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What is Unique About Christian Salvation?

What is Unique About Christian Salvation
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In a 2010 op-ed piece for the New York Times, Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, focused on the commonalities found in world religion, arguing that “religious and secular views converge in the realm of ethics.” [1] In his view, all religions share a common purpose of promoting moral behavior in their adherents and are essentially similar to one another. This view has been criticized by Boston University professor Stephen Prothero. Prothero has identified four areas in which religions differ. For Prothero, religion articulates “a problem; a solution to this problem… a technique (or techniques) for moving from this problem to this solution; and an exemplar… who chart the path from problem to solution.” [2] This framework identifies key aspects of the major religions, including the “solution,” or religious goal, offered by the faith.

In the Yogic religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, the “problem” is the suffering inherent in human experience. Moral behavior can impact one’s life through a process of karma and reincarnation (good deeds in this life will lead to less suffering in the next, and vice versa), however, ethical behavior is not itself the “solution” or a “technique” for reaching it. [3] Regardless of how good one acts, suffering will be experienced to some extent in the next life. In these religions, the solution is to attain a state of being free from want, called nirvana. If one is able to rid themselves of want, the cycle of reincarnation ceases and suffering is ended.

In Islam, the problem is identified as the sin of humankind. Humankind has sinned and this sin separates them from their perfect Creator, Allah, who hates sin. [4] The solution in Islam is ethical behavior; the Muslim faithful attempt to live a life which contains more good than bad, hopeful that Allah will then allow them to be reunited with him in the next life. The technique, in Islam, is ethical effort and determination.

Christianity, like Islam, shares a common problem: sin. As in Islam, the Christian God is perfect and His perfection separates humanity from Him. However, it is in the solution and technique and Christianity distinguishes itself from Islam. In Christianity God recognizes the sinfulness of humanity and desires justice to be done. However, rather than punish humanity, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, willingly sacrificed Himself as a payment for mankind’s sin. [5] Justice satisfied, God then freely bestowed grace upon an undeserving world. The technique required of Christians is that they have faith, “and that not of yourselves.” (Ephesians 2:8) In Christianity everything is taken care of by God Himself. Ethical behavior is neither solution nor technique, but a byproduct of them. [6] In Christianity everything is taken care of by God Himself. Ethical behavior is neither solution nor technique, but a byproduct of them. Click To Tweet

When considering these worldviews together, there is a common undercutting defeater present in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam which is not present in Christianity: a lack of evidence that the prescribed technique could ever accomplish the intended solution. [7] Hindus and Buddhists must simply take on faith that it is somehow possible to rid themselves of want. There is little evidence to affirm such a position; desire appears to be central to human existence. [8] Muslims are in a similar position; they must simply hope that God will choose to weigh their good deeds heavier than their bad in the end. A Muslim could never know in this life if their efforts are bringing them any closer to being reunited with their Creator.

The Christian, on the other hand, can know today that their techniques would work (assuming Christianity is true). The Christian’s proposed technique (Jesus’ sacrifice) would certainly accomplish the solution (forgiveness of sin and the reuniting of Creator and creation). The Apostle John speaks to this issue, saying:

“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)

Christianity alone amongst these four has an identified problem, solution, and technique which is consistent with the reality around us and is internally consistent and certain.

