My son, Bailey, has a friend named Conner who has been asking his parents some very challenging theological questions of late. He is only eight years old, but Conner has been stumping his mom and dad just like my kids stump me from time to time. Recently he asked, “How do we know that our religion (Christianity) is the true one and the others are wrong?” Whoa. That’s a toughy. This is one of those cases where the kid’s question itself is as encouraging as it is challenging. It’s encouraging because it shows that he is already thinking critically about worldviews. And it’s challenging, of course, because, well, the question raises a whole nest of difficult issues. It’s also worth noting that Conner’s question presupposes two important truths. First, it assumes that there is such a thing as truth in religion and, secondly, it assumes that not all religions can be true. So the question as to why we should believe Christianity is the one true religion is itself insightful.
So, then, how do we know that Christianity is true? The short answer is that we know this through special revelation—the Bible. Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ is the unique of Son of God, that he lived a sinless life, and that he died and rose from the dead to save humanity from their sins. This is the essence of the gospel and the heart of Christianity. It is also the essential doctrine of our faith which distinguishes it from all other religious faiths. The great theistic traditions of Judaism and Islam, for all their many insights and true doctrines (e.g., that there is a personal God who created the world and communicates with us through special revelation, etc.), deny the divinity of Christ. And pantheistic religions, such as Hinduism and New Age thought, deny that Jesus Christ is uniquely divine (since they affirm that all human beings are essentially divine).
Christianity stands alone in affirming that Jesus is the unique God-man and savior of the world. And this core Christian belief is based on the teachings of the New Testament. So, then, the next question is whether the New Testament is trustworthy. Without delving into technicalities, the evidence for the historicity (historical reliability) of the N.T. documents is overwhelming. In fact, the manuscript attestation for the New Testament documents is incomparably greater than that for any other ancient documents. For an informative—a surprisingly stimulating—book on this subject, I highly recommend F. F. Bruce’s classic The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? And there are many other excellent resources, such as Craig Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the Gospels and Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, which confirm our confidence in the New Testament and, in turn, its central claim that Jesus Christ is uniquely divine.
So it all comes down to the identity of Jesus Christ. Is he the God-man or a mere mortal? This is not only the central question in the study of comparative religions but also the central question of human history. Either Jesus is divine and Christianity is the one true religion, or he was a fraud and Christianity is a scandalous lie. Neither of those alternatives is benign. Both have profound implications for the meaning of life. So kudos to Conner for posing such a foundational question. He has gotten to the heart of the matter. And all of us, not just his parents, need to be ready with an answer.
By the way, in my book Gum, Geckos, and God I tackle many questions like these posed by my own kids. I’m interested in hearing other insightful and challenging theological questions posed by children (or adults, for that matter), so let me know if you have a good one to share.
Maybe you’ll think I’m being really, really picky.
I’m not sure that it’s proper to speak of religions (Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, etc.) as being “true” or “false”. Or, if this is proper, it is so only in a secondary sense.
Propositions, I insist, are the only primary truth-bearers. (At least in this sense of “true”, and I think that’s the relevant sense for this kind of question).
So what does it mean to affirm, when asked, “Is Christianity true?” or “Is Christianity the only true religion?” or “Is Islam false?”
Can a religion be reduced to a set of propositions? I don’t think it can be. I don’t think Hinduism or Islam or Christianity can be so reduced. I’m even dubious of talking about “biblical” or “orthodox” Christianity as a determined set of propositions.
Maybe we can talk more sensibly about whether or not the Nicene Creed is true. Or whether or not it’s true that Jesus Christ is Lord, and what that means, exactly. (This really seems to be the line you’re taking here–you’re reducing Christianity to a “core” doctrinal proposition: that Jesus is uniquely divine. But I rather suspect someone could believe this and still differ with much Christian orthodoxy, or even be not at all recognizably part of the Christian religion. At least this is in principle a possibility.)
For myself, I think the more important application to this view of truth and religion is a word of caution when condemning other religions as “false”, even though it should make us stop and think when we assert that our religion is “true” as well. (In fairness, I commend you for noting explicitly that Judaism & Islam have some true doctrines in them. I would go further and hesitate to claim for certain that other–nontheistic or nonmonotheistic–religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism have no true doctrines.)
🙂 This is the first time I’ve hunted down your blog and actually read a post, I think. I hope you don’t mind the lengthy comment. (Let me know if you do!)
