Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Is there a true religion?

By Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D.

If the discussion of a true religion is to be meaningful, it must have an objective starting point. In a sense it must parallel the scientific method. We cannot start with a given factor. The starting point must be one that all people can have and assume. It cannot be from the standpoint of a particular holy book. It is useless for the Christian to quote the Bible to a Muslim, or a Buddhist when one or both reject the Bible as authoritative. If we are to deal with the question of a true religion we have to begin before the books are used. We cannot start with the presupposition that one religion is better than another. Ravi Zacharias has said that it is more probable that all religions are false than that all religions are true. There are too many contradictions between religious systems. In the age of political correctness it seems the polite things to say that are religions are very similar and all have the same goal in mind. Only people who don’t know what it is all about are inclined to say this.

Blaise Pascal, the French scientific and religious genius of the seventeenth century proposed a beginning point for discussing the issue of a true religion that may be common to all people.

Pascal attempted to put forth certain propositions, based in part on observation and in part on reason, which would help one to discover the true religion if it existed. Although Pascal never finished his proposed work, his fragmented thoughts (Pensées) have become one of the classics of world literature. Pascal's approach has a feature common to all men: each man may look, observe, and draw conclusions from where he is. It is really an inductive method.1 Pascal maintains that for a religion to be true, it must give an adequate and satisfactory answer to the following criteria.

1. The true religion teaches the hiddenness of God: It is quite evident that if God is, he is not perceived by sensory perception. God is not an object that has been analyzed in the laboratory. If God exists, he exists in some hidden state or form; for we cannot see him. Concerning this, Pascal wrote, "God being thus hidden every religion which does not affirm that God is hidden is not true and every religion which does not give the reason of it, is not instructive."2 The hiddenness of God, or to use the Latin phrase, Deus absconditus, is a basic beginning point for dialogue among religious traditions.

This is a common truth that all can agree on. The Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Jew, and whoever else, cannot see God. We can turn to the applications.

In applying this principle, one may begin with pantheistic religious systems. A popular definition of pantheism is that "all things or beings are modes, attributes, or appearances of one single reality of Being; hence nature and God are believed to be identical."3

Man as the observer cannot conclude from his examination of reality that nature and God are identical. To be a pantheist, one must bring something with his observation; namely, the faith that God and Nature are one. He will not get this out of nature alone. Pantheism applied to man's existence means that man is part of the divine essence. Man is a spark of divinity. But again, this is not something we know by observation, by sight, touch, or self-knowledge. It may be the grossest perversion of self-knowledge. All that the senses will approve are two alternatives: God is hidden, or God is not!4

Pantheisms are dangerous because man is led to have an overly optimistic view concerning his own nature. Pantheism is caught up in trying to explain evil away or as an illusion, or false thinking, otherwise it is logically blamed on God because God is everything and evil would be part of his nature. Kraemer charges that the result of pantheism as in parts of Hinduism, is "that God or the divine never really exists."5 The only thing that one really experiences is human consciousness which is regarded as a mirage at best. But paradoxically, those religions which identify man with God in some pantheistic form are those that stand in abhorrence of a true incarnation, in which God assumes human flesh.6

In a different way, this principle of Pascal is seen in the classical teachings of Buddha and Confucius as we know them. Neither of these founders was interested in discussing the existence of God. For all practical purposes, Gautama and Confucius were non-theists. In due time, not only were the founders apotheosized or elevated to godhood, but other gods were added. Gautama cannot be said to have received a "divine revelation." What happened was that he came to see a basic truth about the nature of suffering, the reason for it, and the possibility of escaping from it. It is an insight about the way to happiness if one views happiness as the escape from desire. However, it has been observed that even the desire to rid oneself of desire is desire.

Confucius taught nothing more than an ancient form of humanism. He declared that "absorption in the study of the supernatural is most harmful."7 In true humanist style, Confucius "explained evil as human selfishness, delusion and incapability. When a pupil asked him about death and service of the spirits, he replied, "Till you have learnt to serve men, how can you serve the ghosts? ... Till you know about the living, how are you to know about the dead?"8

The irony is that both Gautama and Confucius, who had little to say about whether God exists or not, were declared to be gods by their later followers.

