One of a Kind
I met Jason in my second year of university. He was in one of my English classes, often arriving early to talk with me about his religious questions. One day, Jason was waiting with a common objection: “Hey, aren’t all religions pretty much the same? You’ve all got a god, you’ve got a holy book, you’ve got priests and stuff. To me it all looks the same. It probably wouldn’t make any difference if I was a Sikh or a Christian. Seems to me you all worship the same god.” When we encounter such an objection, we might be caught off-guard. After all, many Christians aren’t that familiar with other religions. So how do we go about giving an answer to people like Jason?
Christianity is Unique
Knowledge about other religions is often minimal among Christians. We might know something about Judaism from the Bible, perhaps something about the major cults from our high school Bible classes, and maybe a few things about Islam because of its connection to world events of the last two decades. But other than that, how much do you really know about Hinduism, Sikhism, or Buddhism?
Furthermore, how do we show that all these religions are false and that only Christianity is the true religion? You might do that by showing that the major religions contradict one another. For example, Islam says that Jesus was merely a prophet, whereas Christianity teaches that Jesus was God come in the flesh for the rescue of sinners. In certain circumstances, that method could have value, but it does require a bit of knowledge of all the individual religions.
There’s a better way. This way doesn’t require as much study. We can emphasize the positive point that Christianity is unique – unique in its central message and unique in how it explains the world in which we live. Other religions, on the other hand, are actually all quite similar to each other in these respects.
The Message of Islam
Take Islam for example. Faithful Muslims must adhere to the five pillars in order to be taken into paradise with Allah. The five pillars of Islam are: profession of faith (shahada), prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting (sawm), and pilgrimage (hajj). Even if these are followed, Allah may arbitrarily decide that the works you did were not enough and you may be consigned to hell. This Islamic fatalism is what prevents any Muslim from having personal assurance of salvation – the only exception is for a martyr. That contrasts with true Christianity which rejects salvation by works. As Christians, we can also have the comfort of personal assurance. Salvation is initiated by God and guaranteed by God (Romans 8:15-17). Christians never have to second-guess their salvation.
The Message of Hinduism
Salvation in Hinduism doesn’t mean the same thing as in Christianity. For a Hindu, to be saved is to be released from the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. It means to become one with Brahman, the greatest of the many thousands of Hindu gods. This “salvation” is achieved through one of three means: 1) through the knowledge that you are actually already God; 2) through worship of a particular deity (any one you choose); or 3) through following ceremonial rituals. You can pick, but in any circumstance you’ll have to do something to achieve Hindu “salvation.” It’s achieved by human works. Hinduism isn’t unique in that way – it’s no different than Islam or Roman Catholicism, or for that matter, Judaism or Sikhism. All of them exemplify religions focussed on human effort.
The Message of Biblical Christianity is Unique
Only Christianity teaches that God graciously provides salvation as a free gift. All other religions teach that the way to God is through your own deeds. In our witnessing to others, this is one of the only things we really need to know. We need to know that Christianity is different – it’s the only religion which teaches that human beings can’t save themselves. Human beings can’t save themselves because they’re wretched sinners both by conception and by action. We’re incorrigible rebels against God. Of ourselves, we’re bags of flesh which have assumed room temperature. Nothing a corpse can do can save it from the grave. Someone else must intervene. That someone else is God through his Son Jesus and through the mighty work of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the cross is what makes Christianity unique. The cross speaks of human weakness and inability — but at the same time of God’s divine power to save. Regeneration is also what makes Christianity unique. The Holy Spirit unilaterally comes to a cold dead heart of stone and miraculously turns it into a heart of flesh which believes. In short, sovereign grace is what makes Christianity entirely unique!
But Wait, There’s More!
The story shouldn’t end there. Unbelievers may be impressed with our answer to this point, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Not only is Christianity unique in its central message of sovereign grace, it’s also unique in other ways. These are ways which demonstrate the foolishness of unbelief. This is the clincher in our discussions with people like Jason. We may have shown that Christianity is unique, but that doesn’t really in itself present a compelling reason for any unbeliever to throw down his weapons and surrender. Christianity’s uniqueness, by itself, doesn’t demonstrate its truth. If we can show that Christianity is the only way our world can be adequately explained, then the only thing which prevents the unbeliever from repenting and believing is his own hardness of heart.
It can be demonstrated that only Christianity can explain our world and the way it really is. Take laws of morality for instance. Muslims can’t adequately account for absolute laws of morality. Why not? Because Allah is capricious and arbitrary himself. Allah’s character is not what defines right or wrong. He is not absolute. However, within the Christian worldview, we account for absolute laws of morality by looking to the absolute character and nature of the Triune God. He never changes. From age to age he remains the same. So does his moral law, which reflects his character. The Christian relies upon absolute laws of morality and can also justify or account for his reliance. The Muslim may speak about laws of morality as being absolute and may behave accordingly, but he’s inconsistent at that point with his professed religion. Though claiming to be wise, he will have been shown to be otherwise (Romans 1:22).
Only Christianity Can
This can be extended to every other non-Christian religion. Only Christians can speak of a Triune God who is both absolute (transcendent) and personal (immanent). There is no other like him (Micah 7:18). Only such a God as ours can provide the basis for reality as we observe and experience it. In Colossians 2:3, we find that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in Christ. In Acts 17:28 it says, “In him [the true God], we live and move and have our being.” Only the God of the Bible can provide the foundations upon which rest the laws of logic, morality, mathematics, and science. Christianity is true because it is impossible for it to be false.
Now when I argued this way all those years ago, I didn’t persuade Jason. The last time I saw him he’d invented his own religion. His heart wasn’t changed by the Holy Spirit. However, I still think about him and pray for him. I pray that God will one day bring the right moment with the right means and give him a miraculous heart transplant. Our arguments are just tools in God’s hands and he works as he pleases with them. Nevertheless, our calling is to be faithful and always ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us about our hope in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). Let’s honour Christ the Lord as holy by always proclaiming the uniqueness of who he is, what he’s done, and what he’s given us.