The Table Podcast

Can All Religions Be True?

In this episode, Mikel Del Rosario, Drs. Timothy Yoder, and Craig Hazen discuss engaging religious pluralism, focusing on the question “Can All Religions Be True?”

Timecodes
00:15
Yoder’s background in philosophy of religion
03:09
Hazen’s background in comparative religions
04:18
What is religious pluralism?
06:15
What is relativism?
09:48
Why do people reject exclusivism?
15:56
Do all religions lead to the same destination?
21:55
What is tolerance?
26:55
Responding to relativism
31:40
Issues surrounding popular views of tolerance
35:52
The importance of listening
39:10
World religions and the uniqueness of Jesus
45:14
Engaging world religions
Transcript
Mikel Del Rosario
Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Manager here at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And today’s podcast topic is engaging religious pluralism. We’re going to ask the question: how can we engage with people who say ‘how can one religion be true? Can’t all religions be true?’. And I have two guests to help us with this discussion today. My first guest is in studio is Tim Yoder and Dr. Yoder teaches apologetics here he teaches in the theology department. Welcome to the show Tim.
Tim Yoder
Thank you, Mikel. It’s good to be here.
Mikel Del Rosario
And my second guest is coming to us via Skype from sunshiny Southern California, Craig Hazen. Craig Hazen is the Director of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, my alma mater. And we’re so glad that you’re here on the show, Craig.
Craig Hazen
Hey, good to be here. Mikel is one of our illustrious graduates here, somebody we point to all the time. If you want to do a MA in Christian Apologetics at Biola you’re gonna be just like Mikel. [Laughter]
Mikel Del Rosario
Well thanks, Craig. Well, I’m so glad that you guys could join us on the show today to talk about this, ’cause this is a question that a lot of people actually have. They’re trying to share their faith, and they get stopped by some of these challenges like, “Well, that’s great for you, but all religions are true.” Or, “Why can you say there’s only one way? How could that be?”

But before we dive into that, let me just get a little bit of background for our listeners on each of you guys. Tim, I don’t think we have ever asked you on the show how you got interested in studying philosophy of religion.

Tim Yoder
That’s a great question. So I was raised in a Christian home, and I am, you know, active in my church, went to a Bible college, after the college of Bible, and seminary. And I was thinking that maybe I would be an evangelist or a missionary or a pastor. And I did some of those things. I was a youth pastor for a little while, and I was a missionary in northern Russia for a few years in the ’90s. But in all of those things it didn’t feel like that was exactly what God had in mind. And what he really seemed to be calling me to was a life committed to helping to develop critical thinking, and to raise the level of intellectual engagement in the church. And my last year of seminary, I actually had some philosophy courses with Dr. Bruce Ware, and a light bulb came on that, “Oh, philosophy. This may be the pathway to really engage these things for the purpose of helping the church to grow.” And so … Of course, that was the end of my seminary time, which was already extended a little more than I hoped. And so … but what I did, my next to be which was a PhD, I did Philosophy of Religion at Marquette University. And it’s great. And the Lord has opened up doors to engage, to teach students, and to do some writing and thinking and speaking. And I’ve really enjoyed it.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well Craig, how did you get interested in studying comparative religions?
Craig Hazen
Yeah. It really goes back to me becoming a Christian in the first place as a senior in high school. I was the campus agnostic or atheist. And there were a lot of people gunning for me. So I end up becoming a Christian. A lot of the questions I had before becoming a Christian were, “What about the other religions?” That’s one that I thought no Christian I’d talked to could really give me a decent answer to. And they didn’t seem to know anything about them. What … Buddhists, and the Hindus, and the Muslims, and stuff we’ve never heard of? There’s religions being invented on street corners in Los Angeles right now. What about those?

So that was a question that carried me right into the Christian faith. And so strangely I ended up devoting my graduate education to studying those kinds of questions. How does Christianity stack up against the other great, world religious traditions? So, happy to be talking about that with you today.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Well let’s begin by talking about the term religious pluralism. That might not be a term that a lot of people have heard. And many people mean different things by that term, religious pluralism. So Tim, can you help us understand the different ways that term is used, and what we’re talking about specifically here today?
Tim Yoder
Okay. Well, very good. So pluralism is a term used in a number of different contexts. I think at the heart of it, pluralism just means there is more than one right answer to a certain question. And in some ways that seems like a very obvious thing, and sometimes that seems like a very weird sort of a thing. I definitely remember in math class, when I was in elementary school, learning my multiplication tables and addition tables. And when I didn’t get the right answer, it was wrong, and I felt bad. And so there was one right answer to seven times three, or four plus four, something like that.

But in other regards, it seems like there’s more than one right answer, more than one way to get to a certain place. I can come to school here by four or five or six different routes, which are all good, depending on traffic and other sorts of things. And so there’s more than one right way for me to get her.

