You may be surprised by this–I wasn’t. I am not sure how accurate these pew forums are, but in the end, I think its probably true that most Evangelicals don’t know all that much about world religions. Some may argue that if Christianity is true, we don’t need to know about other religions. While I would agree with the first half of that proposition, I would say that such a sentiment is unfortunate at best and unbiblical at worst. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says, “in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect.” This would indicate to me that we ought to be able to converse with people of other religions and be ready to answer them with the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This calls for empathy, understanding, and some basic knowledge of what people believe–if we are really going to give an answer for the hope that is in us.
So how might we better educate ourselves about world religion? I have three suggestions:
1. Make friends with someone of another religion. Don’t treat them like a project, but really get to know them, ask them questions about their religion and let them answer those questions. Ask them more than just about their religion–ask them about their families, their lives, and their interests. As important as it is to get to the gospel, you must express genuine love for them as Christ calls us to.
2. Read. There are articles written by Muslims and Buddhists in our American newspapers and periodicals every day–instead of simply reading a book written by a Christian critiquing world religions–read about them from those who profess to believe that way themselves. There is certainly value in reading books which criticize world religions, but to understand a particular religion fully, it is worth reading them directly. If we really believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, we shouldn’t be afraid to do so and doing so will enable us to have more informed, more intelligent, more fruitful conversations with unbelievers.
3. Read the Bible. Some of you are thinking, “why didn’t you put this one as number one?” I put this last because I didn’t want you to miss out on the importance of 1 and 2! The saddest part of that ABC video was professing believers who didn’t know some pretty basic and important facts about their own professed religion. If we are going to have worthwhile conversations with people of differing faiths, we need to know what we believe and why–and where better to go than the original sources! Of course every Christian knows we are supposed to read the Bible, but I want to encourage you to read the Bible not so much for ammo to defeat the enemy, but for encouragement to speak the truth in love and to live out the gospel. Always read the Bible as if it were addressed to you (obviously it was originally addressed to specific readers–I am not saying not to be mindful of that) rather than someone else who needs to submit to what it says. The Bible is always far more powerful when we let it minister to our hearts than when we try to apply it to other’s lives without their permission.