Abstract and Keywords
Evangelicals are living in an increasingly pluralistic age, when major world religions are competing to attract adherents in all places of the world. For example, Islam has been increasingly attracting British and French citizens to the worship of Allah. Buddhism has drawn greater numbers of Americans and Canadians to the practice of Zen. Hinduism has been popularized by the spread of Yoga practice all over North America. In this context of religious pluralism, evangelical Christians should ask several questions. What attitude should evangelicals maintain toward other religions? How can we engage Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Confucians without compromising the integrity of the gospel of Jesus Christ? This article provides biblical answers to the above questions by exploring an evangelical theology of other religions. First, it explains current options for Christian thinking about other religions, focusing on their inadequacy. Then it proposes a creatively evangelical approach that is grounded in biblical teaching, classical tradition, and evangelical theology. Finally, it applies this new approach to real situations of engagement with other religions.
Evangelicals are living in an increasingly pluralistic age, when major world religions are competing to attract adherents in all places of the world. North America and Europe can no longer be regarded as Christian societies, but have become post-Christian and religiously pluralistic. For example, Islam has been increasingly attracting British and French citizens to the worship of Allah. Buddhism has drawn greater numbers of Americans and Canadians to the practice of Zen. Hinduism has been popularized by the spread of Yoga practice all over North America. As a result, it is not difficult to find in most neighborhoods a Buddhist temple, Islamic mosque, and Hindu sanctuary.
In this context of religious pluralism, evangelical Christians should ask several questions. What attitude should evangelicals maintain toward other religions? How should we engage the adherents of other religions? How can we affirm the absolute uniqueness of Christ without being separated from and condemning those who have other faiths? How can we engage Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Confucians without compromising the integrity of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
This chapter aims to provide biblical answers to the above questions by exploring an evangelical theology of other religions. First I will explain current options for Christian thinking about other religions, focusing on their inadequacy. Then I will propose a creatively evangelical approach that is grounded in biblical teaching, classical tradition, and evangelical theology. Finally, I will apply this new approach to real situations of engagement with other religions.
(p. 356) Christian Attitude toward Other Religions: Currently Available Options
The first option currently available is the so-called exclusivist1 approach which is connected with a claim that Christianity is the absolute truth and thus has nothing to do with other religions. According to this view, other religions are the products of devilish endeavors to oppose the Christian claim of absolute uniqueness. The truth claims of other religions are completely contradictory to the truth claims of Christianity. In addition, other religions are thought to be the results of idolatry, which God condemns as eternally damnable. Karl Barth has long been viewed as one of the most outspoken representatives of this approach.2 The implication of this approach is that Christians should separate themselves from other religionists and condemn their beliefs. Christian theologians should expose the demonic character of other religions and debunk their truth claims. In this way they rightly express Christian antipathy toward what is damned by God.
Evangelicals cannot endorse this fundamentalist approach. It conflicts with the biblical teaching that we should love our neighbors, and especially our enemies, as ourselves. This means that the Lord Jesus Christ has commanded us to love our Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian neighbors as ourselves. Rather than separating ourselves from and condemning other religionists, we should make every effort to develop biblical strategies to love them, thus honoring the Lord's authority and obeying his command.
The exclusivist and separatist approach also contradicts the Lord's command to make disciples of all nations. If we are to pray and work toward making Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and others the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must strive to engage them wisely and faithfully. While the exclusivist and separatist approach rightly affirms the absolute uniqueness and truthfulness of Christ, the Lord also wants us to engage other religionists by loving them as ourselves and praying for and seeking their conversion to disciples.