So pluralism is the idea that there’s more than one right way, or more than one right answer. And then, in this context, it means that there is more than one religion that is successful or true or will get you to heaven or get you to wherever you want to go. John Hick is famous for saying that it means that all religions are successful in terms of interacting with the absolute. So something along those lines is what I have in mind by the term.

Mikel Del Rosario
Okay. So we’re making a distinction between just the mere fact that, hey, there’s a lot of religions that are around. People believe different things, and we do live in a pluralistic society. That’s just a fact.
Tim Yoder
It is.
Mikel Del Rosario
And then the idea that all paths are somehow equally valid or equally true in their truth claims. Right?
Tim Yoder
Yes.
Mikel Del Rosario
Craig, when I think about truth claims, in terms of people who hold to religious pluralism, is relativism pretty much the same thing? How do those things connect together?
Craig Hazen
Yeah. Well, I’m sure they are. This whole idea of religious pluralism … Tim was great at giving the multiplicity of definitions of this. Some people mean by the term simply that there’s lots of religions around. The United States is a pluralistic place with regards to religion. And there’s lots of them out there. But sometimes it means that … as Tim was describing … that somehow more than one of them is true, in the claims that it’s making. And that becomes problematic, and obviously leads right to a kind of relativism. But I don’t know what kind of relativism you’d like to dish up today, moral relativism or epistemological relativism. But certainly these things are glued at the hip.
Mikel Del Rosario
As you’ve studied a variety of world religions, how much have you found reason and evidence really being a big part of a lot of non-Christian religions?
Craig Hazen
Yeah, that’s a really mixed bag. I think when you dig deep into the various religions, one thing that struck me about Christianity is how different it is in this regard. Now on the surface, they all seem to be kind of the same, making certain truth claims, and sometimes even giving good arguments about them. But when you dig down a little bit, there’s really not much there. Christianity, on the other hand, is actually grounded in such claims. As the apostle Paul said it, I Corinthians 15, starting with verse 12, if Jesus did not come back from the dead, Christianity’s bunk. It’s just not true. Your faith is worthless. Go do something else, for goodness sake. Now that’s …

I like approaching a religion that way. And that actually warms my heart about Christianity, although it causes a lot of Christians to really get unnerved. They get a little bit nervous about such things. “Well, what if we don’t have the evidence?” “What if there’s really no good reason to believe that Jesus came back from the dead?” According to the apostle Paul, we’re well within our rights to move along and do something else.

So I think on that particular point, if you dig deeply into these religions and what they mean by truth and evidence and rationality, Christianity ends up being a dramatic stand out. It actually sinks or swims on certain historical claims.

Mikel Del Rosario
That’s right. Tell that story real quick, you mentioned before, how someone came up to you at a church one day and said, “But you shouldn’t talk like that Craig. It’s like, what if it’s not true?”
Craig Hazen
Yeah. I actually gave a message on I Corinthians 15, verses 12 through 9, where the apostle Paul 2 times says, “If Jesus did not come back from the dead, your faith is worthless,” or, “your faith is empty.” And … This is kind of a liberal leaning church. And a woman came up to me afterwards and said, “Well, you gotta be careful with a passage like that. What if it didn’t happen?” Oh, my goodness. This church has way bigger problems than me expounding on this particular passage. You folks need to retool your Sunday school through adult education.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. So it’s surprising, sometimes, the kinds of things that people even in the church will say to us when it comes to this topic of religious pluralism. Can I really believe that there’s only one way? A lot of people would say no. What are some reasons, Tim, that you think people might say no to that question?
Tim Yoder
I think we should begin with the famous story of the blind men and the elephant. I think every conversation about this topic has to begin with that parable, which probably is Indian or Hindu in tradition, but it’s the idea that this group of blind men stumble upon an elephant, which they had never encountered before. And they didn’t know what it was, and the surrounded the elephant. And the one man grabbed hold of the leg and said, “Oh, wow. An elephant must be like a tree. It’s study and round.” But the other one had hold of the tusk and said, “No, no. It’s more like a sword or a knife.” And another one had the trunk and said, “No, no. It’s more like a snake.” And so the fourth one had the side of the elephant and said, “No, it’s kind of a wall.” And, of course, the moral of the story is that none of them were really wrong, so therefore all of our answers are right. And if we say we have the one true perspective, therefore we must be arrogant.

And so that’s at least one way in which some that espouse a more pluralistic notion will begin. The answer to that, though, is pretty clear. And that is that just because they have part of the truth doesn’t mean that they have all of the truth. And in fact, you only really know the whole of the truth if you can see broadly and see the whole thing. So to just say that everybody is just automatically right is actually a kind of perspective on the truth, and so therefore in a way it’s almost self defeating. If you say, “Well, the true answer is that everybody is right, they’re still arguing for a true answer, a true perspective. And so the claim of arrogance still applies in some regard.