In the case of Islam, the deity is hidden but there is no explanation as to why he is hidden, which relates to the second part of Pascal's proposition. The Qur'an does not know of the holy God who has hidden himself because of man's sinfulness. Islam is a moralistic, rationalistic form of religion emphasizing the works of righteousness as a means of acceptability before God. Kraemer says that it is a "legalistic religion in which everything hangs upon the efforts of the believer and on whether he fulfills the requirements of the Divine Law. Thus it is, so to say, a religion permeated by a form — a somewhat inflected form — of self-deliverance, self-justification and self-sanctification with, in the end, no firm and settled basis for it."9

The hiddenness of God demands that a radically new concept of God be in evidence as the explanation. The concept of God must not be a construction of human thought, for man cannot ferret out that which is hidden as the hidden relates to God. If we are to know the reason that God is hidden it cannot be found out from the human mind. The answer must come from the hidden God. This can only be possible with the idea of revelation. Since Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Taoism do not claim revelation there is no word from the hidden God. In the case of Buddhism and Hinduism there is meditation, not revelation.

There is a place where the reason for God's hiddenness is revealed. Leviticus 11:45 "For I am the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt so that I could be your God. You must be holy for I am holy." Holiness required separation from the sins of the pagans and idolaters around them. It required personal moral purity in life and when the people of Israel continued to rebel against God, he withdrew from them and brought them to judgement for their sins. Jeremiah wrote, "Your own evil will punish you, and your turning from me will condemn you. You will learn how bitter and wrong it is to abandon me, the Lord your God." (2:19) "Your sins have kept these good things from you." (5:25) The summation of this is described in the book of Romans where God gave them up to go their own way to their own self-destruction.

The concept of Deus absconditus (or the hidden God) is closely related with the reason for its hiddenness. For Pascal the explanation of God's hiddenness is in man's sin. Where sin is not taken seriously, identification of man with the divine comes easy. Where sin is a grave, serious act against the divine, an ethical act and an ethical deviation, then it is not possible to identify man with God. The qualitative difference between God and man must be stressed. For the most part, the religious traditions of the world fail to take seriously the concept of sin10. Brunner declares, "The counterpart of unhistorical religion, religion without a mediator, is the failure to recognize the radical character of the guilt of sin. It is an attempt to create a relationship with God which takes no account of the fact of guilt."11

In the concept of the hidden God, one cannot conclude from observation that God is holy or that he is love. This is a message that has to come from God to man; it has not originated with man.

"The message that God is Love is something wholly new in the world. We perceive this if we try to apply the statement to the divinities of the various religions of the world: Wotan is Love, Zeus, Jupiter, Brahma, Ahura Mazda, Vishnu, Allah, is Love. All these combinations are wholly impossible. Even the God of Plato, who is the principle of all Good, is not Love. Plato would have met the statement 'God is Love' with a bewildered shake of the head."12

Brunner continues to say that it is possible to find a "gracious" God in some of the religions of the world, "but the fact that God is Love, and thus that love is the very essence of the Nature of God, is never explicitly said anywhere, and still less is it revealed in divine self-surrender. The God of the Bhakti religion, which is often regarded as parallel to the Christian Faith, is ‘essentially — in his relation to the World — wholly uninterested.’"13

In conclusion to this section, we must affirm the hiddenness of God. If God is thus hidden, we must know the reason for it. This means that if we are to know of God and what he is like, this knowledge will not be found in any other way than for God to speak. Because God is hidden, we must reject those approaches to religious life that equate man with God. If God is hidden, the reason for his hiddenness will be given by God and will not be discoverable by man alone. A crucial question that enters here is: Has God spoken in a clear way concerning these things? This will be answered later.

2. The true religion must explain the misery of man: Pascal wrote, "That a religion may be true, it must have knowledge of our nature. It ought to know its greatness and littleness, and the reason of both." (Pensées 433) In Pensées 493, he wrote, "The true religion teaches our duties; our weaknesses, our pride, and lust; and the remedies, humility, and mortification." Pascal's insight into the nature of man is one that can naturally grow out of an inductive observation. He wrote of man, "What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe!" (Pensées 434, p. 143)

The history of man gives plenty of evidence that there is something wrong with man. Why the wars, murders, intrigues, plotting, hating, exploiting, and the greed of man? What explanation can we give for the wrongs that people do to one another? Why is there infighting in families, communities, tribes and nations? Why are past evils passed on to new generations as though they had happened to them? Someone has said that if the doctrine of original sin had not been known it would have to be invented. There is something radically wrong with mankind.