The second option is the so-called inclusivist approach, which is closely connected with Karl Rahner's notion of “anonymous Christian.”3 According to Rahner, most other religions share a Christlike character with Christianity. In other words, most religious traditions are repositories of God's self-revelation, mixed with error, while we have the ultimate and final self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ alone. Therefore, we can call faithful Buddhists and Hindus “anonymous Christians” because they are already implicitly Christian, insofar as they taste the essence of God's self-revelation available in and through their own religious traditions. Some inclusivists insist, however, that God's revelation comes despite, not through, religions outside the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Such an inclusivist approach is inadequate for a number of reasons, not least because it is impossible to prevent the Buddhists from calling Christians “anonymous (p. 357) Buddhists.” Hindus could do the same. Furthermore, the inclusivist approach seems to miss the fact that the truth claims of other religions contradict the central truth claims of Christianity. For example, the Theravada Buddhist claim that there is no personal God who creates and rules the universe according to his own purposes contradicts the biblical teachings that the triune God is the Creator and Ruler of the universe. The Islamic claim that human beings can make a significant contribution to their salvation is inconsistent with the Christian claim that human beings are saved by grace alone. Most versions of the inclusivist approach dismiss too easily the foundational differences between Christianity and other religious traditions.
We need to acknowledge that most inclusivists, like Rahner, say non-Christians can be saved only through Jesus. The difference comes between those who insist on personal knowledge of Jesus and the gospel for salvation, and those who do not. The former typically speak of a revelation of Jesus and the gospel at death or after death, or in a time and manner only God knows. The latter usually say the good Buddhist can be saved if he realizes he needs the grace of some god to be saved, and that this god is really Jesus Christ, though the Buddhist doesn't know the name.
The third approach currently available is the pluralist approach, whose central claim is that all religions including Christianity have equal access to ultimate truth and salvation. According to this approach, every religious tradition teaches basically the same thing. So the apparent differences among diverse religious traditions are only on the surface. At deeper levels every religion shares the same fundamental commitment to the same ultimate reality. One of the most outspoken representatives of this approach is John Hick.4
This pluralist approach is problematic because its central claim is antithetical to the explicit declaration of the Lord Jesus Christ that he is the Truth, Way, and Life, and that only through him can anyone have access to final truth and salvation. According to the apostolic witness, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In this context, it is important to appreciate that Christianity loses its identity and integrity when it abandons its claim for absolute uniqueness—which is embedded in the very nature of the Christian faith. When one confesses Jesus Christ as one's Lord and Savior, one confesses at the same time that Jesus Christ is the only and unique way, truth, and life for salvation. This affirmation of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ leads Christians to reject the pluralist option as inimical to the finality of Jesus Christ.
The Missional Approach
I have discussed so far why currently available options in approach to other religions are inadequate. Now I want to propose an evangelical, biblical, and more creative approach. While maintaining the uniqueness of Christian faith without (p. 358) endorsing the options above, the key question is how to share the gospel without separating ourselves from and condemning those who are committed to other religions.
I call this model a “missional” approach. The word “missional” comes from Darrell L. Guder's seminal work, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America.5 Although one can define the word “missional” in various ways, I use it to mean “ontologically mission-oriented,” which means the very being of the church is oriented toward mission. According to missional theology, the triune God is a missional God in that he is mission-oriented in his very being. God the Father sends God the Son to the world and both God the Father and God the Son send God the Spirit to the church and the world. Furthermore, the triune God sends the churches and Christians to the ends of the earth to witness to the grace of the triune God revealed in Jesus Christ. In other words, mission is not merely a function of the church, but rather the central character of the church's being.
With this definition, we can define the missional approach to other religions as that which allows Christians to explore and identify the possible points of contact between Christianity and other religious traditions, and to employ these points of contact in efforts to share the gospel with adherents of other religions. This approach is indebted to Alister McGrath, who emphasizes the significance of points of contact between Christian faith and secular religious and philosophical traditions, and urges Christians to use them in apologetic and missional endeavors.6
Points of Contact: Theological Rationale
On what theological basis can we acknowledge points of contact between Christianity and other religious traditions? What theological rationale do we have for the reality of commonalities7 between Christian faith and other religions?
First, the idea of general revelation is one way to explain the existence of points of contact. According to an evangelical notion of general or universal revelation, natural order and beauty in creation, natural law, human history, human conscience, and divine judgments in history are the vehicles for God's self-revelation to all humanity. Because of their sinfulness, however, human beings cannot obtain genuinely saving knowledge of the triune God from this general revelation. But general revelation nevertheless can provide all human beings with a basic, albeit confused, knowledge of the existence and works of God the Trinity. If we apply this truth to the adherents of other religions, it is undeniable that they have some confused but basic awareness of God.
