Winfried Corduan

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Original Monotheism and the Rebuttal from Missionaries

ibg-wcOne of the strongest pieces of evidence for original monotheism is the presence within many cultures of an early belief in a “Great Spirit” or a single high god. Often, belief in this deity continues, but that deity is seen as far off and largely uninterested in the affairs of people due to some great sin in the past or present (readers should note that I am generalizing to an extreme degree here and are encouraged to read the book discussed herein for more and better details). Oddly, anthropologists and others have persisted in alleging that this belief is itself a product of missionary activity rather than a reflection of history.

Winfried Corduan, in his recent book In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheismaddresses this claim head on. The claim continues to be found in text books noting that, for example, “Christian ideas had evidently spread from tribe to tribe in advance of the missionaries…” (Spencer, Jennings, et al. Native Americans, 366, cited in Corduan, 204, full citation below).

Think about this claim for a moment, though. Suppose Westerners make their first contact with a native tribe. This tribe demonstrates a belief in a high god who has grown angry over sin and thus remains distant. Now, the claim is made that instead of this being a belief the tribe has retained over time, it has actually come from Christian missionaries and spread, like a game of telephone, from tribe to tribe ahead of the missionaries themselves.

Corduan notes a major difficulty with this. Apart from being a wholly “a priori declaration,” this claim runs counter to findings of how cultural diffusion works. “If these supreme beings were inconsistent with the rest of these cultures, if in some tribes they never received any worship…. it makes no sense that all of these tribes picked [monotheistic beliefs] up instantaneously. It is utterly implausible, which may just be the reason there is no evidence for it” (204).

Realistically, this “rebuttal from missionaries” makes little sense of the data at hand. Historically, however, it gained credence through a general bias against anything a Christian missionary might report. “The dogma that no Christians, particularly no missionaries, could be trusted for anything they reported, except, of course, when it happened to suit what the academicians in power were advocating, was deeply ingrained in the universities of Europe at the time…” (90). One must realize how true this statement is. The very people who were studying anthropology and coming to conclusions about how any reports of original monotheism must be due to missionary activity or bias were themselves using those same reports–which, remember, were so full of biased they could not be trusted to describe beliefs accurately–to generate their own theories of the origins and spread of religion.

Another major difficulty with the “rebuttal from missionaries” is that it flies in the face of observed behavior. For example, many of the tribes encountered kept their belief in such a supreme being secret: “almost invariably women, children, and the uninitiated were uninformed about the supreme being” (101). This, of course, begs the question: “Why would the initiated, having learned about God from the missionaries, subsequently keep that knowledge secret from the people who taught it to them just a few years earlier?” (ibid).

Thus, it seems that the allegation that any purported belief in original monotheism must have been due to missionary influence is an extremely flawed notion. Not only does it fly in the face of the way cultural diffusion works, but it also doesn’t make sense of the observed behavior of the peoples involved. Those who wish to explore more should check out Corduan’s In the Beginning God. I have clearly derived the argument here from that book, and I’d like to credit his phenomenal piece (I reviewed it here).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Review: “In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism” by Winfried Corduan– I review Corduan’s book and touch on only a few of the many interesting topics contained therein.

Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin of religion- Who cares about facts?– I analyze some of Corduan’s comments regarding Sigmund Freud’s theorizing about the origin of religion.

Sunday Quote!- Is Monotheism from Egypt?– I provide a brief quote from Corduan’s book and note how it may interface with some theories related to the source of monotheism.

Source

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism” by Winfried Corduan

ibg-wcRarely does a book come along which forces a reader to completely rethink how they’ve viewed a whole slew of interrelated topics. Winfried Corduan’s latest work on the origin of religion is just such a book. I’ve waited some time to finish writing the review simply because it’s taken a while to reflect upon its content and reread and absorb many of the arguments to support the conclusions Corduan provides. Here, I offer some thoughts which can only touch upon the wealth of information in this fantastic book.

The Thesis

Winfried Corduan’s central thesis is simply stated:

Regardless of how one explains the origin of human beings, one cannot get around the fact that the first religion of human beings was monotheism, the recognition and worship of one God.

The way Corduan defends this claim is initially through analysis of competing claims of major thinkers in the past and present on the origin of religion. He then provides a positive case for original monotheism.

