Learn why Christianity is distinct from all other religions from Dr. David Reagan as he interviews Dr. Ron Carlson on the show Christ in Prophecy.
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Dr. Reagan: What sets Christianity apart from all the other world religions? What are its distinctive characteristics? Is Christianity really the only path to God? Stay tuned for answers to these important questions.
Dr. Reagan: Greetings in the name of Jesus our blessed hope. I’m Dave Reagan, Founder and Director of Lamb & Lion Ministries. This week, I am delighted to have as my special guest Dr. Ron Carlson, one of Christendom’s most renowned experts on cults and world religions. Dr. Carlson is the founder and director of Christian Ministries International whose home base is located in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Dr. Carlson, welcome back to Texas.
Dr. Carlson: Hey, it’s an honor to be with you, I’ve been looking forward to this.
Dr. Reagan: Well, thank you. Over the next four weeks folks, the Lord willing, I’m going to interview Dr. Carlson regarding world religions. Now, this week we are going to look at the distinctiveness of Christianity as compared to the religions of the world. In the following weeks, we’re going to take a look at Islam and eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. We’re going to conclude all this series by examining the new age movement, and some of its off shoots. So, spread the word to your friends and neighbors and urge them to tune in each week.
Well, Dr. Carlson, let’s get started by discussing the distinctiveness of Christianity among the religions of the world. And I’d just like to start off by asking you, what would you consider to be the single most important characteristic of Christianity that sets it apart from other world religions?
Dr. Carlson: Well, that’s a great question. I think that when you examine all the world’s religions. To me, what is so unique about Christianity is the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. And it is summed up in John 3:16, for God so loved the whole world, and it’s God’s love for you and for me, for mankind that sets it apart from all other religions. You do not find this in Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam. God’s redemptive love. Not only his love, but that God personally revealed Himself to us.
Dr. Reagan: That’s one of the things I love about you Dr. Carlson, is whatever question I ask it seems like we always get back to Jesus Christ, the focal point of the faith.
Dr. Carlson: Well when you realize that God invaded human history.
Dr. Reagan: Yes.
Dr. Carlson: God split history into B.C. and A.D. and He personally revealed himself to us. This is unique among all the world’s religions.
Dr. Reagan: There really is no concept of a personal savior in any other religion, is there?
Dr. Carlson: No, that God the creator of the universe, the one who made us, that He loved us so much that he chose to come and take on human flesh and personally reveal Himself to us. I was just down in Nicaragua speaking to pastors and I told them one of my favorite stories about a father and son walking down a dirt path one day. And they came upon an ant hill that somebody had stepped on and smashed those ants. And the little boy who was four years old, he looked up to his dad and he said, “Daddy, wouldn’t it be good if we could down and tell those ants we love ‘em. You know, tell those ants we care about them and help them with their sick and their wounded.” And the father, he put his arm around his little boy and he said, “Son, the only way that we could tell those ants that we love them, that we care about them, is to become an ant, and to live like an ant, and talk like an ant. And then by our lives they would know what we are like. And you see, 2,000 years ago God looked down on a world that He created, a world that He loved. And he said, ‘I wanna tell you how much I love you.’ Well how was God gonna do this? And God said, ‘I will become a man, and I will live like a man and talk like a man, and by my life you will know what I am like'”
You see, the Bible says that God is spirit, and people say “How can I know God?” well, it’s like right now, bouncing around this room are television waves, cartoons, news, sports, entertainment. You can’t see it, you can’t hear it, but if I had a little box here called a television set and I turned that television set on, all of a sudden those invisible waves that you cannot see, you cannot hear, they would come to that box and you would see a picture and you would hear sound.
You see, Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God. He is the television set of God, and He reveals to us who God is, how we can know him, and how we can have life eternal.
Dr. Reagan: Your focus on Jesus Christ reminds me of a song that was popular in Christendom a number of years ago. It was kind of a funny song, it was a song that one of the lines I remember in it is, “When you get to heaven you won’t find Buddha sitting on the throne, Muhammad won’t be sitting on the throne.” None of those are gonna be on that throne. Jesus Christ is gonna be on that throne.
