Is Christianity Unique When Compared With Other Religions, And Does It Matter? By John Ankerberg

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Good article:

Fast Facts on Defending Your Faith
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By John Ankerberg

The difficulty is that all religions claim to be the truth (even scientific ones), and as a result, a lot of people are confused. Of course, not all religions can be fully true since they all clearly contradict one another. If all religions aren’t true, either all are false or one is true. No other option is available. Any religion claiming that it alone is fully true and producing solid evidence to that effect is worth serious consideration for that reason alone. But only biblical Christianity does this. In fact, it may be said that from an evidential perspective, Christianity is actually superior to other worldviews, secular or religious, because it makes testable and verifiable claims.

Let us begin by examining some of the unique facts about Christianity that set it apart from other religions.

7. Is Christianity Unique When Compared With Other Religions, And Does It Matter?

One way to illustrate the uniqueness of Christianity is to evaluate different concepts of origins. In philosophical apologetics this approach was taken by the late Christian philosopher Dr. Francis Schaeffer in He Is There and He Is Not Silent. How do we attempt to explain our existence? Though there are hundreds of religions and philosophies, when they are reduced to their most common elements, they all share relatively few concepts of origins or explanations of reality:

1. The finite personal—creation by the gods

2. The infinite personal—creation by a God such as the Muslim Allah

3. The infinite impersonal monistic—e.g., creation (self-emanation) by the Brahman of Hinduism

4. The materialistic impersonal—creation by chance (evolution)

5 .The infinite personal triune—creation by the God of the Bible.

Dr. Schaeffer’s argument is essentially this: Only by beginning with the Christian view of origins can one adequately explain the universe as we know it in terms of metaphysics, epistemology, and morality. (Metaphysics deals with the nature of existence, truth, and knowledge; epistemology, with how we know; and morality, with how we should live.)

The problem with options one through four is that they cannot adequately explain and/or logically support these vital philosophical necessities. For example, in option one, the finite personal origin, the existence of mythical and bickering, capricious, and copulating finite gods (whether of the ancient Greeks and Romans or the modern Hindus and Buddhists) can’t explain the nature of existence because they aren’t big enough to create the world, let alone provide us with the infinite reference point we need in order to have absolute truth or to logically justify meaning in life. The preeminent atheist philosopher we discussed earlier, Jean Paul Sartre, was correct in stating that man required an infinite reference point in order for life to have any meaning. Since Sartre argued there was no such reference point, he stated, “Man is absurd, but he must grimly act as if he were not,” and “Man is a useless passion.”40 On the other hand, the infinite personal triune God of the Bible is big enough to create the universe and big enough to provide man with an infinite reference point that gives his personal existence meaning. Amoral gods cannot provide any logical basis for moral living. But the God of the Bible, who is infinitely righteous, holy, and immutable, can provide such a basis.

The problem with option two, the infinite personal origin, is that such a God seems ultimately dependent upon his creation in order to express the attributes of his own nature and personality. In other words, for all eternity prior to creation, this God would have been alone with himself. With whom does He communicate? Whom does He love? (In part, this may explain why the absolute transcendence and “otherness” of the distant Muslim deity, Allah, is stressed so heavily in Islam and why Allah is not truly a God of love.)41 It would appear that such a God is “forced” to create and is subsequently dependent upon his creation for expressing the attributes of his own personality—and is, therefore, not truly an independent or free divine Being. The concept of a God who is dependent on something else offers an inadequate conception of God. The Christian view of origins solves this problem because the triune God (as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has no need to create in order to express His attributes of personality. The members of the Godhead communicate together and love one another for all eternity and are never dependent upon their creation for anything.

The problem with option three, the infinite, impersonal, monistic (“all is one”) origin, is that it portrays a God who is infinite but impersonal, and therefore it gives no basis for explaining the origin of personality or any logical reason for personhood to have meaning. This explains why, in both Hinduism and Buddhism, the personality is seen as an “enemy” and is finally destroyed by absorption into Brahman or Nirvana. Not only the material creation but human existence, body and personality, are either an illusion as in Hinduism (maya), or so empty and impermanent as in Buddhism (sunyata), that they are ultimately meaningless. In the end, man himself is a hindrance to spiritual enlightenment and must be “destroyed” to find so-called “liberation.” As Dr. Frits Staal comments in “Indian Concepts of the Body,” “Whatever the alleged differences between Hindu and Buddhist doctrines, one conclusion follows from the preceding analysis. No features of the individual personality survive death in either state.”42 But is an impersonal “immortality” truly meaningful when it extinguishes our personal existence forever? Is it even desirable? As Sri Lankan Ajith Fernando, who has spoken to hundreds of Buddhists and Hindus, illustrates, “When I asked a girl who converted from Buddhism to Christianity through our ministry what attracted her to Christianity, the first thing she told me was, ‘I did not want Nirvana.’ The prospect of having all her desires snuffed out after a long and dreary climb [toward “liberation”] was not attractive to her.”43

