What is Unique About Christian Salvation?

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.
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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.

[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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