The other problem that we can get into, of course, is that when people say that all religions are the same, or all religions are true, well, I like to say, I like to think of it this way. When they say that all religions are true … I’m sorry … when they say that all religions are the same, and therefore that they’re all true, what they’re really saying is that no religion is true. Because if you say that all religions are true, when faced with the clear incompatibility of religious traditions, even just on the question of God, Christians are trinitarian, Muslims are monotheistic, Hindus are wildly pluralistic, Buddhists, at least some strains, don’t believe in a God at all, and Mormons believe in a God that is the same kind of species as we are … and that’s just a few of the major religions. And that’s just in 30 seconds. Those are huge, stark, really significant real differences about the nature of the deity, which are not easily wrangled and say, “Well, it’s all just one side of the elephant.” No, they’re very different. They’re mutually exclusive sorts of positions in the nature of the deity.

So you’re papering over the real differences that are there. So that when people that all religions are basically true, what they’re basically saying is that religions are not true, and that truth is not a category. And when we get into that kind of territory, then we’re in a very, very different sort of discussion altogether.

Mikel Del Rosario
And so …
Craig Hazen
One more example that helps to highlight the wonderful example Tim gave with regards to the blind men and the elephant. I did a little research one time, just looking for the earliest version of that particular parable story that I could find. And it definitely comes from the Indian sub-continent, many generations ago. But in the earliest one that I could find, there’s an interesting ending. In fact, the whole thing really isn’t centered on the blind men or the elephant, it’s really centered on a local Rajah, a local king. And this is all taking place at his palace, and in the courtyard is the elephant. And a small troop of blind men walk in and start bumping into the elephant and touching all the various parts and proclaiming what they think this is. But the story ends with a very strong focus with the Rajah, who’s up on a balcony looking at all this mayhem. Because by then the blind men are pummeling each other in a fist fight, which is actually a great metaphor for the kind of conflict we have when we disagree on religious matters.

But the shift focused to him and he says this. He looks down into the mayhem in the courtyard and says, “You foolish blind men. Don’t you know you’re all touching the same thing? You’re touching an elephant.” Now the profound nature there is that it required … this is a wonderful symbol here … it required a word from above to understand the actual situation on the ground. It took somebody with a bird’s eye view, with a god’s eye view, looking down to tell the poor blind men what the real scoop was.

Tim Yoder
And the multiplicity of the opinions didn’t lead to.
Craig Hazen
So that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for that Rajah or that bird’s eye view to really enlighten us about the religious plurality that humans experience.
Mikel Del Rosario
Right. Because, in a sense, we are just like these blind men bumping around. And how do we know? Were just human beings trying to figure out reality. But if God has spoken, if God has given us that objective word from above, the we best pay attention to what he has to say. You were going to say something.
Tim Yoder
I was gonna say, and the story, in Craig’s version … which I hadn’t heard before. That’s great. I’m definitely gonna use that the next time I bring that up. The multiplicity of opinions didn’t necessarily lead to tolerance and mutual affection, but to violence. So that’s interesting as well.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Interesting. Yeah. You mentioned how Christians are often perceived as arrogant to say, “How could you say one way’s the only way.” But it’s interesting that in Christianity you actually can’t be arrogant, because you have to say, “Look, I am kind of just like these blind men. I don’t know any better except I’m listening to the king. And I can’t say, “Oh, whatever I think is right.” I have to say, “Okay. I’m gonna trust you, Lord. I’m gonna trust your revelation so that I know what things are like, and I can’t just make it up myself.”

But that leads us to the next part of what I wanted to talk about, which is some of the different ways that people tend to approach religion. And one way that I want to talk about is the all roads lead to the same path kind of model. I call that the mountain model, where you have a Buddhist going up this path, and a Hindu maybe a similar kind of path, maybe diverges a little bit, and then on the monotheistic Judeo-Christian side, you have the Abrahamic traditions on their own path. What’s the attraction to that model? And then how can we help people evaluate that model?

Tim Yoder
The attraction is that it means that we don’t really have to judge too much, all these competing claims. We can look at our neighbor, our friend, who might be Buddhist or Muslim or Darwinist or something else and say, “Well, they’re okay. They’re fine. They’re okay.” Nobody wants to say that somebody who was as wonderful as you say Gandhi, “Is Gandhi really in hell? Are the people like that?” And so you don’t have to do as much judging. You don’t have to do so much discernment and discrimination about competing claims, because like all rivers lead to the same ocean. All mountain paths lead to the summit.

But again, the problem with that is it really undermines the value of truthfulness. If there is a real, a genuine truth about religion, or a genuine truth about the nature of God, or human nature, the nature of salvation, if there’s a genuine truth about the problem that we face as humans, and the solution, then it requires us to engage in some discrimination, in some judgment. I don’t mean racial discrimination, but I mean discrimination of ideas, thinking them through, evaluating what’s true and what’s right, so that we can get somewhere. That’s part of every academic endeavor, and it fits here.

