Conversations about Other Beliefs

I was born in 1960 and grew up in a monolithic belief system. My father was a pastor in a small town (~600 people) where many people attended church, as did farmers who lived nearby. Even among people who didn’t, it seemed that most of them had an underlying, unspoken respect for the Bible, even if they didn’t read it themselves or know what it said. Having known people from many other places throughout the U.S., as well as having lived in some of them, I think that was probably true throughout large swaths of the country. In addition to my being raised in a Christian family and church, I attended Christian schools, including college. When I was 20, I finally understood that the Lord was a deeply personal God Who cared for me, and I became a Christian. Right about that time, I also began to encounter people who did not share my beliefs but who I became friends with.

One of my earliest conversations with someone who had a very different background than me was when I spent the summer working at an azalea nursery, where there were several workers from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Eth was a young guy that I worked with and enjoyed talking with. I don’t remember how we got onto the topic of religion, but I told him that I attended church and was a Christian; he said that he was a Buddhist and that in Cambodia, he had gone to a temple. We would “trash-talk” in a friendly guy way about various things. Eth, who smoked and drank some, said things like, “You don’t smoke, don’t drink; good boy.” Eventually, I tried to persuade him about some fundamental Christian beliefs, but he just said that all religions helped people to be “good.” I don’t know whatever happened to Eth, but I pray for him whenever I think of him, like now.

As a graduate student, I attended a secular university and met many people from all kinds of backgrounds, including religiously. I didn’t have a lot of comparative-religion conversations in terms of beliefs, but primarily in terms of practices and food. (Speaking of: one of my fondest memories of my time back then is eating delicious gyros with guys from Yemen in a dorm room!) One person who I got to know especially well was Keiko, from Japan; we had some conversations about Christianity, Shintoism, and Buddhism, although she herself did not identify as a follower of any particular religion. Keiko is another person I pray for when she comes to mind.

At the beginning of my teaching career, I taught in a communist Third World country where most of my students were atheists. Throughout my–and later our (with my wife)–five years there, students would frequently drop in to visit in the evening, some of them with religious questions. Some were sincere, while others were somewhat mocking, but over the years, we saw several come to faith in Christ, including some of the previous mockers! Some of them, we didn’t find out about until years later.

Since coming back to the U.S. thirty years ago, now and then I have had opportunities to talk about the Lord to people who have other beliefs. One person who stands out is a colleague from Vietnam named Trang. I was a mentor of sorts to her, but in addition to conversations about teaching, we had other conversations as well, including about Christianity and Buddhism. We never argued, but rather enjoyed the conversations. Trang is yet another person I pray for when she comes to mind. Another person who stands out is a student from an atheist background who had written about her purpose in life and came to my office; she wanted to pray to accept Jesus, so I prayed with her. When I told a colleague who was at least ostensibly a Christian about this, I’m sorry to say that she cautioned me; she didn’t think it was “appropriate.” I pray for both of them when I think of them.

Last year, following my COVID vaccination, I had “frozen shoulder,” so my doctor recommended physical therapy. Although I was initially somewhat skeptical, I noticed as the weeks went by that my shoulder was showing definite improvement. (It is almost completely back to normal now.) There were five different therapists who worked with me, and I quickly discovered that one of them was a Christian. One day, she asked me, “Do you think that Jesus is the only way to heaven?” I quoted Jesus’ words in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” We talked a bit further about this, and we agreed that followers of other religions would not go to heaven. I noticed that one of my other therapists was listening very intently; in fact, I think that my sister in Christ asked that question at least partly because she wanted the other therapist to (over)hear our conversation! As with the other people I have mentioned, I pray for her when she comes to mind.

I have been reading a book recommended to our small group by one of my brothers in Christ; it gives a brief summary of the beliefs of other religions, sects, and worldviews. While I think this knowledge is certainly helpful, as I have reflected on the conversations I have had throughout the decades with adherents of other beliefs, I realize that while sometimes I have offered “rebuttals” to other people, many times I have not. For the most part, they and I have enjoyed such conversations. And in some cases, they have eventually come to faith in Christ. However you and I may communicate with people of varying belief systems, my prayer is that we would always do so with grace and truth; we can trust the Lord for the results, whatever they may be.

10 thoughts on “Conversations about Other Beliefs

  1. Keith, I can relate. I’ve also had many, many conversations with people of various beliefs, and my prayer list is also long! “Sharing” is so much better than arguing. You’re right, it’s God who brings people to salvation. We can’t do it, no matter how clever our words may seem to us. Much better to keep the friendship.

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    1. Good questions. For Eth, Keiko, and Trang, I pray that the Lord will have at least one of His people in their lives to show and tell them more about Him. Since I’m not in touch with any of them anymore, I have to leave it totally up to the Lord.

      For the former atheists who came to faith in Jesus, I pray that they will remain firm. Also, since I’m still in touch with several of them, I can and do pray more specifically for them. I am also still in touch with some who are still atheists, and I pray that ultimately, I will see them in heaven.

      For my cautious colleague, I pray that she will not be governed by fear and that I will see her in heaven.

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  2. Hi Keith, as you know I am from a Chinese ethnic background and I have lived in the NYC metro area since 1964 so I am somewhat familiar with different religious beliefs. Right now I am living in a neighborhood that is mostly Orthodox Jewish, almost all the stores within a few blocks of where I live are closed on the Sabbath or on Jewish Holidays. Unfortunately, I don’t have as orthodox Christian or biblical world view as you do, but I am learning a great deal by studying the Bible with many Chinese brothers and sisters at my church and other churches via Zoom.

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    1. Anthony, it’s great that you are continuing to learn by studying the Bible with brothers and sisters. Perhaps as you encounter people in your neighborhood, the Lord will open a door for you to share Him in some way. I understand that for someone of a Jewish background, it can be difficult to come to repentance; on the other hand, I know that there are many “Messianic Jews.” Sometimes I wonder if it may be “easier” for people of no religion to turn to the Lord than for people of another religion.

      Liked by 1 person

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