Dr. Carlson: Yeah, all the founders of the world’s religions, they did not claim to be God. They claimed to be a prophet. They claimed to be a teacher. But Jesus Christ came and not only was He God come in human flesh, but He did for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Dr. Reagan: You know, one time I had a group in Israel and we had a secular Jewish guide. And we got to talking about things theological, and he made this comment to me, he said, “You know, when I watch you all in your worship of God and your prayer to God, and your personal relationship.” He said, “I really hunger for that. I would love to have that.” But he said, “You know, as Jews, we can’t have that. We can have only a national relationship to God.” And I’d never though about that but that is sort of the Jewish mentality, that there is a national relationship to God, but no individual relationship; no concept of a personal relationship with the creator.
Dr. Carlson: It’s one of the distinctives of Christianity, is that God who is personal, created us as personal beings to live in a personal relationship with Him. And He chose to personally reveal Himself to us. One of the things that you find in the world’s religions is there is not that personal relationship. For a Muslim, they said God is so transcendent, so removed, you can never know him personally. For a Hindu and a Buddhist, they say that God is simply an impersonal cosmos. But it is God in Jesus Christ who personally revealed Himself to us. How we can in a personal loving relationship know the Creator of the universe. And that’s what’s so exciting about Christianity.
Dr. Reagan: Well, it certainly is. Could you give us maybe some other unique characteristics of Christianity as compared to world religions?
Dr. Carlson: Well, I think the other thing that is so unique is that God does for us what we cannot do for ourself. That Christianity deals with the reality of Man’s sin. That we are sinners before a holy God, and that man cannot come into the presence of a holy God. But God so loved you and me that he broke into human history and Jesus Christ died on that cross for your sins and mine.
Dr. Reagan: Wow. Amen.
Dr. Carlson: You know, many people saw Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ. And you need to understand that when Christ died on that cross he wasn’t dying for evolved slimy algae, he wasn’t dying for pond scum as the evolutionists say. He wasn’t dying for impersonal dirt, as the Hindus and Buddhists say. He was dying for you and for me, because he made you, he created you.
Dr. Reagan: And the glory of Christianity is the story did not end there, because there was a resurrection. And Christianity has the only founder who has ever been resurrected from the dead.
Dr. Carlson: Absolutely. And Jesus Christ rose victoriously from the grave. He is a living Savior. And because of that fact, He can come and live in a person’s life, and He wants to give you his resurrected power. So for the Christian, this world is not all there is. We know that there is going to be eternal life. That Jesus Christ promised that everyone who puts their faith and trust in Him will have eternal life forever. And that is the great joy, the great peace, the great hope that you find in no other religion. No other philosophy but in Jesus Christ.
Dr. Reagan: Welcome back to our discussion of the distinctiveness of Christianity. My special guest is Dr. Ron Carlson of Christian Ministries International in Minnetonka, Minnesota. He is considered to be one of Christendom’s foremost experts on cults and world religions. Dr. Carlson, let’s pick up where we left off and I’d like to do that by asking you this question. I see in newspapers, magazines, all the time the statement that all religions worship the same God, they just do so in different ways. What is your response to that?
Dr. Carlson: You know that is a common argument you hear from many people. And you find that it’s really very naive when you realize for example, that Buddha was an atheist. Buddha didn’t even believe in God.
Dr. Reagan: I didn’t know that, is that true?
Dr. Carlson: That’s true. How can you say that Buddhism which is atheistic is the same as Christianity, which affirms a personal God? Or Hinduism that believes that God is an impersonal universe. How can an impersonal universe be the same as a personal, sovereign creator? Or Allah the God of Islam, who they say is so transcendent, so removed that you can never know him personally.
You see, Christianity is very different from any other religion. For example, the Romans, the Greeks, they had their gods, Apollo, Zeus, but they were all personal gods who were finite. They were not able to deal with man’s issues.