Second, according to the Genesis account, the triune God created human beings in his own image, making them the bearers of Imago Dei. The Bible teaches that even after the fall of our first parents, the image of God has never been obliterated completely but remains in a defaced and marred condition. This means that all human beings, despite their fallenness and sinfulness, remain the bearers of this obscured image of the triune God. In other words, all human beings, regardless of (p. 359) their religious commitment, possess the remnants of the image of God. If we apply this truth to those who are committed to other religious traditions, we should acknowledge that all Buddhists, Muslims, Daoists, and Hindus are the bearers of the image of God, like Christians. Therefore, it is undeniable that we can find some fundamental commonalities between Christians and people committed to other world religions as the co-bearers of the Imago Dei.
Third, evangelical tradition has affirmed unanimously that all human beings are in a predicament which possesses several distinct dimensions. First, the human predicament has a spiritual character, which means that all human beings are spiritually dead because their relationship with the triune God is broken by their sinful rebellion. Second, the human predicament has a psychological character, which means it involves shame, agony, fear, anxiety, and suffering. Third, the human predicament has a physical dimension, in that it suffers disease and biological death. Although no other major religions acknowledge that human beings are sinners before the triune God, they all recognize a psychological and physical predicament from which humans strive to be freed. In other words, every world religion agrees that human lives and their environments have been distorted and corrupted.
Another theological rationale for the existence of points of contact between Christian faith and other religions is the moral consciousness that pervades all human cultures. Of course, there are significant differences among human cultures and their consciousness of right and wrong. But moral and cultural relativism can be exaggerated. For example, no culture commends and rewards those who betray and murder their parents. No society or culture encourages its members to betray their wives or considers adultery to be moral. Even polygamous societies condemn adultery. Every society condemns selfishness and praises those who live for the benefit of others. Therefore it is undeniable that there are instances of universal moral consciousness that unite Christians and non-Christians.8
Case Study: Application of the Missional Approach to Islam
We can identify several substantial points of contact between Christianity and Islam. First, for Muslims there is no god but God. Islamic religion is essentially monotheistic.9 Similarly, Christianity affirms the oneness of God in strong terms. This is a significant point of contact. Second, the Islamic idea of God shares much with the Christian idea of God. Both religions identify God as the creator, sustainer, and ultimate judge of the world.
Furthermore, Muslims worship Allah as the God of mercy and compassion, while Christians worship the triune God as the God of grace and mercy. This is another significant point of contact. By stressing common ground rather than (p. 360) fundamental differences, but without sacrificing doctrinal clarity, Christians can help Muslims become more open to hearing the gospel.
Second, both Christianity and Islam believe in the concept of divine revelation. According to Islamic tradition, the God of Muslims revealed himself and his will to the prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. Muhammad wrote down what he had received from Gabriel. Muslims say this became the Qur'an.10 Importantly, Christian orthodoxy teaches a similar idea of divine revelation—that the triune God revealed himself and his will to a plurality of prophets and apostles and they wrote down what they had received, the sum total of which became the Bible. Of course, the orthodox tradition has for the most part rejected the dictation theory of revelation, which most Muslims hold, and Christians say the Holy Spirit inspired the minds of the biblical authors. For this reason, most evangelical Christians believe the Bible is infallible in what it affirms and has divine and absolute authority for their belief and practice. This means that the idea of divine self-revelation can be another point of contact between Christianity and Islam.
Third, Christianity shares with Islam the ideas of divine commands and human sin. According to Islamic tradition, God the Creator commanded human beings to obey his will. However, human beings failed to keep God's commands by rebelling deliberately against God's authority. Most Muslims believe that this willful rebellion against God is essential to the notion of sin, and that the result of sin is broken relationship between God and human beings.11 Likewise, Christian faith teaches that human beings commit sins against God by disobeying God's clear commands. And the wages of sin is death, which means spiritual and eternal separation from God. On the basis of this commonality between Christianity and Islam, we can conclude that the idea of sin as personal offense against God's authority can be a significant point of contact between the two religions. When Christians begin to converse with Muslims, we can use this point of contact in an effort to open Muslims' minds to listen to what Christians believe about sin.
