A Question to the Pastor...and His Answer

A friend of mine recently shared this with me and I thought it was worth reposting. It really stirred and touched my heart. A young man asks his Pastor a question. Then, his Pastor replies. Hello Pastor.

I have a question; I hope you can give me some input. I recently became friends with people of the Muslim practice. We exchanged what our beliefs were and how they differ. (In a friendly way.) But this thought has ached at me for months now. How do we know, as Christians, we are correct? How do we know our religion, our denomination, our practice is correct?


Dear S,

You have asked an important and complicated question. How do we know that our religion is correct?

Of course, we have valid reasons to be a bit uncomfortable about the implications within the question. It’s disconcertingly easy for the Pakistani Muslim, the Indian Hindu, the Thai Buddhist, the Israeli Jew, and the American Christian to each simply assume that their native religion is the true one. So is it just a matter of geographical luck if you happen to end up in the true religion? After all, the vast majority of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and Christians did not undertake an objective study of comparative religions and arrive at a conclusion. No, they were born into a family and nation where their particular religion was culturally dominant. (Yes, every religion has its converts from other religions, but these make up a tiny minority.)

But am I suggesting that we should engage in an objective study of comparative religions? No. In fact, I think such an undertaking is impossible. Not inadvisable, but literally impossible. You can only experience a religion by being a believer within the faith and practice of that religion. Religion cannot be approached objectively. The very nature of religion prevents this. For example: One can be thoroughly versed in the teachings of the New Testament (a scholar even) and be well acquainted with Christian theology and worship, church history and practice and still not believe. Which is to say it is thoroughly possible to be an expert on Christianity and not be a Christian. Bart Ehrman would be an example. (And Bart Ehrman would agree.) Or to say it another way: I could become an expert on the Koran and Islam, but that alone would not make me a Muslim. Faith is the essence of religion, not empirical knowledge. We cannot study religions like we do insects. Well, we can, but being an expert on grasshoppers does not make you a grasshopper. And being an expert on Hinduism doesn’t make you a Hindu. Religious faith is a subjective experience — not objective empirical knowledge.

Which is to say you don’t know what it means to be a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Christian…until you are one! And to be one, is to not be the other. So comparison becomes impossible.

The modern, sloppy notion that we can mix-and-match religions like we do pants and socks is utter nonsense. The modern person who says, “I’m a Buddhist-Hindu-Muslim-Christian” is in reality a secularist wearing religious accessories. The truth is they know virtually nothing about what it means to actually be a Buddhist or a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian.

The nature of religion based in faith makes the comparative religion project ultimately impossible.

To be an adherent of a religion is to believe, and faith is not an object of empirical inquiry.

I believe Jesus is risen from the dead. But I cannot prove it.

(I do believe the resurrection is the most reasonable explanation for the empty tomb and the rise of Christianity, but it cannot be proven.)

I have my own subjective experience with the risen Christ. But I cannot prove it. I can only witness to it. It will be up to my hearers as to whether or not they believe my witness.

That which actually makes me a Christian is nothing that can be empirically proved…which is why it’s called faith!

(Attempting to worship at the altar of Christ and the altar of empiricism at the same time creates the terrible conundrums suffered by modern Western Christians — ultimately one must be subordinate to the other.)

Furthermore, in the framing of your question you hint at an additional problem. If we want to empirically “know” that Christianity is the true religion, that leads us to the next question: Which Christianity? Orthodox? Catholic? Anglican? Protestant? Evangelical? OK, let’s say you choose Evangelical. Which Evangelical? Baptist? Which Baptist? (There’s hundreds of species of Baptist!) You see the problem. With an empiricism-based approach to religion you wind up in the dead-end alley of “I’m right and everybody else is going to hell.” Which I think you are instinctively trying to avoid.

So what are we to do?

We are to believe in Jesus.

By a leap of faith we believe in Jesus because of our own subjective (and unverifiable to anyone else) experience with the risen Christ.

I only believe in “Christianity” because I have come to believe in Jesus.

I don’t spend a lot of time (none really) arguing with a Muslim or Hindu that Christianity is “correct” and Islam and Hinduism are “wrong.” That’s always going to be a dead-end.

I do talk about Jesus. I do tell the gospel stories. I do witness to my own experience with Jesus.

