Ravi Zacharias has spoken to orthodox theological scholars of Islam and orthodox theological scholars of Christianity around the world. He speaks from experience when he says that those orthodox scholars who know the sacred texts do not say that the God of the Quran and the God of the Bible are the same deity. Pluralism is a positive and important cultural value, and we can value pluralism without sacrificing distinctions or truth.
We don’t embrace the beliefs of “Flat-earthers” in the name of pluralism. They are free to believe what they want to believe, but we shouldn’t let the flat earth position affect how we do science or how we view the world because of pluralism. An appreciation and respect for different cultures and ways of viewing and living in the world should not dictate an embrace of positions that are inherently contradictory with each other or compel us to abandon reason or truth.
In the clamor and noise of the connected world in which we live, we are tempted to minimize or ignore differences. We often only see a rudimentary and distorted view of things, and we are apt, therefore, to come to incomplete and inaccurate conclusions without a nuanced understanding of those things. We might be tempted to think that all major world religions are fundamentally geared in the same direction, being merely different approaches to the same end. We might be tempted to think that Christianity is a very politically orientated and conservative, western worldview that is arbitrarily exclusive and, therefore, elitist.
Ravi Zacharias grew up Hindu in a world in which Buddhism, Islam, and other religions were more prevalent than Christianity. His background lends some credibility to his observation that no religion offers redemption like Christianity does. Other world religions offer a way of attainment that must be earned. Christianity is unique in this respect in its view of God and our relation to God, and Christianity is uniquely accessible to all people in all places to the same extent.
While most westerners assume Christianity to be a western religion that is part of western culture, the fastest growing Christian populations in the world today are in South America, Africa, and Asia[i]. While “Christians” have declined in Europe and are declining in the United States, the number of Christians is growing worldwide. As an example, growth projections by PEW Research indicate that 4 out of every 10 Christians will reside in sub-Saharan Africa by year 2050.[ii]
A deeper understanding of the various world religions reveals their fundamental differences. Key distinctions come into greatest focus as we celebrate Christmas, which is the recognition and acknowledgement of the birth of the Christ child. The entire sweep of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, can only be understood in light of the Christ child. The birth of Jesus is the pivotal moment in that narrative.
From the moment of the fall in Genesis, we are directed to look forward to one who would be born of Eve who would crush Satan[iii], the nemesis, the instigator, the influencer of man to choose his own way, rather than way God provides. The Christ child was chosen to fulfill the purpose of God from before the creation of the world[iv]; the plan and purpose of God was set from before time began to provide a way for man to become like God. Formed from the material of creation, but made in the image of God, human kind was made with the intent and purpose to become like God.
Adam and Eve tried to become like God on their own by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is how they were tempted: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of [the fruit of the tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”[v] But Adam’s and Eve’s plan wouldn’t work to accomplish what God planned.
We can never become like God by our own achievement, efforts or attainment. It’s simply impossible for the creation to become like its Creator by its own efforts.
God surely knew that humans would try, but they would fail. God even put this desire to attain to what God planned in their hearts![vi]
God put eternity into our hearts so that we would seek something greater then what can be attained in this life. And God had a plan to fulfill that desire that God, Himself, set in our hearts.
God’s plan was to insert himself into his own Creation. He would take on the form He created in his own image, created with the capability of being connected in a unique way to God and intended to be a temple and habitation for God, Himself, by his spirit (because God is Spirit[vii]). We are created in God’s image, but we are made from dust (the creation) and to dust we shall return unless God infuses Himself into us.
God demonstrated that intention, shedding all the power and station He has as God to come to us in human form.[viii] In that human form, God humbly fulfilled all that was required[ix] to marry imperfect, human nature with God’s perfect, divine nature[x], creating the possibility of a new human, born again of the Spirit[xi].
By inserting himself into the creation in the form of man, God’s plan was to infuse his Spirit into human flesh providing a way for us to be transformed by His Spirit from mere flesh to spirit. Jesus said that no man can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again, born of the spirit.
The plan God has offered is not achieved by our own efforts (attainment). What God offers is redemption that is provided freely by God’s design through Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead, proving God’s ability to take these bodies of flesh and infuse them with His Spirit so that we can, indeed, become like God – not of our own doing, but by God’s intention and doing.
Adam and Eve tried to obtain this on their own, and they failed. The law was given to the nation of Israel, and they failed. We learn from Jesus that the law was merely a placeholder. It pointed to God’s ultimate plan to live with man, to dwell in us, as the ark of the covenant carrying God’s “presence” “dwelt” in the inner sanctum of the temple, the Holy of Holies.