I like to put it this way. Maybe this will be helpful. When we consider religious truth claims, we have to ask whether we think that they are more like science and math, or more like food and music. Let me unpack that a little bit. Like I said earlier, in realms of science and math, there’s one right answer. And you don’t build bridges or send rockets into outer space if you have a loosey-goosey idea about the truths about math and science and engineering and physics and all those things. There’s one right answer, and we know it because stuff actually works, rockets and bridges and airplanes, and so on.

But when we get to things like food or music we have differing tastes. If somebody says, “I happen to like rap,” or somebody says, “I happen to like jazz,” or, “I happen to like opera,” rarely is somebody gonna say, “Oh, no. You’re just wrong.” They might say, “I don’t particularly like that kind of music.” But they won’t say, “Oh Mikel, you like jazz? You’re so wrong.” Or food. If you like Mexican food, “Oh, that’s just false.” That’s a little strange. But we just say that we have differing tastes, and we approve of people having differing opinions about those sorts of matters.

But I think that there’s a really good reason for us thinking that religious truth claims actually fit better with the realm of science and math because religious truth claims are trying to give us an evaluation or a depiction of the way things really are. That’s what the truth really is, a description of the way things really are. There really is a God, and he’s like this. There really is the problem of mankind, and it’s like this. And here’s the solution, and here’s what it is. And so we’re making truth claims about the way things are, just the way science and math try to understand the way the world really is.

And so it’s not a domain in which we can just espouse our particular likes or dislikes or how we’re feeling that day. “I’m kind of in a Chinese food mood today.” No, that’s not what we’re doing when we’re doing religion. We are trying to understand the way things really are, how God really is, how we really are, what’s our problem, what’s the solution? And so I think we in areas in which a strong understanding of the nature of truth is entirely appropriate.

Mikel Del Rosario
You mentioned God earlier. That’s not a side thing, like on what days should you fast? Is there a God or not, first of all. And those can’t be true at the same time. You can’t have God exist and not exist at the same time in the same sense. I could tell you I’m Filipino. Hey, I really am. But if you think I’m an Irish guy, well, you can think that all you want. Or if you think I’m a six foot tall, African-American basketball player, well, you can think that all you want, but it’s just not true. I’m sorry if that offends you, but this is who I am.

And so, on the other hand, if God says, “This is who I am,” and we say, “Well, I’d rather think that you are something else,” we’re just not in touch with reality. Craig, did you want to chime in on that mountain model?

Craig Hazen
No. In fact, Tim Yoder has this so well nailed down that I’m gonna go downstairs and make a sandwich. [Laughter]
Tim Yoder
Make me one, too. Put it in the mail.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, that’s where we’re going next, actually, is the whole make your own buffet religion model. And I’ll start off with you on that one. What’s the attraction with that, and how can we begin to engage people who feel like, “Well hey, spirituality is is just something I can make like I’m at a lunch buffet and pull a little bit of this and that, and isn’t that what religion’s for, just to help me on my own path?”
Craig Hazen
Yeah. You’re reminding me of an essay by Robert Bellah. He’s a famous sociologist of religion at UC Berkeley, years ago. He got together with a bunch of other sociologists. They did this massive study about religion in America, what really is a religious person in the United States? And they boiled it down to this person that they called Shelia. And Shelia was … they characterized her … and actually found a person named Shelia who actually embodied every norm in a perfect way. So they used her as an example. But she was … number one, she was a believer, but not a belonger. A believer but not a belonger. And she was very eclectic in her religious beliefs. So she would pick and choose the things that she thought would really help her out the most.

And these sociologists said that really characterizes the center point of religion in America. And so you can imagine there’s some sort of dramatic attractiveness to that kind of approach to religion. And Tim’s already pointed out some of these things. It really is a wonderful recipe for peace and getting along, ’cause religion … in religion we’re talking about ultimate questions. Who is God and what’s he like? Or is there a God, and what is she like? And what does it take to please this deity? And what’s right and what’s wrong and in the ultimate sense? All of these are things where people can come to blows over, just like the blind men and the elephant.

And so that that hoped for peace, I think is probably the primary driving force in these ideas. You’re not gonna be offending anybody if you’re a believer but not a belonger. You go along with that kind of spiritual feeling, but you’re not gonna join up with the Baptists or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the local Islamic chapter. You’re just not gonna do that. And so that actually is a wonderful formula for peace.

