While preparing for the internship this fall I have been reading Radical by David Platt. The book challenges readers to live like Jesus and his disciples lived, to abandon the "American dream", and to stop manipulating the gospel around our cultural preferences. Platt has done mission work in Indonesia (among other countries on the other side of the globe) and in the second chapter of Radical he recounts a conversation he had with a Buddhist leader and a Muslim leader he met outside of a temple.
So, a Buddhist and a Muslim walk into a bar.. ok just kidding.... Here's what Platt actually said in his book:
I remember sitting outside a Buddhist temple in Indonesia. Men and women filled the elaborate, colorful temple grounds, where they daily performed their religious rituals. Meanwhile, I was engaged in a conversation with a Buddhist leader and a Muslim leader in this particular community. They were discussing how all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different. "We may have different views about small issues," one of them said, "but when it comes down to essential issues, each of our religions is the same."
I listened for a while, and they they asked me what I thought. I said, "It sounds as though you both picture God (or whatever you call god) at the top of a mountain. It seems as if you believe that we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and I may take one route up the mountain, you may take another, and in the end we will all end up in the same place."
They smiled as I spoke. Happily they replied, "Exactly! You understand!"
Then I leaned in and said, "Now let me ask you a question. What would you think if I told you that the God at the top of the mountain actually came down to where we are? What would you think if I told you that God doesn't wait for people to find their way to him, but instead he comes to us?"
They thought for a moment and then responded, "That would be great."
I replied, "Let me introduce you to Jesus."
This is the gospel.
It's as simple as that. God sent Jesus to live on earth, a "divine descent", as a human like you and me. This is the difference between Christianity and the worldly religions. Jesus is a person who walked alongside men. He taught about God's redemptive power, his love, and grace.
Through God Jesus MADE THE BLIND MAN SEE.
Jesus MADE THE LAME MAN WALK.
Jesus HEALED THE LEPER.
Jesus WALKED ON WATER.
1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
One last thing to add that we should learn from Platt's story. This could easily be overlooked- while he was discussing these things with the Buddhist and the Muslim he first listened to them. He did not automatically interrupt them and tell them that they were wrong in saying that all religions are the same. Platt first listened to what they had to say, then he told them about Jesus. James 1:19 says "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." Platt gracefully lived out this verse while talking with these men. Listening is loving.