May 16, 2024

How Does Christianity Differ from Other Religions?

Nathan W. Bingham & Stephen Nichols
How Does Christianity Differ from Other Religions?

Many people today might say, “All religions essentially teach the same thing.” Today, Stephen Nichols points out how the Bible’s teaching that Jesus is the only way to God differs drastically from false religions.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: Joining us this week on the Ask Ligonier podcast is the president and professor of apologetics at Reformation Bible College, Dr. Stephen Nichols. Dr. Nichols, how does Christianity differ from other religions?

DR. STEPHEN NICHOLS: Well, that’s a fascinating question, especially given that we live in a fairly pluralistic world today, which is to say a number of people have the idea that all religions basically teach the same thing. The Hindu proverb states that all paths lead to the same summit. And as Christians, we need to take a serious look at this question because the gospel is at stake and the eternal destiny of people is at stake in the answer to this question.

First, let’s just bring some clarity to other religions because that’s a fairly amorphous concept. So, I think we can group religions into basically three categories. We have sort of the folk religions, or sometimes these are referred to as the primitive religions. So, these would be the animism or the spiritism that you find, especially in the underdeveloped world. So, that’s a category of religion.

Then you have the Eastern religions, and the biggest one, of course, is Hinduism across India. But you also have Buddhism and Confucianism, and the Japanese religions like Shintoism, and you have Taoism. So, these are the Eastern religions, and quite a few people in the world would be adherents to these; somewhere around three billion of the world’s population would be classified in these Eastern religions.

And then you have the major three religions of the west, which are sometimes referred to as the “people of the book” traditions because of the centrality of the religious text to these. And of course, the big three is Christianity and Islam and Judaism. Judaism is a relatively small population. Islam, of course, is growing. and it’s predicted that it will outpace Christianity by 2050. So, roughly two billion, just over two billion Christians, and roughly just around two billion Muslims. But again, that number will likely overtake.

So, as we think about these religions, I think you can ask three questions of these religions so that we can begin to see how they differ. So, the first question I would propose is the authority question—in other words, by what authority do they have, or by what authority does this religion have for its practices and for its teachings?

And when we look at that, and we look at the Bible as the authority for Christians, and we look at the other religious texts for these other religions, we begin to see that there’s no comparison at all. Not only are they very different, but the Bible emerges as unique and historically reliable when you do this. So, you compare the Bible to those Eastern texts like the sayings of the Buddha, or the Upanishads of Hinduism, or the sayings of Confucius, they’re moralistic. They’re sort of tales of wisdom. They’re not really historical narratives. They’re more sort of hero kind of tales.

As you move into the Western tradition and you look at the Quran—very different. Of course, the Quran is all given as a vision to one person who then recites that vision, and it’s recorded. Now, we have visions in the Bible and we have the recording of those visions, but that’s not even the majority of the text; it’s a minority of the biblical text.

Or you go to some of the smaller religions like Mormonism, and you look at the Book of Mormon, and here you have this unknown language, and you have the special translation stone to translate these plates that Joseph Smith found in upstate New York. And all this is done secretively, behind a curtain, as he’s translating the Book of Mormon, and we have the Book of Mormon. When you put the Bible side by side, it looks very different. It reads very different because it is different. So that’s the first question: By what authority?

The second question is one that Dr. Sproul liked to ask. He said: “You know, I think about people of other religions,” or, “I think about other religions—the question I have is, What do I do with my sin? Where does my sin go?” And when you look at many other religions, they basically turn the question back on you to have you do something about your sin—and that’s true whether it’s a religion or a cult. So, what do you do with your sin if you’re a cult? Well, you have to wear this robe, and you have to do this thing on this day, and you have to be part of this group, and then you can be in, and you can be saved. And you look at other religions, and here’s the task list, the works that you have to do. And, of course, we know that’s true of branches of Christianity when we think of the Orthodox church and we think of Roman Catholicism.

Now you look at orthodox biblical Christianity, and it says: “You can’t do anything about your sin. But here’s the good news: Christ has done it all.” So Christianity, again, has a different answer to this question. Actually, salvation in Christianity is when you stop leaning on your own efforts or stop trying to sort of white knuckle your way into heaven, and instead you rest in Christ, you trust in Christ to take away your sin. It was Jesus Himself who said, in a context of comparing His truth to the religion of the Pharisees, saying: “My yoke is easy. My burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). So again, when you look at the doctrine of sin and salvation across these religions, they are not the same. They differ.

Finally, you have those big questions in life. So, the third question I would ask of different religions, or ask of religions so you can see how they’re different, is to say, How do these religions answer the big questions? And philosophers have sort of boiled these down to four. So, the first, of course, is origin—the origin of all things and the origin of me as a person. The second one is meaning: What is the meaning of the universe, and what is the meaning of my life? Why am I here? What is the point of all this? The third question is ethics, or morality, or the “How do I behave?” question, and “How do we as societies behave?” And then the fourth question is, What is our destiny?—both in terms of our destiny as a people, as a universe, and our destiny as individuals. So, it’s a wonderful grid now to go back to religions and say, “How do they answer these questions, these ultimate questions? And do they have satisfactory answers?” And again, you can begin to see the differences.

So, just as we began with mentioning pluralism, I think this is very important for us as Christians to realize that pluralism is a lie. These religions are not all teaching basically the same thing. They are teaching different things, contradictory things, and we have to realize that.

But secondly, we have to go back to the words of Christ in John 14:6, and He makes a very clear statement that these religions are not all the same when He says: “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. And to be clear, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” And as we think about adherents of other religions—people we meet and spend time with, maybe work with—we can’t just think: “They’re okay. They’re good people. God will honor their religious devotion.” We must realize that without faith in Christ, they are lost. And they cannot have faith in Christ unless they hear about Christ, and they can’t hear about Christ unless we proclaim Christ.