Now it ends up, truth and rationality end up taking it in the chops with this kind of approach, unfortunately. And doing a doctoral program in religious studies at a very secular university, the first thing I noticed was the scholars in these traditions and even the people who practice them on the ground, they were unified in one thing that, for goodness sakes. All roads don’t lead to God, or they don’t lead to truth or enlightenment. They were unanimous on that across the board. This is some weird thing we’ve kind of developed to maybe keep the peace, in terms of religious and deeply held issues.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. It seems so tolerant on the face of it to say, “Well, can’t we all just get along? And you’re right, we’re all right. Can’t we all be right? But Craig, I think you’re on to something here where it is almost … it is disrespectful to the leaders of these world religions to begin to twist what they say to make Mohamed’s thought fit in with Trinitarian Christianity, or to make Gautama’s Buddhist philosophy somehow congruent with the Christian faith. But tolerance really is a driving force, I think, for this. How do we see that piece fitting into engagement? Explain what true tolerance is, Craig, rather than this kind of let’s just all pretend we all believe the same thing kind of tolerance.
Craig Hazen
Yeah. You did a good, ground level job of describing what a lot of people thing tolerance is. It’s just a way we maneuver to keep the peace. But real tolerance ought to do that, but it ought to do it in a more robust way. We acknowledge our differences. We talk openly about them. But we care for one another as human beings, made in the image of God, or at least valuable in some deeply human or religious sense. And so there we can talk about difficult issues, but we’re always going to care and respect each other. I think that’s really where we want to go with tolerance. I wish everybody could buy into that. We’d all be learning a lot more about each other, and I think we’d all be moving towards the truth at a better clip.
Mikel Del Rosario
Can you think of a strategy, Tim, that would be helpful for if a Christian is in a conversation, and they feel like they get stopped by this kind of challenge. They’re trying to share the gospel …
Tim Yoder
The tolerance challenge.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. And they’re trying to share the gospel, and they go, “You know, that’s great for you, but that’s just not my thing.”
Tim Yoder
Yeah. Yes. So I want to actually begin by picking up on what Craig is saying and add to it a little bit on tolerance, because he’s right, that there’s a development in the notion of tolerance. It used to be that it meant that we respect everybody’s right to disagree. But recognizing that we have these agreements, and at some level they’re valid disagreements and we respect the other person, but we’re trying to get to the truth. But contemporary notions of tolerance seem to be the idea that we can’t really disagree with anybody, and that all perspectives are valid and are right. And so if we weigh in and say that we don’t agree with something, then we’re a hater, and we … It’s hate speech, and very serious charges.

And I think that that fails to recognize … and this actually is an answer to your question, Mikel, about a strategy. Because tolerance, true tolerance is a limited virtue. It’s not an unlimited virtue, it’s a limited virtue. Tolerance is a great thing, as long as it is done within a range. There are some things that we cannot tolerate. And that’s not … not just we, not the three of us sitting around this table … but all of us. We don’t tolerate child abuse. We don’t tolerate terrorism. We don’t tolerate racism. We don’t tolerate hatred to one another, serial murders. We don’t tolerate these mass shootings. There’s a lot of things that we don’t tolerate, because they’re just wrong. And we really all grasp that. And it doesn’t really matter what religion we are in or what world view. We recognize that they’re wrong. And so there are certain thing that just are wrong.

And so we don’t tolerate that. And as soon as we recognize that there’s some things that we can’t tolerate, then that helps to back off this notion that, well everything is just fine, everything is just good, everything is just okay. And then we can start to say, okay, well where do we draw the line? And once we recognize that there’s a line in place, that there are some things that are beyond the pale, then we can start to say, okay, then how do we measure these things? How do we determine what the truth is? What do we think a real prophet of God looks like? What do we think a real analysis of the problem of humankind is? And we can start to … Then we can start to really get into the details of the competing claims and evaluate them. And so … So that’s a strategy to recognize that tolerance is really a limited thing. That tolerance is a limited virtue, and so therefore that have to be some things that are beyond the pale, and by extension, then there are some ideas that are just false and that we can start to get at.

