Christian Beliefs about Other Religions



In recent years, Christianity has been increasingly faced the question of whether or not salvation is found outside of the person and work of Jesus Christ. The existence of so many religions in the world, and the unprecedented exposure that followers of different faiths have to each other at this time in history because of the ease of communication and travel, has led many people to ask questions like "Is one religion the right way to God and heaven, while other religions are wrong?" or "Are some right and others wrong?"

Christians answer questions like these differently. Some Christians believe that all ethical religions lead to God. Others believe that salvation is available to people of all faiths, yet all religions eventually lead to Christ. Still others believe that Christians cannot be sure about the fate of the unsaved. And still others believe that salvation is through Christ alone and that no follower of any other religion will be saved. Throughout Christian history there have been scholars, pastors, and laypeople ascribe to each of these views. (Learn more about Jesus Christ here.)

Virtually all Christians agree, no matter their position, that this is an important discussion for the Church to have. Christian leaders have counseled believers that it serves the Church well to listen to proponents of other positions and think through question like, "If someone believes another religion can lead to God, does that automatically mean that they don't take the Bible seriously?" and "If a person believes that salvation is in Christ alone does that automatically mean they are intolerant or cultural insensitive?"

Below you will find more discussion on relevant biblical passages and views in Christian history.




Relevant New Testament Passages

The first expression of Christian beliefs is contained in the books of the New Testament, which then became the foundation of all future doctrinal development. It would therefore be good to begin with a selection of New Testament texts relevant to the subject of Christianity and the other religions. The New Testament contains teachings about what is necessary for salvation and a few accounts of the apostles' response to other religions.

These passages are listed here in the order they appear in the Bible:

"I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Mark 10:15)

"Then Jesus told them, 'Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29)

"I [Jesus] am the way and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

"Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:15-16) {1}

"The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved - you and your household." (Acts 16:29-31)

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles." (Ro 1:18-23)

God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism." (Ro 2:6-10)

"For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." (Ro 2:13)

"This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." (Ro 3:22)
(Learn more about the New Testament here.)

Classical Views

For most of its history, Christianity has been an "exclusive" religion. That is, it has taught that salvation is available only to Christians. Thus, from the very beginning, Christians attached great importance to spreading the news about Christianity through missionary and evangelistic efforts, believing that people were lost without it. The gospel (i.e. "the good news") was the announcement that Jesus Christ has enabled people to be reconciled with through his death and resurrection, which was accessed through repentance and belief.

In the 14 centuries between the writing of the New Testament and the Protestant Reformation, Christian doctrine was based on a combination of the Scriptures, creeds, certain councils, the writings of respected church fathers, and the teachings of Church leaders. The nearly unanimous consensus of these authorities was that salvation is found exclusively through belief in Christ.

Prior to the Protestant Reformation, it was taught that salvation is available only to members of the Christian community who adhere to the official doctrine of the Bible, the creeds and the councils, and participate in the sacraments. Thus those who considered themselves Christians but were excommunicated from the Church and her sacraments were believed to be excluded from salvation as well. With the Protestant Reformation, many Christians began to believe that salvation is possible - and perhaps even more probable - outside the fold of the Catholic Church. However, it was still generally held that one must be a Christian, and adhere to certain core beliefs, to have hope of heaven.

Modern Views

Today, in the age of religious pluralism and increased knowledge of other faiths, some Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, believe it is not necessary that a person believe in Christ in order to be saved. Such Christians usually maintain belief in the validity and truth of Christian salvation, but hold that Christ can save people whether or not they know his name.

Others hold more conservative views. The various Christian perspectives of other religions are sometimes placed in the categories of pluralism, inclusivism (sometimes differentiated from particularism), and exclusivism.

"Pluralism" is the view that there are many, equally valid paths to God. Christianity is only one of these, and is no more superior than the others. The foremost proponent of this view is John Hick, a

"Exclusivism" is the diametric opposite of pluralism, holding that salvation is only through explicit faith in Christ.

"Inclusivism" holds that while Christ is the only way to salvation, people of other faiths may be saved.

Recommended:



Further Resources on Christianity and Other Religions

General Surveys

Conservative/Exclusivist Views

  • Pluralism, Universalism, Inclusivism, Exclusivism - In Plain Site
    Articles and excerpts on these various views, from an exclusivist perspective.
  • Hendrick Kraemer, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, 3rd ed. (1956, reprinted 1969). Encyclopedia Britannica calls this book "the classic modern statement of a conservative position."
  • S.J. Samartha (ed.), Faith in the Midst of Faiths: Reflections on Dialogue in Community (1977). Produced by the World Council of Churches.

Catholic Views

Pluralism

  • Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Towards a World Theology: Faith and the Comparative History of Religion (1981).
  • John Hick, God Has Many Names (1982).
  • John Hick and Paul F. Knitter (eds.), The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions (1987).
  • John Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions: The Rainbow of Faiths (Westminster John Knox Press, 1995). "One of the most useful aspects of this book, which began as the 1994 Auburn lectures at Union Theological Seminary in New York, is Hick's discussion of the etiquette of controversy--an important subject at a time when controversy (theological, philosophical, and other) is often anything but constructive. The book begins with a careful restatement of Hick's pluralistic hypothesis and continues with four dialogues--two with a character named Phil, who articulates a series of philosophical criticisms, and two with a character named Grace, who articulates a series of theological criticisms. The book ends with a lyrical account of "a Christianity that sees itself as one true religion among others" and an excellent bibliography. This is an entertaining book, accessible to a wide variety of readers. It is suitable as an introduction to Hick's thought and the criticisms it has generated, but it is also a fine synthesis that will prove valuable to readers already familiar with his work." --Booklist
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