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[1] The Dalai Lama was paraphrased here by Dan Harper, “Do All Religions Share a Common Thread?” UUWorld, last modified September 20, 2010. https://www.uuworld.org/articles/religion-common-thread. For the original article, see Tenzin Gyatso, “Many Faiths, One Truth,” The New York Times, last modified May 25, 2010. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/opinion/25gyatso.html.
[2] Stephen Prothero, God is Not One: The Eight Revival Religions That Run the World- and Why Their Differences Matter (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 9.
[3] Luke Wayne, “Rebirth, Reincarnation, Liberation, and the Value of the Body,” CARM, last modified March 24, 2017. https://carm.org/hinduism/reincarnation-liberation-and-the-value-of-the-body-rebirth/. See also, Douglas Groothuis, “Jesus and Buddha: Similarities and Differences,” February 3, 2014, YouTube video, 1:30:16, https://youtu.be/0lUB4P8XbqE.
[4] William Lane Craig and Shabir Ally, “Islam Has A Morally Deficient Concept of God: An Exchange Between William Lane Craig & Shabir Ally,” Reasonable Faith, drcraigvideos, December 28, 2015, YouTube Video, 9:12, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsvg8UvUccA. See also, Irving Hexam, Encountering World Religions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 171.
[5] John 3:16.
[6] James 2.
[7] The erroneous underlying premises of these world religions is comparable to the “Widow Maker” undercutting defeater described in Jeffrey M. Robinson, Persuasive Apologetics: The Art of Handling Tough Questions Without Pushing People Away (Jeffrey M. Robinson, 2020), 64-65. In both instances the primary problem is a flawed premise underlying the conclusion.
[8] D.M. Broom, “Evolution of Pain,” in Pain: Its Nature and Management in Man and Animals, ed. Lord Soulsby and D. Morton, Royal Society of Medicine International Congress Symposium Series, 246, 17-25 (2001).

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Written By

Jimmy Wallace (J. Warner's son) holds a BA in Psychology (from UCLA) and is currently completing his MA in Theology - Applied Apologetics (from Colorado Christian University).

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. mike archibald

    May 8, 2022 at 4:55 pm

    It actually seems a little sad to have the dalai lama talk about religious commonality in dealing with ethical issues and then respond with “oh but our religion is different and better”.

    The issue is that ‘faith’ is NOT the technique, it is the factor of the specific religious experience. The argument you are presenting is that the OBJECT of that faith acts differently in the christian religion when that does not seem true UNLESS you are roping God into your personal belief. “I have FAITH in You, therefore YOU will accomplish these things for me”. The article seems to be saying that ‘their faith doesn’t make god do what they want”. Which seems an odd argument to make.

    Thats not really how religious experience works. The hindu and buddhist and muslim all ‘act’ in their specific way because they have ‘faith’ that what they are doing is ‘true’. If they didnt think that, they wouldn’t be following that religion.

    Describing faith in such a way actually CHEAPENS the christian religious experience. Jesus said I am the way, but since thats an obvious metaphor, he doesn’t say what that ‘way’ actually is, any more than ‘the light’, or even ‘the truth’.

    I’ve never understood christian exceptionalism, it seems blatantly false on the face of it, and it would be downright horrible to think that anybody who lived and died without hearing about Jesus suffers a different fate because of that.

    What is missed in this article is what is OBVIOUSLY different between religions which is what they say about specific ethical issues. Neither the Dalai Lama or here is that made clear for the obvious reason that ALL historical religions have a problem with modern ethical issues without some serious legwork being done, much like liberation theology did with catholicism in the eighties. It seems many today don’t like to do that legwork, despite it being necessary. The commandments of course don’t help much, if ALL you do is follow them then there are a lot of ethical issues you have to grapple with in other ways.

    And frankly, IF somebody like some scientific hacker group said “hey, we stole the production method for Pfizers vaccine and we are now going to africa to freely distribute it” then I think even most christians would likely applaud despite it clearly being ‘stealing’. When thousands of people will doubtless die because they can’t get a vaccine and its hoarded by a corporation which only BOUGHT it, then the notion from ANY religion that just says “you really shouldnt steal” will be laughed at as much as Robin Hood was once lauded.

    Of course liberation theology came in the eighties and did a lot of that heavy lifting in the catholic church even without its sanction, so far a similar thing happens in protestant churches simply by either omission or the creation of new congregations. The primary difference between the religions is not nearly as great as within those religions. In ANY religion you will find people who reject any notion of religion as being anything other than their personal hotline to god and ethics or behaviour don’t enter into it. You can have mennonites who don’t talk about faith or doctrine AT ALL but only about how to do good works most effectively. LIkewise the other religions have those who focus primarily on the ethical works. As it is I find the muslim religion ‘seems’ to focus stronger on ethics than many christian denominations which act much like Kirkegaards saying that ‘the last christian died on the cross’. Happily I notice ALL religions changing in that they are more focused on the specifics of the action rather than debating the ‘technique’ that leads them there.

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