I am posting this article as a follow-up to the lesson I taught this past Wednesday night (July 23) on the topic of Buddhism as a major world religion. The purpose of this article is to provide some guidelines for Christians to engage a person of the Buddhist faith in order to share the gospel of Christ with them. This is by no means extensive, but it serves as a guiding influence for me and hopefully it will be of help to you.
The most glaring differences between the Buddhist mind and the Christian mind is the philosophical foundation. The Western mind and the Eastern mind are truly polar opposites, especially when it comes to the basis of reality. Both the Hindu and the Buddhist view life as illusory while the Christian’s Biblical worldview sees life as real and concrete. Buddhist do not deny the existence of gods, but they minimize or ignore the importance of their being. On the other hand, a Biblical worldview is one that begins, is filled by and ends with the Infinite Personal Creator God. Two of the most important questions that a person might ask about life, what is the nature of reality and what is the nature of God, are answered in completely different ways by the Buddhist and the Christian.
So, how might a Christian seeking to engage a Buddhist begin to do so?
First, there is no principle more important than that of relationship. In fact, the single most important word in the English language apart from any proper noun is the word…relationship (Oscar Thompson). There is a first step for Christians in this life of discipleship and it is to build strong and Christ-centered relationships. Our passionate desire to proclaim Christ to people must be motivated by our love for Christ and His commission, but we must also be those who possess a profound love for those to whom we share the gospel. After all, isn’t that lesson clearly depicted in Christ’s life, ministry and death?
Second, we must seek to share the Scriptures with those of the Buddhist faith. My first instinct would be to discuss philosophy and to direct them to Descartes and his axiom, “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.” But, Philosophy without the proper theology is foolishness. Theology is the highest field of scientific study a man or woman can devote themselves to and philosophy that fails to flow from a sound theology is foolishness. If you are having trouble with this last statement just look around at the philosophies of our own day which are void of God and you make the call as to whether they are foolish or not.
I for one believe that the most important piece of information we have available to us in the Western world is a Bible, God’s inerrant self-revelation. This is and has been sufficient for the salvation of men since the first century and it remains as such today. We must engage with people for the purpose of revealing the God of Scripture to them, and for the Buddhist this means beginning in Genesis 1:1 and expounding on the work of God in creation.
Third, from God as creator we must move to God as law giver. The Buddhist mind sees karma as the effect of good or bad behavior, but there is no divine standard which deems an activity to be good or bad. The Bible clearly presents the Law of God as a reflection of the character and nature of it’s author. God is the one displayed in His Law, and His existence gives His Law a divine standard.
Fourth, from God as lawgiver we must move on to man as fallen. The Buddhist believes that man is capable of saving himself by following the Buddha and his teachings. The Bible presents man’s state as far worse. Man is radically and hopelessly depraved in mind and spirit. The only means of salvation for such a state is the direct and divine intervention of God to change the heart of fallen man. Man needs a savior because of his deplorable and hopeless state.
Finally, we must proclaim Christ crucified as the sole means of atonement. The Buddhist is not aware of the need for atonement, in fact many in the West aren’t either. But the Bible makes clear that Jesus was not just a teacher, prophet, and holy man; He was and is the ransom price for sinners who have rejected and fallen short of God’s glorious standard. This is the gospel message and it needs no retooling in order to be shared with a Buddhist, it requires a man or woman of faith, to be moved by the heart of God to share the message of Christ with someone they love who knows not the grace and mercy of God.
Are we such people? My prayer is that I and all who read this article will be moved beyond the casual agreement that what has been stated is true. Let us be moved toward obedience to Christ as we share the surpassing riches of simply knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.