What best accounts for the misery of man? Pascal's answer is found in the meaningful little word "sin." We have said that sin as a concept is lacking in much of the religious thought of the world. Misunderstanding can arise here if we are not careful. In many religions, depending upon their orientation, sin is not understood in ethical terms. Sin is a nonethical impediment, or an erroneous way of thinking that keeps one from achieving union with the world soul. In the thought of Hindus, for example, sin would be the continuing erroneous thought about the actual existence of individuality. This sin is not ethical but a matter of wrong knowledge. In this sense, sin may be defined as maya, or illusion. A similar situation prevails in Christian Science in America. Sin is erroneous thinking.

With reference to sin, as seen in certain forms of Hindu bhakti, Kraemer declares, "Sin in these religions is not the result of self-centered and misdirected human will that opposes the will of the God of holiness and righteousness, but an impediment for the realization of that fellowship of the soul with Ishvara, in which salvation consists."14

As one probes more deeply into the real nature of religious expression, one sees that sin is generally regarded as really insignificant and many religions are really means of "self-redemption, self-justification, and self-sanctification"15 — concepts that basically ignore sin.

Following the clue of Pascal, one may conclude that there is only one adequate concept to explain the misery of man as one can observe man's problems, and that is sin as a willful rebellion against a holy God. The sinfulness of man has caused man to pervert his religious worship. He has turned from the Creator to the creatures and reveres a cow or other animals, while his children starve from protein deficiency. He has taken food from his starving babies to give to an idol that does not consume it. His famine is not due to his ignorance of modern technology alone; his religion, with its inadequate definition of and emphasis on sin, can explain much of his misery. There is a lot of bad religion in the world as well as good.

In concluding this section, we must say that these two propositions go together. A serious definition of sin is the explanation of why God is hidden. He is hidden in his relationship to men for two reasons: first, he is holy, and his nature is against the whole fabric of sin; second, his hiddenness is for man's protection. If the holiness of God were revealed against man in his sin, he could not survive. His grace and love toward man provides the reason for his withdrawing himself from man's presence. Because he is hidden we can only know about sin against Him by his revealing that to mankind.

3. The true religion must teach how man can know God who is hidden, or give the remedy for his alienation and misery: Pascal declared, "The true religion, then, must teach us to worship Him only, and to love Him only. But we find ourselves unable to worship what we know not, and to love any other object but ourselves, the religion which instructs us in these duties must instruct us also of this inability, and teach us also the remedies for it." (Pensées 489)

In Pensées 546, [Pascal] said, "We know God only by Jesus Christ. Without this mediator all communion with God is taken away: through Jesus Christ we know God. ... In Him then, and through Him, we know God. Apart from Him, and without the Scripture, without original sin, without a necessary mediator promised, and come, we cannot absolutely prove God, nor teach right doctrine and right morality. ... Jesus Christ is then the true God of man. But we know at the same time our wretchedness; for this God is none other than the Saviour of our wretchedness. So we can only know God well by knowing our iniquities."

In Pensées 555, he wrote, "All who seek God without Jesus Christ, and who rest in nature, either find no light to satisfy them, or come to form for themselves a means of knowing God and serving Him without a mediator."

The basic idea involved here is the necessity of a mediator. Men in their religious traditions often either ignore the existence of God, or make religion a way of life and human achievement to "buy" God off, or assume that one can enter into communion with God by some mystical experience that ignores God's holiness. In all of these attempts to enter into a relationship with God, the first two propositions are ignored. God does not need man's proud religious activities, nor will he be united in mystical experience with presumptuous, sinful men. The god who accepts such is not a holy god.

However, if God is truly hidden as is true to observation and experience, then it is impossible for men to find him by searching. God must come to man but God has no basic reason for the Incarnation. Man in his wretchedness and sin cannot enter into the presence of a holy God.

