Welcome to 2018! Many of us have a few things in common this time of year. We’ll visit family and friends, we’ll travel, and we’ll suffer from food comas after indulging in too much holiday goodness. Another thing many of us have in common at the beginning of the year are those troublesome New Year’s resolutions. Each of us likely has a thing or two to work on, but what if you or someone you know has decided to investigate God? Let’s say you’re an honest spiritual seeker looking through the catalog of world religions. How do you know where to begin and which one to follow?
In today’s multi-cultural society many people simply pick and choose among the world’s various religions. They keep what they like while discarding what they don’t almost like a sort of religious buffet. For anyone beginning an investigation into religion, I recommend starting with Biblical Christianity first. This isn’t simply because I’m a Christian either. I believe anyone truly seeking God will find Christianity the best place to start for three simple reasons: 1) Christianity claims to be a historic religion and can be investigated as such. 2) Christianity offers the best explanation for the presence of evil. 3) Christianity is free.
While many other points could be offered, these three make Christianity a natural place to start. Think of these three points as a litmus test for any world religion. If the religion in question has no historical basis, or a weak historical basis, it’s easily dismissed after a little fact finding. If the religion in question can’t address the very real problem of evil, it’s of little use. Finally, if the cost of following the religion outweighs the benefits it offers, why pay the price to get in? On that note, let’s examine Christianity, a unique religion in that it withstands scrutiny from historians, archaeologists, and lawyers.1
The Historical Crosshairs of Biblical Christianity
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, God’s word came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Luke 3:1-2). Does this sound like someone who’s making up a story? This isn’t a fairy tale. Unlike some religions with murky origins based on late accounts, Christianity places itself squarely in a historic time and place. In fact, all eleven of the people named in the first three chapters of Luke’s Gospel alone have been confirmed by archaeology or non-Christian sources.2
Luke, a historian, a doctor, and the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, was a meticulously accurate writer. Luke didn’t claim to be one of the original apostles but says he carefully investigated their story. He was a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul and had access to the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and works. Throughout both his books, Luke’s accuracy has been repeatedly proven. For example, there are at least eighty-four historically accurate details, confirmed by historians and archaeologists, in the second half of the Book of Acts alone.3 The type of historical accuracy found in Luke’s writing led nineteenth century Scottish archaeologist to say the following about him:
“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements trustworthy . . . this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”4
This historical accuracy isn’t limited to Luke’s writing either. Throughout the New Testament, the apostles repeatedly stress the fact that they weren’t inventing stories and they invite the recipients of their letters to verify their claims. The Apostle Paul challenged people to verify the truth of his message by talking to the hundreds of witnesses who saw Jesus raised from the dead (1 Cor 15:6). The Apostle Peter, who boldly proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection in the same city Jesus was crucified in said: “This Jesus of Nazareth was a man attested to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through him, just as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). Peter later went on to say the following in one of his letters: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).
All in all, the New Testament writers mention at least thirty people and over one hundred and forty eyewitness details that have been confirmed by history, archaeology and non-Christian sources.5 These people are mentioned in documents that were produced far too early for the facts to have been tampered with or embellished. The New Testament repeatedly passes the tests, both internal and external, that historians use when determining the reliability and authenticity of ancient texts. The New Testament also passes the tests lawyers use when determine the veracity of admissible evidence for trials.6
Since the New Testament has been verified as accurate we can be certain the Old Testament is accurate too. Jesus’ divine nature is assured from the strong historical evidence supporting His death and resurrection. Because Jesus is divine we can trust Him when He promised the New Testament and affirmed the Old Testament as well. Jesus’ testimony, along with continued confirmation from archaeology, affirm the historicity of both the Old and New Testaments. In fact, the documented and proven historical core of the biblical documents is unlike anything found in any other world religion.