Critical Examination of Competing Views

Corduan surveys a number of major thinkers in anthropology who have proposed various ways that religion may have arisen and developed. A central thought throughout many of these thinkers is the notion that cultures, like organisms, evolve. Thus, the thought was that the earliest stages of religion would be “primitive” while later stages of religion would be more complex and perhaps people would even move beyond religion.

The various theses Corduan examines are each interesting in their own light. Max Müller’s theory that mythology is corruption of human language is wonderfully imaginative, though ultimately bereft of real evidential backing. E.B. Tylor’s application of Darwinism to the development of religion remains highly influential but also provides insight into how a paradigm may corrupt and even create evidence. Andrew Lang set the stage for later thought about how religion may have developed, but unfortunately his theory suffered from assumptions that anyone not “developed” like the Europeans was clearly inferior or lower on the evolutionary scale. Thus, his theory suffered from its own brand of self-confirmation and key blind spots.

A telling critical insight Corduan provided which applies to many of the evolutionary perspectives on the origin of religion is that the field evidence gathered for these hypotheses operated under a critical assumption: “nineteenth-century anthropology proceeded on the premise that the ancient past has preserved itself. We can still see it in full bloom in the cultures of tribal people. Human beings who are now living on a stone-age level must have preserved stone-age culture, they argued.

But of course this doesn’t follow at all. It is perfectly possible for such “stone age” societies to in fact be extremely complex and advanced. In fact, Corduan provides much evidence to suggest that this is exactly the case. Highly complex rituals and traditions are often found in these allegedly primitive societies. Moreover, many of these societies show kinds of vestiges of original monotheism, which itself provides counter-evidence to the hypothesis that these societies support the notion of evolution of religion.

A Case for Original Monotheism

Corduan’s case for original monotheism incorporates many aspects of Wilhelm Schmidt’s work. Thus, he dedicates a few chapters to analysis and defense of Schmidt’s theories. Schmidt’s theories are based off of his analysis of how cultures shift. Corduan provided fascinating and practical examples to look at how cultural movement works. One application of this to the origin of religion is that societies shift and push competing cultures either to adapt and integrate or to be pushed more to the fringes. Early settlers are often supplanted by later explorers who stayed in one place and developed before moving on. Allegedly primitive societies are often found in the deserts or at the outskirts of society because they were the first to move on and thus developed only as they settled in ever-distant areas. However, this cannot be used to support the notion that a “stone age” level of a society today entails the preservation of cultural behaviors and practices from such a time period.

The shifting of cultures through “culture circles” thus is used to evaluate how religion may have developed and moved across the Earth. Most importantly, Schmidt worked with the anthropological data that other researchers used, but he approached it without the dogmatic stance that the development of religion must have been Darwinian. This assumption led many other researchers to reject or downplay aspects of the observational evidence because they did not fit the theory. Schmidt discovered, however, that a number of cultures had vestiges of monotheism from earlier times. This resulted in Schmidt hypothesizing that one possible explanation for the shared original monotheism of these cultures could have been an actual deity.

Corduan then provides analysis of a number of critical responses to Schmidt as well as more modern evolutionary or simply agnostic approaches to the origin and diversification of religion. Finally, he surveys a number of world religions to see if aspects of original monotheism may still be found therein.

religious-symbolsInteresting Avenues to Explore

Other avenues are opened as Corduan analyzes specific cultures, such as Egypt or China, and finds that Egypt’s brief affair with “monotheism” may not have been as significant as some take it or that China’s modern religious thought perhaps reflects an original monotheism beneath the surface.

The application of various aspects of anthropological research and the rejection of agnostic approaches to the origins of religion also open up new avenues for research and exploration. If we don’t assume that we can’t know something, how might we approach the project of discovering how religion may have originated and spread? Corduan, of course, provides Schmidt’s theories as one way, though he also integrates insight even from those scholars with whom he disagrees. Thus, he provides a rather integrative approach to the question.

The analysis of various anthropologists who have thought on issues of the origins of religion also open up new ideas to explore, books to read, and evidence to consider.

Avenues for exploration like this are found throughout the book in droves. I mean that: there is so much in this book that makes me want to know more, to learn more. That is coupled with the fact that it made me realize, again, how little I do know regarding entire fields of research and study. In the Beginning God is a call not only to re-evaluate one’s presuppositions, but also a vast treasury of topics to explore.