Fourth, both Christianity and Islam emphasize the necessity of redemption and forgiveness of sins. This is because both religions believe that sin incurs divine punishment. According to Islamic tradition, sin deserves punishment, and our final destiny is determined by God's judgment. Therefore Muslims feel keenly the need for redemption and forgiveness. They know that if their sins are not forgiven, they will pay the penalty both in time and eternity.12 Christians should recognize that they agree with Muslims on the necessity of redemption and forgiveness of sins. Most evangelicals also believe that that if sinners remain unredeemed, they will pay penalties which Scripture compares to a “lake of fire.” Their destiny will be decided by God at the final judgment.
We see here yet another point of contact—the idea of the necessity of redemption and forgiveness of sins. Christians can take the initiative to engage with Muslims on this shared belief. When Christians confess their own sinfulness and moral failures to Muslim friends, Muslim friends may be more open to jump the wall of distrust and begin to listen to a Christian perspective on redemption and forgiveness of sins.
(p. 361) Limitations of the Points of Contact
Although Christians can make use of these points of contact between Christianity and Islam at the first stage of dialogical engagement with Muslims, it must also be said that that these points of contact have limitations. They must be supplemented by a clear presentation of the explicit message of the Christian gospel, which will highlight differences as well as similarities. Only after understanding both continuity and discontinuity will most Muslims be ready to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Among the many fundamental differences between the Christian and Muslim faiths is, first, the identity of God. The God of Islam is a one-personed Being while the God of Christianity is a three-personed Being. The God of Muslims is a monad, while the God of Christians is a God of community, or more precisely a communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Second, while both Christianity and Islam uphold the ideas of divine revelation and divine scripture, the ultimate mediator of revelation is different for each. In Islam, the prophet Muhammad received divine revelation from Gabriel sent by Allah, but for Christianity Jesus the Son of God is the ultimate mediator of divine revelation. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of the Bible, the divinely inspired Word of God. The God of Islam cannot or does not have a Son, while the Christian God is the Father of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Third, although Christianity and Islam share the idea of sin, they disagree on the means of redemption and forgiveness of sins. While Muslims believe their moral merit can make a significant contribution to their redemption, evangelical Christians believe that their own moral merit has no place in their redemption. Instead, evangelical Christians say, our sins are forgiven by the merit won through the blood of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, we are saved from eternal punishment by Christ's grace alone and by our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who paid all the penalties for our sins by laying down his life and being raised again on the third day.
After opening the hearts of Muslim friends by making use of points of contact between Christianity and Islam, Christians can share the good news of Christ's unconditional love and forgiveness. Then there may be one of two results.13 With the help of the Holy Spirit, Muslim friends might begin to realize the deficiencies and inconsistencies of Islam, and open their hearts to the attractiveness of Jesus Christ. Or Muslim friends might remain unconvinced. That could be because they do not understand the full implications of the gospel, or because they simply refuse to open their minds and hearts. In either case, however, the use of points of contact may leave them with a more positive view of Christian faith. A seed has been planted.
For these reasons, the missional approach, which uses points of contact between Christianity and Islam at the first stage of dialogical engagement, seems the best option for evangelical Christians. It is especially concerned to express concern, love and respect for Muslims. Its effort to identify common grounds between Christianity and Islam stems from authentic appreciation for the dignity of Muslims as co-bearers of the image of God.
(p. 362) Case Study: Application of the Missional Approach to Buddhism
There are several significant pints of contact between Christianity and Buddhism. First, Buddhist insight into human reality. According to Buddhist tradition, after his enlightenment the Buddha began to teach about the tragic reality of human life, namely suffering (dukha). The Four Noble Truths summarizes Buddha's teaching about dukha.14 According to the first Truth, human life is characterized by suffering, inevitably chained by frustration and despair. Human experience is full of grief, unfulfilled desires, sickness, old age, physical pain, mental anguish, unsatisfactoriness and frustration. Moreover, we are said to be bound to a vicious and endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara). This Buddhist picture of human life, then, is pessimistic and tragic.