Dr. Reagan: They couldn’t even deal with their own, they were always fighting among themselves!
Dr. Carlson: They were finite deities. You go over to the east, Hinduism and Buddhism, you have infinite gods, but they are impersonal. You see what is unique about Christianity is that God, the Bible tell us, is both infinite and personal. He is the eternal Creator who made this world.
Dr. Reagan: Both transcendent and eminent.
Dr. Carlson: And absolutely made us as personal beings so that we could live in a personal, loving relationship, because He is a personal God who desires to have a personal relationship with us. You find this concept in no other religion and no other philosophy.
Dr. Reagan: Well one of the most common comments I find today that goes right along with the one I just quoted to you, and one I find even Christians leaders making, is that there are many different roads to God. Christianity is one. But there are just many different roads. What do you say about that?
Dr. Carlson: Well, and sadly you see more and more of this even coming into the church, a universalism.
Dr. Reagan: This tolerance, emphasis on tolerance.
Dr. Carlson: That if you’re basically good, you’re gonna make it to heaven, and it’s really denial of what God has revealed to us in his word. Jesus said very clearly, he said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” Peter said in Acts 4:12, he says, “there is no other name given among men where by we must be saved, but that of Jesus Christ.”
Dr. Reagan: And yet, any Christian leader who would get up and preach that or teach that or say that on television would be condemned immediately as being completely and totally intolerant.
Dr. Carlson: Well, and sadly, tolerance has become for many pastors a higher virtue than truth. You see, we’ve lost our prophetic voice of speaking truth. And truth is really God’s love. God wanting to let man know that we are sinners separated from a holy God, and that we cannot come into the presence of a holy God through our good works. The Bible says that all of our righteousness is as filthy rags before a holy God. And that the only way to deal with man’s basic problem, which is sin, is that it took an infinite sacrifice.
You know, the Jews on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Every year the Jews would bring a lamb to sacrifice for the sins of the people. The next year they have to bring another lamb to sacrifice for the sins of the people, and the next year another lamb. Well, why? Because it was a finite sacrifice. But you see, the great truth of Christianity is that Jesus Christ, when He died on that cross, if you read Hebrews 7, 8, 9 and 10 it tells us that He was the eternal Lamb of God. He was the infinite sacrifice who shed His blood once for all time, so that we could come by faith and receive the gift of forgiveness, the gift of cleansing. And you find that in no other religion, and no other philosophy, can man have his sin nature dealt with.
Dr. Reagan: When a person says that there are many different roads to God, and many Christian leaders today are even saying this. Aren’t they really blaspheming the work that Jesus did on the cross? Aren’t they saying that what he did on the cross is really irrelevant?
Dr. Carlson: Yeah, if there was any other way that man could come into a relationship with God apart from Jesus Christ, there was no need for Jesus to have died on the cross. If you could earn your salvation, if you would work for it, if you could follow a set of rules to get to heaven, then there was no need for Christ to die.
People ask me, “do you really believe that God sends people to Hell?” I say, “One thing we know about Hell is that it is so bad that it cost the very son of God his life to keep you from going there.” And God doesn’t send people to Hell, people send themselves to Hell by willfully rejecting God’s free gift. That God took the initiative, He has offered us His gift of salvation, in Jesus Christ.
Dr. Reagan: Again, God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Dr. Carlson: And Romans 5:8 says that, “God proved His love for us, in that while we were sinners, Christ came and died for us”. And this is the great truth of Christianity.
Dr. Reagan: Thank you Dr. Carlson.
Dr. Reagan: Welcome back, I’m talking with Dr. Ron Carlson about Christianity and world religions. And Dr. Carlson I’d like to ask you on a practical down-to-earth-daily-living level, how is Christianity distinct from other world religions?
Dr. Carlson: Well, it makes a big difference what one believes. A. W. Tozer in his classic work The Knowledge of the Holy, he made the statement that “History will show that no society or people has ever risen above its religion.” And he says, “No religion is ever greater than its concept of God.” And what a person thinks about God will determine how they live, and you see this around the world in very practical ways.
