Other faiths

Author, Philip Yancey, writes: ‘Jesus’ audacious claims about himself pose what may be the central problem of all history, the dividing point between Christianity and other religions. Although Muslims and, increasingly, Jews respect Jesus as a great teacher and prophet, no Muslim can imagine Mohammed claiming to be Allah any more than a Jew can imagine Moses claiming to be Yahweh. Likewise, Hindus believe in many incarnations but not one Incarnation, while Buddhists have no categories to conceive of a sovereign God becoming a human being. (…) It is an incontestable fact of history that Jesus’ followers, the same ones who were scratching their heads over his words at the Last Supper, a few weeks later were proclaiming him as the “Holy and Righteous One,” the “Lord,” the “author of life.” By the time the Gospels were written they regarded him as the Word who was God, through whom all things were made.’

Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 2000, London: Marshall Pickering, p.260

One of the most famous statements Jesus ever made about himself is found in John 14v6: “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” When it comes to us coming to the God of heaven, Jesus does not give us advice or directions, but himself. His message is not “Go that way” but “Come to me!” He is not a path or a system, He is what we need. Notice too that it is an exclusive claim: only Jesus is these things. [Jesus is the only way to the Father; his Word is the truth and accepting it brings life.] What is possible through him is possible nowhere else. Jesus is not one option among many – a way to find meaning and direction alongside other equally valid options. What Jesus gives us in himself is definitive – the truth, the life. There is (literally) an eternity of difference between saying “the” and “a”.

Explore Bible notes 01/06/2017

‘Buddha never claimed to be God. Moses never claimed to be Jehovah. Mohammed never claimed to be Allah. Yet Jesus Christ claimed to be the true and living God. Buddha simply said, “I am a teacher in search of the truth.” Jesus said, “I am the Truth.” Confucius said, “I never claimed to be holy.” Jesus said, “Who convicts me of sin?” Mohammed said, “Unless God throws his cloak over me, I have no hope.” Jesus said, “Unless you believe in me, you will die in your sins.”

Source: Billy Graham, The Reason For My Hope, p.94

People often ask about other religions: ‘Aren’t all religions basically the same? Don’t all faiths lead to God; aren’t they all just different paths up the same mountain? What makes one religion better than another?’ Perhaps you’ve heard the fable about the blind men and the elephant, which is often cited as a picture of religious tolerance; that truth is perceived differently by different people.

‘The Blind Men and the Elephant’ is a story of six blind men (or men who are in the dark) who touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part and creates their own version of reality from that limited experience and perspective. Each provides only a part truth and it’s often suggested that it is only in religious tolerance and a coming together of all the major religions do we find the whole truth. The problem is, although that might work in describing different parts of an elephant, it doesn’t work in describing the way to God. It is true that all the major religions in the world have things in common but it is also true they differ massively on several fundamental points.

The story was made into a poem by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887). Here’s his version of Blind Men and the Elephant:

It was six men of Indostan,

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried, -”Ho! what have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me ‘tis mighty clear,

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!”

The Third approach’d the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

“I see,” – quoth he – “the Elephant

Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,

And felt about the knee:

“What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain,” – quoth he,-

“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said – “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Then, seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

“I see,” – quoth he,- “the Elephant

Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

All ‘other religions’ are the wrong path! How can we say that? Because Christianity is not a part of the elephant; it is the elephant! The fact is, all the major religions of the world contain some truth and they all share certain morals and things in common, but that does not mean all religions lead to God, regardless of how genuine or sincere people of different faiths might be. Being devout or sincere doesn’t mean that people are right; people can be sincere and still be sincerely wrong… just look at suicide bombers!

There is so much confusion and debate in our society about religion. Hindus insist there are many different gods (Shiva, Vishnu, etc.), but the Jews demand there is only one. Buddhists say we are reincarnated after death, but Muslims say we are not. Who is right? Certainly not all of them…According to Islam, the God who demands our ‘submission’ (which is what the word ‘Islam’ means) is too powerful and awesome to live among us. But Jesus taught differently.

John Dickson

Source: John Dickson, A Sneaking Suspicion, p.75, 78

‘It’s the resurrection that sets Christianity apart from all the other religions of the world. Other religions are basically saying they bring you this prophet; this guru or sage who says: ‘This is the way to find God.’ In that sense they’re all the same. But Christianity comes along and says this person is God and he was raised from the dead to prove it.’

Tim Keller (http://christianityexplored.org/Groups/276317/Home/CE_ORG/Tough_Questions/Tough_Questions.aspx)

‘Mohammed, Buddha, Moses, Guru Nanak, Confucius and other great founders of religions were undoubtedly amazing people. They had insight, leadership skills and brought inspiration to thousands of their followers. But none of them ever claimed to personally reveal God. None of them said, “Look at me and you will see God.” There is, however, one exception.’ Jesus.

