Category Archives: World Religions

What Is Buddhism?

What does Buddhism teach, and how does it differ from Christianity?

Legend tells us that Buddha was a powerful young prince who gave up his earthly position and possessions in order to seek enlightenment and salvation. Buddha lived in India approximately 600 years before Christ. He was concerned with the terrible things that were being done within the Hindu tradition, so he developed his own religious system.

Buddha taught that the question of God’s existence is meaningless. His conception of salvation is radically different than that taught by Christianity.

Buddha believed in reincarnation. He taught that every evil thing we do ties us more tightly to the cycle of rebirth. Buddha taught that a person can escape the cycle of reincarnation and enter nirvana only by following the “Noble Eight-fold Path,” a strict ethical system.

Buddhist teachings include dedication to meditation. Meditation involves emptying one’s mind of all content and learning to drift away from a consciousness of this world. Thus, it is part of the process by which a Buddhist frees himself from his attachments to this world and the cycle of reincarnation.

We should not confuse nirvana with heaven, however. For the Buddhist, nirvana is simply an escape from the world of suffering. It is like a candle that had been burning with a hot flame (representing our suffering in the cycle of reincarnation) being suddenly extinguished. Once a flame is out, there is no point in questioning where it went. To the classical Buddhist, to attain nirvana is simply to be out of existence.

Buddhism is clearly a very different religion from Christianity. It offers no personal salvation. It stands against sin and immorality, but it ignores the issue of God’s existence and our need for redemption. At its root, Buddhism is a form of agnosticism or at least practical atheism. It provides no answers about the ultimate meaning of existence. By denying the ultimate meaningfulness of life, Buddhism provides its followers with little motivation to conquer evil or to work for justice. Jesus Christ, in contrast, confronts us with the need to become right with God and to introduce a new order into the world, an order He called “the kingdom of God.”

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Are All Who Haven’t Heard of Christ Damned?

In John 14:6 Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus’ words make it clear that He alone has brought God’s gift of salvation to the world. But do His words also mean that everyone who hasn’t heard of Him will be condemned to hell?

Abraham lived long before Christ. When he told Isaac that God would provide a sacrifice, his words were strikingly prophetic, but he didn’t understand their true significance. He knew nothing about the Lamb of God who would die on a cross nearly 2,000 years later. People like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job, Melchizedek, Abraham, Sarah, and Jacob never heard the gospel, yet Hebrews 11:13 leaves no doubt that they will be in heaven.

No one in Old Testament times had a clear understanding of the role that Jesus Christ would someday play in atoning for sin. But centuries before the gospel was revealed, the faith of Old Testament believers was already “credited to them as righteousness” ( Genesis 15:6; Psalm 106:31; Galatians 3:6 ).

One of the most remarkable missionary stories of this century was the martyrdom of five young missionaries in Ecuador and the conversion of the Auca Indians. The first convert from the Auca tribe was a young woman named Dayuma. Remarkably, Dayuma was predisposed to accept the gospel because of her father’s influence. Although he had never heard the name of Jesus, he spoke out against the blood feuds and murder that were an Auca way of life. Unlike the others of his tribe, he was deeply conscious of his sinfulness and knew that he and his people needed forgiveness. He told Dayuma that some day God would send a messenger to the Aucas to tell them the way of salvation. Like Old Testament believers, Dayuma’s father was still living by faith when he died ( Hebrews 11:13 ). The witness of his life implies that he would have been overjoyed to hear the gospel, but he died before missionaries came.

Does Scripture give us grounds for insisting that Dayuma’s father is any different in God’s eyes than the believers of the Old Testament? Clearly, Dayuma’s father, like Abraham, would face eternal damnation apart from Christ’s shed blood. Apparent, too, is the desperate spiritual need of those, like the Auca people, who live in fear and spiritual darkness. The fact that Christ is the only way to God places on us the responsibility to make Him known to all.

Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles asked:

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:13-14).

But there isn’t a passage of Scripture that definitively proves that God looks upon Dayuma’s father differently than He looked upon Old Testament believers who had only a faint idea of the nature of coming redemption. (See the ATQ article, How Could Old Testament People Be Saved?) The apostle Paul may have had this issue in mind when he wrote the first chapters of Romans, declaring that God has revealed Himself in creation ( Romans 1:18-20 ) and in human conscience ( Romans 2:12-16 ). Paul said that each individual will be judged according to his response to these two revelations of God. To those who respond positively, God gives more knowledge—as He did to the Ethiopian eunuch and the Roman centurion, Cornelius (see Acts 8,10 ). Those who are lost will be judged according to their response to the spiritual light they have received ( Hebrews 4:12-13 ). 1

It may be that God will extend His grace to Dayuma’s father on the basis of Christ’s shed blood, just as He did to Enoch, Melchizedek, Job, Abraham, and Sarah—people who had only the faintest intimation of the means by which God would provide for their redemption. In the final analysis, we must leave this matter in God’s keeping. He is both just and loving. We can be assured that the Judge of all the earth will do right ( Genesis 18:25 ).

