Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart. – Psalms 97:11
A sower went out to sow his seed…The seed is the word of God. – Luke 8:5a, 11b
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. – Galatians 3:16
The Word, λόγος –Logos in Greek, is that which is the subject of important Western philosophical concepts, as well as foundational within Christianity.[RegUserOnly]
Yet, if the Logos and all that is implied within this theological concept were grasped, it would be an entirely different vision of Christianity than that we witness and/or propagate in the world today. As it is now, the cross and what Christ did in His atoning death thereon is largely misunderstood and hence improperly portrayed toward unbelievers. As it is, there’s an ‘us versus them’ mentality, there’s the view that unbelievers, particularly those of another faith or belief system, that they’re unclean or even under demonic influence. And this is all despite the fact that God showed the apostle Peter that he should not call any man common or unclean (Acts 10:28). But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
Much of what is said here was before discussed in a video called, The Logos and World Religions (duration 1:06:09). So this subject is of significant importance to me. It is hoped that this blog takes these concepts to the next level.
My Personal Dilemma
For years, as far back as early childhood, I’ve always been interested in other religions whenever I encountered them. As a youngster I learned about Greek and Norse mythology, though growing up as Roman Catholic. Because I hadn’t known the Lord, I would often experiment with these various faiths. As a teenager, just prior to converting to Christianity, my mother had friends that had a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in their home. The colorful pictures in the middle of the book stoked my imagination, and had me embracing other worlds, contemplating going there prematurely! During this same time I learned about meditation from literature my mother had gotten from somewhere.
Upon becoming a Christian in my teen years and on into my twenties, even while eagerly learning about my own faith, I also learned much about other religions, including all the various cults out there. However, as part of a legalistic church, I thought that my goal in learning all these belief-systems was for the purpose of disproving them (which I could), and converting their proponents to my stricter version of Evangelical Christianity.
And yet underneath all this was an unseen drive which always took me down certain aisles of our college library, or had me visiting occult bookstores in our city. What could all this mean? What was this strange fascination that I had? Was Satan trying to lure me into the occult? At the same time, had anyone (especially if they claimed to be a Christian), even merely suggested that astrology had any validity- for example, I rejected him straight away as a heretic.
From 1994 and on, my interests began to take me down some interesting paths. I began learning about Christian mysticism from a longtime friend, and then this quickly expanded to learning about Jewish Kabbalah, Islamic Sufism, and from there turned toward the study of Buddhism and Hinduism, particularly in terms of mysticism or esotericism. Studies even began to touch on Hermetic or Occult themes. This would continue on for years, on into modern times. The themes of my studies included the Taoist I Ching, astrology, and even tarot cards! The question again may be posed, Why?
Now, if I haven’t lost half of you at this point, let’s continue. Not at any one time during these years had I a ‘crisis of faith’. Neither did I at any point lose touch with the orthodoxy of my Christian tradition, and continued all these other interests while yet studying the Bible, practicing my Faith, and ministering the Gospel.
A major reason for these interests was in studying for a mystical approach which developed over a ten year period. Details could be given, and a book is being written (albeit ever so slowly), but many of what I was learning helped expand my understanding of many themes whose fullness is best understood within a Christian context. My interests continue to this day, understood now as no longer serving a strict purpose for proselytizing others, but rather as better understanding God, others and even myself.
The Greater Dilemma of the Church World
Now, just based on what I shared above, many thoughts may be arising in your own heart and mind right now about me: “He’s a heretic.”, “How can he be orthodox?”, “Did he just say ‘the occult’?” Or from a rare few: “Good for him.”, etc…
What’s interesting is that, while I’ve never doubted my own orthodoxy and salvation, I’ve wrestled for years with this tension between the part of me who’s understanding is ever expanding across multiple fields of religious and philosophical study, with the aspect that fixedly adheres to the doctrinal moors of his Faith. And the reason for this, while other factors can be mentioned, is in my own traumas relating to involvement within a legalistic and spiritually abusive church. While I wish to bring to the fore what has brought me peace in this atypical struggle, I wish to bring the entire Church World along for the ride in lieu of it’s own dilemma.
By and large, Western Evangelicalism, whether seen in the more mainstream Protestant versions, or even what is experienced within Charismatic and Pentecostal circles, are exclusivist in their approach toward the world, toward the unbeliever. There’s a strong, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’, or an us versus them mentality. We’re willing to embrace the concept that, while only a very small minority hold the truth and thus have eternal life, large swaths of humanity, regardless (or because of) their religious beliefs, are in darkness and destined to spend an eternity in hell, being damned without any hope of salvation.
There’s a certain xenophobic view we have of others belonging to another faith. We may view the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Muslim as being lost and under demonic influence. In their minds, they’re mostly normal people seeking to do what’s right, work hard at their jobs, and come home to their loving families. And can I tell you an ‘open secret’? Often times we in the Western World, within our modern progressive and technologically advanced culture, are far more immoral, decadent, materialistic and godless than those belonging to other non-Christian societies. Now, the rest of the world is rapidly becoming corrupted by our way of life, but we need to toss the notion that just because we’re supposedly a Christian society, that we’re some how more better than those we deem of the Third World.
