If Christianity didn’t exist, which religion would you choose to believe in?
The diversity of religions and worldviews around the world can be staggering and we need wisdom to discern what it all means. There are at least three different ways to understand this question. Each different understanding of your question presupposes different understandings about the nature of religion in general and the Christian faith in particular.
If Christianity did not exist, what would be the religion of my preference?
The first question clearly takes for granted that religion is simply a matter of personal preference and taste. In other words, it doesn’t make a difference whether the particular religion I choose is true. It’s rather all about what I want religion to do for me. Perhaps it’s giving me a sense of purpose or a social community or cause to belong to.
While those benefits are surely important, it would be a mistake to think about the value of religion and faith in that way only. After all, my local bar or gym can provide me with a sense of community that makes me feel connected, and if I want a cause, there are any number of organizations I can align myself with that are not religious in nature.
If Christianity did not exist, which religion would be the next best thing?
This question is a little better; at the very least it acknowledges that perhaps not all religions and faiths are equal in terms of the benefits they bring to one’s life. However, the question of truth is still lurking. Do the benefits of a particular religion have to do with what is truly good, beautiful and worthy of desire? Or am I again simply looking for the next best thing to fulfill my own subjective preferences?
The presuppositions both questions bring to the table are actually inconsistent with the Christian worldview. The reason Christianity ought to be believed is not only because of its benefits or because it conforms to someone’s personal preferences, but because the very nature and character of God demands that we respect and value truth. In Isaiah 45:19, God says “I, the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right.” Jesus himself claims to be “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). By contrast, Satan is a liar; in fact he is the father of lies because there is no truth in him (John 8:44).
If Christianity did not exist, which religion – if any – would be true?
This question approximates the most appropriate question; namely, which religion would be true? In some sense we have to have reasons or evidence that indicates that a religion is true. There are several criteria that can help us determine which religion we ought to choose on this basis; consider the following three criteria.
First, a religion ought to be coherent or internally consistent. If a religion holds beliefs that are themselves incompatible or contradictory, that is a clear mark of inconsistency, which is actually evidence that a religion is not true.
Second, the religion ought to be able to make sense of this world and explain our experience of reality. Most religions are worldviews, and a worldview must be able to reasonably explain the world. This happens when a worldview provides a coherent story about the whole of reality and incorporates data by explaining it as a part of the whole. As James Sire puts it “if a man is resurrected from the dead, our system must explain why.”
Thirdly, a religion must be livable and meet the deep desires of the heart. There is a place for our own desires after all; yet they are not the most important factor. While desires and emotions are an important part of what it means to be a human being, they are not infallible. Emotional and spiritual health will involve aligning the heart and mind with that which is truly good, beautiful and worthy of desire. Fixing the mind upon that will truly allow us to flourish.
Your question has taught us much about the nature of religious belief and the value of truth, Theophilus. Yet Christianity does exist. It exists because God chose to reveal himself in human history through the person and work of Jesus Christ. We can in fact know God through the scriptures and by seeing His hand in creation.
What a great gift we have! The God of the universe who is true and righteous in all His ways has made Himself known to us and, more than that, has adopted us that we might be called children of God. This truth compels us to gratitude and worship of the triune God revealed in the Bible. So we press on and heed the commands of scripture “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:18). We do this by “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
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- James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th Edition, 05 edition (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2009).