Mikel Del Rosario
So this idea of true tolerance then being that we’re able to respectfully disagree with people.
Tim Yoder
That’s right. Absolutely.
Mikel Del Rosario
So I could disagree with you.
Tim Yoder
You could.
Mikel Del Rosario
But I’m not going to go out and burn you car …
Tim Yoder
I hope not.
Mikel Del Rosario
… because this is, in fact, American and civilization. And so we should be able to disagree with each other instead of walking on egg shells around everyone going, “Oh, I can’t disagree with you or you’re going to think I hate you, or something.”
Tim Yoder
And it fits really well with the verse in I Peter about apologetics. To be prepared always to give a reason for the hope that’s within, but to do so with gentleness and respect. It’s right there in that same … Christian apologetics is not about demolishing somebody or putting to death those that disagree. Those kinds of things were wrong. What we should do is engage those with gentleness and respect. I teach to my apologetics students that the character of the apologist is as important as the content of the apologetics.
Mikel Del Rosario
That’s right.
Tim Yoder
And your character is so important. And we have Jesus as our model. Jesus was gentle and loving. Although it is interesting that, when we get to that arrogance charge that is put against is, it’s not really we, as Christians, that are arrogant. But if anybody’s arrogant, it’s Jesus. He’s the one that said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father but by me.” All we’re doing is repeating the claim that Jesus made. Of course, in Jesus it’s not arrogance because he was God. And so, he has the ultimate authority. It’s not really arrogance when it comes from God.
Mikel Del Rosario
But if not, it’s outright blasphemy, right? That’s why Jesus keeps upping the ante of authority. I can talk about that all day, ’cause Jesus and his divine authority is one of my main interests. But Craig, do you have a strategy that you’ve employed for people who stop Christians in their tracks with this, that’s true for you but not for me kind of a thing? How would you advise Christians to maneuver in that situation?
Craig Hazen
Oh, my goodness. There’s so many little tricks of the trade to work in that, but let me focus on this, and that’s just dealing in general with people from different faiths that you encounter. I often try to inculcate into my students and other people I know in the Christian faith to really be great listeners. Now it comes kind of naturally for me, ’cause I’m kind of an introvert anyway, and I like it when other people are doing the talking. But if it’s a person of a different religious background, and they’ve got all kinds of ideas, I just love to sit and listen to them. And so … Then after you listen for a good length of time, your conversation partner always feel like you get an opportunity now to say something.

Of course, being a good listener accomplishes two things. Number one, you get to show the person that you really care about them. I’m listening to you very carefully. I want to know what you think. And that’s very affirming. But secondly, it also gives you an opportunity to gather intel, to gather some information to ask some tough questions. And I think this kind of Socratic method where you listen from him and you ask a couple of key questions. I’ll give you an example.

A friend of mine, he grabs me at church one time says, “There’s a witch in my building.” What? “Yeah, there’s a witch. That’s what she claims. She dresses real earthy and is all kinda weird. So you gotta come fix it.” [Laughter] I don’t know what he wanted me to do. But he sets up lunch. So we’re supposed to meet. And we’re in the lobby of some big office building where they work, and there is a woman across the lobby who’s dressed in kind of an earthy way, whatever that means. But my friend doesn’t show up. So finally, after awhile I go, “That dog. He abandoned us.” So I walk over and introduce myself to the woman and we … I said, “Should we have some lunch?” And she goes, “Yeah, let’s do it.”

So we sat down, we started eating. She was eating some vegetarian delight and I was eating some ribs or some animal flesh of some sort, which probably wasn’t endearing her to me. But she’s doing most of the talking. And she’s going on and on about life in her witches coven … she’s a member of Wicca, and so on … and especially about the way they approach questions of truth and morality. And it’s basically a live and let live society. Very tolerant, very morally relativistic, and so on. And I’m just kinda logging this in while I’m eating.

And finally she says, “Oh, I’ve been talking for so long. I want to give you a chance. What do you think about what I’ve said?” And I go, “Well, I’m curious. What do the people, when you gather together to have discussions, what do they say about the holocaust?” That’s all I said. I was looking across the table and it was as if her world view was collapsing before my eyes. [Sounds as if she was muttering.] But she just didn’t know what to even think about that. And Tim did a great job of describing this earlier. There are certain things that are wrong. And I brought up something that she knew was wrong, but she just didn’t know how to address it coming from where she was.

Well, she was very attentive to other things that I had to say after that, because she realized she was in a bit of trouble. But I handled it through listening ears and a lot of kindness. And so, the dialog ended up going very well the rest of that lunch and carrying on afterwards.

Mikel Del Rosario
Thanks for sharing that story. That was …
Tim Yoder
Yeah, that’s great.
Mikel Del Rosario
It’s a very real life kind of story. And I think people are not used to being listened to nowadays. Especially with Christians, unfortunately, there’s this perception … and sometimes it’s because of people’s actual experiences … that as soon as they say something, the Christian wants to correct them. And a lot of people who are near apologetics will oftentimes feel like, “Now I have to defend the entire contents of the whole Christian world view, ’cause somebody just said something I disagree with. But if we’ll just turn our truth meter down for a minute and … not off, but just save it, keep it back there, gather that intel, Darrell Bock calls it getting a spiritual GPS on somebody to find out where they’re coming from … I think that one, it’s just very attractive. Two, it does give you that intel, like Craig said. And what Craig was talking about was pushing this person’s existential sore spot. It’s like there’s love, there’s character, but then there’s that challenge. But the challenge comes in the context of that relationship. And that is a great way, I think, of getting people to think about, well here’s something I really value and believe. But I can’t say that that’s good. I can’t say the holocaust is a good thing. But how do you reconcile that with your own world view? Do you find that people are able to process that more easily when you bring it up just so bold faced like that? Like you hold this and you hold this. How’s that work together?
Tim Yoder
Well, everybody’s different and everybody’s gonna process things differently and respond differently. But I want to definitely affirm Craig’s approach there of listening. I think that’s really important. We do, as you said, we live in the era in which people generally do not listen. It’s modeled on all the news shows and everything else, and even Facebook and other sorts of social media. It’s all about ranting and challenging and disrespecting and trumping other people and those sorts of things. And if people really will listen, just listen, then there is the opportunity to speak back into it.