Source: John Dickson, A Sneaking Suspicion, p.77

The Quaran says: “Allah forbid that He Himself should beget a son!” (Sura 19:35-36); “Say: ‘Praise be to Allah who has never begotten a son, who has no partner in His kingdom” (Sura 17:111). The Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Source: The Uniqueness of our Faith by Selwyn Hughes, p.56

Part of my own theological training included working with other faith leaders; which meant that I had to engage with the beliefs, practices and spirituality of other faiths. I spent considerable time at a mosque, a Hindu temple and debating in a Jewish synagogue. Of course, we live in a multi-faith, multi-cultural society and it is absolutely right that we should be tolerant and accepting of others, regardless of their beliefs. Again, the fact is, all religions do contain some truth but, that does not mean all religions lead to God, regardless of how genuine or sincere people of different faiths might be. As C.S. Lewis wrote:

“If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main points in all the religions of the world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try and persuade myself that most of the human race has always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic – there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong, but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.”

[Note: C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Fount 1952, p.39]

R. Ian Seymour

Nicky Gumbel, the founder of Alpha and Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton in London, writes: ‘The fact that Jesus is the only way to God does not mean that we simply write off all other religions as misguided or demonic. Jesus said, ‘I am the truth.’ In him, ultimate truth is to be found and he is the standard by which all truth claims are to be tested. But this does not mean that parts of the truth cannot be found in other religions. Indeed, we would expect to find truth in other religions for at least three reasons:

Firstly, although God’s revelation of himself in Jesus, witnessed to in Scripture, is unique and final, God has partially revealed himself in creation. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands’ (Psalm 19:1). The pinnacle of his creation is human life. As Sir Isaac Newton, the brilliant physicist and mathematician, said, ‘In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence’. Therefore, the psalmist says, only a fool can claim ‘there is no God’ (Psalm 14:1; 53:1) ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that they are without excuse’ (Romans 1:20). From creation, it is possible for men and women to find out the truth about God’s existence and gain an insight into his character: his power and his glory. The evidence provided by creation is available to all, and could therefore be found in other religions.

Secondly, human beings are made in the image of God and God has given us a conscience with which to distinguish right and wrong. As Paul put it, ‘Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law… they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them’ (Romans 2:14-15). Thus, it is not surprising that the essence of ‘the golden rule’ (‘Do to others what you would have them do to you’ – Matthew 7:12) is contained in almost every religion from Confucius (551-479 BC) onwards.

Thirdly, in every heart there is a hunger for God. God has ‘set eternity in the human heart’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Deep down no one is satisfied with materialism; we know there is more to life. There is a God-shaped gap or hole in the heart of every human being. This hunger drives us to search for God. It is one of the explanations as to why there are so few atheists in the world and why so many seek earnestly after God.’

Nicky Gumbel, Searching Issues, 2004 edition, Kingsway, p.29-31

I few years ago, as part of my on-going ministerial training, I had the opportunity to engage with other faith traditions and so I chose Orthodox Judaism and I went to Edgware in London, and was a guest for the evening at the home of Rabbi Natan Levy who runs a synagogue of about 80 Jewish families. (The Jewish religion no longer has priests because they no longer have the temple. Rabbis are teachers and leaders of the synagogue.) I got on really well with Natan and we were both very open with each other in discussing each other’s faith. Natan told me Jews are still waiting for the Messiah and it is something they talk about a lot in their synagogue meetings. He told me that every son born to Jewish parents in every generation wonder if this is the Messiah.

I asked the rabbi how he could be so certain that Jesus is not the Messiah. And he told me ‘their’ interpretation is that the Messiah, when he comes, will bring about a new world order; worldwide peace and He will reinstitute or re-establish the temple in Jerusalem… Of course the evangelist in me had to respond… but Jesus did bring about a new world order – indeed the whole world records time as either before or after his death! – and he also brought about peace, forgiveness and reconciliation to God… to every nation, tribe, people and language who accept Jesus as the Messiah and turn to Him… and on the point as whether or not the temple in Jerusalem will ever be rebuilt, maybe it will maybe it won’t but regardless, Christians are now the living temple of God because the Holy Spirit of God resides within us, in our hearts. The rabbi listened intently but… (who knows)!

Amazingly, the Jewish Rabbis and theologians today still pour over the Scriptures as they have done for generations. They have taught in their synagogues that the Messiah was coming, but they failed to recognise or acknowledge Him when He arrived. Yet the OT Scriptures they read are filled with Messianic prophesies.

