What Makes Christianity Different?

In 1958, renowned religious expert Huston Smith published a groundbreaking book titled The World’s Religions. Fifty-eight years and two million copies later, the book remains an authoritative summary of the world’s major faiths.

Last semester, for the first time, I read Smith’s book.

Perusing that particular publication proved to be profoundly provocative. Specifically, it made me venture outside of my cozy little churchy comfort zone and think about all faiths corporately. Is there something all these religions—despite their undeniable diversity—have in common?

The answer, I believe, is this: religions all prescribe different paths to God (or to gods or at least to a spiritual realm). The sundry religions of the world do indeed share common ground, in that they all attempt to satisfy the fundamental human desire to find meaning in life and experience something more important and more lasting than ourselves. Whether through the yoga of Hinduism or the Eightfold Path of Buddhism or the Five Pillars of Islam, the world’s faiths beckon you and me, saying: “You want to come to God? Here’s what you must do. Here’s how you find God.” We are upward-reaching creatures. Therefore, religion.

But, a devastating problem: they don’t work. The yoga of Hinduism does not direct one to the divine. The Eightfold Path of Buddhism does not result in true Enlightenment. The Five Pillars of Islam do not lead one to God. Even with all their solemn rituals and sincere followers, the religions of the world are all ineffectual.

Except one. That’s where Christianity comes in.

“I have come down from heaven,” the most influential person of all time, who claimed to be God’s Son, once said (John 6:38).

Indeed, we are upward-reaching creatures. Through religion, we reach up.

According to biblical Christianity, God reaches down. Through Jesus.

Christianity isn’t about us somehow clambering up to God. It’s all about God kindly, lovingly, graciously stooping down and offering salvation as a gift—not a reward.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. | Ephesians 2:8

Bottom line: the world’s different religions teach that a frustratingly elusive spiritual realm must be reached by you.

Biblical Christianity, on the other hand, says God came to us.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. | John 1:14

 

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