A few weeks ago I had lunch at the local Sikh temple (Gurdwara). I live in British Columbia, where Sikhs are the largest faith group after Christians, so I was keen to have a chat with temple leaders to discuss ways we could mutually encourage the university to support students through chaplaincy programs.
I dropped by the Gurdwara just as the service was finishing and joined a stream of people heading into the hall for a common meal—what Sikhs call langar. Over conversation and lentil curry, I watched families and friends laughing and eating, old men ladling out rice to kids, a few migrant workers waiting for a free meal, and everyone—men, women, and children—seated on the floor as equals before God. Hospitality, humility, kindness, equality: all things true, beautiful, and good. Who could doubt that there isn’t truth in Sikhism or any other religion?
In fact, many Christians do doubt the presence of truth in other religions. In the past, some theologians even declared other faiths as demonic or idolatrous, insisting on Christianity as exclusively true. I think a better position keeps at least three things in view.
First, to appreciate truth and goodness in other religions is not to endorse them as paths to salvation. Reformed Christians have always confessed that salvation is God’s gift to undeserving sinners, realized through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, and mediated through the Spirit. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NRSV). Let’s keep this truth distinct from the question of whether truth exists in religions other than our own.
Second, to affirm that there is truth in other religions in no way diminishes the greatness of our God or his gospel. For if the Father’s creating and saving grace is as wide as we confess, if Christ’s lordship is as total as we claim, and if the Spirit is as free and sovereign as we profess, then shouldn’t we expect to find fingerprints and footprints of our triune God throughout his broken world and not just in the church?
When I worked as a missionary in Malawi, African friends often reminded me that God was present in their land long before European missionaries arrived in the 19th century. God was inspiring stories, teachings, and rituals as hints of the gospel that would later transform their culture. Yes, the gospel has been entrusted to the church to proclaim. But it's not ours to possess. It's bigger and deeper than the institutional Christian religion.
A third point closely follows: We detect truth in other religions through the gospel and not apart from it. It's not as if we have a general idea of what is true and good and beautiful, which we then find scattered throughout the world’s religions. I come across this thinking frequently on campus among students who dabble in faith traditions, picking and choosing the “best” parts depending on personal taste. When I took part in the langar, I was drawn to displays of hospitality, generosity, and the like because they resonated with the gospel. As Christians, we discern truth in other religions through a biblical, Christ-centered perspective. I like how the great Reformed missiologist Lesslie Newbigin calls Jesus “the decisive clue” by which we evaluate and explore the world around us, including other religions. Through that clue, we can see truth in other religions, even as we invite adherents of other faiths to join us in pursuit of the fullness of truth that is in Christ.