In this context, it is important to appreciate that the Christian ideas of fall, sin, curse, and corruption have commonalities with the Buddhist description of human life. According to the Bible, human life is filled with vanity, suffering, and frustration (Eccl. 1:2; Ps. 90:10; Rom. 8:20–21). The Christian scriptures teach plainly that human sin has brought human beings the curses of suffering, vanity, despair, and eternal condemnation.
Because of these parallel teachings, we can conclude that both Christianity and Buddhism describe the reality of human life in a pessimistic and negative manner. Both traditions affirm that human beings are enslaved to decay, suffering, and meaninglessness. Therefore when Christians enter a dialogue with Buddhists, they can make use of suffering as a starting point. We can tell Buddhists that the Christian view of human reality is similar to theirs. This may lead some Buddhists to suspend their distrust and explore what Christians believe about the tragic reality of human life.
Second, according to the second Noble Truth, suffering and frustration result from human desires and attachment—desires for sensory pleasures and fame and fortune, and attachment to impermanent things. The Buddha condemned human desires and attachment to the world because those, he said, bring suffering and frustration, and bind us to the cycle of reincarnation. Furthermore, according to Buddhism, the world is impermanent and passing away (anicca). Because of their ignorance of the true reality of the world, human beings have craving and thirst for a separate and permanent self to be attained through attachment to the various processes of existence. Like Buddhism, the Christian faith also condemns evil and selfish desires because they separate us from God and bring God's punishment (1 John 2:15–17).
We can conclude here that the Buddhist condemnation of desire for and attachment to the world can be a significant point of contact between Christianity and Buddhism. At the same time, we must recognize how these two religions differ on why humans should avoid desire and attachment. However, it is still true that both Christianity and Buddhism condemn selfish attachment to the world. Therefore, (p. 363) Christians can make use of this commonality when we begin a dialogical engagement with the Buddhists. Third, according to the third Noble Truth, suffering will cease if all desires cease. Then illusion ends and ultimate reality is revealed. As a result, nirvana is achieved. Buddhism not only condemns desire but also claims to be able to remove desire. This is the way to the Buddhist “salvation” of nirvana.15
Here is a point of contact between Christianity and Buddhism. Christian faith also teaches that we should put off evil desires in order to put on the righteousness of Christ. We should remove the old garment of evil and the desires of the flesh so as to put on the new self in Jesus Christ. When Christians approach Buddhists who are struggling with the task of eliminating their selfish desires, they can sympathize.
Fourth, Mahayana Buddhism's concept of the bodhisattva is another point of contact. This is a being who is dedicated to attaining enlightenment but also helping other people gain their own. Bodhisattvas are usually viewed as mature Buddhists who have accumulated sufficient merits to enter nirvana. They can help other people achieve enlightenment either by transferring them some of their own merit or by taking on themselves the burden of their suffering. In addition to these earthly bodhisattvas, according to Mahayanan tradition, there are numerous heavenly bodhisattvas who hear the pleas of those who are suffering. Worshipers can pray to them for help.16 Among especially popular bodhisattvas are Avalokiteshvara (the Buddha of mercy) and Maitreya (the messianic Buddha).
The Buddhist idea of heavenly bodhisattvas bears some similarity to Christian ideas of Christ as mediator. Just as a heavenly bodhisattva can transfer his or her own merit to the seekers of enlightenment and take on himself or herself the burden of their suffering, Christians say Jesus Christ takes on himself the burden of their sin and death.
Fifth, in the tradition of Pure Land Buddhism, people trust in Amida Buddha (in Japan; in China it is Amitabha Buddha), the Buddha of Boundless Light, for their salvation. Amida Buddha is viewed as an ancient prince who vowed to attain enlightenment. It is believed that he created a paradise called the Pure Land. Everyone who invokes his name even once in faith will be reborn there. When people get to the Pure Land, it will be much easier to reach nirvana from there. In Pure Land Buddhism, Amida Buddha is a savior figure. It is not moral behavior but faith in Amida Buddha that leads Pure Land Buddhists to paradise.17 This idea of faith in a savior has obvious overlap with Christian views.