Of course another extremely interesting thought to examine is that if monotheism were the original religion of people of all sorts, might this have implications for apologetics? Ultimately, Corduan answers in the affirmative. He argues that at least some aspects of this study point to the existence of a monotheistic deity as a possible explanation for the data. He does not think that the anthropological study provides a comprehensive case for the Christian truth, but he does ultimately argue it can be one factor among many to show the truth of Christianity.

A Final Defense

The immediate reaction of some might be that Corduan’s bias yields his results. Similarly, in Schmidt’s time, some alleged that missionary influence led to the purported evidence for original monotheism. However, it should be clear that although everyone has a bias, the evidence presented by Corduan seems impossible to dismiss as simply the wishes of a theist. Rather, he has provided sound reasons for thinking that original monotheism is a relevant hypothesis which perhaps outstrips its opponents in terms of explanatory scope.

Conclusion

In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism  is a simply incredible read. Each new layer of the text provides new insights and discoveries, each of which builds off the body of the text already perused. Corduan has provided critical insight into the state of modern anthropology regarding the origins of religion. He has also established original monotheism as a significant rival theory to those schools of thought. The book will shift paradigms, cause wonder, and provide resources for you to explore and engage with wonderfully exciting topics. Corduan has truly created a masterwork, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin of religion- Who cares about facts?– I analyze some of Corduan’s comments regarding Sigmund Freud’s theorizing about the origin of religion.

Sunday Quote!- Is Monotheism from Egypt?– I provide a brief quote from Corduan’s book and note how it may interface with some theories related to the source of monotheism.

Source

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin of religion- Who cares about facts?

ibg-wcIt is amazing, even before Freud’s psychoanalyticial theories were discredited as such, that this idea was ever accepted as anything but an utterly groundless fabrication. (134, cited below)

Oddly, a challenge I still sometimes see to Christianity (and indeed religion in general), is the notion that somehow it is merely cosmic project of some strange psychological phenomena. Although the idea didn’t originate with Freud, his theories seem to be the most popular. Freud’s idea for how religion came to be was essentially a wish-fulfillment of his own: he turned humanity’s religion into a kind of Oedipus complex.

For Freud, religion clearly often involved a father figure. Thus, he reasoned, religion must have come about over some conflict with a father figure which later caused guilt and the lifting up of a kind of father in the sky- God. The conflict, he proposed, came about due to the notion that the dominant male was the only one allowed sexual access to the women in the primitive family (I’m not making this up!). Winfried Corduan’s latest book, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism, analyzed a number of aspects of origin of religion theories which are relevant to this thesis. Freud’s theory does not survive empirical analysis.

First, Freud’s notion of shared sexuality and group sex among alleged primitive societies was a popular theory at the time, but one utterly unfounded and based upon essentially no observable evidence. Corduan noted the notion of group marriage was largely derived from presuppositions about how the origin of religion and social institutions “must have happened” (114-115). The theory itself was put forth by L.H. Morgan and not based upon observation but rather “his support of evolution and Marxist-like social theories in which he construed ordinary social conventions… as late inventions in human history” (116). Some anthropologists in the field bought into the theory and thus allowed their observations to be directed by the theory, rather than using their contradictory observations to revise the theory. In fact, their theory-driven research resulted in confusion over the actual social constructs which they were observing (116ff).

Second, Freud’s analysis of the way religion developed is itself mistaken. The climax of Freud’s story is the cannibalistic totem feast upon the Father figure as a way to honor the Father and begin the worship thereof. But Freud’s story is again bereft of observational evidence. Freud acutally used the concept of the totem feast to try to discredit Christianity with its teachings on the Lord’s Supper (communion/Eucharist). However, totem feasts are, themselves, extremely rare in totemistic societies (133-134). Totem feasts were observed in  only a few societies, but then–as Corduan noted was often the case–the irregular was applied generally and so reporting on the various societies began to rely upon the rarity rather than the norm (if indeed a “norm” can ever be said to apply to wildly diverse practices). Moreover, there is simply no record whatsoever of a cannibalistic totem feast. The very notion was invented by Freud to discredit Christianity.