And then, you have to choose your words carefully. One of the things is that as apologists and ambassadors for Christ, we’re not necessarily … our task is not to defend every doctrine of the faith in every encounter. Which is why I like the story. One simple question which revealed the sore spot or the weak point in the world view. And so we have to be thoughtful and reflective. And people need to be equipped and ready. It’s not just something that happens without any practice. But once you are … have a little bit of training, or at least thoughtfulness about this, that simple question can go a long way.

I think that Craig, your story reminds me a bit of Greg Koulk’s book in which he gives a lot of strategies for those sorts of things, and putting the stone in people’s shoe and other sorts of things. And it’s a wonderful book, not so much of evidences or arguments, but tactics for engaging with people And Koulk’s stuff, it’s really excellent.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, we’ve had Greg Koukl and Amy Hall here on the show, and I encourage our listeners, if you’re listening or watching, to go back in the archives and look for that episode on tactics.

Craig, let’s say your in a dialog with somebody and they say, “Okay. I’m willing to consider this and give Christianity a fresh hearing. But I want to keep my options open. I want to investigate all the world religions,” which could very well take you five years or whatever. Not gonna happen in a workshop. But where should a thinking person begin to investigate world religions?

Craig Hazen
Yeah. I’ve actually had an opportunity to address this particular question with a group of secular college students in a world religions survey class. I was a guest speaker. I was supposed to be representing fundamentalist Christianity. But what I said, “Hey, I have a background in religious studies. What I’d like to do with the class is really tell you how would a thoughtful person go about a proper religious quest? How would you explore all the various religious options on the table and choose the one that’s right for you?” And it was just a way of getting at some important issues without say, “By the way, I’m going to be presenting the truth claims of Christianity and how they’re superior.” ‘Cause honestly, the shields go up at that point, and people just stop listening. So, I wanted to help them do a proper religious quest. And so I gave them … some of these I made up on the spot … but I ended up giving them five reasons why a thoughtful person on a religious quest would obviously start that quest with Christianity.

And so I just walked them through these five things. And notice I didn’t say Christianity is true and you have to embrace it. I said, “It makes a lot of sense to start your quest with Christianity, and here’s five reasons why.” I’ll give those to you quickly.

The first one is testability. It may not be the best philosophical term, but they understood what I was talking about. But you can actually, by testing, offer evidence for and against the position, and the evidence actually means something. In other words, you can choose whether to be a follower of Jesus or not, based on the evidence in the case. And I show them that’s really not how other religions work at all. Even when they sound like they’re about evidence, turns out they’re really not.

The second reason … and they kinda like this one … I said, salvation in the system is a free gift from God. They were college students. They loved the concept of free. And so I just read them that passage in Ephesians, chapter two, and went over the parable of the prodigal son, just to show them how God just wants to just give you this free gift of salvation. And I go, “If you’re on a spiritual quest, that’s something that ought to really capture your attention.

The third one was that you get an amazing world view fit. This one was a little harder to demonstrate in a short period, but I made the case that Christianity paints a picture of the world that matches the way the world really is.

The fourth one is a little technical, but let me give you the fifth one, and that is you really ought to start your quest with Christianity because Christianity has Jesus at the center. And they thought, “Well, now you’re really stacking the deck.” But I go, “No. You have to understand something. Jesus is like the universal religious figure. Everybody wants a piece of Jesus. So if that’s the case, why not start with the religion that’s had him firmly planted at the center since the very beginning.”

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, that’s amazing. There’s a lot of people who would say, “Okay. Well, I’ll give Christianity a hearing, alongside everything else.” This is a great strategy for getting them to take a look at the claims of Jesus, which in my opinion are really the place to begin, because Jesus is, well, the most influential person whoever lived, undoubtedly.
Tim Yoder
He’s a man like no other.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah.
Tim Yoder
There isn’t anybody else close to Jesus. It is interesting. In Islam … to back up what Craig is saying … Jesus plays a key role. He’s mentioned a number of times in the Quran. Not always entirely accurately, but he’s an important figure. There’s a wonderful essay by Gandhi on how much Jesus means to him. And so I think you’re right, that there are lots … that almost every religion wants a piece of Jesus. Jesus has the moral quality that we would expect in a prophet, unlike any of the other supposed prophets. Even some people that are excellent examples. The Confucius or the Buddha or Socrates or Mohamed or Moses, some of them have wonderful character traits. But none like Jesus. His example, his teaching, his sacrifice, not to mention the resurrection, are … that put him in a class by himself. And that’s … So I like your list, Craig, and I would … I think it’s an excellent way to start.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. I always like to drive people toward the claims of Jesus, because as much as we view apologetics work in terms of defending the resurrection, the resurrection’s a vindication of all these things that Jesus claimed about himself. And so to have people even test this whole idea of religious pluralism based on, “Well, can your pluralistic world view make sense of what Jesus said?” Jesus claimed to forgive sin. Jesus claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus claimed to be so close to the father in authority, and he keeps escalating this at his Jewish examination. How does religious pluralism make sense of that? Or do we have to twist the word of Jesus and twist the words of Mohamed and these other leaders to make sense of your religious, pluralistic world view?

