a friend emailed me today asking me about my thoughts on being a person of faith and relating to other religions.
her question went like this…
“…I have always thought that there is a lot of insight and a lot to be learned from people of other religions - and that our practices and ways of worshipping God may well not be the only way. However, if we truly believe that salvation is for everyone and that Jesus will one day return to judge the living and the dead - do we not then have an obligation to try and introduce people of other religions to our Jesus? Or is it really true the idea that there are many angles from which to look at a mountain - but ultimately it is the same mountain?…” (i think the questions is expertly stated - by the way)
i thought i’d post my response to her here: (comments are welcome.) - don’t you think it’s interesting to listen in on a conversation…
Regarding your question about other religions…
you seem to give 2 options: 1. Jesus is the only way. 2. all religions are different ways that lead up the same mountain.
what if there are other options? i.e. other ways of thinking about this difficult debate.
Let me first take note of what (i think) you are saying:
1. you are a kind and generous person who wants to respect other people and their sincere convictions. That is not a bad thing. in fact, i would say it is the sign that you are a true Jesus follower - that even in the face of quite harsh criticism, you want to “come up for” people of other faiths - arguing that they also have goodness in them. and they do!. so that’s important. we need to be asking, is our position true to our christian faith? a faith that encourages acceptance, compassion and a non-judgemental attitude to people - esp those who are different or rejected.
2. You are also saying that if Jesus is “the only way” it would be unkind and wrong to not want to share that knowledge with those people who are not Christians. good. i think that the motivation behind this position is also compassion. you aren’t judging them. just wanting to share something valuable.
the problem is that usually these two things seem to contradict. being accepting, tolerant and evanglising people to follow Jesus are seen as mutually exclusive. like you can’t be true to Jesus AND live in a tolerant way of people who differ.
So, the problem with position 1 (Jesus is the only way) is that on it’s own it quickly becomes a judgmental position that makes people act in ways and say things that don’t actually sound very christian! BUT the problem with option 2 is that it doesn’t really properly honour the vast differences in the different religions.
I don’t think you can say that Islam and Christianity and Buddhism are just different paths up the same mountain… with the same end point. I think that is too simplistic. Buddhism doesn’t believe in a personal deity. islam and Xty do. Xty stresses grace and forgiveness. Islam is very strong on discipline and obedience. These aren’t just minor differences. they are huge differences that mean that if we begin to talk to each other, our concepts of God are not all just going to merge into one view of God. I think there are irreconcilable differences.
BUT there are lots of common points of agreement. There is a lot we CAN talk about. We see that murder is on the rise… and crime. Interesting that Islam, Xty and Buddhism all support a non-violent way of life and believe in the sanctity of life. Thou shalt not kill… So we can get together and work towards a safer society.
Same with violence against women and abuse of children. Religions are together in their rejection of these actions.
SO, to reject another religion based on the idea that “everything that is not Christian is evil” is not helpful. it’s just plain judgemental. and arrogant. There is a lot that we (as human beings, all made “in the image of God”) can do together to honour our creator and work towards a society that in some way reflects the values we believe in.
I propose option 3: which is basically the “respect” option. it basically takes a form as outlined below…
- all religions (incl. Xty) reflect the human search for God and truth.
- as a Christ follower, i believe that Jesus is the only way to know God (in the unique way that Jesus shows us) - [afterthought - could “only” be replaced by best? or most complete?]
- i am called by Jesus to a life of respect, compassion and the ministry of care and listening.
- i therefore treat people as people (not as potential converts) and try to love people as God has loved me - no matter what their position or religion is. (that means i can work with them, eat with them, socialise, children can go to school together etc. it’s a repectful tolerance)
- i also live out my faith and values in such a way (without fear or being ashamed - Rom 1:16) that anyone and everyone will see that I am a person of faith and if they every inquire, i will be proud (and able) to speak about my faith, and by doing so, (by implication) invite them into that faith.
- in the mean-time, there is a lot that we can talk about, and agree on, and work together on… care of creation, repsect of human life, safer society, education. etc etc etc…