(See the ATQ article, How Can Christianity Claim To Be the Only Way to God?)

  1. Jesus made it clear that those who had little light will be punished lightly:
    That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked ( Luke 12:47-48 ). Back To Article
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What Do Muslims Believe About God?

The word Allah is the Arabic word for God, the word used both by Arabic-speaking Christians before the birth of Mohammed, and by Arabic-speaking Christians today. To a devout Muslim, Allah is in many ways similar to the Christian God. Allah is holy, just, infinite, and all-knowing. Jews, too, worship a holy, infinitely powerful God, and share Christian respect for the Old Testament.

The Qur’an portrays God as a just and merciful judge, but doesn’t teach that human sin and distress cause Him suffering 1 . It emphasizes the incomprehensibility of God more than His holiness2 and love 3 .

Christians believe that biblical revelation is progressive 4 , fulfilled in Christ. Although the Old Testament describes God’s supreme love ( Exodus 34:6 ; Psalm 86:5; 103:13 ; Isaiah 49:14-18 ; Jeremiah 31:10-20 ; Ezekiel 34:22-31 ; Micah 7:18-20 ; Hosea 2:14-16 ) at times its portrayal of God is troubling. With the coming of Jesus and the gospel, Christians have the peace that comes with understanding the means by which God offers mercy and forgiveness to His children. In Jesus, God took human form (John 1:14.). Through Jesus we know the infinite, holy God as “Abba,” our “heavenly Father.”

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 NKJV)

For Christians, God’s most loving self-revelation is in His Lamb (Genesis 22:8 ; John 1:36 ; 1 Peter 1:19-20 ) through whom God’s love for the human race was expressed in human form ( Acts 17:3 ; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ; Hebrews 2:8-10 ).

God’s suffering and grief at human sin and His love for the lost and rebellious begins in the Old Testament ( Jeremiah 3:1 ; Hosea 3:1 ; Ezekiel 34:12 ) resulting in His relationship with a sinful race ( Hebrews 4:15 ; John 10:11 ). It was expressed vividly in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son ( Luke 15:11-31 ) and the Gospel descriptions of Peter denying his Lord.

The Christian God loves even the lost and the rebellious, and sacrifices Himself for hopeless sinners. ( Romans 5:8 ). The Christian God is the initiator of the relationship between Himself and our sinful race ( Isaiah 53:6 ; John 10:11 ; 1 Peter 2:24 ).

  1. According to Islam our sins cannot offend our Creator. God stands too far above us to be directly concerned by our disobedience. When we commit sin we wrong ourselves; God remains unaffected. The following references are from the Qur’an: “Whoever transgresses God’s bounds does evil to himself” (65.1; cf. 2:57; 7:160; 18:35; 35:32; 37:113). Our guilt lies only in our disobedience to our Lord’s commandments. From the biblical point of view, however, sin is not just a transgression of God’s law but an offence against God himself (Psalm 51:4; Luke 15:18, 21. Sin affects God personally and does not leave him indifferent. (The Prophet and the Messiah, Chawkat Moucarry, IVP, pp. 99-100) Back To Article
  2. In the Christian view, God sees sin with such seriousness that He alone is able to provide its remedy. The God worshiped by Christians is embodied in the Lamb of God—the Messiah. Jesus reveals the intensity of God’s concern for the human race. This is a continuation of the theme of God’s suffering and grief at human sin and unbelief that is found in the Old Testament (Judges 10:16; Isaiah 40:11; 53; Jeremiah 3:1; Hosea 3:1). Back To Article
  3. Muslims do not see God as their father or, equivalently, themselves as the children of God. Men are servants of a just master; they cannot, in orthodox Islam, typically attain any greater degree of intimacy with their creator. (Shabbir Akhtar, A Faith For All Seasons, Chicago, Ivan R. Dee Publisher, 1990, p. 180) Back To Article
  4. Christians view biblical revelation as progressive. That is, as we proceed from God’s earliest word to us in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) and continue through the historical books, the books of poetry, and the prophetic books, we see that God reveals more and more of His nature and His will to man. The patriarchs, statesmen, poets, and prophets of the Old Testament did not have a clear understanding of the redemption that was to be offered on their behalf through the Lord Jesus Christ. They did not even have a clear understanding of the nature of life after death. However, as God progressively revealed more and more of His nature to the men of Old Testament times, He did make it clear that His greatest revelation was to come in His Messiah. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, revealed God’s nature to us perfectly in the form of a human being. In Jesus Christ (the Greek term Christ actually has the same meaning as the Hebrew term Messiah—”anointed one”) we have become aware of God’s love and grace in a manner not possible during past ages. Back To Article
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How Can Christianity Claim To Be the Only Way to God?