Finally, the Buddhist idea of karma is significant. The word karma means “act or action” and stands for the consequences of human actions that are accumulated as time passes. In the Buddhist context, the consequences of human beings' negative actions make an impact upon not only this life but also lives to come. Karma is understood to be the energy that drives the wheel of samsara, the vicious and endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Because human beings accumulate bad karma through their bad conduct, they are enslaved to the cycle of samsara. In order to achieve nirvana, people must be liberated from samsara by removing bad karma and building up good karma.
(p. 364) Christianity also teaches that human sins result in bad consequences. Sin brings us corruption, punishment, and curse; there is a causal relationship between iniquity and its bad effects. It seems undeniable that there is a significant similarity between the Christian idea of sin and the Buddhist idea of karma.
Limitations of the Points of Contact
As we saw for Islam, points of contact between Christianity and Buddhism have both merits and limitations. For example, Christians can agree with the Buddhists at many points, including to some degree the fundamental human problem, but they insist that the Christian solution is fundamentally different.
This can be seen most clearly in a Christian response to the Buddha's fourth Noble Truth. It asserts that the way to liberation from suffering is a life of morality, concentration, and wisdom. This way is spelled out by the Noble Eightfold Path, which involves right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation. Buddhists believe that by practicing this Noble Path, people can eliminate their desires and attachment, and realize nirvana. Although Pure Land Buddhism believes the Amida Buddha of Pure Land Buddhism to be a savior figure, Amida Buddha does not offer an atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. In addition, Theravada Buddhists are urged to accumulate merits by performing moral actions if they want to remove karma and its effects. Buddhism has no parallel to the Christian idea of free justification of sinners on the basis of atoning sacrifice.
At this point, similarities between Christianity and Buddhism eventually come to an end. Although evangelical Christians can appreciate the sincerity of those Buddhists who are practicing this style of moral life, they do not endorse it as a way of salvation. For Buddhism, despite its good intentions and insights, remains a self-salvific scheme which elevates human power and ability. In contrast, Christians believe that human beings are saved by grace alone and the goal of our life is not dissolution of the self but union with the triune God.
Those Who Have Never Heard of the Gospel
Recent discussions of evangelical theology of religions have focused on the question of salvation for those who have never heard the gospel. We have three major evangelical options. First, traditionalist and conservative evangelical theologians argue that those who have never heard of the gospel will not be saved because they are already condemned sinners; they are born into the world as sinners.18 According to (p. 365) this approach, human beings are condemned because they are sinners, not because they have not responded to the gospel. Second, there are evangelical theologians who are more open to the question of the eternal destiny of those who have never heard of the gospel.19 According to this approach, there may be a limited possibility of salvation for those who have never heard of the gospel. They believe that God will remain fair and just to them—but how God will do this is a hidden mystery. For these theologians, agnostic reverence is the best attitude toward this question. They do not claim there is salvation apart from Christ's work and person, but that people who do not know Christ's name and work might be nevertheless saved by Him. They believe that some who have not heard while on earth will hear the gospel and confess and surrender to Jesus in a time and manner only God knows. As Gerald McDermott has argued in his God's Rivals, this is similar to the approach of the early Greek theologians such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement, and perhaps Origen.20
Third, evangelical inclusivists argue that God is at work redemptively among all cultures and religions of the world in various times.21 Clark Pinnock, for example, argues that people cannot be held responsible for not responding to revelation they never received. People will be judged on the basis of revelation they have received and how they have responded to that revelation.22
I believe the missional approach is compatible with both the first and second options, and that biblical revelation supports them. The first option stresses the biblical declaration that all human beings are already dead in their sins and trespasses (Eph. 2:1). Whether they have heard of the gospel or not, they are already under condemnation and destined to eternal death. The second option is also appropriate in that Old Testament believers were saved without hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ directly and explicitly. But it also seems certain that God's way of saving those who have never heard the gospel will remain hidden in divine mystery, and that it will be consistent with the revealed way of salvation in and through Jesus Christ alone.