The necessity of a mediator is pointed out by Soren Kierkegaard in his little book Philosophical Fragments. He told the story of a king who fell in love with a humble maiden. He was a mighty king; every nation feared his wrath. But the king was anxious, like all men, when it came to getting the right girl to be his wife. The thought that entered his kingly mind was this: Would she be able to summon confidence enough never to remember what the king wished, only to forget that he was a king and that she was a humble maiden? The king was anxious lest she reflect upon this and let it rob her of happiness. If the marriage was unequal, the beauty of their love would be lost.

A number of alternatives could be suggested to the king. First, he could elevate the maiden to his side and forget the inequality. But there was always the possible thought coming into the maiden's heart that after all she was a commoner and he was a king. Such a marriage could be consummated, but love would never be maintained on a basis of equality.

Second, as an alternative, should someone suggest that the king could reveal himself to her in all his majesty, pomp, and glory and she would fall down and worship him and be humbled by the fact that so great a favor was being bestowed upon her. To this the king would undoubtedly demand the execution of the person suggesting this as high treason against his beloved. The king could not enter into a relationship such as this. Such was the kingly dilemma. (There are so many religious cultures today in which people are forced into submission. Such forced worship is an insult to the being that is worshiped.)

The solution comes in the third alternative. The king should descend and thereby give up his throne to become a commoner for the purpose of loving the maiden as an equal.

Kierkegaard applies this story to the relation of God with man. God could have elevated man into his presence and transfigured him to fill his life with joy for eternity. But the king, knowing the human heart, would not stand for this, for it would end only in self-deception. To this Soren Kierkegaard says, "No one is so terribly deceived as he who does not suspect it."16 On the other hand, God could have brought about worship from man, "causing him to forget himself over divine apparition."17 Such a procedure would not have pleased man, nor would it have pleased the king, "who desired not his own glorification but the maiden's." This is an impossible alternative because of God's holiness.

Regarding this, Soren Kierkegaard said, "There once lived a people who had a profound understanding of the divine. This people thought that no man could see God and live — Who grasps this contradiction of sorrow: not to reveal oneself is the death of love, to reveal oneself is the death of the beloved!"18 The holiness of God revealed to sinful man would have meant his destruction. It is for this reason that God is hidden.

The third alternative for bringing reconciliation or union between God and man is the same as for the king. "Since we have found that the union could not be brought about by the elevation it must be attempted by a descent. ... In order that the union may be brought about, God must therefore become the equal of such a one and so he will appear in the lives of the humblest but the humblest is one who must serve others and God will therefore appear in the form of a servant."19

In Jesus we have the God-man walking the shores of Galilee, healing the sick, raising the dead, preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, and ultimately rising Himself from death.

Both Kierkegaard and Pascal support the idea that only Christianity offers a mediator. Gautama, Confucius, Muhammad,20 and others made no claim to being anything more than men with religious insight.

Before concluding this section, a reference should be made to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Judaism is to be regarded as a "true religion" only as far as it goes, or is true to itself. The last of the Old Testament prophets appeared in John the Baptist calling Israel to a decision. With John the Baptist, the Old Testament sees itself coming to fulfillment. The Old Testament speaks of a coming Messiah, with many references beginning in Genesis, Deuteronomy, and the many references in the prophetic books. Isaiah gives very graphic pictures of the future king. A virgin shall give birth and the child shall be called Immanuel. (7:14) Isaiah 9:6-7 describes "A child has been born for us. We have been given a son who will be our ruler. His names will be Wonderful Advisor and Mighty God, Eternal Father and Prince of Peace. His power will never end; peace will last forever. He will rule David's kingdom and make it grow strong. He will always rule with honesty and justice. The LORD All-Powerful will make certain that all of this is done."

Isaiah 11 gives a promising future to David’s kingdom like a branch sprouting from a stump. "The Spirit of the LORD will be with him to give him understanding, wisdom, and insight. He will be powerful, and he will know and honor the LORD." Micah 5:2 gives the birth home of the coming ruler of Israel, Bethlehem. Jeremiah enlarges on the hope especially when the kingdom was falling in his day. He declared God’s promise: "The Spirit of the LORD will be with him to give him understanding, wisdom, and insight. He will be powerful, and he will know and honor the LORD." (23:5) Later God says I will break the yokes that keep you in slavery and "I will choose a king for you from the family of David." (30:9)

Ezekiel promises a future after their present judgment in which God says, "I will give you a shepherd from the family of my servant King David." (34:23) In a different motif there are a number of passages in Isaiah focusing on the servant of Yahweh. Most prominent is Isaiah 52:13-53:12 concerning the suffering servant.