Explaining the Problem of Evil
The second reason to begin an investigation of world religions with Biblical Christianity is the full explanation it offers to the problem of evil. Christianity teaches that humans were originally created by God as free and perfect creatures. The problem of sin started when Adam and Eve used their God given freedom to disobeyed God. Since then, all humans have inherited a sin nature passed along by our original parents. The fact that God created humans with freewill explains why evil is possible. To be truly free to do good, the possibility of doing evil must also exist. God may be responsible for the possibility of evil but it’s mankind who is responsible for the actuality of evil.
Christianity’s unique answer to the problem of evil is found in Jesus Christ. Because everyone sins we all stand guilty before God. Jesus, being both fully man and fully God, came to earth to pay the penalty for our sins Himself. By accepting Jesus’ sacrifice, Christians are assured that our sins are forgiven. Additionally, God promises a time of final judgement when everyone who accepts Jesus’ offer of forgiveness will dwell with Him in Heaven where suffering will no longer exist. Those who reject Jesus will be quarantined – forever solving the problem of evil. If you compare this teaching to that of other world religions, the differences quickly become apparent.
In Buddhism, good and evil ultimately don’t exist, only cause and effect do. You accrue karma, both good and bad, through the choices you make. Good karma leads you to the knowledge of salvation while bad karma causes suffering. The only way to rid yourself of bad karma is to see the world for what it is: an illusion. Knowledge of this illusion allows you to escape the world and obtain Nirvana.
Hindu’s also believe that evil is caused by bad choices from past lives. These bad choices follow you through multiple reincarnations in the form of karma. Obtaining salvation according to Buddhism and Hinduism boils down to their view of god. Most Buddhist’s don’t believe in the existence of an eternal god while Hindus believe in a pantheon of gods. The only way to free yourself from the cycle of reincarnation in Hinduism is to obtain enlightenment and become one with (a)god. Either way, ridding yourself of karma or attaining Nirvana usually means enlisting the aid of a guru, a yogi, or a spiritual master. It’s not something easily achieved on your own.
Taoism teaches that good and evil are opposing forces that must co-exist to balance each other out for harmony’s sake. In Taoism, good will never prevail over evil. Good cannot exist without evil; evil cannot exist without good.
Islam and Judaism both come closer to the Christian explanation for existence of evil, but both ultimately miss the mark. Islam and Judaism both affirm God’s original good creation, and both agree that human sin leads to evil. Where Islam and Judaism fall short is in their solution to the problem of evil. Both make obeying God and His rules the means of achieving salvation and neither guarantees knowledge of whether you succeeded until after death.7
The Incredible Offer of Free Grace
The final reason I recommend that someone investigating religion start with Biblical Christianity is because Christianity is free. Christianity is the only religion that offers grace. Buddhists are constantly striving to follow the four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Hindus are constantly trying to work off karma from previous lives. Both are processes that take a lifetime (or multiple) to achieve. Islam or Judaism require constantly following the rules in thought, deed and action. At best, you can only hope your good deeds will outweigh your bad deeds in the end.
Christianity is different. Christian’s are assured of their salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. There is no ‘earning’ it in Christianity. Believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus and asking His forgiveness are the only things the Christian needs to be saved from sin and be assured of eternal life in Heaven. While most other religions teach salvation by works, Christianity teaches good works as the evidence of salvation – not the cause of it.
If you or someone you know is honestly seeking God, investigate Christianity first then see how the alternatives compare. I’m confident you’ll return to where the historical basis is sound, the answers are complete, and the price is free. I’m confident you’ll begin and end with Christianity.
1. See John Warwick Montgomery, “History, Law and Christianity,” NRP Books, 1964, 1991, 2002, 2014.
2. Norman Geisler & Frank Turek, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist,” Crossway, 2004, pg. 262
3. Sir William Ramsay, “The Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament,” Baker Book House, 1953, pg. 222.
4. Colin Hemer, “The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History” quoted from Geisler & Turek, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, pg. 256
5. Geisler & Turek, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, pgs. 269-271
6. Montgomery, “History, Law and Christianity”
7. http://studylib.net/doc/8276162/the-big-religion-comparison-chart–compare-world-religions, accessed on 11/9/17