As Hindus, Muslims, Atheists, Mormons and whatever else you can think of begin populating our neighborhoods and staffing our work places, westerners realize that these devotees of other faiths are normal people. To add to the confusion, so called, evangelical leaders like Rob Bell ask rhetorical questions like “How can you say Gandhi is in Hell?” And they begin to wonder if what Jesus really meant to say in John 14:6 was “I am a way, a truth and a life.”
An Encounter with an Atheist
“How can you say that if you don’t agree with some ancient text that you are going to burn in a lake of fire?” A young man my age recently asked me. We had struck up a conversation at a Barnes and Noble while perusing the philosophy section. He told me he was raised Christian, but after going to college and “opening his mind” he began to doubt that Christianity was the only way. He was in search for a new book by Sam Harris, a well-known atheist. He said he didn’t hate religion, but thought that each person should choose the belief that best helped them live a good life.
“Most religions basically teach the same thing.” He went on, “If you live a good life you will be happy and pass that along to the next generation.” “I agree that most religions teach the same thing” I replied, “do good, follow the rules and you can hope to make it to Nirvana or Heaven or somewhere nice after you die. But the fundamental difference between Christianity and all the rest of the religions in the world is that it doesn’t teach that.” He continued looking at the books and from the look on his face I could tell he sensed a sermon coming on. I decided to try anyway.
“The Bible teaches us that there is something terribly wrong with people and that no matter how hard we try we can’t even live up to our own standards, let alone God’s. That’s why Christ had to come to save us. His death on the cross and resurrection is what God did to overcome our evil tendencies, and now He simply asks us to believe in Him to be delivered from our wrong doing and self-efforts.” It came out choppier than that, but that is the essence of what I said.
Misunderstandings about Christianity
“So do you watch football?” he replied. He changed the subject a few more times as I attempted to engage him about spiritual things. From the few remarks about his past he made, I found out that a lot of the Christians he knew were superficial and that he thought people that were too devoted to one religion, especially Christianity, were the cause of all the wars and suffering in the world – an idea he no doubt picked up from atheists like Sam Harris. When I brought up the fact that the worst genocides in the twentieth century happened under atheists like Joseph Stalin, he informed me that Joseph Stalin was secretly a Christian. I decided not to follow that rabbit trail.
By this time we had wandered a short distance over to the religion section, and as he was telling me about his interest in other religions, I looked down and saw a copy of One God One Message by Paul Bramsen. No doubt placed there by the grace of God. I picked it up and began talking about Paul and Carol and their family who have dedicated their lives to helping the people of North Africa and spreading the real message of the Bible.
I also told him about Nate, Paul’s son, who is a devoted Christ-follower and lives in a country dominated by Islam, but is trying to help people there in any way possible and is driven to do this by the love of Jesus. There are a lot of things you could call him, but superficial is not one of them. I encouraged my friend to read the book and see for himself what the Bible is really all about. He smiled and said goodbye as I had to attend to my daughter. I left him there in the religion section and am praying that he will read that book or pick up a Bible and read it again with his mind truly open.
Although I might have walked away from this discussion discouraged, I decided not to be for a few reasons. One, I had been given an opportunity to share the gospel and even though he appeared not to be listening, he still heard me. Two, I was able to dismantle his objection that people who are devoted to Christianity want to start wars with those who don’t believe the same thing by giving real life examples of what people do who are following Christ. And three, I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit set up our little meeting so that He could work in this man’s heart.
Our job as believers is not to stem the tide of religious pluralism in our society. That is just one lie of Satan and there were plenty of others that were blinding the minds of cultural-Christians in the west before it showed up. Religious pluralism presents us with a few different arguments to deal with, but our message is still the same, “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21b).
Some Questions You Might Face
Here are some questions you might be asked by religious pluralists when you try to share the gospel. Check out the scripture quotations and resources so you can be ready to give an answer.
Hasn’t science made the Bible obsolete?
The first people to deny Christianity did so because they thought the resurrection of Christ was impossible (see Acts 17:22-34, 23:1-8). For more see chapter 3 of Christianity: Opium or Truth? By David Gooding and John Lennox.
Don’t all religions basically teach the same thing?
All religions teach works salvation except true Christianity, which teaches salvation by faith. (Romans 3-4) For more see chapter 4 of Christianity: Opium or Truth?
Doesn’t following one religion oppress people?
A. Depends on the religion. Jesus said “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. ” (Matthew 11:28). For more see chapter 9 of The Definition of Christianity by the same authors.
And remember, the fail-safe response to a question you can’t answer or are afraid will lead the conversation off topic is “That’s interesting.”