The following is the notes by Dr. Robert Kurka from his class on the Christian worldview and that of other world religions at the 2008 International Apologetics Conference. 
 

2008 International Apologetics Conference                                Dr. Robert C. Kurka                                                                                                     

Chicago, IL                                                                    Prof., Theology and Church in Culture

June 6-8, 2008                                                               Lincoln Christian Seminary

 

 

                   "A Different Name or a Different God? How Worldview

                            Apologetics Helps Us Answer the Question"

                     

 [T]he great world faiths embody different perceptions and conceptions of, and correspondingly   different responses to, the Real [the religious ultimate] from the major variant ways of being human.

                                                                                           –John Hick, Interpretation of Religion, 240

[T]he variety of the different world philosophies is a very useful and beautiful thing. For certain people, the idea of god as creator and of everything depending on his will is beneficial and soothing, and so for that person such doctrine is worthwhile. For someone else, the idea that there is no creator, that ultimately one is oneself the creator-in that everything depends upon oneself-is more appropriate…for such persons, this idea is better and for the other type of person, the other idea is more suitable.

                                                                                         –Dalai Lama, "The Bodhgaya Interviews," 167-68

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned (dialegeto) in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks as well as those in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

                                                                                  –Acts 17:16-18 [TNIV]

 Introduction: For a great many people in our culture, the sentiments expressed in the first two citations, above, ring true: There are many roads to God and/or spirituality, and the diverse religious traditions are actually no more than alternative interpretations of this spiritual quest. This view is called, "Religious Pluralism."

•·         While this may hold a certain attraction to Westerners, the situation described in Acts 17 is actually more descriptive of religious reality around the globe…where different religious claims are clearly perceived to be distinct, if not mutually exclusive truth claims.

•·         A pluralistic reading of religions is not really drawn from analyzing the religions, themselves, but from social science perspectives that are Western and secular.

•·         Furthermore, pluralism unfairly brushes over the distinctives of religions in an attempt to find commonalities (also, often derived from Western cultural values).

•·         Epistemologically, it is a self-refuting position in that it posits an absolute truth in order to deny that any one religion has possession of such…why should we believe the pluralist’s perspective?

•·         Clearly, Paul’s audience in Athens, perceived that his proclamation of Jesus and the resurrection were very different ideas from their own—and these were people who came from a long tradition of beliefs in god(s) and immortality. The Athenians (Stoic and Epicurean philosophers) believed that the Apostle was not only calling "God" by a different name (Jesus), but essentially speaking about a different God! This perception is further  strengthened in the ensuing "Areopagus Address," in which Paul lays out a worldview contrast that unmistakably stakes out the unique claims of Christianity in a world-both his and ours-that is inhabited by hundreds (thousands) of religious competitors.

"Areopagus Address": A Worldview Model for Demonstrating the Unique Nature of the Christian God (Faith)-Acts 16: 22-31

 

•I.                   (Preliminary observation) Worldview Questions that reveal a "Different God" -vv18-20

•·         "foreign gods"-Jesus and the resurrection

•·         "new teaching"/ "strange ideas" -to deists and panentheists

•·         Important lesson: the centrality of Jesus Christ and his resurrection to our proclamation of the Gospel (do not let these become marginalized!)

 

•II.                Worldview Story (diachronic) that reveal a "Different View of Reality"-vv24-31

•·         Paul provides a unique understanding of the universal human narrative of creation-fall-redemption (i.e., how did we/anything get here? What went wrong? How will it be fixed?)-a five-part biblical plotline: 1) God-vv.24-25; 2) creation[fall]-vv.25,26; 3)God’s sovereignty over human history-vv.26-30; 4)incarnation and resurrection of Jesus [and hence, the origin of Christianity]-vv.30,31; and 5)Christ’s judgment over the world at the eschaton-v.31.

•·         This is a story that encompasses all people (not simply one nation or tribe) and moreover, the entire cosmos (this inclusiveness is seen in Paul’s respect of his audience and their spiritual seeking-although their search is undoubtedly leading to confusion and idolatry-vv. 16, 23)

•·        

"Worldview"-a Definition

 "A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being."