In other words, I put my faith in Jesus to personally reveal himself to other individuals in a way that only he can. It’s not my task to prove Jesus or Christianity. I am simply a witness to Jesus. And Jesus will have to do the heavy lifting. Jesus will have to prove himself.

So in a technically empirical sense I do not “know” that Christianity is correct as compared with any other religion. But I don’t need to. I know Christ. Non-empirically. Subjectively. Personally. By the Spirit. And this is enough. More than enough.

To the Christian who feels the need to anxiously defend Christianity in an empirical sense vis-á-vis other religions I want to say this: Just know Jesus. That’s enough. Just witness to Jesus. That’s all you can do. If Jesus can’t prove himself, then Christianity is not worth proving. I believe Jesus can prove himself — he can make himself known. He made himself known to me. And that’s all I can say.

I hope this helps.


Pastor Brian

P.S. I recommend being friends with everyone you can be friends with!

Surprises About Forgiveness

This week we dedicated a full day of our CPx training to matters of the heart. A ministry called "Fresh Start" came in walked us through a biblical view of forgiveness helping leaders to admit and release past offenses, hurts and losses. Through the process there were several surprising pearls of forgiveness that I want to share:

  1. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a decision and a process. 
  2. Forgiveness gives up all rights to apologies, explanations, fairness and justice.
  3. Forgiveness means Jesus is enough and you owe me nothing more.
  4. Forgiveness is a command and always possible (even if the offender is dead or unwilling). Reconciliation is not always possible...and that is ok.
  5. Forgiveness does NOT equal trust.
  6. Forgiveness does NOT mean you forget.
  7. There is no such thing as "forgiving God" -- he is sinless. It is an authority issue, not a forgiveness issue.
  8. There is no such thing as forgiving yourself. There is no Biblical example of this. This is more of pride issue and learning surrender to the Lord.

Venting = Gossip?

I was in a meeting recently where we were discussing gossip and how sinful it is and how destructive it is to relationships and communities. One person in the meetings asked this question:

Doesn't every person need a safe place to vent?

I realized something. Every time I hear the word "venting," my spirit has a negative reaction. Always have. I have even used it and not liked it when it came out of my mouth. Why? Because almost every single time someone "vents" they gossip. It just seems like a pretty way of masking the sin of gossip.

Vent literally means "to give free expression to strong emotion".

After the question about venting was asked, another voice perks up and says:

Isn't that what a quiet time is for?

And it hit me! Yes! This is how it should work. Rather than take the risk of gossip by "venting", turn to Jesus and dump it all!

And then today, I encountered these verses:

Psalm 62:8, "Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge."

Psalm 142:1-2, "I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble."

So, I wonder....shouldn't Jesus be enough for us to get out all of our venting? Or are we worried that he may not agree with us and tell us what we want to hear?

Not a Coincidence

imagesIn recent years the unrest, war and terror in our world have been sharply increasing. I have to be honest. I don't really get the Middle East. I'm gonna guess I'm not alone. I bet many of you don't either. I don't fully understand all the issues. All the underlying brokenness. All the fighting. All the riots. All the different strands of Islam. And why they fight each other. What I do understand is this: Jesus wants to see his name worshipped in every corner of the earth!! And it's not happening yet. I also understand that any peace outside of the peace of Jesus is a counterfeit peace.  And any love outside of the love of my loving Father is a counterfeit love. So, regardless of all I don't know and don't understand about the complexities of our world's conflict and the political turmoil right now, I'm here. Writing this from the very center of where bombs and swords and hatred are taking lives. And regardless of all I don't know....I DO know that Jesus is the only hope for healing. And so we've gathered. To storm the throne of God for breakthrough.

The timing is not a coincidence. On the very week that the kingdoms of this world (even my country of origin) decide to take violent action to solve the problems, we gather to admit that we cannot solve the problems. It's not a coincidence that just after nations decide to conquer, we gathered to surrender. As citizens of this upside down kingdom, we can't take matters into our own hands, we have no option but to place things in God's hands. And this is no coincidence. Actually, I think it's a divine symbol.

The bottom line is clear and simple: the world is in desperate need of healing and peace...and it can only find it in Jesus, the prince of peace.

So, we are praying like crazy and strategizing with the help of the Holy Spirit. We need people to GO! Maybe it's you?