The missional approach cannot endorse the third option. This evangelical inclusivist approach, which affirms salvation apart from Jesus Christ, contradicts explicit biblical declarations that Jesus Christ is the one and only Lord and Savior
When considering people committed to other religions, evangelicals should not take a separationist approach, for we are commanded to love those outside the church and to share the gospel with them. Therefore we should explore how to engage them in a loving and respectful manner. We should try to understand their beliefs by analyzing their worldviews and identifying significant points of contact between Christianity and their religions. Although points of contact can help begin dialogue, they also have limitations. Therefore differences with Christian doctrine must be identified, and the gospel of grace clearly articulated. The missional approach does not guarantee success, but with sensitivity and prayer, it can serve the missio dei.
Corduan, Winfried. A Tapestry of Faiths: The Common Threads between Christianity and World Religions. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2002.Find this resource:
Di Noia, J. Augustine. “Religion and the Religions.” In John Webster, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.Find this resource:
Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. An Introduction to the Theology of Religions: Biblical, Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2003.Find this resource:
—— . Trinity and Religious Pluralism: The Doctrine of the Trinity in Christian Theology of Religions. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.Find this resource:
McGrath, Alister. Intellectuals Don't Need God and Other Modern Myths: Building Bridges to Faith through Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993.Find this resource:
—— . “A Particularist View: A Post-Enlightenment Approach.” In Dennis K. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips, eds., More Than One Way? Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 149–180.Find this resource:
McDermott, Gerald R. Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions? Jesus, Revelation and Religious Traditions. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000.Find this resource:
—— . God's Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2007.Find this resource:
Pinnock, Clark. A Wideness in God's Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.Find this resource:
Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad! Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993;Find this resource:
D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.Find this resource:
Runia, Klaas. “The Gospel and Religious Pluralism.” Evangelical Review of Theology 14 (October 1990): 341–379.Find this resource:
Stott, John. The Authentic Jesus. London: Marshall Morgan and Scott, 1985.Find this resource:
Tennent, Timothy C. Christianity at the Religious Roundtable: Evangelicalism in Conversation with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002). (p. 368) Find this resource:
(1.) Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen prefers the term “particularism” to “exclusivism” because of the latter's pejorative connotations; see An Introduction to the Theology of Religions: Biblical, Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2003). However, I believe that the term “exclusivism” communicates better what the fundamentalist attitude toward other religions implies.
(2.) Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance; tr. G. W. Bromiley. 2nd edition. (Edinburgh : T & T Clark, 1975), I/2, 297–325. In contrast, J. Augustine Di Noia has recently argued that Barth's theology of religions should be interpreted in a different direction; see “Religion and the Religions,” in John Webster, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 243–257.
(3.) Karl Rahner, “Anonymous Christian,” in Theological Investigations, vol. 6 (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1969), 390–391, 393–395.
(4.) See John Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1995); Hick, God Has Many Names (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1982).
(5.) Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.
(6.) McGrath calls this position the “creative” approach; see Intellectuals Don't Need God & Other Modern Myths: Building Bridges to Faith through Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 30–47, 56–65.
(7.) Mainstream evangelical theologians have recently paid considerable attention to such points of contacts, while also acknowledging fundamental differences. See Gerald R. McDermott, Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions? Jesus, Revelation and Religious Traditions (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000); Winfried Corduan, A Tapestry of Faiths: The Common Threads between Christianity and World Religions (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2002); Timothy C. Tennent, Christianity at the Religious Roundtable: Evangelicalism in Conversation with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002).
(8.) C. S. Lewis did a marvelous job defending the notion of universal moral consciousness, which he called the “Tao,” in his appendix to Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952).
(9.) John L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 68–71.
(13.) Of course, there are other possible results such as that we did not share our message in a culturally sensitive way, with the result there is no real understanding by our Muslim friend, or even if we were sensitive, there still may be a failure to understand, for any one of a host of reasons—perhaps linguistic or past hurts by Christians that have made it impossible for them to hear objectively what is being said.
(14.) Donald W. Mitchell, Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 45–60.
(19.) John Stott, The Authentic Jesus (London: Marshall Morgan and Scott, 1985); Klaas Runia, “The Gospel and Religious Pluralism,” Evangelical Review of Theology 14 (October 1990): 341–379; Alister McGrath, “A Particularist View: A Post-Enlightenment Approach,” in Dennis K. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips, eds., More Than One Way? Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 149–180.