Freud’s generalized application of an extremely rare and unusual practice to a theory made up through psychoanalysis of peoples who left no record and no longer exist is unfounded. His use of his theory to attempt to discredit Christianity seems to actually teach us more about Freud’s psyche than the actual origins of Christian practice.

Anyway, I’m finding this book highly informative. I highly recommend it. I have found it to be extremely thought-provoking. It is interesting to see how many things we have simply assumed to be true about the origins of religion stem from unchallenged (and unsupported) theories proposed around a hundred years ago. Perhaps it is time to revisit these theories. So far as Freud goes, it seems his bell has tolled.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).
SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote! – Is Monotheism from Egypt?

ibg-wcEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Is Monotheism from Egypt?

I completed Winfried Corduan’s In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism recently. I have to say, it is one of those books which caused a paradigm-shift for me. It made me realize many mistakes I had made in my assumptions regarding the area of study for origins of religion. I’ll review it in a while when I have time to really sit down and write. Here, we’ll examine the notion that monotheism came from Egyptian polytheism. Corduan wrote:

The people were exhorted to acknowledge Aten, but there was only one way in which they could worship him… the way in which commoners… had always been instructed to worship the gods, by worshipping the pharaoh and his wife… Thus, if Aten were the one and only God, and he could only be worshiped by worshipping the Pharaoh, this was hardly a ‘monotheistic reform.’ Instead, it was the ultimate in egotism and delusions of grandeur. (312)

Corduan’s statement is the climax of several pages of examination of the cult of Akhenaten and the religion of Egypt. Essentially, his point is that one can hardly conclude from this consolidation of worship of deity into one form of worshipping the Pharaoh and his wife that this served as the source for later monotheism, specifically Hebrew/Israelite worship.

What do you know of Egyptian religion and the worship of Aten/the cult of Akhenaten? Have you examined your conclusions regarding this knowledge? What do you think about monotheism and Egypt?

In the Beginning God is an extraordinary study into the origins of religion and the theory of original monotheism. I highly recommend you grab a copy and read it.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).
SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 2/21/14- Camels, Vampires, Dinosaurs, Islam, and more!

postI am really excited about the lineup I’ve put together for you, dear readers, in this latest iteration of my Really Recommended Posts. Whether you’re interested in literary apologetics, archaeology, paleontology, world religions, or atheism, I have something here for you! As always, be sure to drop a comment and let me know what you thought!

Camels in the Ancient Near East– Winfried Corduan, a noted scholar of world religions, provides an extremely important look into the question of camels in the Bible and the Ancient Near Eastern context thereof.

Vampire Academy– Anthony Weber has taken the time to read a number of pieces of YA fiction. Vampire Academy is the latest, and a film is in the works based on the book. What can a Christian say regarding its content? Check out his post on the book.

Juvenile Dinosaurs Found Huddling in a Nest: A Local or Global Catastrophe?– Here’s an extremely interesting post on the finding of dinosaurs in a nest. Does it provide evidence for young earth creationism? Also, be sure to check out my own post, “Oceans of Kansas,” Unexpected Fossils, and Young Earth Creationism, which examines another evidence alleged to show a global Flood.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus– Daniel Wallace is pumped about the recent book from Nabeel Qureshi about how the latter came to Christ while practicing his Muslim faith. I can’t wait for my own copy to arrive! I had the privilege of taking a class with Qureshi through Biola, so I’m extra excited for this one.

Book Plunge: A Manual for Creating Atheists– Boghossian’s book has created a stir, as he is actively trying to deconvert Christians in particular. Check out this interesting review and examination of the work.

Really Recommended Posts 1/31/14- “Frozen,” French and American Atheists, world religions, and more!

postAnother week, another round of great reading served up for you, dear readers. I’m writing this in the midst of getting 4-6 inches of snow (it’s already at 3, and not showing signs of slowing…), so I can’t help but feel a little bit like throwing in a Christmas movie today and sipping some cocoa. Oh well! It also made me think of the movie “Frozen.” The topics this week are Disney’s “Frozen,” the conversion story of a French atheist, “Street Epistemology,” the sign of Jonah and world religions, something we can learn from atheists in the “Bible Belt,” and evangelicalism and liturgy.

Disney’s “Frozen” might be the most Christian movie lately– I found this article on the movie “Frozen” to be quite insightful and interesting. I highly recommend the movie as well as this article.