–James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, 4th ed., 17

A story that climaxes in the person/work of Jesus Christ…but begins in the story of creation (the necessity of the Old Testament) in our presentation of the Gospel

•·         A story that makes intelligible the "unintelligible" (to the

•·         Greeks)-JESUS and the resurrection

•·         A story that can be known only through special revelation (not

unaided human reason)

•·          or "common sense" human wisdom)-v.23

 

 

 

 

•III.             Worldview "Doctrines" (synchronic) that reveal a "Different Religion"

 

•·         distinctive doctrine of God-pre-existent, transcendent, immanent, triune

•·         distinctive doctrine of creation-good but fallen but redeemable

•·         distinctive doctrine of humanity-all are imago dei

•·         distinctive doctrine of human problem-"sin"

•·         distinctive doctrine of salvationGod’s Grace in Christ

•·         distinctive doctrine of knowledge-God’s revelation in world/

Word (general and special revelation)

•·         distinctive doctrine of ethics-transcendent/revealed in God

•·         distinctive doctrine of history — linear, God’s providence

•·         distinctive doctrine of death-resurrection of the body

                

IV. Worldview "Products" (Cultural History) that reveal a "Different Society"

 

•·         Other worldviews (Greek): idolatry, intellectual erosion, societal fragmentation

•·         Biblical (Christian) worldview: community, sanctity of human

life, sexual morality, freedom and dignity of women and children,

                  charity and compassion, hospitals and healthcare, education, labor and economic  freedom, science, liberty and justice for all, abolition of slavery, great art, architecture, music, and literature, tolerance of diverse views (cf. Qu’ran, Surah 2:145-46; 5:78-86). These "cultural transformations" are undeniably attributable to the worldview of Christianity (although, it must be admitted, that human sin "corrupts" these redemptive measures. (See A. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World, Zondervan, 2004).

•·         R. Stark has ably demonstrated that Christianity’s ability to "conquer" the Roman Empire lay in its unique ability to offer a faith "that delivered potent antitdotes to life’s miseries here and now!" (Cities of God, 30).

•·         He also notes that contemporary Chinese academics have recently come to recognize that the Western culture that they so desperately want to emulate comes from Christianity. Stark cites a Chinese scholar:

The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this. (The Victory of Reason, 235)

 

 

•V.                (Postscript) Worldview Response that reveal a "Different Life Commitment"

•·         The message of the Christian (biblical) God does not lend itself to neutrality on the part of the hearer—-v.32…many will not want to "follow Jesus"

•·         …those who do, however, will "change the world"-v.33 (Dionysius and Damaris)…and millions of others!

 

 

 

Conclusion: Is "Jesus Christ" just another name for the same God? Paul’s "Areopagus Address" and its model of worldview examination clearly demonstrate that this is not the case. While some Christians may fear that the distinctiveness of the Christian God, Story, Doctrine, and Products may harm our ability to communicate with other world religions, the Acts 17 account presents missionary activity at its "best."

   Veteran missiologist, David Hesselgrave has proposed that there are five, indispensable "guidelines" that ought to govern our evangelistic efforts-all remarkably illustrated in the Areopagus narrative:

•1)      disposition and attitude of the missionary: genuine interest in the religion, ideas, institutions and sentiments of the people-this is the true "point of contact" -cf. v.22

•2)      "self-exposure" as the common ground for communication-we are all "sinners" in need of God’s word and grace-cf. vv.23,27-28

•3)      an emphasis upon the dissimilarities between the Christian faith and other religions (especially Jesus)-in order to facilitate understanding-cf. vv18,24-31

•4)      "storying the gospel"-scriptural storyline from Genesis to Revelation-cf. vv.24-31

•5)      genuine dialogue with other religions that demands that the missionary know and understand his competitors -cf. Paul’s use of Stoic vocabulary, poets, and his theological insight into idolatry (i.e., a search for spiritual truth, albeit in vain).

 

Admittedly, converts may come a bit more slowly when we apply the worldview approach (cf. v.32), but 2,000 years of history eloquently testifies that when disciples come, they GO and transform the world!

 

Biblical Christianity and Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism

Points of Comparison and Contrast

 

Biblical Christianity

Islam

Buddhism

Hinduism

Key Person/ Founder

•·   Jesus Christ c. AD 30-33 in Judean province of Palestine (cf. Gen 12:1-3)

•·   Muhammad (c. 570-632)

•·   Around AD 610 in Mecca, Medina

•·   "Headquarters": Mecca, Saudi Arabia

•·   Buddha (Siddhartha Guatama)

•·   Around 525 BC

•·   Offshoot of Hinduism

•·   No one founder

•·   Many sects

•·   Around 1800-
1000 BC in India

Key Writings

•·   Bible – originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic (OT) and Greek (NT)

•·   Qu’ran in Arabic

•·   Hadith (Muhammad’s words and deeds)

•·   Biblical Law of Moses, Psalms, Gospel of Jesus

•·   The Tripitaka ("Three Baskets") – more than 100 volumes

•·   Many writings, including:

•-    The Vedas (c. 1000 BC)

•-    The Upanishads

•-    The Bhagavad-Gita

Who is God?

