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First Thoughts

Why Study World Religions and Cults?

Shouldn’t Christians just focus on studying the Bible and the truths of Christianity? Why should Christians worry about what other religions and cults believe? Here are three reasons why Christians should examine the claims of other faiths.

  1. To Grow in Understanding the Claims of Our Faith

Contrast is a great revealer of truth in lots of areas of life. This is especially true when it comes to the truths of our faith. One of the ways to understand the true claims of Christianity is to contrast them with the false claims of other religions and other faiths.

Paul does this in the book of Galatians. He is writing to the Galatians to teach them about the true gospel over against a false gospel, what he calls “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6). We see him doing this especially in Galatians 2:16: Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Paul contrasts the claims of the false gospel (you can be justified by works of the law) with the reality of the true gospel (we are justified by faith in Christ). Understanding the false claim helps us to truly grasp the truth.

Studying world religions and cults can have that same effect on us. We don’t have to be afraid of the false claims that they make. Because we have the truth on our side. And so studying the false claims of other religions only helps us to have a sharper understanding of the truths of Christianity.

For instance, Islam is missing the doctrine of the grace of God. There isn’t even a good word in Arabic that describes grace. They are completely relying on their own efforts for salvation, not God’s grace. The true gospel is a gospel of grace. A gospel that includes the atoning sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, where he receives the condemnation we deserve, and we receive the righteousness and favor that he earned for us through his obedience. That’s grace – abundant, undeserved grace!

Roman Catholics believe that a person is justified by faith and by works. In contrast, Scripture teaches the true means of justification – by faith in Christ alone. In the Hindu religion, there are literally millions of gods. Millions of paths to the divine. In contrast, Christianity teaches the exclusivity of Christ as the only way to God. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Jehovah’s Witnesses deny that Jesus physically rose from the grave. Instead, they say that his resurrection was only spiritual, and so they also believe that his second coming will be only spiritual. In contrast to this, the Bible teaches the visible, bodily return of Jesus Christ.

As we study the claims of other religions, it actually helps highlight and reinforce the importance of the truths of Christianity.

  1. To Grow in Engaging the Claims of Other Faiths

In order to truly engage with our friends from other world religions or cults, we have to actually understand what they believe. The more we understand and are conversant with what they believe, the more we can take their worldview out for a test drive, the more we’ll actually be able to engage with them on what they actually believe.

This is precisely what Paul does in Acts 17:22-31 at the Areopagus when he uses the practices and principles of the Athenians’ own religion as a door through which he shares the good news of the gospel with them.

When we were over in the Middle East, we watched our missionary do this in a conversation with three young Muslim guys. He was speaking in Arabic, but he translated it for us later. He approached these guys and asked them: “The Quran gives Jesus four titles: the Messiah of God, a divine sign from God, the Word of God, and the Spirit of God. Not only this, the Quran says that Jesus rose into heaven to live with God forever. But the Quran describes Muhammed as sinful, as a mere man, and he is dead right now. So, according to the Quran, why would we listen to Muhammed instead of listening to Jesus?”

You see what he did there? He used the framework and teachings of their own religion to get them thinking about the truth of Christianity. As our missionary described it, he wanted to put a stone in their shoe that would keep bothering them as the day went on.

So, studying world religions and cults helps us actually engage their claims with the truth of Christianity.

  1. To Grow in Loving the Adherents of Other Faiths

This is one of the most significant things that happened to us during our time recently in the Middle East. When we first landed there and were surrounded by men in white robes, women in full hijab, the Islamic call to prayer blasting out of loudspeakers five times a day everywhere you go, people prostrate on prayer mats praying to a false god, it can be intimidating. You feel like you are in a hostile environment.

But the more we got used to these things, the more normal these things began to feel, the more we realized that the reason why all of this is happening – the reason why they are wearing what they are wearing, praying what they are praying, doing what they are doing – is because of fear. They live in constant fear of the judgment of Allah – and the works they do are a constant attempt to avoid that judgment if at all possible.

Once we realized this, our own sense of fear was replaced with a burden and a grief for these people. You look in their eyes, you watch them prostrate themselves in prayer, and you see the fear. You see the terror. You see the anxiety over their eternity.

And this caused our hearts to break for them. It still causes our hearts to break for them right now. And it lit a fire in us to work as hard as we can to make sure people in the Muslim world hear about the love of Jesus Christ – because perfect love casts out fear!

We see a similar burden and compassion come over the Apostle Paul as he meditates on the resistance of the Jews to the gospel in Romans 9:1-5.

We should look at our friends from other religions and cults and, before we judge them or come up with arguments to destroy them, instead, we should be moved to compassion for them. We look at them like Jesus looked at people who didn’t believe in him: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)

This kind of care and concern and pursuit of people who are in eternal trouble is a uniquely Christian practice. It comes from God himself, who, even while we were still sinners, still his enemies, still worthy of his judgment, sent his Son to die for us (Romans 5:8).

Listen to Pastor Richard and Pastor Andrew’s midweek class on Christianity vs. World Religions.

Written By Richard Lucas and Andrew Morrell

Richard Lucas (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Pastor of Teaching and He is the co-editor of Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture.

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