There are many other passages in the background of Israel in the days of Jesus in which hopes were evident for a messiah. The Messiah did not appear out of thin air without any basis. The early disciples of Jesus saw in him the fulfillment of these promises.

The prophet John the Baptist declared Jesus to be the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies. It is questionable whether Judaism can be regarded as a continuation of the Old Testament religion, especially since the authoritative influence of the Talmud has shaped post-biblical religious life. The Talmud embodies the way of thinking which Jesus criticized that the oral tradition had superceded the written Torah.

Islam poses a particular problem with reference to Christianity and the matter of being the final successor to Judaism and Christianity. Islam claims that it stands in the line of the prophets and the biblical revelation of Judaism and Christianity. But is this so? Can we equate Allah with Yahweh of the Old Testament? The Muslims make this claim. But consider the following.

First, who is Allah? When Mohammed preached to the Meccans he did not introduce a new god, but proclaimed that one of their many gods, Allah, was the greatest and only god. The Meccans did not accuse Mohammed of preaching a different god than they knew. He demanded that they believe in one god, not many as were accepted before. It is yet an unsettled controversy in that there are thinkers who speak of Allah as the moon-god as represented by the symbol of the crescent, the symbol of Islam. The crescent moon is on mosques and minarets, is found on the flags of Islamic nations and the month of Ramadan begins and ends the fast with the appearance of the crescent moon. Only time will tell how this controversy will play out.

Second, Muslims claim that the Old and New Testament have been corrupted by Jews and Christians to thwart the claim of Muslims that he was prophesied in the Bible. This is unbelievable! There are many manuscripts that pre-date Mohammed’s time. The Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, and others date before the birth of Mohammed. There are other versions that existed before the rise of Islam, ie., Syriac, Old Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopic, The Peshitta, and the Vulgate in the Latin. It is a crock that Muslims would argue that the Scriptures have been corrupted by the Jews and Christians.21

It is interesting that Mohammed regarded the Scriptures as reliable contrary to later Muslim writers. Mohammed asked the Jews to check the Old Testament to see if his name was mentioned there. The Qur'an says, about Jesus, "God shall teach him the scripture, and wisdom, and the law and the gospel..."22 If the Qur'an and Mohammed regarded the Bible as reliable, then the Muslims have a problem. If the Qur'an is right on this point, then the Bible is right also. If the Bible is correct, the Muslim ideology cannot be in harmony with the Bible.

Third, the character of Mohammed is unlike any prophet in the Bible. Many of his claims to revelation are self-serving. Mohammed's claim that Muslims could have only four wives while he can have any woman he wanted is self-serving. Mohammed could not stand ridicule and that is why he put to death a Meccan woman who wrote satirical poetry against him. The commands to kill the infidels, those who rejected him, makes Mohammed a man of war, not peace, Mohammed led his forces in about 18 battles and planned about 38 others. The history of Islam beginning with Mohammed is a history of war, conquest, greed, and tyranny. Islam does not allow freedom of religious expression. It does not understand, or acknowledge that forced worship, coercive worship is not real worship at all. Forced worship would only please the Devil, not Yahweh.

We cannot conclude that the god of Islam is the same as Yahweh of the Old Testament who becomes Incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth to redeem mankind. This finality in Christ eliminates any other coming prophet such as Muhammad. The epistle of Hebrews speaks with finality about God's last word, his highest word, coming in his Son. Islam cannot therefore be regarded as an extension, culmination, or completion of the Judeo-Christian tradition. While there are prophets mentioned in the New Testament they were in agreement with the Christian Gospel and did not seek to supersede the New Testament revelation or claim a different revelation. (Mt. 23:34; Acts 11:27-29; 13:2-3; 15:32;21:9-11; 1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 2:20; 3:5;4:11, for example)