In addition, monistic philosophies provide no explanation for the diversity within creation. If “God is one,” and the only reality, then diversity—all creation—is by definition part of the illusion of duality. That includes all morality, all human hopes and aspirations, and everything else that matters. In the end, despite having an infinite reference point, we are left with only a destructive nihilistic outlook on life. As Charles Manson noted, “If all is one, what is bad?” Indeed, Eastern Gurus frequently emphasize, often quite offensively, that life is unreal, meaningless, and finally worthless, which is why it must be denied and “transcended.”44

The concept of an infinite personal triune God addresses these issues as well. Because God is personal, human personality has genuine and eternal significance. The only kind of eternity that has any meaning, or gives this life any meaning, is an eternity of personal immortality. And because Christianity involves a philosophy of religious dualism, God is the creator of a real creation. The creation is not simply the illusory emanation of an impersonal divine substance. As a result, there is no need to face the very destructive individual and public consequences of nihilism.

Option number four, the materialistic impersonal origin, has similar problems to option three—it is finally nihilistic, stripping our existence of any meaning. Ultimate reality is again impersonal, although not a divine substance. Ultimate reality is dead matter. There is no God, period. Where does anyone find any dignity or meaning when our own self-portrait is the cold atoms of deep space? In the end, in the words of philosopher Bertrand Russell, there is only “unyielding despair.” After a single, probably difficult, life, we die forever. Although such a fate is infinitely more merciful than the endless reincarnations and final dissolutions of Hinduism and Buddhism, it is still far too nihilistic and despairing for most people to live out practically. As Leslie Paul observed, in this view, “All life is no more than a match struck in the dark and blown out again. The final result is to deprive it completely of meaning.”45

Contrast the darkness of nihilistic theory with the unique doctrines of Christianity. Consider for example the Christian tenet of salvation.

If we break down the doctrine of salvation into its component parts,46 we discover teachings that are found nowhere else in the world. How do we account for one religion that is unique theologically—not to mention evidentially, philosophically, and experientially—when all the other religions of the world teach nothing new? The common themes of other religions include salvation by works, philosophically compromised morality, polytheism, and occultism. Even Islam’s monotheism was not unique. So how do we account for the development of completely unique teachings such as the Trinity, salvation entirely by grace, the doctrine of depravity and others, when they are still a mystery? If there was never a logical impetus for their initial development, how do we explain them apart from divine revelation?

Consider the doctrine of grace. Martin Luther, the great church reformer, once observed there are finally only two religions in the world: the religion of works and the religion of grace. Only biblical Christianity is a religion of grace because only biblical Christianity is a revelation from God.

All other religions we know of teach salvation by meritorious works. Christianity is the only religion that teaches salvation solely by grace through faith alone. (A few others claim it, but either the claim is invalid or the doctrine is not held in a Christian sense.) This simple fact makes Christianity stand entirely apart from other religions. It also necessitates an answer to the question, why, out of the thousands of religions throughout history teaching salvation by works, is there only one religion teaching salvation by grace alone? Apart from divine revelation, how do we logically explain the origin of one religion that teaches something no other religion has ever taught? In other words, how did mankind acquire a religion of pure grace with salvation as a free gift when the human heart unyieldingly tends toward self-justifying works and self-earned salvation?

Again, the only satisfactory answer is divine revelation. This is exactly what the Bible claims. As the Apostle Paul emphasized: “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12). The gospel of Christianity is not something people made up because people never would have made it up; it goes against the grain of self-justification too sharply. The one true God personally revealed the one true way of salvation in the Bible. Obviously, He didn’t reveal it in the scriptures of other religions because they contradict the Bible’s most basic teachings, and God does not contradict Himself, nor is He a God of confusion (Titus 1:2; 1 Corinthians 14:33 NASB).

In sum, observers of religion and critics of Christianity must clarify why there is one religion of grace amidst universal religions of works. It seems the only explanation is that the one true God who exists is a God of grace (Ephesians 1:7; 2:6-9), and therefore, we find a single religion of grace among all that oppose it. Again, the same is true for the doctrine of the Trinity—no other religion, past or present, has such a doctrine of God, nor is such a doctrine likely to have been invented. The fact it is only found in Christianity makes the point.

In conclusion, the fact that Christianity more logically and adequately explains our existence than does any other religion, and that its theological teachings are unique, argue in part for biblical Christianity being the true religion.

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