Dr. Reagan: Well, give me some examples.
Dr. Carlson: In 1980 I was working on the Cambodian border in Thailand. At the time we had 300,000 refugees caught in a no mans land. As you may remember, after the Vietnam War we had what came to be called the killing fields of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge. The Pol Pot regime murdered nearly two million of their own people. And in 1979 the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia. And the Cambodians who were left, fled into Thailand, but the Thais did not want them in their country. And we had 300,000 refugees. And during that year I worked in those refugee camps. I began to notice something very interesting. That here in this Buddhist country of Thailand, with Buddhist refugees coming from Cambodia and Laos, I soon began to realize there were no Buddhists in those refugees camps taking care of their Buddhist brothers. And you know, we had no Hindus in those camps taking care of the people. There were no Muslims there taking care of the refugees. Certainly the communists were not, they were shelling us every day across the border.
And if your listeners could have been with me, they would have seen something very interesting. That the only people there taking care of those 300,000 refugees, you know who they were? They were all Christians. Christian mission organizations. Christian relief organizations, like World Vision, Food for the Hungry, Christian World Relief, and on and on.
Dr. Reagan: Samaritan Purse.
Dr. Carlson: They were all there.
And I asked the man in charge of all the relief work in Thailand, who had been in Thailand for 40 years as a Christian Missionary Alliance missionary, and the United Nations was not even there because Thailand was not signature to the United Nations relief package. And I asked the man in charge of all the relief work. I said, “Sir, why in a Buddhist country with Buddhist refugees are there no Buddhists here taking care of their Buddhist brothers.” And he looked at me, and he said, “Ron, have you ever seen what Buddhism does to a nation or a people? Buddha taught that each man is to be an island unto himself.” He said, “Buddha taught that if someone is suffering that is there karma, and you are not to interfere with another person’s karma, because you are to purge yourself through suffering and reincarnation.” He said, “Ron the only people that have a reason to be here today taking care of these refugees are Christians, who understand the value of human life; that these people are so valuable, created in the very image of God, value that Jesus Christ died for each and every one of them.” He said, “You find that value for human life in no other religion, in no other philosophy but in Jesus Christ.”
Dr. Reagan: Well that reminds me of a more recent calamity, and that was the Great Tsunami off the coast of Indonesia. Who were the people who were affected by that? Muslims. By the hundreds of thousands. How many Muslim relief organizations did you see go in there?
Dr. Carlson: Well, not only there, but here in America, Katrina. It was fascinating to me that when FEMA was trying to figure out what to do, it was the Red Cross, it was Salvation Army, it was the Christian organizations and churches by the hundreds in the south who were taking care of the people during the Katrina hurricane. And before the government even responded. And you see this Christian response. It’s one of the things that you travel around the world. I’ve been to 40 areas of Africa. Every hospital, every medical clinic, every school in Africa was built by Christians.
Go to the Middle East. The University of Beirut. The University of Cairo. They were established by Christian missionaries. You go to India, every hospital, every medical clinic, every school, every university in India was established by Christians.
Go to Beijing, China. Look at the University of Beijing. On the cornerstone, built by Christians, paid for in 1922 by Christian missionaries.
You see, you go around the world, it’s only Christianity that has value for human life, that people are important enough to educate and to care for.
Dr. Reagan: Well, you know Dr. Carlson, that even in our country that has been true since the beginning of this country. All of the great universities like Harvard and Yale, all of them, were founded by Christians. The hospitals, founded by Christians. The relief organizations, founded by Christians. They weren’t founded by anyone else.
Dr. Carlson: Well they understood and when they wrote the Declaration of Independence. They said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” And the founders of this country understood it was only out of a Biblical Christian worldview that people would have freedom and liberty. You find it in no other religion. No other philosophy.
Dr. Reagan: In just a moment, I want to ask Dr. Carlson to summarize for us the basic difference between the concept of salvation as it exists in Christianity and in the major world religions. We’ve talked on these and touched on it several times. But I want to come back and really zero in on it.