The Uniqueness of Christ

Pursuing the line of Pascal's argument, one may conclude that Christianity alone gives the best answer to the three questions: Why is God hidden? Why is man in misery? How can man know God? If we can say that Jesus Christ is the mediator, then there are some things about his person that are important. In these he was unique as a founder, as opposed to other founders.23

The Incarnation is a necessity for the act of redemption. Human experience has shown, when viewed honestly, that man is incapable of redeeming himself. Anything less than God as Redeemer is to make a mockery of the idea. P. T. Forsyth once said, in stressing the place of the Incarnation, "A half-god cannot redeem what it took a whole God to make." Nowhere in the other living religions of the world is there a claim on the part of a founder that he was the Son of God in the unique sense of the word. This claim remains alone to Jesus Christ.

It is sometimes argued that the Christian faith is unique in relation to the sublime sayings of Jesus. This proves nothing. It has been shown by Claude Montefiore, the Jewish scholar, that Jesus said little that was new and different from the thought of Judaism but he spoke with authority unlike the rabbis who quoted the traditions. The only thing that he found that was quite distinctive was the picture of the Divine Shepherd going out into the wilderness to seek a lost sheep. This is only a fragment of the truth of the uniqueness of Christian faith. The uniqueness of Jesus is not in what he said but in who he was, what he did, and where he went. The founders of the world religions proposed ways of self-deliverance, self-sanctification, and self-realization. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, did for man something man could not do for himself. It is for this reason that there is a gospel, a good news, and it is the news of something that happened in Jerusalem at a given point in history. The event that took place was redemption of man in the person of Jesus Christ. His life, death, and resurrection are the redemptive events. He alone gave his life as an atonement for alienated mankind. No other founder of a religion gave his life for mankind, you and me.

There is only one statement that has to be made concerning all the founders of the living religions: they died and were buried! The stories of their lives end there. The word concerning Christ is different. He came forth from the grave, was raised up, and ascended to the Father. Without the resurrection, one could only conclude that Jesus was a great teacher, perhaps a second Moses, but with the resurrection he is declared to be the Son of God. On this Barth says:

"The knowledge which the Apostles acquired on the basis of Christ's Resurrection, the conclusion of which is the Ascension of Christ, is essentially this basic knowledge that the reconciliation which took place in Jesus Christ is not some casual story, but that in this work of God's grace we have to do with the word of God's omnipotence, that here an ultimate and supreme thing comes into action, behind which there is no other reality."24

While it is evident that one cannot become a Christian on a purely reasonable basis, Christian faith alone gives adequate answers to the questions of the mind concerning the facts of observation and existence. The founder of the Christian faith possesses a uniqueness that cannot be duplicated or rivaled in the founders of other religions. We conclude with Pascal that "the knowledge of God without that of man's misery causes pride. The knowledge of man's misery without that of God causes despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ constitutes the middle course, because in Him we find both God and (the answers to) our misery." (Pensées 526)

Pascal's line of thought points out the importance of the original insight of the founder of the religion. Talmudic Judaism is so legalistic that one can hardly recognize its relation to the Torah. Buddhism is fragmented into two great divisions with lots of sub-divisions and Mahayana Buddhism has little relation to the simplicity of Gautama's insight. In the Christian tradition the concept of development in the Catholic tradition seems far removed from the early church as described in the New Testament. Where individuals and movements have deviated from the pattern as set forth in the Scriptures they stand under the criticism of the Founder, Jesus Christ. There is no justification for development away from the person of Jesus Christ.

The Exclusiveness of the Gospel

Pascal's propositions can lead to the conclusion that Christian faith alone gives the best answers to the observable experience of man. At the same time, the New Testament is written on the assumption that the final revelation of God has taken place. In contrast to Judaism and the Old Testament, the revelation of God in his Son is declared to be the greatest expression of Himself to man (Hebrews 1:1-3). Jesus Christ is said to be a better mediator of the covenant than Moses (Heb. 9:15), a better high priest than Melchizedek (Heb. 7:1-28), and a better sacrifice than that offered by the Levitical priesthood (Heb. 8-9). These references imply the completion or fulfillment of Judaism.

