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August 5, 2000
Column #988

THE THREAT TO CHRISTIANITY FROM THE EAST

     While America was focused on the Republican Convention this week in Philadelphia, Billy Graham, 81, attracted 10,287 ''itinerant evangelists'' to Amsterdam, The Netherlands, two-thirds of whom came from developing countries.

     Sadly, Billy was unable to attend the first week's events due to the discovery of a buildup of fluid on his brain. Hopefully, he will be able to attend the final session on Sunday at least by satellite hookup, so that he can ''pass the torch'' of evangelism on to a new generation.

     However, Billy was ably represented by his son, Franklin Graham, a daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, plus such notables as evangelist Luis Palau, Anglican Archbishop George Carey, and by the man who interested me most, Ravi Zacharias, the Indian-born Christian apologist who challenges the ''tolerance'' of our culture which embraces everything from Eastern mysticism to New Age spirituality with the uncompromising conviction that Jesus is the only way.

     Speaking at an opening plenary sessions in Amsterdam, Zacharias said, ''Religions from the East have come flooding in. Ideas like, `Discover the God that is in you,' or reincarnation, or meditation upon a mantra or a chant of another deity have gradually taken on a huge following'' at the very time that western culture ''has evicted Christianity as a dominant factor.''

     ''The result, I fear, may well be the pointed question whether Jesus Christ is indeed unique, or is He just one among many ways?'

     Four days after Zacharias spoke, George Barna released a new poll reporting that more than 100 million U.S. adults ''are stumped as to the meaning and purpose of their life.'' Yet a substantial majority describe themselves as ''deeply spiritual.'' How can people call themselves deeply spiritual while being stumped on the meaning or purpose of life?

     Zacharias identified other sources of dramatic change for those of us over 40. First is the ''dominance of the visual...The camera controls the imagination of young minds.'' True. The new generation does not read newspapers, for example. This column used to be published by The Miami News, Sacramento Union, Shreveport News, and others that no longer exist.

     ''The increasing power of a youth dominated world,'' is another sign of the time. ''How are cultures that have cherished the past going to cope with a generation which lives only for the moment?'' Another is ''the bold face of atheism'' seen on university campuses where many even deny that good and evil exist.

     Zacharias summed up these trends to the young evangelists in one sentence: ''How do you reach a generation that hears with its eyes and thinks with its feelings?''

     First, ''We cannot just speak the Gospel. We will have to embody the Gospel'' such as the Belgian missionary Joseph Damien who ministered to lepers. One day he spilled hot water on his foot and did not feel it. He changed his sermon opening from ''My fellow believers'' to ''My fellow lepers.''

     Second, we need a ''proclamation that is not merely argued but felt.'' Clergy who have to read their sermons to me are speaking from the head, not the heart.

     Finally, he suggested rescuing not only the ends of the Gospel, but also the means. Find language that communicates with power. He notes the way poet Alexander Pope described Jesus' miracle of Cana turning water into wine, ''The conscious water saw its Master and blushed.''

     What Zacharias did not say, because it would be immodest, I will add. Read his latest book, Jesus Among Other Gods. Give it to someone who is intrigued with Eastern religion. He compares Buddha or Mohammed who merely taught with Jesus who ''did not only teach or expound his message. He was identical with His message.''

     ''He did not just proclaim the truth. He said, `I am the truth.' He did not just show a way. He said `I am the way."

     Zacharias argues, ''All religions are not the same. All religions do not point to God.'' In an interview from Singapore, he elaborated: ''Buddhism at its core is non-theist or atheist. It gives you a way of life that gives you the retention of your autonomy, your own sovereignty. Hinduism teaches that every life is a moral repayment of the previous life, and in the next life you could be mothered by a boar or a donkey.''

     By contrast, Christianity teaches ''We are not in need merely of a superior ethic, we are in need of a transformed heart and will that seeks to do the will of God.''

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.

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