Dr. Reagan: Dr. Carlson, before I ask you one final question about Christianity and world religions, why don’t you tell our viewers how they can get in touch with your ministry.
Dr. Carlson: Well, if they want to get in touch with us, we have tremendous resources available at christianministriesintl.org is the easiest way to get a hold of us. Go to the internet, www.christianministriesintl.org.
Dr. Reagan: Great! Thank you Dr. Carlson. Now, let’s get to the final question. Several times during this interview you have mentioned the concept of salvation as it exists in Christianity. It’s so important, I want to come back to that. And I’d like to end the program by having you summarize for us, what is the distinctive nature of salvation in Christianity as compared to the religions of the world?
Dr. Carlson: You know, Dave, as you study the world’s religions you find that they are all men and women’s attempts to reach God. That religion is really man trying to get to God through his rituals, through his sacrifices, through his good works, through his money. But the Bible says that all of our righteousness is as filthy rags before a holy God. You see, the Bible says that God is holy and men and women are affected with the spiritual disease called sin that separates from a holy God. So people have been trying to create all kinds of religions trying to get back to God, but they’re never able to come into the presence of a holy God.
The great truth of Christianity is this, that God so loved the whole world that He broke into history and took on human flesh and became a man. So that when he died on that cross, Hebrews says, He was by nature the eternal Lamb of God. He was the infinite sacrifice who shed his blood. See, religion is men trying to get to God. Christianity is God reaching down to men.
Dr. Reagan: So, in that regard, it would be really technically correct to say that Christianity really is not a religion.
Dr. Carlson: It is not a religion, it’s a personal relationship with the living God, the creator of the universe.
Dr. Reagan: And what an exciting relationship that is.
Dr. Carlson: And when you realize what he did for us. I was recently in New Zealand speaking and I was on a large sheep ranch where the ranchers were telling me that often times in a large flock of sheep when the mother ewes are giving birth to the lambs that often times the mother ewe will die in giving birth to a live lamb. And somewhere else in the flock, a mother ewe will give birth to a still born, a dead lamb. And so the sheep ranchers would take that orphan lamb that lost its mother and they will bring it to the mother who lost her baby, in order to have it nurse and feed and suckle. But the mother can smell that lamb, that that is not her baby, and she will always kick it away and will not allow it to nurse and feed. And the sheep ranchers discovered that if they take the blood of that still born dead lamb, and they smear it as a coat of covering over the orphan. That then when they bring it to that mother, she smells that blood, that that is her baby, and she will allow it to nurse and feed. And when they shared that with me, I thought what a great illustration of our relationship with God!
Dr. Reagan: Fantastic.
Dr. Carlson: If God who is holy can not look on man’s sin, but the Bible says that when we come to Jesus Christ and put our faith and truth in him as our personal Lord and Savior, the Bible says that he covers us with his shed blood so that when God looks down on us, He no longer sees our sin, but He now sees the blood of Jesus Christ that covers us, and he allows us to come back into a personal relationship with him for which we were made.
Dr. Reagan: I want to conclude this interview with one of my favorite versions of scripture that helped me in the darkest period of my life. It’s found in 1 Peter chapter four, beginning with verse six, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you at the proper time. Cast all your anxiety upon Him because He cares for you.”
Dr. Carlson: Amen.
Dr. Reagan: Only Christians can say we have a God who cares for us, who is personal, who is right there as close as bowing our heads and praying to him.
Dr. Carlson: And it’s an exciting thing, and I’d encourage every one of your listeners that you can have a personal relationship with the creator of the universe, come to Jesus Christ and know Him personally.
Dr. Reagan: Thank you Dr. Carlson. Well folks, that’s our program for this week. I hope it’s been a blessing to you. Next week, the Lord willing, we will consider the lure of eastern religions and we will look specifically at Buddhism and Hinduism. Until then, this is Dave Reagan speaking for Lamb and Lion ministries saying, “Look up, be watchful, for our redemption is drawing near.”
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