In the preaching of Paul to the townspeople of Athens, he declared the Creator who has been the unknown God among heathen people. All other representations in gold, silver, and stone are due to man's corrupt way of thinking (Acts 17:29). The preaching of Peter in Jerusalem was to the intent that "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) The New Testament viewpoint is identical in exclusiveness with that of Isaiah (45:21-22): "There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other."

Not only is there an exclusive viewpoint expressed in the New Testament, but other religions are "forms" denying the power of godliness. (2 Tim. 3:5) Originators of new religions or religious concepts apart from the apostolic gospel are compared to gangrene eating away the true flesh (2 Tim. 2:17). The followers of such "strange new religions" are foretold in1 Timothy 4:1-2. Anything contrary to Christ is anathema. (Col. 2:8; Gal. 1:8)

It is very obvious that Christianity does make exclusive claims to being the only right way of knowing God. One may not like it or agree with it, but the claim is there. A man of Christian faith may not like it, but he is not at liberty to change it for the sake of sentimentality. We may not like the law of gravity on occasions, but there are certain facts that we cannot change by nature of the universe.

With an exclusive attitude on the one hand and different religious viewpoints on the other, what is one to say to it all? Can we conclude with Schleiermacher that there is an "essence of religion" which is common to all religions and which manifests itself in different forms? Or is Brunner correct in saying, "It is impossible to be a Christian — in the New Testament sense — and at the same time to accept the view that there is a universal ‘essence of religion’ of which Christianity has a predominant share. The Christian revelation and these 'relative' theories of religion are mutually exclusive."25


1 Should it be argued that Pascal's approach is prejudicial because he belonged to the Christian tradition, then it must be remembered that these principles are not a product of the Christian faith. Whether these principles are true or false depends not on whether one is a Christian or not. They deal with facts that can be discussed in the context of any religion. These are questions that are common to all men, and can be verified from the experience of all men.

2 Pascal, Pensees, p. 191.

3 Van Harvey, Handbook of Theological Terms (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1964), p. 173.

4 In asserting such a radical alternative, reference must be made to the "proofs" for the existence of God. The knowledge that one may gain in the arguments is a knowledge for the most part based on "effects" or works of God. It is not the kind of knowledge that will give direction to life nor even intimate that God may love or redeem man. A survey of the traditional proofs for the existence of God may be found at

5 The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, p. 162.

6 The avatar of Hinduism is quite different from the incarnation of Christianity, for the incarnation means that God assumed true human flesh. The avatar is a "mythological personification of a god conceived for a practical purpose, while the real divine is the attributeless and actionless pure essence" (Ibid., pp. 370-71).

7 Lionel Giles, The Sayings of Confucius (London: John Murray, 1917), p. 94.

8 Edward J. Jurji, The Christian Interpretation of Religion (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1952), p. 183.

9 Kraemer, Why Christianity of All Religions?, p. 105.

10 Note Jurji's comment on Islam, which ignores the idea of a redeemer "largely because Islam knew nothing of original sin and its founders and interpreters were oblivious to the problem of evil and sidestepped the need of the soul for forgiveness, a personal Saviour, and prayer as an eventful intercourse with the Eternal" (op. cit., p. 256).

11 Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith and the Consummation, trans. David Cairns and T. H. L. Parker (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), p. 7.

12 Ibid., p. 200.

13 The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, p. 172.

14 Ibid., p. 172.

15 Why Christianity of All Religions?, p. 94.

16 Philosophical Fragments, p. 22.

17 Ibid., p. 22.

18 Ibid., p. 23.

19 Ibid., p. 24.

20 "Islam's doctrine of God knows nothing of a Mediator, and Koranic Christology though paying reverence to Jesus as man and messenger of God and as the Word and Spirit of Allah, forswears nevertheless the Incarnation and hence renders void the redemptive purpose of God. Indeed, this is the parting of the road between Islam and Christianity" (Jurji, op. cit., p. 247).

21 Cf. Abdiyah Akbar Abdul-Haqq, Sharing your Faith with a Muslim, Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1980, pp. 50-66.

22 S. 3:4, Yusuf Ali Translation.

23 Uniqueness is not an argument for truthfulness, necessarily. All religions are unique. However, the founders of other religions have more in common with one another than with Jesus.

24 Op. cit., p. 126.

25 Revelation and Reason, p. 220.

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