Os Guinness talks about differences between Christianity and other religions in an interview with Justin Brierley a few years ago. He made a statement that Christianity is the only “traveling religion”.
He observed that Hinduism began in India and remains primarily in India. Buddhism began in India and remains primarily in India and Eastern Asia. Islam began in the Middle East and remains primarily in the Middle East. Christianity, however, began in the Middle East. Then it moved to Europe; and then it moved to North America; and now Christianity is growing fastest in Africa and Latin America and Asia.
While I think Guinness overstates the case little bit, he got me thinking about the how the major world religions have spread. For instance, Islam, which rivals Christianity in numbers, grew very rapidly during the life and immediately after the death of Muhammad. It spread throughout the centuries into Europe and down into Africa and more recently across Southern Asia.
To that extent, Islam rivals Christianity in its “travel” around the world. But the spread of Islam looked different than the spread of Christianity. This is the significant fact, in my opinion – not so much that Christianity has traveled through all the world (though it has) like no other religion.
I have been “collecting” the stories of people who became followers of Jesus from all sorts of different backgrounds, including different religious backgrounds. Some of the more interesting and compelling stories are from former Muslims.
In addition, the same coercive practices that grew Islam in the previous centuries are in operation today. While conquest isn’t broadly practiced as it was in previous centuries, strong prohibitions exist in predominantly Muslim countries and areas that inhibit people from leaving Islam. Families disown former Muslims and, in extreme cases, kill them. Those same inhibitions extend even into the west where the same cultural influences discourage leaving Islam or denouncing Islam.
For that reason, the testimonies of Muslims who become followers of Jesus Christ are remarkable and poignant. Afshin Ziafat’s story is such an example. His father disowned him immediately when Afshin admitted that he has become a Christian as a young man in Houston. The decision cost him his father and his family.
One of the hallmarks of the Muslim turned Christian phenomenon of the 21st Century is the way in which so many former Muslims become Christians. A very high percentage of those stories include experiences like visions and dreams of Jesus. Even Islamic radicals and ISIS jihadists have had these experiences that changed their lives. You can watch them tell their stories in their own words on the Muslim testimony page and Muslim/ISIS testimony page.
I recently had a short exchange with an atheist friend over an article I wrote about science and faith. He is from the world of science, his father being a scientist, and he making a living on scientific principles. He found my article and analysis of atheism and science to be colored by my faith. And, of course it is, just as his view of religion and science is colored by his atheism.
He views God as a fiction. I view God as reality, transcending all the reality I think I know. We couldn’t be more opposed in our views of the world, though that doesn’t mean that we cannot be friends and learn from one another.
I suggested to him that both theism and atheism are rational conclusions, but the conclusions depend on the starting places. I remember from my philosophy class in college, and the study of Immanuel Kant and Søren Kierkegaard that theism and theism can both by logically “proven”. Syllogisms reaching both conclusions can hold up logically. The only difference is the starting premise.
To put it more simply: if you start with a premise that assumes God, a logical syllogism can be constructed that proves the existence of God. If you start with a premise that assumes no God, a logical syllogism can be constructed that proves the nonexistence of God.
How, then, does a rational person resolve the tension between these diametrically opposite conclusions? Logic cannot suggest an answer to this conundrum because logic can only operate on the basis of a premise, and the premise with which we start makes all the difference.
If we could determine which premise is correct, we would be well on our way, but it turns out that this is easier said than done. What then?
Science doesn’t help us either. Science is, by definition, the study of the natural world. God is, by definition, “Other” than the natural world. Science can take us back to nanoseconds after the Big Bang, but we can peer no further into our past. We can’t see the very beginning, and we can’t see beyond it.
We can’t see through the lens of science and our senses beyond this natural world, and this leads many, like my friend, to conclude that nothing exists beyond the natural world. It’s a fair conclusion, to be frank.
But it’s a bit short sighted. Why we do assume that we and our physical senses are the measure of all reality?
How do we know if there is anything beyond the natural world? How do we know if there is a God?
I just watched God’s Not Dead 2. I know, I am a bit behind the times. But the movie sparked some thoughts about the plight of the Church in the US and around the world.
Before getting to the point, it’s worth noting that courtroom movies are usually not very realistic. Movies rarely get the courtroom scenes right. But, I was pleasantly surprised. They got it right! I am talking about the rules of evidence, the questioning of witnesses, the objections.
I am an attorney and did a brief in law school focusing on religious freedom in schools. That was a long ago, and I have not remained up to date on the details regarding how the law has evolved since then, but I pay attention to what is going on. I have represented public school districts, which has given me the opportunity to update my knowledge periodically.
Salvation is the free gift of God, but we are so reluctant to turn to Him and accept it. We are separated from God by a yawning chasm when we remain in sin, refusing to turn to Him, refusing to yield. But when we turn, ever so slightly, when we yield, ever so slightly, He is right there in an instant, spanning the gap, ready to accept us as we accept Him. what a great and wonderful God we have!
I urge you to read the conversion story of Eliza below. God stands at the door. When we knock, He opens its. We just have to knock.