Well, our time is rapidly getting away from us. Anything else, Craig, that you’d like to mention as far as advice, or anything else that want to say about this topic?

Craig Hazen
Yeah. In terms of just engaging people of different faiths, the listening thing is very helpful, but spend some time reading even some good, solid introductory material on those religions, especially if you’re at work and you work next to a Sikh, or a Buddhist, or a Mormon or somebody. Understand were they’re coming from as best you can. You don’t have to do a masters degree or a doctorate in the field in order to do that. So you ramp it up a little bit, and make your engagement mostly about curious questions. And it’s not that you couch them in terms of like, “Help me understand what you mean by this or that or the other thing, or how this compares to Christianity, or how you would deal with this issue.” And it’s amazing how you … In that kind of approach, suddenly you are building friendships and relationships at the same time. And it really makes you an attractive ambassador … to use the word Tim was using … of Jesus in those instances.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Tim, anything else you’d like to say?
Tim Yoder
Sure. I’ll take my last work from CS Lewis who wrote in Mere Christianity that … he says, “One of the great things about being a Christian is that we don’t have to believe that everything in all the false religions is false. We have to recognize that the ultimate truth is found in Jesus and his message, because he is the God man. But that doesn’t mean that everything in a competing religion is obviously false. It’s not our job to smash everything they believe. In fact, if we believe that there is general revelation, and that all truth is God’s truth, it just naturally follows that some of the things that we’re gonna find in other world views and other religions are right. And we can actually use those for common ground to begin a conversation, and then move on to the places where we disagree.”

That’s clearly Paul’s strategy in Acts 17, and in a number of other places. And so I think that there’s something liberating about that notion that, again, it’s not our job to refute and smash every claim. In fact there are many things that we hold in common. It’s choosing those, and then using them to explore the deeper and more exclusive claims of Christ that is part of our responsibility.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, on the Table Podcast we’ve done a whole series on world religions. And people can check that out. We’ve done shows on not just Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism, Sikhism. We looked at a variety of different new religious movements as well, Scientology, and we began to ask questions like what is the attraction to this religion? For people who were born into it, why do they stay? And then, how does the gospel speak into these universal human longings that we find in these different traditions. So encourage our listeners and viewers to check that out.

Craig, thank you so much for joining us. A real pleasure to have you …

Craig Hazen
It’s a great pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Mikel Del Rosario
Thank you. And Tim, thanks for joining us on the show today.
Tim Yoder
Thank you for inviting me.
Mikel Del Rosario
And we thank you for joining us here on The Table Podcast. If you have a topic that you would like us to consider for a future episode please e-mail us at thetable@DTS.edu. I’m Mikel Del Rosario and I hope you’ll join us again next time right here on The Table where we discuss issues of God and Culture.
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Craig Hazen
Craig Hazen is the founder and director of the master's program with a concentration in Christian apologetics and director of the master's program with a concentration in science and religion at Biola University. Craig is the editor of Philosophia Christi, a philosophy journal. He is also the author of the monograph The Village Enlightenment in America; the acclaimed apologetics novel Five Sacred Crossings; and dozens of articles and chapters in various books and journals. He is a recipient of the Fischer Award, the highest faculty honor at Biola, and has lectured across North America and Europe on key apologetics topics, including lectures on Capitol Hill and in the White House. He is a popular church and conference speaker and a former co-host of a national radio talk program.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mikel Del Rosario is a PhD student in New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Project Manager for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. Mikel co-authors The Table Briefing articles in Bibliotheca Sacra with Darrell Bock, manages the Table Podcast, and helps Christians defend the faith with courage and compassion though his apologetics speaking ministry. He holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from DTS and an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.
Timothy S. Yoder
Dr. Timothy Yoder currently teaches as an associate professor in the Theological Studies department with a special emphasis in Philosophy and Apologetics. He and his wife Lisa came to DTS from Cairn University in the Philadelphia area, where he taught since the early 1990’s. Dr Yoder has a seminary degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a PhD in philosophy of religion from Marquette University. The Yoders love travel and missions, reading books and rooting for the Super Bowl champion Eagles!!
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