Although there are numerous groups in every major religious tradition, there are relatively few major religious traditions. Probably the oldest religious tradition is that of Animism, found mostly among the so-called “primitive” peoples of the world. Animism teaches that the world is populated by a myriad of spirit beings that can be appeased and manipulated through ritual and magic.

The Hindu religion has its center in India. In the form of Buddhism, it has spread all throughout East Asia. This ancient tradition teaches that all living beings are caught up in a cycle of reincarnation. It maintains that the only way to achieve salvation is to be freed of one’s burden of “karma.” Only then can one escape the cycle of reincarnation, lose one’s individuality, and merge with the Being of God like a drop of water in the sea.

Islam is the religion of Muhammad, a warrior/prophet who was born approximately 700 years after Jesus Christ. Islam is similar to Judaism and Christianity in some respects, upholding the authority of the Old and New Testaments and believing in one God. Its holiest book is the Koran. Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam despises idolatry and believes in the reality of eternal punishment or eternal reward in the next life.

The only other great religious traditions are those of Taoism in China and Shintoism in Japan. These religions are pantheistic like Hinduism, but they also have a number of animistic characteristics.

Although there are elements of truth in all of the religious traditions, the Bible teaches that there is only one way that we can be saved. In John 3:13 Jesus stated clearly, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” In Romans 10:9 we read, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” ( John 14:6 ). We know that all salvation is accomplished through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ and His atonement for the sins of the world.

(See the ATQ article Are All Who Haven’t Heard of Christ Damned?)

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Why Is It Hard for Muslims to Believe in Christ as Savior?

Islam was founded during an epoch when the weakened remnant of the Roman Empire had been “Christianized.” However the official Christian church was largely under the control of a corrupt and decadent empire and became associated with its evil deeds.

Further, the church had become the sponsor of idolatry. Many “sacred” objects, such as bones of saints and relics of the cross, were considered to have magical powers. Although the objects themselves were usually of questionable authenticity, church leaders exploited them to manipulate the superstitious masses.

When Mohammed observed the church and the “Christian” rulers of his day, he saw that they violated the very principles they claimed to uphold. Considering the flagrant corruption and idolatry of the Christian world, it isn’t surprising that he and other early leaders of Islam assumed that every aspect of Christianity, including its Scriptures and key doctrines, was corrupt.

As Muslim armies swept through “Christian” lands they found that they were often welcomed as liberators. The astonishing speed of their conquests, along with their conviction that they were restoring the pure monotheism of the Bible, gave them even more confidence that their mission was God-ordained and blessed.

In more recent times the nominally Christian nations of the West have established political and military dominance over the Muslim world, from Morocco to Indonesia. Again, association with the often violent and exploitive policies of “Christian” colonial powers sullied the image of Christ. Further, in recent years the decadent values of Western secularism have disrupted the lives of Muslim people who had lived in relative harmony with their beliefs for hundreds of years.1

Today, just as few Christians are familiar with the Koran, many Muslims are unacquainted with the Bible. If they live in a Muslim society, all they are likely to hear about the Bible and Christian doctrine are misleading distortions based largely on cultural memories of conflict with the Western world.2

1. Conservative Christians are painfully aware of many of the negative effects of secularism in the modern world, including the breakdown of family life, the glorification of immorality, and the legalization of abortion. It is important to consider the negative effects of the massive influence of Western culture in the past century.

“Historically, over many decades, Christianity and Judaism made their own accommodations with modernity. The process produced further divisions and differences among them: liberal, fundamentalist, and evangelical Protestantism; orthodox, conservative, reform, and reconstructionist Judaism; orthodox or traditionalist and liberal Catholicism. Catholicism was for some time a distant third to Protestantism and Judaism in dealing with modernity. Until the second Vatican Council in the 1960s, pontiffs had condemned much of modernity — including modern biblical criticism, democracy, pluralism, and women’s rights. Despite change, all of the children of Abraham continue to struggle with modernity. The global resurgence of religion is driven by a desire of many well-educated believers of different faiths to rethink and reevaluate the relationship of religion to modernity. Many question the excesses of modernity, trying to reassert a faith and values that limit the unbridled use of science and technology, the sexual freedoms that weaken family life, the emphasis on individual rights rather than on responsibilities, or the accumulation and maldistribution of wealth.” pp. 123-124, Unholy War, Terror in the Name of Islam by John L. Esposito (Oxford University Press) Back To Article

2. Further, it is an unfortunate fact that in most nations with Muslim majorities, conversion to faith in Christ results in extreme social ostracism, or even in imprisonment or execution. “At birth, a person is marked either Moslem or non-Moslem depending on one’s descent. One’s religion is therefore marked on his or her birth certificate, identity card, and/or passport. Furthermore, a non-Moslem can easily become a Moslem, but not the reverse. This is why there are unknown visible churches of Moslem converts to Christianity. Converts do exist, but they are in small numbers, meeting secretly.” (Billy Kim, President of the Baptist World Alliance) Back To Article

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