Two weeks ago I shared at the Manurewa Baptist Church. For the second time this year I held an open conversation in the youth service based around some thought provoking videos about poverty & afluenza, advocacy, and one called What in the world.
Twice now a question has come up from a young person about why and how we reach people of other religions with the message of Jesus Christ. In both cases I gave a brief answer to this complex question, but here I would like to explore with you some ideas that may be helpful in the context of a post-modern pluralistic society where most people "believe in believing in everyone's belief to believe in whatever they want to believe in." and don't relate to answers such as "I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except by me" or by heaps of other scripture illustrating the uniqueness of Jesus.
A few ideas:
1/ Jesus as fulfilment: Jesus is the fulfilment of the desire we all have for ultimate reality or to find God. People look for him in various religions and see patches of who God is because God is working to reveal himself to all people. But just as the Bible talks of Jesus fulfilling the law of Judaism, so Jesus also fully reveals Allah (as a Palestinian Christian told me, this word for the one true God is not solely the domain of Isl*m and in fact predates it). Just as some reform movements in H*nduism believe in one God (eg Arya Samaj) and others become devotees of one incarnation, so those who devote themselves exclusively to Jesus ( Yeshu Bhakti) find the ultimate reality they have been searching for. Many nominal Roman Catholics in South America want to know the freedom that Christ brings to their lives and are just waiting to be told. So we don't go to them to criticize their way of life but to introduce them to Jesus, the one who will fully reveal God to them and the one whom they have been seeking all along.
2/ Jesus changes lives: We all have the tendency to both run towards God and run away (or hide) from him. In religion we see an effort to deal with this rebellion or self-reliance through ceremony or ritual. But only a relationship with Jesus enables us to truly make peace with God because Jesus is both God & Man, he lived an exemplary life and his death & resurrection deals with this tension. If we truly believe it, we want to share it with everyone. I have seen examples of peoples lives radically changed eg. from drunkard to wise counselor. Jesus doesn't just deal with all this in a meta-physical way but actually changes lives.
3/ The dark-side: Religions also have a dark side as well as extremist groups: caste, jihad, prosperity doctrine in the church all produce inequality and injustice. The good news of Jesus speaks out against injustice and urges us to work for reconciliation, equality, justice and peace in a world that is hurting because we messed it up. And we largely messed it up because of #2, but we also shouldn't ignore the role of the "dark side of the force" working through human culture & religion (see book review of God’s Rivals: Why has God Allowed Different Religions? by Gerald R. McDermott which points to principalities & powers). You will see that I include the church in those with a dark-side. That doesn't mean we give up on the church, but we aim to plant organic churches that are salt and light in the world and show the Kingdom of God. This includes word, deed & sign: I remember growing up in Fiji as a teenager that many people adherents of other religions turned to Jesus through the church being church: helping out people after hurricanes, openly telling the good news and praying for the sick who were healed. That is just what Jesus did and that is what we are really called to do both @home and overseas.
4/ From experience: Living in Fiji as a teenager where one friend was M*slim another H*ndu, another Catholic/Spiritualist, and I had a teacher who believed we were the science experiment of alien life-forms, I had to face the issue of the uniqueness of Christ. I wondered how come we had a corner on the truth, and came to a point of saying "If there is a God, who are you, because I am confused." I wondered if I only believed in Jesus because my parents had rammed it down my throat from childhood. Those were dark weeks, but I am glad I went through them because Jesus met me in my questions & answered them and now 20 years later I can still say I know (Spanish conocer) Jesus not just know & believe stuff about him (Spanish saber). Sure, my experience is subjective, you can say Jesus is truth for me; but you can't deny my experience and the experience that many people have had. He is not an ideology but a person who entered history. I know he rose from the dead because I was talking with Him just now.
5/ Conversation and journey: In terms of the how to reach people of other religions, I think it is a matter of listening to them, conversing with them and jouneying with them as they discover Jesus. This is why Alpha is so successful in many western countries. Just like Abraham in OT, they develop a better understanding of God as their faith develops; it is a priviledge to journey with them.
6/ Not extraction evangelism: There is much debate about how far is too far in contextualisation, but it is clear to me that wherever possible we need to help people follow Jesus without extracting them from their society. There is always the possibilty of rejection by family & network but our methods shouldn't make this a certainty. That's why for me forming simple communities of believers in their own cultural context is ideal.
7/ Some Bible (for those who need it).
Malachi 1:11 Try reading it in different versions. Does it suggest that worship of other religions is pleaseing and acceptable to God? Christopher J.H. Wright in The Christian & other religions: the biblical evidence (pdf) suggests not. The best reading (eg NIV) is looking to the future when God's name WILL be great among the nations and worship brought to his name. Paul uses a similar argument in his conversation with the people of Athens.
8/ People are lost without Christ - I wish the Bible would let me be a universalist, but it doesn't. I don't know if sincere followers of other religions will be judged on the light they have received, but I do know that those who have devoted their lives to Jesus are saved.
Wow, that's a lot of heavy stuff. Do you agree / disagree on any points? Which point is most helpful for young people in our post-modern society? What other ideas could be added?