“What right do you have to criticize someone else’s religion? Don’t they have the right to believe as they please? Why don’t you just live and let live? Why are you so intolerant?”
In my more than thirty years of teaching Christians about the beliefs and practices of other religions, I have, on numerous occasions, heard that objection. Many well-meaning people, even some who are active members of evangelical churches, feel it is improper to question someone else’s faith or to attempt to evangelize them for Christ. Sadly Postmodernism has permeated our culture to such an extent that to challenge any truth claim is regarded as intolerant.
Of course, the term “tolerance” has been hijacked from its original definition. Tolerance really means a willingness to respect people’s right to have opinions that differ from our own, but it does not mean we must regard those opinions as valid or true. Nor does it mean we cannot use the power of persuasion to try and change people’s minds.
In this article and the next we will examine the reasons why we analyze and educate Christians about non-Christian worldviews, world religions, and pseudo-Christian cults and sects. We will see why evangelizing people who hold these other beliefs is a critical component to an overall evangelism strategy in today’s society. In this installment we consider three basic reasons why teaching Christians about worldview and interfaith evangelism are needed. In the next article we will look at the biblical bases for our position.
Three Reasons Why Worldview Training and Interfaith Evangelism Are Needed
1. In our highly diverse culture, we need to educate Christian people about the beliefs and practices of other faiths. It is incumbent on believers to have some understanding of them to minimize misconceptions and to enhance personal relationships.
The area where I reside, Gwinnett County, Georgia, near Atlanta, was at one time a typical small rural Southern community. Demographically, it was primarily Anglo and religiously Protestant until about twenty years ago. Today, with a population of about 800,000, it is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse places in America. As a result, in the county are still hundreds of Christian churches, but many of them focus on specific ethnicities like African Americans, Hispanics, Koreans, Vietnamese, and Romanians.
That is all well and good. But now the county also includes numerous religious centers for non-Christian faiths. For instance, there are six large Islamic Mosques, five Buddhist temples, seven Mormon meeting houses, a large Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall, a Christian Science church and Reading Room, a Baha’i Center, and four Hindu centers including the largest Hindu temple in North America. Increasingly, trends are similar across the country.
As is evident, American society has undergone a radical transformation. In past generations, the overwhelming majority of people in this country professed to be Christian. According to a recent survey, in the last two decades the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christian (by whatever definition) dropped from about 86% to around 75%. The number saying they have no faith is now about 16%. At the same time, those Americans adhering to Eastern religions increased by 225%. Also, the only two traditional religious groups not losing members as a percentage of US population were the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Most alarming is that the percentage of professing Muslims in the USA more than doubled in that time period. (Source: Trinity College American Religious Identification Survey 2008 )
That being said, evangelical Christians need to have a clear understanding of what those movements believe and practice. Inevitably, we will encounter their followers in our daily lives. They are our neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, and business associates. Therefore, we need to know how to relate to them on a personal basis.
2. We need to educate Christians because many religions seek to proselytize Christians to their beliefs. Thus, we must prepare our people to defend their faith (1 Peter 3:15) and not be deceived by false teachers proclaiming false doctrines (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6ff; 2 Peter 2:1; 2 John 7-8).
How many times have you been interrupted by the doorbell on a Saturday morning as you were getting ready to work in the yard or go shopping? You opened the door and there stood two well-dressed people holding brief cases.
One of them asks, “Sir, we are in your neighborhood today and would like to know if you have a few minutes to discuss what the Bible teaches about God?”
You immediately recognize them as Jehovah’s Witnesses. That is certainly one of the most aggressive religious movements in the world for proselytizing Christians to leave their churches and join their faith.
Another familiar example is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). It has more than 55,000 young missionaries whose primary goal is to make converts to that church, most of whom come from Christian churches.
A very different movement that forcefully seeks converts is Oneness Pentecostalism (egs. United Pentecostal Church, Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, and other Apostolic Pentecostal groups). They regard their anti-Trinitarian “Jesus Only” faiths as the only valid forms of Christianity. Thus they seek to draw people out of Trinitarian churches.
Scientology is well-known for its devious recruitment tactics. That bizarre pseudo-religion often lures people in by promising them mental and physical health through its bogus therapeutic system of Dianetics (for only a few hundred dollars per session).
Muslims, especially, have been successful making converts among certain American ethnic groups and in prisons. New Mosques (Islamic centers) are springing up all over the nation where Muslims are taught techniques for enticing people to embrace the Koran and Islamic teachings. Many of them are teaching radical Jihadist forms of that faith.
Those movements are but a few of a number of cults and world religions that focus much of their time and energy in winning new members.
“But,” you may say. “Don’t they have the right to propagate their faiths?”
Absolutely, as long as they do so legally and without compulsion. That is one of the guarantees in the U.S. Constitution. But we also have the right to refute those beliefs we disagree with, especially if they are seeking to proselytize Christians. Unfortunately, too many Christians today are woefully naive when it comes to the beliefs of other faiths. What is desperately needed is a greater degree of discernment. It is our goal to provide resources to meet that need.
3. We are commanded in the Bible to carry the unique message of salvation to all peoples (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). This is the perhaps the most important reason for doing Interfaith Evangelism. Millions of people in America and around the world put their faith in false gods and hollow belief systems. Just because someone is sincere and tries to live a good life is inadequate for finding salvation.
Our conviction is that salvation is found in no other name but Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5-6). Only by repenting of one’s sin and putting faith in Jesus Christ (i.e. who He was and what He did) can we receive the free gift of salvation by grace (Ephesians 2: 8, 9). Thus, we seek to equip Christians for evangelizing those in all worldviews and faith systems in ways that are loving and sensitive, yet uncompromising (Ephesians 4:15).
In the next installment we survey the vast amount of biblical material relating to worldview and interfaith issues. We will see that this kind of ministry rests solidly on biblical foundations from both the Old and New Testaments.
© 2013 Tal Davis