“I feel like most religions are based on the same basic principles.” Yes?

21 Feb


A student writes (shared with permission):

Our chat was nice and when someone asked the questions about different religions.  This is always confusing to me because I do not understand how people look down at other’s beliefs. I also find it difficult to understand how you can get along with and close friends with someone if you are so different in beliefs or if one person believes that the other isn’t going to heaven if they are not Christian. So people say I love and respect this person yet they are not going to heaven?  I feel like most religions are based on the same basic principles. Even Yancey explained that all religions want us to be pure and kind to ourselves and others, so why then is it so bad to disagree? My way is not the right way for everyone and this is not just applicable to religion.

My response:


Thanks for your honest comments. Yes, there are persons who are friends and yet believe that there friend is not on the right side of God’s judgment. I understand that might be hard to grasp, but a Christian, who is commanded to love his/her enemies, can certainly keep that in tension.

Are there similarities between Christianity and other religions? Sure, there are some. Many religions generally teach some form of the law, for example, what we see in the “second table” of the Ten commandments. In other words, honor your father and mother, do not murder, to not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness…. I am not sure about not coveting! Other religions also generally have the negative form of the Golden Rule, i.e. “do not do to other people what you do not want them to do to you”. Many times, even atheists think these rules make a good deal of sense, and of course, anyone, regardless of their religion or lack thereof, believes in a right and a wrong (even if they deny it). Here much common ground can be found, even if the other religions do not acknowledge the God of Israel and His Son Jesus Christ. On the other hand, in some religious systems the gods or spirits do not even care about people enough to give them guidance via laws. These gods exist to be feared and appeased. Law and order is provided by those on earth who have power – and have historically often claimed to be gods themselves.

As I said in class, “thank God Jesus is God”. And He is different! Other religious leaders, for example, did not have clear prophecies uttered about them hundreds of years before they were born (see Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 for some of the most striking). Other leaders did not perform miracles like Christ that confirmed Messianic prophecies (see what Jesus tells a doubting John the Baptist in Luke 7). Other leaders did not claim to be God (see the great “I am” statement in John 8, where Jesus claims the same thing for Himself that Yahweh does in the Old Testament). And of course other leaders did not claim to be the only way to come to the Father (“I am the way, the truth and the life – no one comes to the Father except through me”). Nor were they raised by the Father in order to have their claims vindicated and to give life to the world (new life to a fallen world that is). So yes – other leaders did not endure a shameful death on the cross for the sin of the world before seeing the vindication of a resurrection from the dead. For me, it all comes down to this: I want to follow the One who is risen from the dead.

But some might ask this:

“How do we know that Muslims aren’t worshipping the same God without realizing it? How do we know that Muslims just don’t believe in the Trinity, and that God (our God) is who they call Allah?”

I’ll address this issue in general first. Biblically, there is only one God. People do see God in different ways, but the Bible would assert that those who understand God, His view, and His actions differently than those ascribed to Him in the Bible are “misinterpreting” Him to say the least. The Bible calls it idolatry. Again, there is the true Jesus and false Jesus’ as well Paul tells us. Biblically speaking, these false views of God are not harmless, but as I said in the first chat, connected with the demonic. Here one thinks of Elijah’s confrontation with the false God Baal, who incidently, like most old pagan gods and goddesses, encouraged some pretty corrupt practices, like temple prostitution, child sacrifice, etc.

One might say from a Christian perspective, the Jewish and Muslim versions of God are not quite as bad, as they more closely resemble the Christian God in some respects. That said, what they are missing is quite key though: Jesus. They specifically deny that Jesus is who He said He was, which is God incarnate (see John 8) come to save the world from sin. Without Him there is no sacrifice for sins left, and whoever denies Him denies the Father.

I understand if people do not believe any of that – and I will defend person’s right not to believe it, as I expect them to defend my right. I think it is important for persons to have a good sense of what they are rejecting though. I think persons often don’t.

Regarding the idea that we all worship the same God for me it is like this. Let’s say you and I are talking and we realize we both know the same person. How cool! Let’s say we go on thinking this is the case for a while.. that is, until we start talking about the person in more detail. It is only then – after we have more information – that we realize that we actually were not talking about the same person at all.

Getting into a lot of depth about the actual teachings of other world religions can be a real eye-opener. Take a look at this first page of this document. I put that chart together mostly from memory (my study of other faiths) – and am certainly open to being corrected about any of it.

As I said on the dbs…Here in wintry Minnesota, I went sledding with my boys the other day. The three year old could not walk up the steep hill. One son said he wouldn’t help him. Another said he couldn’t help him. Only father was both good and strong enough to help. Likewise, only the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – who refuses to be thought of apart from His Son – is strong enough to help us, to save us, from our desperate condition of bondage to sin, death, and the devil.

I know this was a lot. I hope it helps somewhat.


For more thoughts on this issue, see this more recent post:

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Posted by on February 21, 2016 in Uncategorized


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