Is there value in studying comparative religions?Question: "Is there value in studying comparative religions?"
Answer: “Comparative Religions 101: Study the world’s major faiths and religions side by side and learn their similarities and differences.” This simple course description is included in thousands of college and university catalogs advertising a class that is often required for graduation. Books and websites are devoted to the subject of comparative religions, many times with the goal of validating and presenting each as a respectable option for mankind’s spiritual needs. Education is always beneficial when it is pursued from a foundation of truth; however, if we study comparative religions with the goal of changing our thinking about God and His Word, such an undertaking can be dangerous. Christians who are grounded in their faith should have no problem studying the world’s man-made religions. Even so, there are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Who/what is facilitating the study of comparative religions? In Luke 6:39–40, Jesus gave this warning: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” The way the subject of comparative religions is presented makes a huge difference in whether it is helpful or harmful. A book on comparative religions that is written with bias toward Islam or atheism can create doubt or fear in a reader. A teacher who treats Christianity with contempt and expresses personal disdain for the things of God can disturb the faith of many, especially in young or immature believers. Psalm 1:1–3 applied to this question warns Christians to avoid the “counsel of the ungodly” and those who “sit in the seat of scoffers.” So, before reading a book or taking a class on comparative religions, first learn the qualifications and philosophical slant of the author or the teacher.
2. What is the purpose of the study of comparative religions? If our purpose in studying comparative religions is so that we can be more fruitful witnesses, then doing so can be helpful. Missionaries headed to the foreign field need to be educated about the religions of the culture to which they are sent. Educating ourselves about the religions of our region can help us craft a more successful approach in presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, if the study is motivated by our own spiritual unrest or questions about whether the Bible is true, such a study will most likely only increase confusion. Young adults may see the study of comparative religions as a wise endeavor, now that they are free from parentally imposed church attendance. They often dive into the study of other religions, believing they will uncover truth for themselves. The results are often disastrous, leaving the student disillusioned and determined to believe nothing. When biblical truth is studied on par with man-made idolatry, Christianity is easily discarded as “one more religion.”
3. From what perspective is the comparative religions course being taught? Christians should always study comparative religions from a Christian perspective. Excellent resources abound that showcase the fundamental beliefs of other religions and demonstrate how they differ from biblical truth. When approached from a solid foundation, the study of comparative religions only reaffirms the incomparable truths of Christianity. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.” It is our responsibility to be selective about who or what we allow to teach us or our children. We should approach every field of study from a solid foundation with convictions based on the unchanging Word of God (1 Peter 1:24–25).
Putting Christianity on par with other religions is similar to cleaning a huge mess of fish while wearing a diamond ring. If the ring slips off and gets lost in the slime, it can be tossed out with the garbage. Only much later is its absence missed, but by then there’s no way to know where to begin looking for it. The ring may be a lost cause because it is so easily hidden in the mass of fish entrails. Some people can lose their faith like that, when they fill their minds with the world’s confusing nonsense in the name of a comparative study of religion. When they go to retrieve their faith, they realize it is no longer there. Many never recover it and simply walk away into atheism and emptiness. Christians should only study comparative religions when the purpose is evangelism and the teacher or textbook subjects itself to God’s truth.
Recommended Resource: Handbook of World Religions by Len Woods
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