Should Christians Study Other Religions?

How studying the basics of other faiths can strengthen our own beliefs.

By Dillon Burroughs

The end of both sessions of the Unpacking Atheism Conference were given to thoughts on reaching atheists with the gospel without making them want to run away screaming. Comparative religion studies can be an important way to understand the values and beliefs of different religious movements, but is it okay or even beneficial for Christians to study what other religions believe and practice? While some suggest all you need is the Bible to grow spiritually, there are at least three important ways studying other religions can help Christians.

First, studying other religions help us to better understand the unbelievers we seek to evangelize. If you wish to share the gospel with a Buddhist, for example, it is helpful to realize that this religion believes in reincarnation. An evangelist approach that focuses on answering, "Do you know for sure if you'll go to heaven when you die?" is unhelpful for a person who thinks he or she will come back in another form.

Second, studying other religions helps us better understand our own religion. Much of what Christians debate is unessential, but what are the critical beliefs of our faith that are uniquely Christian? When we view the beliefs of other faiths, we can see what is unique about our own faith. Some of these beliefs include the inspiration of Scripture, a Triune view of God, and the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Third, studying other religions helps us have a deeper appreciation for our own beliefs. For example, when I study Islam and its lack of assurance regarding the afterlife, I find greater comfort in the Bible's teaching that we can know for certain we have eternal life (1 John 5:13). When I read in Wicca that there is a "rule of three" that teaches what I do to others comes back to me threefold, either good or bad, I can take much greater comfort in the teaching of Jesus that instructs to love my neighbor as myself as well. Christ's unconditional love for us and His teachings to unconditionally love others stand as greater and more satisfying than the teachings of other religious traditions.

Finally, it should also be noted that studying other religions shows great love to those of the other religions we seek to reach. For example, if I study Hinduism in order to better share Christ's love with Hindus, I show that I care about their beliefs and want to help improve their lives. Rather than suggesting that their traditions are unimportant or have no value, I can show that I have a basic understanding of their beliefs and how they differ from mine.

Of course, we must also be wise regarding our study of other religions. We are not permitted to worship other gods or participate in the practices of other faiths. Yet there is certainly room to study and understand basic beliefs in order to serve as better witnesses. This is similar to the Apostle Paul's example, who wrote, "Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law" (1 Corinthians 9:19-20).

Curious about what other beliefs teach about salvation? Start here.

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Published 5-21-13