  • They identified the tribe from which He would be born: ‘The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honour’ (Genesis 49v10 NLT).
  • They described His family of origin: ‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse [the father of King David]; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…’ (Isaiah 11v1-2). They foretold the virgin birth: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and you will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14)
  • And they foretold where the Messiah would be born. Bethlehem. ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will be shepherd of my people Israel.’ (Micah 5v2)

R. Ian Seymour

There are 2.2 billion Christians in the world today (a third of the world’s population), and it’s estimated there’s a net increase of 70,000 in the number of new Christians being added to the church every single day worldwide. The church is growing faster than ever before and Christianity is gaining more members than any other religion. Indeed, it is growing three times the rate of the population explosion. More Muslims in Iran have come to know Christ over the past ten years than during the previous thousand years. In Africa, 20,000 people a day are becoming Christians. Some estimate that there may be as many as 100 million Christians in China alone.

Source: Nicky Gumbel, 1997, The Heart of Revival, Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, p.49-50

According to the US Centre for World Missions, the Christian church is growing at a rate three times faster than the world population.

Quoted by Nicky Gumbel in The Jesus Lifestyle, 2010, London: Alpha International, p.162

How many Christians are there in the world? According to Pew Research Centre there are 2.2billion Christians living on the planet, which represents 32% (about a third) of the world’s population.


Stephen Gaukroger says: ‘If we take the five most commonly thought of as the world’s major religions, a brief examination reveals mammoth differences between them. Hinduism believes in many gods; Islam is absolutely insistent there is only one. Buddhism is silent about the nature of God or even whether he exists; Judaism describes his character in detail. Christians believe that in this world there is only one life and one death for each individual; Buddhists believe that we keep returning to this world in a series of multiple reincarnations… Christians, in opposition to all the others, say salvation cannot be earned by doing anything; you receive it as a gift. – It’s only possible to believe that ‘all roads lead to God’ if we remain ignorant about these different religions and their views of God. All religions do not lead to the same point any more than all aeroplanes from Heathrow go to New York!’

Source: Stephen Gaukroger, 2003, It Makes Sense, Gold Hill: Scripture Union, p.33-34

The difference between Buddhism and Christianity is like the difference between chalk and cheese. In comparison, the difference between Anglican, Baptist and Methodist is like that between Cheddar, Edam and Brie.

Source: Stephen Gaukroger, It Makes Sense, p.101 (adapted)

Mohammed, Buddha, Moses, Guru Nanak, Confucius and other great founders of religions were undoubtedly amazing people. They had insight, leadership skills and brought inspiration to thousands of their followers. But none of them ever claimed to personally reveal God. None of them said, “Look at me and you will see God.” There is, however, one exception.

John Dickson

Source: John Dickson, A Sneaking Suspicion, p.77

The man who started Buddhism (Siddhartha Gautama) was a wealthy and powerful prince; the man who started Islam (Mohammed) was renowned and fearsome warrior; but the man who started Christianity was born in a shed. He spent most of his life unknown, and ended up being executed as a criminal.

John Dickson

Source: John Dickson, A Sneaking Suspicion, p.26

The New Age movement is based on astronomical theory that each star age lasts for 2000 years. It is claimed that we are moving from the age of Pisces to the age of Aquarius. The age of Pisces lasted 2000 years. The word ‘Pisces’ means fish – the symbol of Christianity. We are now moving, we are told, to the age of Aquarius, symbolised by a rainbow. The watershed was around the year 2000. The New Age is already dawning. In the memorable words of the musical Hair which hit London in the 1960’s:

When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars,

Then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars.

This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding.

No more falsehoods or derision, golden living dreams of visions,

Mystic crystal revelation, and the minds true liberation.

Aquarius! Aquarius! Aquarius!

The age of Pisces was the age of Yang, the masculine. The age of Aquarius will be the age of Yin, the feminine. The age of Pisces was the age of assertive and rational. The age of Aquarius is the age on intuitive and the spiritual. New Agers believe that this scientific, materialistic, mechanistic era is coming to an end and humanity is progressing into a time of greater spirituality and world harmony.’

Nicky Gumbel

Nicky Gumbel, Searching Issues, 2004 edition, Kingsway, p.53-54

Graham Cray, Bishop of Maidstone, has described our culture as a ‘pick-and-mix culture’ and the New Age movement as a classic first attempt at a new worldview. The New Age movement is an umbrella term that covers various diverse and disparate movements with a seemingly limitless array of disconnected beliefs and lifestyles. It is almost impossible to define because it has so many different branches. It has no leader, no organisation, no structure and no headquarters.

Nicky Gumbel, Searching Issues, 2004 edition, Kingsway, p.55

Although the New Age movement has no world headquarters, no full-time missionaries on the field, and no coherent organisation, it is attracting disciples at a dizzying rate. Now we know the New Age philosophy is about as mindless and silly as any “ism” going. Pay a few hundred bucks and learn how to be your own God. So if it’s so mindless, why are millions of people flocking to New Age teaching? Who’s behind it? I’ll give you one guess. No human is smart enough to pull this off.

Tony Evans

Tony Evans, Time To Get Serious, 2007, Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway Books, p.275