How God turns a French  atheist into a Christian theologian– I found this conversion story simply fascinating for how God works in people’s lives. The insights from this theologian are profound, and they speak volumes for the importance of a reasoned faith.

A Look at the New “Street Epistemology” Movement– Eric Chabot analyzes the “Street Epistemology” movement forged by Peter Boghossian for creating atheists. Chabot’s approach is fairly unique in that he explores the movement through means of certitude and doubt–a primary weapon for Boghossian.

Bible Belt Bubble Burst? Wisdom from an atheist friend– The importance of a reasoned faith is shared eloquently here through reflection on a conversation with an atheist friend in the “Bible Belt” of the United States. Highly relevant.

The Sign of Jonah– Winfried Corduan is a major scholar of world religions. In this blog post, he offers up a video of how world religions are impacting the United States alongside a commentary on the “Sign of Jonah” which Jesus says will be given to his contemporaries.

Evangelical conservatives vs. Liturgical conservatives– Is it true that one can be either evangelical or liturgical? Is there such a thing as a perfect blend and harmony of evangelical conservatism and liturgy? Look no further than Lutheranism. Check out this post with some interesting insights.

A Vision for Christian Apologetics to World Religions

Christian Apologists seem to only rarely focus upon world religions. Perhaps that is because many Christian apologists feel uncomfortable interacting with other religions. It is easy to be weighed down by fears that one might say something wrong and be deemed either ignorant or bigoted. It may also be simply that Christian apologists don’t feel they have the expertise do operate in this area. It is my goal in this post to paint in broad strokes and provide areas of development for Christian apologetics and theology regarding world religions. Because I’m painting in broad strokes, I’ll be raising many questions I’ll leave unanswered for now. I’ve included links at the end of the post for those interested in reading more.

A Vision for Christian Apologetics and World Religions

It has been said that evangelicalism needs a theology of religions. What does the existence of other religions mean? Do they have truths? How do we interact with them? These questions must be addressed by Christians who desire to explore the reality of their faith. Christian apologists, in particular, must be learned enough to know what position they take on these issues before they seek to defend their faith.

The study of another religion should not be done superficially. It is a good start to have a general volume on “world religions” and then read each religion’s respective section, but it is not nearly enough for the Christian apologist to do if the apologist desires to interact with believers from these other religions. A study of another religion, particularly for those interested in witnessing to them, must be more in-depth. The holy book(s) of the other religion is(are) necessary reading. But one cannot stop there. Few religions are based upon one book. Christians can readily acknowledge this, having had much thought and belief defined through tradition, apostolic and patristic. Similarly, when a Christian studies another religion, he or she must be willing to delve into the religion, to understand it from an insider’s perspective.

It is not enough for the apologist to read books about other religions, seeking to find fast and easy ways to refute them. Rather, the Christian apologist must engage with believers of other faith, acknowledging shared truths where they exist and seeking to understand the differences. Certainly, apologists must know the areas of weakness in other religions so that they can point these out as they debate and dialog on the religions. What I’m suggesting is that this cannot be the only thing Christians know about other religions. They must not be satisfied merely by knowing a series of arguments against those from other religions. Rather, they must be willing and able to engage with those in other religions.

Thus, this vision for Christian Apologetics to World Religions is a vision not just of debate but of dialog; a vision of give-and-take. The Gospel will not be heard where it is beat into people. It will not be heard where the only avenues for its witness are arguments. Paul wrote,

Although I am a free man and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. (1 Corinthians 9:19)

The attitude of the apologist is a servant’s heart–one that seeks to understand. In understanding, he or she will win many. Thus, when apologists approach another religion, they must understand that religion enough to engage with those who believe it and who live it. The Christian apologist must not deceive, but rather seek to understand. In understanding, Christians will understand more about their own faith, and be better able to spread it to those of other faiths.

