How does Christianity differ from all the other world religions?
Although wildly ambitious and seemingly foolish to write on such a massive topic, with billions of words already having come forth on this, let me try nonetheless to offer a few thoughts. My aim is to briefly look at how the major world religions stack up against the truth claims of Christianity, and to show the superiority of the latter.
This is of course exceedingly difficult to seek to argue for in today’s culture. Most folks in the West now no longer believe in the idea of absolute truth and the uniqueness of religious beliefs. Relativism and “tolerance” have trumped truth and absolutes. As Erwin Lutzer puts it in Christ Among Other Gods:
“We have moved from the conviction that everyone has a right to his own opinions to the notion that every opinion is equally right! We have moved from genuine pluralism, the idea that the religions of the world can peacefully coexist, to syncretism, the idea that the beliefs of various religions can be mindlessly combined.”
A major point I seek to make here is that all religions are not the same. The more you study them, the more you see how very different they are. And despite some popular thinking, they are all exclusivist in various ways – even supposedly “inclusive” religions like Buddhism.
As Paul Copan puts it: “All religions aren’t basically the same. They differ profoundly, in major ways. What they have in common is that they are so different.” Or as Ravi Zacharias has said in Jesus Among Other Gods:
All religions are not the same. All religions do not point to God. All religions do not say that all religions are the same. At the heart of every religion is an uncompromising commitment to a particular way of defining who God is or is not and accordingly, of defining life’s purpose. Anyone who claims that all religions are the same betrays not only an ignorance of all religions but also a caricatured view of even the best-known ones. Every religion at its core is exclusive.
The various religions all make fundamental claims about major matters such as the nature of God and reality, the nature, origins and destiny of humanity, what our problems are, and what the solutions are – and they differ markedly from one another. If we believe in the reality of truth and the basic principles of logic, then radically conflicting religious claims cannot all be true.
For example, if it is true – as Islam claims – that God has no son and it is blasphemous to think that way, then Christianity must be false, at least on that point, since it claims that Jesus is the Son of God. Many Eastern religions tell you to look within, to find the divine within you. Jesus tells us to look without, to the one true God. Some religions teach us to kill the enemy, while others tell us to love and bless them.
Religious pluralists claim that at the end of the day there are many paths to God, that all religions are basically true, and that we cannot be exclusive in our beliefs. They say that those who adhere to exclusive or particularistic expressions of faith are intolerant and arrogant.
But when Christians say they believe that only Christianity is the one true religion they are being no more exclusivist than those from any other religion. Those adherents of various faiths all think they have the final word on truth, and see others as missing the mark in key areas. Even the claim that we must be religious pluralists is an exclusive and absolute truth claim.
Christians believe there are some aspects of truth to be found in other faiths. And briefly stated, it can be noted that there are some similarities in the various world religions. For example:
-Most posit a god, or gods, or a transcendent reality.
-Most have sacred books or writings that they follow.
-Most have special and revered founders, leaders, or spokesmen.
-Most state that man is in a mess, but they differ as to why this is, and how it can be remedied.
-Most are evangelistic, believing that others should embrace their faith.
But as already noted, there are certainly some major differences between the various faiths:
-Some hold that all of reality is divine, while others claim a sharp distinction between the creator God and all of creation.
-Some are monotheistic (Judaism, Christianity and Islam – although Christianity posits one God in three persons), while Eastern religions can be polytheistic, pantheistic, or even atheistic.
-Some religions see our problem as being due to ignorance – a lack of knowledge. Others see our problem as being due to moral problems – sin and the like.
-Some religions teach that we must go through many lifetimes to eventually find freedom or enlightenment, while others teach we have only one lifetime in which to get right with God.
-Many religions hold that various works or practices are needed to obtain salvation or enlightenment, while one at least – Christianity – teaches that we cannot save ourselves, and salvation is a gift of God.
At the end of the day, the crucial difference between Christianity and all other world religions is Christ. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is pivotal to all Christian beliefs, and no other religion has Jesus as the centre of its faith, teaching and worship.
And Christianity makes it clear that there is no “salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Indeed, Jesus made this crystal clear when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
The truth is, Jesus is utterly unique among the world religions. Christ is unique in who he was, what he claimed, and what he did. Here are some of the ways he differs from other religious leaders:
-Unlike so many other religious leaders, he made his own identity the focal point of his teaching. Who He was, not just what he said, was the essential issue.
-He didn’t say I am God’s messenger, or I can point the way to God. He said in various ways that he is God.
-He claimed to be far more than just a teacher or a prophet. He didn’t claim to point to the truth. He claimed to be the truth.
-He claimed to be sinless.
