Is There Room in Christianity for Other Beliefs?

This is an article I wrote for Helium.com. It was an answer to a debate question, Is there room in Christianity for other beliefs? Those who participate have to answer “Yes” or “No,” and I answered “Yes.” Enjoy!
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Can Christians gain insight from other religions, such as Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam? Or should they see Christianity as the only source of wisdom and guidance?

On a certain level, even the most fundamentalist of Christians form their beliefs with sources other than the Bible. If a fundamentalist wants to fix his car, then the Bible isn’t going to help him that much. He needs a car manual.

“But a car manual doesn’t relate to religion or how people should live,” someone might say. Fair enough. But if the Bible is supposed to be the only source of wisdom and guidance, then why go to church? Why read Christian books? If one takes fundamentalist logic to its conclusion, then all one should have to do is sit at home and read the Bible. Why listen to the wisdom and life experiences of a pastor or other Christians, if the Bible is all that you need?

As a Christian, I do not believe that there are many paths to God. If another religion contradicts Christianity, then I go with Christianity, pure and simple. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be a Christian, would I?

But there are things that people of other cultures have learned through their life experiences that they have communicated through their stories and religious traditions. The Taoists have observed that stressing out about life is not healthy and doesn’t necessarily make things better. The Buddhists teach that life is mutable and that attachment ultimately leads to disappointment. Some of their answers can offer sound advice to Christians, since they are based on what’s been observed to work (at least in the lives of some people). And, if Christians don’t like the answers that other religions have given, then they can at least benefit from the questions that they raise.

Also, studying other cultures can help Western Christians understand the Bible from a different perspective. Western Christians tend to read the Bible in light of their own western mindset. Perhaps learning about the East can show them that their presuppositions are not the only ones on the face of the earth, and this can allow them to read the Bible in a whole new light. The Bible didn’t emerge in America, after all, but in the Middle East.

For example, there are many evangelicals who see God as a buddy. Muslims wouldn’t even dream of being so casual with God, since they view Allah as the sovereign ruler of the universe, meaning he deserves respect. I’m not saying that evangelicals should ditch their intimacy with God, but I do think that Islam can remind them of God’s holiness and exalted status. And what Muslims can teach us is already in the Bible, only some Christians may have missed it because of their biases.

Another example relates to law and grace. A lot of evangelicals focus on God’s grace and love, even as they downplay God’s law. Judaism also believes that God is loving, but it holds that God expressed his love by giving Israel the Torah. Judaism can remind Christians that God respects humanity enough to give it responsibilities to fulfill. Again, what Judaism teaches is already in the Bible. It’s in the Old Testament, as a matter of fact! But some Christians may have missed that because they read the Bible with their own cultural glasses. Getting outside of themselves may open up new things to them-from their own religious tradition.

The Christianity that many practice today has already been influenced by other cultures. For example, the church fathers drew on Greek thought as well as Scripture in their attempt to understand God. As long as drawing from other cultures doesn’t make Christianity something other than Christianity, then I see nothing wrong with it.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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