•·   One God – Three persons (Father, Son, Spirit)

•·   Spiritual being

•·   Personal and involved

•·   Creator of universe ex nihilo

•·   Eternal, changeless holy, loving, perfect

•·   Allah = one

•·   Severe judge; sometimes merciful

•·   Reveals Qu’ran via angel Gabriel

•·   Buddhism is mostly atheistic – many Buddhists do not believe in any kind of Supreme Being

•·   Some Buddhists, however speak of the Buddha as a universal enlightened conscious or as a god

•·   God is the "Absolute" – a universal spirit

•·   Everyone (thing) = part of God (Brahman) – like drops on an ocean

•·   People worship manifestations of Brahman (god and goddesses)

•·   People are like God, but unaware of it

Who is Jesus?

•·   God – Second person of Trinity

•·   Pre-existent (not created)

•·   Co-equal with Father and Spirit

•·   Became fully human; virgin born

•·   Sinless

•·   Only way to God, salvation, and eternal life

•·   Died on a cross according to God’s plan as full sacrifice and payment for sin

•·   Raised (in body) on third day

•·   Ascended and now reigns in heaven

•·   Will return again to complete Kingdom and judge

•·   Jesus = one of up to 124,000 prophets sent by God to various cultures

•·   Born of a virgin, sinless, but not God

•·   Not crucified; ascended to heaven without death

•·   Messiah ("ayatollah")

•·   Will return in future to live and die

•·   Not a part of this belief

•·   Western Buddhists generally view Jesus as an enlightened man

•·   Jesus Christ is a teacher, guru, or Avatar (incarnation of Vishnu)

•·   He is a "son of God" as are others

•·   His death did not atone for sin, and He did not rise from the dead

Who is the Holy Spirit?

•·   God – third person of the Trinity

•·   Person not force

•·   Comforts, grieves, reproves, convicts, guides, teaches, and fills Christians

•·   Convicts "world" of sin, unrighteousness and judgment

•·   Qu’ran: Jesus = "Spirit of God"

•·   Muslim scholars see Gabriel (angel) as Holy Spirit

•·   The Holy Spirit is not a part of this belief

•·   The Holy Spirit is not a part of this belief

How can one be saved?

•·   Salvation is by God’s Grace not human works

•·   Salvation has been fully and perfectly accomplished by work of Christ

•·   Salvation must be individually appropriated by faith, belief, repentance, baptism

•·   Salvation brings forgiveness of sin, newness of life (Holy Spirit’s indwelling), and finally resurrection of body and eternity with God

•·   Humans = basically good but fallible; need guidance

•·   Balance between good and evil deeds determines eternity in paradise or hell

•·   God’s mercy may tip balance, but is uncertain

•·   Goal of life is Nirvana – to eliminate all desires or cravings, which in turn, allows one to escape suffering

•·   "Eight-fold Path" is the system to free one from desire

•·   Release from the cycles of reincarnation

•·   Achieved via yoga and meditation

•·   Can take many lifetimes

•·   Final salvation = absorption or union with Brahman

What happens after death?

•·   Believers go to be with Jesus

•·   After death, all people await final judgment

•·   When Christ "returns" all people will be resurrected – "saved" to heaven; "unsaved" to hell

•·   Resurrection of bodies

•·   Final day of reckoning /rewards

•·   For Muslim – paradise; for "infidels" = hell

•·   People do not have a soul or spirit

•·   However, one’s desires and feelings may be reincarnated into another person

•·   No heaven or hell

•·   Reincarnation into a better status ("good karma") if good

•·   If one has been bad, he/she may be reborn and pay for previous sins in suffering

Other beliefs or practices

•·   Group worship in the context of the Church (community)

•·   No secret rites

•·   Baptism and Lord’s Supper

•·   Active Kingdom of God proclamation – in words and actions

•·   Followers = "Muslims"

•·   Go to mosque for prayers, sermon, counsel

•·   Evangelistic (jihad)

•·   "Five Pillars"

•·   "Eight-fold Path"

•1.Right Knowledge

•2.Right attitude

•3.Right speech

•4.Right action

•5.Right living (or occupation)

•6.Right effort

•7.Right mindfulness

•8.Right composure

•·   Some Buddhists believe in an eternal Buddha (life-force)

•·   Offshoots: Zen, Nichireu Shoshu, Tibetan (occultic) Buddhisms

•·   Some disciples wear orange robes and have shaved heads

•·   Many Hindus

•·   Meditate on a word, phrase, or picture

•·   Yoga = meditation, chanting, changing postures, breathing exercises

•·   Hinduism = basis of New Age/ Transcendental Meditation (TM) practices