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
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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