The Law also showed Israel, and speaks to us today, as an example of the utter inability of man to become like God on our own. The Law is reflective of God’s character, and we demonstrate our inability to take on God’s character on our own by our failure to keep this Law.
Jesus was getting at this when He told the Pharisees that any one who even lusts after a woman in his heart has committed adultery, and anyone who is angry with a brother in his heart has committed murder. The point isn’t that, if we only act out the requirements of the Law we will be like God and have eternal life. The point is that we are not like God, though we bear the reflection (image) of God.
We know good and evil, and we have the capability of both within us, but a little leaven leavens the whole loaf. A little imperfection means we aren’t prefect. A little of something other than God’s character within us reveals that we do not have the character of God.
We can’t take on the character of God on our own because it is something we have to be born with, like DNA. No one chooses to be born or gives birth to himself.[xii] We don’t choose to be born of God or to take on God’s character on our own because we either have it, or we don’t.
And we don’t, unless God births it within us. We can only receive what God offers to us[xiii], and God causes us to be born again, not of the flesh, but of the Spirit when we submit to Him and receive it. This is not something we achieve; it’s something God does in us.
This view of God, this “way”, is unlike any other. It depends not on anything we can do; it depends wholly on what God has done[xiv], what He is capable of doing if we “receive” His offer; and what He will accomplish in us by His Spirit, conforming us to His image.[xv] We can only work out what God works in us.[xvi]
This view of God accomplishing everything that is necessary for us and offering it to us “free” of anything we can or must do to attain it is utterly unique and sets Christianity apart from all other religions or paths to God, or salvation, or nirvana or oneness or whatever we might characterize as the ultimate state a human being can reach. Even “Christians” get this wrong, as they reduce the Bible and its message to a set of rules to live by. These distinctions make all the difference.
[i] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_population_growth
[iii] Genesis 3:15:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring [seed] and her offspring [seed];
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.
[iv] 1 Peter 1:18-20 (“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world….”)
[v] Genesis 3:4-5
[vi] Ecclesiastes 3: 11 (“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart….”)
[vii] John 4:24 (“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”)
[viii] John 1:14 (“Christ became human flesh and lived among us.”); Philippians 2:6-7 (“He did not hold to His rights as God. He put aside everything that belonged to Him and made Himself the same as a servant who is owned by someone. He became human by being born as a man.” (NLV))
[ix] Philippians 2:8 (“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”)
[x] 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (“Christ has been raised from the dead! He was the first One to be raised from the dead and all those who are in graves will follow. Death came because of a man, Adam. Being raised from the dead also came because of a Man, Christ. All men will die as Adam died. But all those who belong to Christ will be raised to new life.”)
[xi] John 1:12-13 (“He gave the right and the power to become children of God to those who received Him. He gave this to those who put their trust in His name. These children of God were not born of blood and of flesh and of man’s desires, but they were born of God.”); John 3:3, 5-6 (“unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…. unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”)
[xii] John 1:13 (“These children of God [are] not born of blood and of flesh and of man’s desires, but they were born of God.”)
[xiii] John 1:12 (“He gave the right and the power to become children of God to those who received Him.”)
[xiv] Ephesians 2:8 (“It is not by anything you have done. It is a gift of God.”(NLV))
[xv] Romans 8:9
[xvi] Philippians 2:13 (“[I]t is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”)
3 thoughts on “Distinctions Make All the Difference”
You mention “Christianity” as a singular religion… yet there are over 30,000 denominations… and some of them have polar opposite views from one-another of how we are to interpret the Bible and how we are to live. One merely needs to look at the comments and blogs on social media from both leftists vs rightists to see this.
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Yes, in that sense there seems to be a lot of plurality or diversity, if we want to call it that, within Christianity. We don’t use those words typically though. The vast majority of those denominations would agree that the other denominations are still “Christian” even though they might disagree on the best form of worship, or a particular doctrine like whether people have unfettered free will or even whether to meet on Saturday or Sunday. Most people include in the definition of “Christian” any group that believes Jesus Christ was an historical man who was born of a virgin, who was both fully man and fully God, who died on a cross and who rose again from the dead. Within the last 200 years, some people in denominations that traditionally believed these things have questioned our denied the more miraculous aspects of those traditional core beliefs. They call themselves “Christian”, but their beliefs are not in keeping with the central truths that are fundamental to Christianity. People also call themselves Christian who believe these core things, or day they do, but don’t live like they believe them. Whether any of these things are true, or not, however, isn’t dependent on how denominations or flavors of Christianity there are; it isn’t dependent on whether everyone who calls themselves Christian believes all these things or lives like they believe them. Truth exists independent of our understanding, perception or subscription to it. Everyone who calls themselves Christian could be ingenuine and God would still be true.