Ravi Zacharias on “The Challenge of Religious Pluralism”

Last Friday night and Saturday morning, I attended a series of lectures given by renowed Christian apologetist Ravi Zacharias, sponsored by the C. S. Lewis Institute. The talks were held at McLean Bible Church, and were entitled "The Challenge of Religious Pluralism". I thought the topic was fascinating, and Ravi is a great speaker. Let me see if I can share some of the points he made on Friday night, which focused on points of tension between Christianity and other religions:

  • In a survey of the world's religions, Christianity is still the dominant one, with 2.1 billion believers (33% of the world's population). Islam is next with 1.3 billion (21%), followed by Hinduism (900 million, 14%), Sikhism (23 million, 0.36%), Judaism, Bahaism, Buddhism, etc. Interestingly, atheists number about 1.1 billion (16%). However, the numbers for Islam are inflated a bit, considering that it's essentially forced upon people in countries like Iran or Malaysia.
  • Pantheists believe that all life is unity. In particular, they believe that the spirit (atman) is the nonmaterial, intangible self connecting with the concrete world. The concept of reincarnation is also different between Hinduism and Buddhism. Hindus believe in moksha, where you reappear in a new form. Buddhists believe in nirvana, where your moral effect is carried over in a karmic cycle. Each birth is a rebirth, and each birth is a result of karma. The human condition can thus be summarized as misery and opportunity. And, the way to obtain bliss (atman siddhi) is through knowledge, works, and devotion.
  • Hinduism started around 2500 BC. Buddhism started around 500 BC as a response to Hinduism. In general, lower caste Hindus fled to Buddhism because the latter had no vegas and no caste system, thus they felt more valued.
  • The goal of Hinduism is unity with an impersonal absolute. The goal of Christianity is communion with the divine, or a relationship with God, a being.
  • Muhammad (570 AD – 632 AD) was rasied by the Koraish, or headmasters in Mecca, since he lost both parents by the age of six. His first wife Hadijah gave him a strong sense of self-identification. After she died, he decided he could have twelve wives. His flight to Medina marked the beginning of the Muslim calendar. Since he did not appoint a successor, after he died, Muslims split into two groups: Sunni (who wanted to elect a successor), Shi'ite (who wanted his relative Ali to be the successor), as well as the Sufi (a more mystical group). Nevertheless, he pulled together a diverse group of people and gave them an identity.

The main beliefs of Islam are:

  1. God is a single entity (monad) and has no partners.
  2. Each human is assigned two angels to record his/her good and band deeds. There is a hierarchy of angels, with Gabriel being the chief. The Jinns are the lowest and the most sinister.
  3. God sent more than one prophet (Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc.) to each nation.
  4. Moses wrote the Torah, David wrote the Psalms, Jesus wrote the Gospel, and Muhammad wrote the Koran. Unfortunately, the first three were corrupted and thus not accurate. Only the Koran is perfect.
  5. There will be a day of judgment.

Therefore, there are several problems Christians run into when conversing with Muslims:

  1. Circularity ("How do I know the Koran is perfect? Because Muhammad said so. How do you know Muhammad is right? Because the Koran says so."). If this book is so perfect, Muslims must open up the right to critique it.
  2. Incredible claim that Muhammad is the greatest gift to the world. However, the Koran is only available in one language, and thus inaccessible to those who don't know Arabic.
  3. Abolition of authority without precedent or absolutes. If the Koran were lost, what would be the standard of perfection?
  4. Overruling an abolute authority while affirming a new one. Can a true prophet of God lie about his identity? No, it would be self-defeating. However, Jesus claimed to be the only way to God (no Muhammad involved here). This is an example of the law of abogation (reserving the right to overrule).
  5. Muslims will openly mock Jesus, but they will kill anyone who openly mocks Muhammad.
  6. Essentially, Islam has taken the attributes of Christ and applied them to the Koran.

Following that, here are a list of the fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity:

  1. There is no doubt that Muhammad said to kill to propagate or even defend the faith. Jesus never said that. Also, there is the whole issue of the sanctity of monogamous relationships.
  2. Jesus didn't come to build a nation.
  3. Jesus gave us the concept of a loving Father, which recalls the parable of the prodigal son.
  4. The concept of sin. In Islam, it's really a balance of whether your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds. In Christianity, we are completely unable to manufacture our own salvation.
  5. Muslims don't believe Jesus died.
  6. The concept of the Trinity.
  7. Our relationship with Jesus, which recalls the story of the woman with the perfume.
  8. The way our cultures are shaped. In the Marxist and Islamic cultures, it's heteronomous, where the ideas are shaped by those in authority and then filtered down to the masses. In the Hindu culture, it's theonomous, where there exists a natural impetus in us to say what is right and what is wrong. In the Christian culture, it's autonomous, which means we separate from the law unto ourselves to allow the rule of Christ in our hearts.

On Saturday morning, Ravi focused more on how skeptics view Christianity. There are four main things that skeptics search for:

  1. The reality and mystery of evil — How do you cast evil without a moral framework?
  2. The quest for justice — Can you cry for justice unless you know the justifiable source of all moral law?
  3. The hunger for love — Can you say the answer is love without answering the question of the intrinsic worth of life?
  4. The inescapable dependence on forgiveness — Can you talk of reconciliation without atonement?

The place where all four — evil, justice, love, forgiveness — collided was on Calvary, on the cross of Jesus.

Some other points:

  • There is an objective need, not merely a felt need, for Jesus to die for our sins. In particular, there is a brokenness between God and us. He provided an opportunity for us to reconcile with him, but we have to acknowledge the heinousness of that brokenness.
  • Respect means that we give everyone a right to their belief, but not every belief is right. Pluralism is dangerously starting to become relativism.
  • The key themes are redemption, righteousness, and worship.
  • The concept of the Trinity is tough. It is the greatest search in philosophy to find unity in diversity. The Father (judge), Son (savior), and Holy Spirit (dweller in us) all are of the same essence, but three persons.

I will certainly be looking forward to the next C. S. Lewis Institute event featuring Henry Blackaby in September.

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