it's good advice.
So is "change your oil every 3,000 miles" :)

Nathan W. Tubbs said...

To answer your question/comment on my last posting...Les had to retutn to Alabama due to her job. She could only have three weeks away. However, praise God for three weeks together in NYC, eh?

JLF said...

derifter:

Thanks for your comments! They were well thought out and edifying. I have to say I agree with the thrust of your comment. I think that the primary good in having familiarity with other religions is for apologetic purposes (2 Cor 10.5), rather than for the purpose of learning from them.

I think the one thing about the Mars Hill account that lots of people forget is that Paul was provoked as he walked around and saw their relgiousity. He didn't accept where they were on their spiritual journey, or try to share 'stories' with them so they could have a mutually beneficial 'conversation.' He evangelized them. He showed them where they were right and where they were wrong so they could either accept Christianity or reject. But he was clearly convinced that he had the answers they desperately needed.

I suppose what concerns me most about the type of attitude I discussed in the post is this idea that being humble means saying we don't necessarily have the answers... I say, then why be a 'Christian' at all?!

JLF said...

Nathan:

Yes, thank God for the time she got to spend with you... how much longer now till you head back home?

Do you really say 'eh' or was that just for my benefit? :)

DErifter said...

That's the thing, there's not a whole lot of room for negotiation or compromise, when there's really just that one narrow Way. Anything else would be a lie. But knowing what people are about can give us insight into what they need to hear. What we need to stress and what we already agree on, and why.

If you're talking with a Hindu, you're going to stress some different things than when you talk with an atheist. I'm not saying we NEED to know what they believe ahead of time, but it is helpful.

I'm okay with learning from them, but as you pointed out about Paul, evangelism is absolutely the name of the game. We're not hyphenated Christians, like Christian-Muslim. We have all we need in God, we don't need to search elsewhere for anything. When I say "learning from them", I don't mean we should add their doctrine to ours, just that they may share concepts that are beneficial in this life, and certainly reveal the foundations others are basing their lives on. We don't need to regard that wisdom as inspired by God, but if we don't listen to what they say we might be seen as less than genuine.

And whenever I say "eh" it's for your benefit.

r a i n e r said...

JLF (is the "L" for Larry?) -

I agree with your friends comments and your response. I wonder if the more important subject or maybe an equally important issue is that of worldview as much as other religion. It is so helpful to understand someone's worldview, & to be able to understand how they think in general. I dug up an old Evangelical Missiological Society article from a few years ago - maybe you'd find it interesting: http://missiology.org/EMS/bulletins/OBSpring.pdf

Your "I love Scripture post" was great. You should consider going into the ministry :)

JLF said...

derifter and rainer:

Thanks for your comments and insight. I agree that learning about another person's worldview can help us understand more about how they perceive God / reality / truth, etc. which in turn effects how we evangelize. These are all good thoughts, for sure.

Thanks for the like, rainer.

Derifter, you say you do things for my benefit, but then you put in that silly comment about these foreign things called 'miles' and get me all confused! :)

DErifter said...

JLF,
If you're going to be commenting on this blog, maybe you should consider adding "-er" to the end of your name like me and rainer did. "JLF" seems so out of place.

derifter
rainer
JLFer

I like it. By the way...Remember to change your oil every 4828.032 km.
Or just round it to 3000 mi. if that's easier to remember.