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By Kenneth R. Samples
All over the globe, billions of people adhere to a variety of different belief systems.
Ten major non-Christian world religions abound today: Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism.1 The so-called minor religions are too numerous to count (e.g., various basic or folk religions, native American, African, etc.).2 Many people wonder how this morass of religious claims relates to biblical truth, and more specifically how it relates to the truth-claims of historic Christianity.3
Current cultural perspectives of pluralism, multiculturalism, and relativism make this perennial question all the more perplexing. However, sound biblical principles can build a foundation for a Christian perspective on, and response to, the world’s religions.
Assessing and classifying the world’s religions from a distinctly biblical perspective proves complex. Not even all Christians agree as to the proper point of view. However, eight identifiable theological principles emerge from a study of Scripture to help in this task.
1. The general revelation of God: Basic knowledge about the one true God’s existence and nature is clearly revealed to all people through the created order, as well as through the providential ordering of history, and through the human conscience (see Ps. 19:1-4; Rom. 1:18-21).4
In light of general revelation, commitment to the one true God and to the unique veracity of Christianity does not imply that all features of other religions are false. Since God created the universe and subsequently each human being in his expressed image (Gen. 1:26-27), authentic traces of
him can be found in all cultures, among all peoples, and, with some important qualifications, even among all religions.5 Creation powerfully, perpetually, and universally reflects the Creator. Human beings sense the reality of God by observing and encountering nature.
Scripture also reveals that as God's special creation, individuals know in the core of their being that there is a God who holds them morally accountable. This inherent and intuitive sense of the divine explains humanity’s deep-seated religious and moral impulses.
Humans have even been called homo religiosis because of their basic religious tendencies and nature. Anthropological and sociological findings confirm that religion has been a universal phenomenon throughout human history.6 Even avowed atheists often seek existential answers to life’s ultimate questions, sometimes in an amazingly “religious” manner (the philosophies of atheistic existentialism and Marxism provide good examples). General revelation explains the powerful phenomenon of spirituality and illuminates why many of the world’s religions agree in some specific areas, particularly concerning core ethical issues…
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