There are five major things to keep in mind when doing apologetics regarding world religions:

  1. Know what the other believes. Never assume you know their faith as much as they do.
  2. Read their book. Nothing will open up avenues for discussion as much as the knowledge that you have read the books they find holy.
  3. Know Christianity. If you don’t know what you yourself believe, how are you to share that with others? As you engage with people of other faiths, you must continue to learn about your own faith and its answers to the questions others pose.
  4. Preach the Gospel. The goal should not only be to rebut the others assertions and beliefs. It should be to guide the other towards Christ crucified and the salvation provided for by God.
  5. Build a Genuine Relationship. It isn’t enough to simply engage in dialog; one must show they are interested in what the other has to say and what they believe. They must also be more than an occasional debate partner; they must build a relationship and become a friend. I’m not suggesting deception here, the relationship must be genuine. By showing a Christlike life to others, we can show them the intimate joys of Christianity.

Going forward, it is time to turn to a method for Christian Apologists to learn about other religions.

Studying a Religion: A Method of Learning for Christian Apologists

  • Read general discussions about the religion. A book on world religions is a good place to start, but be aware that these are, by necessity, generalized.
  • Read what other Christians have said about the religion. Neighboring Faiths by Winfried Corduan is a simply phenomenal resource which surveys the world religions from a Christian perspective.
  • Read the holy books of the religion with which you are going to interact. If you wish to engage a Muslim, read the Quran. If you want to interact with a Taoist, read the Tao Te Ching. As you read these books, keep in mind that you will find truths in other religions due to God’s natural revelation to all people.
  • Seek out believers from the religion, and engage with them in discussion. Ask them what they believe, but don’t allow your questions to be that general. Instead, focus on specifics. For example, “If I were seeking to learn more about your religion and beliefs, how would I go about doing so?”; “What is[are] your favorite passage[s] from your holy book, and why?” Questions like these will show them you’re not seeking to attack but to understand.
  • Read web sites dedicated to explaining other religions to those seeking. In this way, you will get a basic introduction to the religion while also viewing it from an insider’s perspective.
  • Read other Christians who have engaged these religions in dialog and mission work.
  • Consider responses from scholars within the religion to Christians working in that field. Be familiar with arguments for and against the positions you seek to put forward.
  • Above all, read God’s word. Only by being familiar with the Bible will one become an effective apologist and missionary. Jesus’ words will draw people from all backgrounds, and the Bible’s richness and truth will gain a hearing from all nations.

This list is, of course, not comprehensive. It merely provides avenues for research.

What to do with the knowledge?

Christians must engage with those of other faiths. Seek out those who are willing to discuss their faith with you. You will find that many interesting discussions will follow and you will learn much about yourself and Christianity in the process. Never stop seeking truth. All truth is from God. If someone from another faith says something which challenges you, seek the answer. There are thousands of years of Christian writing out there just waiting to be tapped. Not only that, but simple searches online will turn up innumerable apologetic resources. Do not let the discussions turn into debates only. Debates are good when there is an audience of people who may be swayed one way or the other, but in individual conversation, your goal should be to spread the Gospel, not to win an argument.

Become a prayer warrior. Do not let a day go by where you do not pray for those with whom you are engaged in discussions about the faith.

Tap your fellow resources. There are many other Christians working in the areas of religions, and they are willing to help. Do not be afraid to ask for it when needed.

Conclusion

The vision for Christian apologetics and world religions I’ve put forth here is admittedly vague, but I hope it will provide a way forward for those interested in dialog with those of other faiths. This vision has followed five primary thoughts: know the other’s faith, read their book, know Christianity, preach the Gospel, and build a genuine relationship. The most important thing to remember is that as a Christian it is your duty to spread the Gospel. Do not let yourself come in its way.

Resources

Some argue that there is no real way to tell whether any religions are true. That is not the case. There are some very real ways to determine truth in a religious paradigm. Check out this post: “Can we evaluate worldviews? How to navigate the sea of ideas.”

What about the truth found in other religion? How do we relate that to Christianity? Kenneth Samples is an amazing writer in this area. Check out this post in which he provides a way forward for thinking about other religions from a Biblical perspective: “Thinking Biblically About the World’s Religions.”

I highly recommend Winfried Corduan’s book Neighboring Faiths.

What about some of those unanswered questions–what about the unevangelized? This is matter of considerable debate and there are numerous books on the topic. I would recommend “What About Those Who Have Never Heard?” for an introduction to these views. For those wanting to explore inclusivism further, see No Other Name by John Sanders. Those interested in exclusivism/particularlism, see Is Jesus the Only Savior? by Ronald Nash.

SDG.

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