Thanks for your comments. And, no, I don’t mind at all its length. But now look at your argument and see how you have created a false dilemma–that between saying either 1) religions have no truth value or 2) religion can be be reduced to a set of propositions. Those aren’t the only options. I do agree that propositions are the proper carriers of truth value, and religious worldviews make many truth claims (i.e. they affirm many propositions). But saying this in no way implies that religions are nothing more than propositions or that they are reducible to such. On the contrary, my own religious experience has many ineffable (shall I say “mystical”?) aspects that cannot be so expressed, and I think this derives from the nature of the God I worship as opposed to my subjective constitution. Of course religions transcend their propositional assertions, but this doesn’t diminish the fact that they make such assertions.
Getting back to the point of my post, a central truth claim (proposition) of Christianity is that Jesus Christ is uniquely divine. This distinguishes the Christian religion from all the rest–again, as regards our worldview’s truth claims. But, again, there is nothing reductionistic here, at least not in any sense in which the orthodox creeds don’t do the same. And if you would accuse those statements of faith (e.g. The Nicene Creed, The Apostles Creed, The Chalcedon Creed, etc.) of being reductionistic as well, then I will gladly plead guilty as well.
Also, I do think there are many true and doctrines in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and every other major world religion. But they fail to affirm the unique divinity of Christ so they are false in a crucial way. Is that “condemning” them? Of course not–at least not in any sense beyond what you are doing in claiming some of my claims here are false. So if I’m guilty of “condemning” others’ views in saying they’re false, then you are likewise guilty of condemning me. Touche! 🙂
Lastly, let me offer a disclaimer. The point of my post was to address the question of an 8-year-old child in the simplest terms I could–ultimately so his parents could relay my response to him in slightly simpler terms that he could understand. I probably should have made this clear in my post. My bad. Otherwise, I would have done plenty of nuancing and qualifying in my answer–such as your critical remarks have inspired me to do here. Hah!
Thanks again, Scott. And welcome to our blog.
Thanks so much for your blog. I appreciate your ability to simplify apologetics to the degree that even I can somewhat grasp a handle on these abstract truths. (Perhaps that takes me down to the level of an 8-year-old though! In all reality, I think, perhaps having three young kids does that to a person’s mind regardless.) I’m probably even more appreciative now than when I was in your class at Taylor. A minor bonus is that you’ve allowed us the opportunity to glean the information for free–I’m all the more grateful for it!
Secondly, please don’t take this the wrong way as I certainly am not diminishing a word of your post, but I thought you should know that ‘whoa’ is spell that way, rather than woah…
Make that ‘spelled’!
Thanks for your comments. Congrats on all the kids. I’m sure you’re training them well.
And I appreciate the spelling correction (which I have already implemented in the post). You may consider that more than ample remuneration for my “free” education services. Hah!
Abigail @ Pearls and Diamonds
I have a friend who is faced with this question “How do we know that, through translation, the Bible hasn’t been skewed beyond truth?”
I’d love to hear your thoughts on it! Is there a simple answer?
Abigail @ Pearls and Diamonds
Excellent question about the issue of translations (and, I presume, transcription) of the Bible. How do we know that over the centuries the Bible hasn’t been mis-copied, mangled, and, as you put it, “skewed beyond truth”? I do think there is a fairly straightforward—if not entirely simple—answer to this question. Let’s focus on the New Testament, since it is in these documents that we find the distinguishing claims of Christianity. The key lies in the existing manuscript copies of the N.T. Copies of the N.T. date back to within 150 to 250 years of the writing of the N.T., which is exceptionally early as ancient documents go. On average, the length of time between the writing of an ancient work (e.g. works by Herodotus, Thucydides, Euripiedes, etc.) and the earliest extant copies is 1000 years. And the average number of copies from this time period is less than ten. But in the case of the N.T. there are thousands of extant copies dating to within a few centuries of the writing of the documents. This means that the question of copies made since, say, the fourth century, is moot. We can go back to the earliest manuscripts from that time and check today’s Bible against them. It also means that if we are to trust the historical accuracy of any other ancient document, then we should trust that of Scripture. To do otherwise is a double standard of the most irrational kind.
For more on this important question, check out F.F. Bruce’s (short and highly readable) classic The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?
BTW, I checked out your blog. Great stuff!
actually it doesn’t matter what Religion you may have, as long as you treat the other person right.~,:
The Truth matters, if you want to live forever. Jesus is the TRUTH and the WAY to everlasting LIFE…