Spiritual Seekers, Try Christianity First

Careful observers of Western culture insist that the search for spiritual fulfillment has never been more earnest. News articles tout the newly-discovered benefits of daily prayer or meditation on our productivity and emotional health. Polls reveal that most Americans consider themselves “spiritual but not religious,” and research concludes that spiritual people live longer and happier lives. Although spiritual seekers pursue a broad range of spiritual practices, life is too brief to choose wrongly. How should the spiritually minded choose the right religion? People seek spiritual and religious fulfillment for many reasons, but intelligent, reasonable spiritual seekers who are truly open-minded should investigate Christianity first.

At present, I am not making a case that Christianity is true. I’m saying that Christianity has distinctive claims and characteristics that, for the reasonable person, make it the ideal first choice to evaluate. Once its central claims have been tested, those who think it fails the test are free to assess the next available offering in the spiritual marketplace.

First, it should be noted that Christianity can be verified or falsified using historical evidence. In particular, if Jesus did not die by crucifixion and afterward rise from the dead, there is no good reason to believe Christianity is true. The Christian religion stands or falls on the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Bible says, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14, ESV). In this way, the Bible invites us to test its claims. But on the other hand, if Jesus rose from the dead, then the remarkable events of the crucifixion and resurrection are proof that God exists and the claims of Christianity are true. Among the major world religions, Christianity is distinctively different because of its basis in historical fact, making it an ideal first choice to be evaluated. But Christianity has other characteristics that make it attractive as the first spiritual option to assess.

Many religions claim that a certain kind of spiritual experience authenticates the truth of the religion for its adherents. For example, apologist William Lane Craig observes, “the Muslim or the Mormon also claims to have a witness of God’s Spirit or a ‘burning in the bosom’ which authenticates to him the truth of his scriptures.”[1] Christians also make similar claims. In the Bible, “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16), and other similar passages speak of the inward witness of the Holy Spirit to the Christian believer. Because we cannot ascertain the nature of someone else’s subjective, personal experience, we cannot judge between the claims of one religion and another solely on the basis of experience. But unlike some other religions, the truth of Christianity does not depend on the evaluation of a subjective experience. William Lane Craig remarks that having its central claims rooted in history “makes Christianity unique because, unlike most other world religions, we now have a means of verifying its truth by historical evidence.”[2] Christianity is distinctively different. Its claims can be objectively verified because they are based on historical events.

Second, Christianity has other advantages that make it the first choice to be appraised by reasonable seekers, such as the uniquely Christian concept of grace. Other systems of belief require their adherents to tread much more difficult paths to salvation, but the grace of Christianity is free for anyone to simply receive as a gift. Grace is unmerited favor. Therefore, the Christian believer cannot do works to deserve the grace by which he or she is saved. Christianity gives salvation as a free gift to whomever will receive it. No one becomes a Christian by belonging to a certain ethnic group, by speaking a certain language, by social status, or by any other criterion. Conversely, no one is disqualified by the moral crimes of his or her past. Every human being is offered the free gift of grace, which can only be received through faith in Jesus.

Compared to Christian grace, other religions offer paths to salvation that are difficult and uncertain. For example, Buddhism identifies the chief problem of humankind as suffering caused by desires. To end suffering, the Buddhist must extinguish desire through a discipline of rigorous, burdensome effort known as the eightfold path. Buddhism is oriented toward a salvation by works, and the truth of Buddhist teachings can only be apprehended by experience. By contrast, Christianity offers free grace that we cannot work for. We can only receive it, or else it would not be grace. We human beings are limited in many ways. Grace is consistent with the idea that God would condescend to us in order to make salvation possible for such limited beings. Christian grace costs the believer nothing. Christianity should therefore be chosen for evaluation first.

Third, unlike some other religious systems, Christianity does not force its believers to live compartmentalized lives, because its principles agree with everyday experience and logic. One of the principal laws of logic, the Law of Non-contradiction (LNC) states that for a proposition P, “the law of noncontradiction says that P cannot be both true and false in the same sense at the same time.”[3] Some forms of Buddhism teach ideas that violate the LNC, and are therefore illogical. Even so, Buddhists affirm logical principles, including the LNC, in their everyday actions just like everyone else. No one is able to live consistently while denying fundamental rules of logic. In contrast, the Christian can live life logically and consistently upon Christian principles in both private and public life.

Fourth, Christianity is consistent with reality. Some belief systems teach their adherents to deny the existence of evil. For example, although Buddhism argues that evil and suffering are only illusions, this is likely to be little comfort to a mother whose child has died. Neither can Buddhism offer an adequate explanation of atrocious evils like the Nazi holocaust. In contrast, Christians can confront evil. Christianity recognizes the reality of evil and offers an ultimate solution for it. One might say that the story of the Bible, from the third chapter of Genesis to the 20th chapter of Revelation, is the story of God’s plan to deal with the problem of evil once and for all.

Finally, Christianity has at its center the life and teachings of Jesus. While this may not be not surprising, it is remarkable that other major world religions claim a role for Jesus. For example, some Buddhists believe Jesus is a bodhisattva, an enlightened one who helps others toward enlightenment. Observing that Islam claims Jesus as well, apologist James Sire comments, “the prophet with the highest standing other than Muhammad himself is Abraham, followed very closely in importance by Jesus.”[4] It seems as if the magnificent life of Jesus has influenced other religions to include him in some way. Even so, the fact that other religions claim a role for Jesus only adds to the reasons Christianity should be evaluated first. Since other religions claim Jesus, the most reasonable approach is to first evaluate the one religion that has Jesus at the center.

We have seen that Christianity is based on objective historical evidence that can be verified. Christianity is based on free grace, unmerited favor that cannot be earned by good works. It is logical and can be lived out consistently in public and private. Christianity not only has an explanation for the problem of evil, but the ultimate solution for it. Finally, Christianity has Jesus, not on the sidelines, but at the center. For all these reasons, open minded, reasonable, and intelligent spiritual seekers should examine Christianity first.

[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 49.

[2] Ibid., 207.

[3] J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 132.

[4] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), 263.

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