-He didn’t just point the way to salvation. He claimed to be the only source of salvation.
-He claimed that a person’s eternal destiny depended on the way they responded to him.
-He claimed to forgive people’s sins. No other religious leader made that claim.
-He made predictions about the future.
-He didn’t just claim to lead to life, He said he was the life.
-He performed numerous miracles.
-And he is the only one to come back from the grave. Mohammed is still dead, as is Buddha. Only Jesus is alive.
Let me close with a quote that highlights the distinctiveness of Christianity, and especially of Christ. Kenneth Samples concludes his book, God Among Sages with these words:
Of all the great world religion leaders, only Jesus does the very things that only God can do. Jesus alone has the authority and the power to (1) forgive sins, (2) accept worship from others, (3) hear and answer prayer, (4) raise the dead, and (5) judge humanity. Therefore, when we place Jesus alongside these “wise ones,” we recognize we are comparing apples with oranges. Jesus is the only one who has the credentials and the prerogatives to qualify as deity. Thus, a good reason for believing that God exists and that historic Christianity is true is found in the historic person of Jesus Christ. He looks, speaks, and acts like God in human flesh.
It is a prudent thing to place Jesus alongside the spiritual sages, because in doing so, we realize that the most extraordinary people who have ever lived pale in comparison to the Lord, the Christ, the Savior, the Son of God. Seeing Jesus vis-a-vis the world’s religious leaders gives us breathtaking perspective on the greatest person in history.
For further reading
There are many books that offer a Christian critique and assessment of the various world religions. So I need to be selective here. I will not include those that examine just one particular religion. These books cover most of the major religions, and show how they compare and contrast with biblical Christianity.
Anderson, Norman, ed., The World’s Religions. Eerdmans, 1976.
Ankerberg, John and Dillon Burroughs, What’s the Big Deal about Other Religions? Harvest House, 2008.
Ankerberg, John and John Weldon, Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions. Harvest House, 1999.
Burnett, David, Clash of Worlds. Monarch, 2002.
Clendenin, Daniel, Many Gods, Many Lords: Christianity Encounters World Religions. Baker, 1995.
Corduan, Winfried, A Tapestry of Faiths. IVP, 2002.
Green, Michael, But Don’t All Religions Lead to God? Baker, 2002.
Halverson, Dean, ed., The Compact Guide to World Religions. Bethany House, 1996.
House, H. Wayne, The Evangelical Dictionary of World Religions. Baker, 2018.
McDowell, Josh and Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions. Nelson, 1983.
McDermott, Gerald, The Baker Pocket Guide to World Religions. Baker, 2008.
Mather, George and Larry Nichols, Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult. Zondervan, 1993.
Mittelberg, Mark, Choosing Your Faith. Tyndale, 2008.
Muck, Terry, Harold Netland and Gerald McDermott, eds., Handbook of Religion. Baker, 2014.
Netland, Harold, Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth. Eerdmans, 1991.
Neill, Stephen, Christian Faith and Other Faiths. Oxford University Press, 1970.
Okholm, Dennis and Timothy Phillips, eds., More Than One Way? Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Zondervan, 1995.
Olasky, Marvin, The Religions Next Door. Broadman & Holman, 2004.
Partridge, Christopher, ed., Dictionary of Contemporary Religion in the Western World. IVP, 1998.
Robinson, Thomas and Hillary Rodrigues, World Religions, 2nd ed. Baker, 2006, 2014.
And here are just a few titles (out of hundreds) highlighting the uniqueness of Jesus:
Ankerberg, John and Dillon Burroughs, What’s the Big Deal About Jesus? Harvest House, 2007.
Blanchard, John, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? Evangelical Press, 1989.
Edwards, James, Is Jesus the Only Savior? Eerdmans, 2005.
Goldsmith, Martin, What About Other Faiths? Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to God? Hodder & Stoughton, 1989.
Lutzer, Erwin, Christ Among Other Gods. Moody, 1994.
McGrath, Alister, Jesus: Who He Is and Why He Matters. IVP, 1987.
Nash, Ronald, Is Jesus the Only Savior? Zondervan, 1994.
Nazir-Ali, Michael, The Unique and Universal Christ: Jesus in a Plural World. Paternoster, 2008.
Ortberg. John, Who Is This Man? Zondervan, 2012.
Samples, Kenneth, God Among Sages: Why Jesus is Not Just Another Religious Leader. Baker, 2017.
Stott, John, The Incomparable Christ. IVP, 2001.
Wright, Chris, Thinking Clearly About the Uniqueness of Jesus. Monarch, 1997.
Zacharias, Ravi, Jesus Among Other Gods. Word, 2000.
(Australians will find many of these titles at Koorong Books.)