Not all Muslims are out to ‘get us’, as is the political hype of today’s politics. All religions have their fanatical and even murderous exceptions, but that does not taint their whole faith. True, Islam contains the doctrine of jihad, but primarily this is taught in Al-Qur’an as a defense mechanism toward being out rightly slaughtered by outsiders. There are extremists, of course, such as those who buy into the Sunni sects influenced by Wahhabism. These are behind much of what we’ve experienced in the West as terrorism. And, truth be told, untold countless Muslims, too, have been victimized by this brand of fascist Islam. But, this is not all Muslims. One would be surprised to learn how tolerant Islam is toward other faiths, ‘People of the Book’, as Jews and Christians are referred to as.
The point is, how many people have we turned off by treating them as unclean, as common, when God told Peter that no man is to be treated as common or unclean (Acts 10:28). After Christ’s atoning death and resurrection, a new world was left in His wake. True, we’re to preach the Gospel to every creature, and make disciples of the nations per the Great Commission, but what is the Gospel (meaning ‘Good News’)? This is the crux of the matter.
Toward understanding what I’m getting at, let’s define our terms.
Definition of Terms:
What concerns us here is what’s called the theology of religions– Which typically has 3 main approaches, to which we add a fourth term:
1. Exclusivism– our religion is the only one with the Truth, all the others are in deception. this view, however, alienates much of the world, and causes Christians to appear as bigots, xenophobes, and as self-righteous jerks.
2. Pluralism– all religions are equally true. This view however relativizes truth, and diminishes not only the truth of the Gospel, as to Who Christ is, and His perfect work, but also strips other religions of their traditional and spiritual identities.
3. Inclusivism– all religions may contain a portion of the Truth, and so others may be saved, albeit through implicit knowledge, ‘by the light one has’. This view, while allowing others from a different faith, to be saved, there’s yet a non-Christlike attitude behind it. For while we acknowledge that a religion may have a portion of the truth, we nonetheless vaunt our religion (Christianity) as having all the truth, and thereby emit an air of superiority toward the non-believer.
The forth term under consideration then is-
4. Interiorism– all religions have Christ within it, albeit in a hidden way. This view promotes that Christ, in being true as the Servant of humanity, is incarnated within humanity itself- including mankind’s philosophies and religions.
No doubt, as Christ walked among us, He assumed a human form that was common and not particularly exceptional (Isa 53:2). In like manner, the Christianity that represents Him and His Gospel is not supposed to be one of superiority, exclusivism, nor elitism. What is being communicated here is not about who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s religion is the true one… You see, it’s Christ’s humility, Christ’s humanity, Christ’s willingness to be last, to serve, to suffer death for all, it’s that attitude that ought to carry over into the ‘theology of religions’, and our relation toward other cultures. However, let’s take it out of the theoretical. How about us? How about you? How do you relate to others from another religion? “Well, I try to convert them to the truth!” Okay, but if a true conversion is a thing of the heart, do you just take your doctrines and your dogma and shove it down their throat? Can they get a glimpse of Christ’s humility and love through you? Or, do all they see is some flesh-and-blood being like themselves, waving their fist around, raising their voice, and yelling at them? Do they see someone unwilling to understand their culture, or to walk a mile in their shoes? Could you incarnate into their lives as Christ did into ours?
We may explain each of these terms expressed above in how Christ is portrayed in relation to other religions:
Exclusivism says, Christ is against other religions- diminishing others;
Pluralism says, Christ is along side other religions- being diminished alongside them;
Inclusivism says, Christ is above other religions-diminishing himself through condescension;
Interiorism says, Christ is within all the religions- uplifting all through serving all.
Once an exclusivist, I spent much time trying to win arguments, rather than souls through love. In Scripture mercy and grace always precedes truth, whereas I reversed this order, promoting truth while denying what truth or good existed in another’s religion due to a blind bigotry.
I’ve never embraced pluralism, as this obviously relativizes truth, and especially the Gospel. It also denies the uniqueness of Christ, and His efficacious work. Not only so, but it undermines whatever is unique to a given religion, stripping it of it’s identity in the name of blind ecumenicism. This may be the religion of the Antichrist.
While this one adhered to the concept of inclusivism, it still seems to vaunt or exalt itself above the other religions in an air of superiority. Of course as Christians we know that Christ is Superior to all- however, superiority is not the spirit nor attitude of Christ Who came not to be served, but to serve, and give Himself a ransom for many.
Interiorism sees Christ as ‘hidden’ within the religions of the world, similar to St. Justin Martyr’s view of the Logos Spermatikos, which saw the seeds of the Logos as hidden within not only the Law of Moses, and secular philosophy, but also within each human being. This view serves the other by bringing out it’s inherent efficacy, and or salvific merit of a given religion or philosophy without vaunting itself. We appreciate Judaism (for example) even more so because of Christ’s fulfillment of the Law as Messiah. Likewise, the same can be said of Hellenic philosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Confucianism, Hermeticism, Kabbalah, and any other -ism out there.
