Meet Joe. He says ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere. Everyone will find their own way to God in the end, the Muslim in his way, the Hindu in her way, the Christian his way. After all, how could God be so intolerant as to allow only Christians into heaven!'
Joe likes walking. One day while out for a walk he meets a hiker.
‘Great day!’ says Joe.
‘Yes,’ says the hiker, ‘I am on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. They say there is a terrific cathedral there.’
Joe pauses for a moment. He is pretty sure that the road the hiker is on is heading in the opposite direction. But after all, he is not infallible and he would hate to be a wet blanket on someone else's religious enthusiasm. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion - so long as you are sincere. What is more, it is travelling the journey that matters, not the destination.
Later, Joe gets a job in a chemist's shop. He is not a trained pharmacist, he stocks the shelves and helps out at the counter. Along the way he has picked up a little knowledge of medicines - enough to get by. One day an elderly lady comes into the shop clutching a box of pills.
‘My friend gave me these, he said they might help with my arthritis. But I’m not sure how many to take. Can you help?’ she pleads.
Joe looks at the unmarked box. He thinks he saw the pharmicist dispensing some like them from the poisons cabinet. But who is he to discourage someone in their suffering?
‘If you think they will help you, I am sure they will,’ he politely reassures the old lady. After all, he reasons to himself, as long as you are sincere.....
What is at issue is not sincerity but truth. Different religions make different truth claims for themselves. They may all be mistaken, but they can’t all be right.
The word ‘god’ means different things within different religious frameworks. Buddhism is atheistic (does not believe there is an objective god or gods), or at best agnostic - there is no way of knowing. Hinduism is monistic - that there is ultimately one reality ‘Brahma’ and what we experience as ‘reality’ is more like a dream-maya-illusion. So Brahma is beyond good and evil and personality. Islam believes in Allah and his prophet Mohammed. Only Christianity claims there is one God who is infinite and personal and yet within His own being exists as three persons - God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and that He has made Himself known in space-time history in Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man.
Christianity claims to be unique
The uniqueness of Christianity is displayed in several ways.
1. Regarding the person of Jesus, that in history the God of the universe became a man while not ceasing to be God:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
Theirs [the Jews] are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
2. Regarding the death of Jesus .God Himself provides for man’s rescue. We do not rescue ourselves, God does it by giving of Himself in the person of his Son as a sacrifice for our sin on the cross:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:10
3. Regarding the resurrection of Jesus from the dead:
He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
Christianity claims to be exclusive
This follows on from its uniqueness. Jesus said:
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The apostle Peter speaking of Jesus (within a multicultural world like ours) says:
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved
This may seem arrogant, but that is the nature of truth. To claim that the world is round and not flat is not arrogance, it is an expression of humility - humility before the evidence. The cumulative evidence of the Bible is that Jesus was more than a man, he was God incarnate.
Somone who spent most of his life looking into different religions was Professor Stephen Neill who wrote: ‘If any other religion has anything in the least like the doctrines of incarnation (God becoming man) and atonement (dying as a sacrifice for sins) I have yet to find it.’
How do I decide?
How do I decide?
Few of us has the time to look at every religion, but why not compare one or two with Christianity (after all it is the religion which makes the most extravagant claims!)
Ask of each:
Is it coherent -does it hang together or is it full of inconsistencies?
Is it comprehensive-does it explain things well or does it leave out difficult bits (eg the problem of evil)?
Is it congruous-does it make sense of the world as it is and ourselves as humans or is it so removed from reality it does not ring true?
Weigh up the evidence and the reliability of those making the claims - especially Jesus. Is he mad? Is he bad? Or is he God?