Christ as Truth
What has been reconciled within my own heart concerning my own dilemma was in coming to terms with the fact that what I was falling in love with was not the other religion itself, but rather the truth contained therein. To put it more succinctly, what attracted me to the various philosophies I’ve studied, whether they were traditional, esoteric, or mystical, was the Christ I saw therein. If it wasn’t for Christ Himself, I would not be a Christian. The same can be true of any other belief-system we can discuss, if it wasn’t for Christ hidden therein, I would not give a flying fig about it.
The Principle of Veiled Truth
There’s two scriptural texts to which I refer to regarding the relation of truth with the falsity or incompleteness of a revelation or religion:
Who changed the truth of God into a lie… – Rom 1:25a; and-
…and that no lie is of the truth.– 1Jn 2:21b.
These two texts juxtaposed with one another inform us as to the true situation concerning a theology of religions:
1. That the truth itself cannot be changed, as the Greek in our Romans text indicates, the word metallasso indicating not an actual change occurring to the truth itself, but rather an exchange- the trading in of the truth for a lie. Truth by definition cannot be changed, even as God, Who is Truth, cannot change, being immutable (Mal 3:6; Heb 6:18; 13:8; Jas 1:17).
2. And that no lie itself is of the truth. In our 1Jn text, the Greek for ‘out’ is ex or ek, meaning out of. This simply states that nothing that is untrue can ever come out of what is true. Truth cannot spawn, or give birth to a lie.
What these two mean together is this: that whatever is itself true as found within the tenets or sacred texts of another religion stands by itself, and cannot be affected by whatever is untrue or false that is also found therein. An example would be, as is found within Al-Qur’an, concerning the untruth or falsity of the belief that teaches against the Trinity (as found in Al-Qur’an 4:171; 5:73; etc). Now while it may be argued against as to what Islam misunderstands concerning the Trinity (supposing that we believe in tritheism- the worship of 3 gods!), or as to the exact meaning of these texts, nonetheless our approach is altogether different. The truth itself found within Al-Qur’an is unspoiled by the falsity and remains yet hidden from plain sight: heading each of the chapters of Al-Qur’an is what’s referred to as the Bismillah:
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. (beginning each Qur’anic surah, except for the 9th).
In interiorism, while the Oneness of God is indisputable within Islam, we may yet see the threeness of the Trinity encoded in the bismallah as beginning each surah (chapter): In the name of 1. God (or Allah), 2. the Most Gracious, and 3. the Most Merciful. While the average Muslim will deny this, if one were to humbly and lovingly approach this with sensitiveness, should God open the heart, one could perhaps receive this.
Another example: in Taoism, which we know to teach impersonal nature as the ultimate, and would itself deny that a personal Triune God created all, and yet nonetheless encoded within their scriptures, the Tao Teh Ching, it is written,
Tao gave birth to One, One gave birth to Two, Two gave birth to Three, Three gave birth to all the myriad things. – Tao Teh Ching 42a.
While certainly a Taoist would explain this text differently, we can see that the Logos Spermatikos, that is, the seed of the Word is hidden deep within the text.
The principle is this:
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended [seized or arrested] it not….That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.– Jn 1:5, 9.
As per the principle that is the Logos, nothing can be said or communicated if there’s not reason to it. It’s this reason, who’s principle is the Logos, that renders all things comprehensible. This is true when we read our own scriptures, and if anyone reads the scriptures of their own faith, even if it’s a non-Christian one. That which renders it reasonable, insofar as it is reasonable, is the Word embedded within. Therein lies the seeds of light, waiting to be discovered.
Thus, it is not that we sit around all day trying to figure these things out in another’s faith, that’s not even my aim when I study what I study. It’s not for the sake of converting others, though if the Holy Spirit should lead, and He uses something that I’ve seen, then I’ll seek to communicate that with sensitivity. And yet, it’s not in us showing that a text which reads to them as A + C = B, really says A + B = C when seen aright, and that in the mere showing of that understanding will dawn upon them. No. This again is no better than the condescending air of superiority that has hampered the growth of the Church in more recent times. Interiorism is that which takes revelation from the Holy Spirit, as was true of us who believe. We’re not all here as believers because one day some clever or skillful intellect showed us the right way to see our own understanding of things- No. It was because that mercifully, God opened up our heart to receive those things taught to us (Acts 16:14).
And so, this is not about how to outsmart those of another Faith, taking advantage of their own traditions as we twist them and somehow Christianize them. I know it will be seen as such by others, but what is intended to be communicated here is that only God can communicate the Gospel, and if it’s through their own scriptures, great! More importantly, this word is meant to show that a humble attitude of service toward your fellow man is needed. It’s not that we are trying to convert all them heathen folk to our way of seeing things, but how to recognize that the seed of light is deep in their own hearts, and sown also within their own religious texts. How do we release these hidden seeds which are none other than Christ the Logos? Not due to our intellectual wit, for sure. But in humility and love, as we truly serve and care for others, the Spirit may arrange it that we- having understood and appreciated with respect to others different traditions- we can gently lead others to recognize that light unspoiled within their own Faith, within their own heart.
Who knows? Maybe in the process we’ll show ourselves true students of the Light, as we find that we can learn even from others different than ourselves.