What to say to our Hindu, Buddhist & New Age Friends

February 17, 2016

The above title might cause you to wonder how there can be a single witnessing guide for these three complex and somewhat bewildering religious systems. This is a fair question. These religious systems are extraordinarily diverse. To give you an idea, within Hinduism there is an estimated 330 million gods! Clearly, having even a close to full understanding of Hinduism, not to mention the complexities of Buddhism and New Age thought, requires many years of study. I, personally, do not feel called by God to invest years of study in these religions but I do feel it is important for Christians to reach out in love to these wandering souls. They need to receive forgiveness of sins and true rebirth. If you feel similarly please give the following a careful reading. Again, these religious systems are extraordinarily diverse. Nonetheless, I find that there exist common threads of belief interwoven between them. Immediately below are brief descriptions of these with Christian responses followed by 5 witnessing suggestions for reaching out to our Hindu, Buddhist, and New Age friends.

 

PANTHEISM

Pantheism can be found in Hinduism (with the exception of the Hare Krishna sect) and the New Age Movement. It is the belief that everything is God and God is everything. Every human, tree, animal, and rock is a divine manifestation. Indeed, all of creation is God. One could even say that this article is God.

 

Response

This article may have come from God but that in no way means it is God. The same relationship exists between God and creation. God created everything and yet He remains entirely distinct from His creation (see Genesis 1–2). Furthermore, God claims divine status for Himself alone (see Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6–8; 45:5–6, 18, 21–22; and 46:9).

 

RELATIVISM

Relativism can be found in all three religious thoughts but is most pervasive in the New Age Movement. It is the belief that truth and morality are entirely subject to the individual’s own perception. In other words, there is no objective truth that we must all agree on or moral absolutes that we must all live by. These two are squarely in the eye of the beholder. It is therefore not uncommon to hear “That may be your truth but my truth is . . .” or “You may think it is wrong but I think . . .” These sorts of responses should not surprise anyone one bit. After all, since the New Age Cult deifies man who is to say another “god” is wrong? If everyone is “god” then objective truth and moral absolutes cannot exist.

 

Response

First, God claims divine status for Himself alone (see above). The deification of man is simply the repeat of the oldest lie in the Book (Genesis 3:1–5).

     Second, objective truth exists. Two plus two equals four. It will never equal three, five, six, or seven no matter how much one believes. Some answers may be nearer to the truth but there exists only one truth to two plus two. That truth is four.

     Third, moral absolutes do exist. The Bible gives ample testimony to this from front to back. In addition, God has given each person a conscience (literally meaning “with knowledge”) to discern right from wrong (Romans 2:15). For example, premeditated murder is absolutely wrong. If it is not then Adolf Hitler and the KKK are to be commended because they acted in accordance with their “truth” that murdering innocent people because of their nationality and skin color was the right thing to do. Adultery is also absolutely wrong. Just ask someone who has been betrayed by a spouse. Stealing is absolutely wrong as well. If someone objects to this truth claim then take their cell phone. When they demand their cell phone back tell them it may be their “truth” that stealing their cell phone is wrong but it is your “truth” that stealing their cell phone is right. (By the way, I am not suggesting that you really do steal people’s cell phones but it makes the point.) Moral absolutes do exist.

 

KARMA AND REINCARNATION

The concepts of karma and reincarnation can also be found in all three religious thoughts. Karma is the belief that one’s present experiences, whether good or bad, are a direct result from one’s past actions in a previous life. This, of course, necessitates the second concept known as reincarnation or rebirth. The idea is simply this: since sin cannot be atoned for in one life the individual’s soul must continually be rebirthed into different bodies (usually human but can take animal, plant, and non-living forms) during which time the person engages in “good” works (e.g. temple rituals, yoga, meditation, chanting, adherence to the eightfold path, etc.) in hopes of eventually being released from this endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (when good karma outweighs bad karma) and becoming one with the “World Soul.” This end goal has been likened to a rain drop falling into the ocean. In Hinduism this is called moksha and in Buddhism it is called nirvana, which literally means “blown out.” As such, Buddhism probably favors the soul’s extinction whereas Hinduism favors its absorption.

     The New Age Movement borrowed these ideas, much like Buddhism (500 BC) borrowed them from Hinduism (1500 BC), and repackaged them like every good cult. Since they uphold relativism, which posits that objective truth and morality do not exist, they do not view reincarnation as opportunities to right previous wrongs. Instead, rebirths serve as opportunities to progress the soul to higher levels of spiritual awareness and oneness with God.

     As I noted earlier, these religious systems are extraordinarily diverse. Subsequently, karma and reincarnation can be seen differently depending on the lens of the cultists. Interestingly, these cultists, although all in agreement that the Bible is not the sole authority to faith and practice, appeal to statements within the Bible to support their twin doctrines of karma and reincarnation. The most notable examples are Job 1:20–21, Jeremiah 1:4–5, Matthew 11:13–14, Mark 8:27–30, John 3:3, John 9:1–2, and Galatians 6:7. Let’s briefly examine these passages.

 

JOB 1:20–21

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

     Reincarnation enthusiasts argue that Job believed he would return to his mother’s womb to presumably be reborn.

 

Response

Curiously, Job does not specify to where he will return. He simply says, “naked shall I return.” But to where does he have in mind? The most obvious destination is the dust of the ground. In Genesis 3:19 we find the Lord God telling Adam the following, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Let’s just say though for sake of argument that Job means the “womb” when he says “naked shall I return.” Interestingly, in Psalm 139:13–15 we read, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (emphasis added). Notice that the psalmist’s mother’s womb and the depths of the earth are likened. If the psalmist equated these it is quite possible that Job may have done the same. Regardless then whether one takes the more likely first view or the second, it is clear that Job is not intending to communicate that he will be reincarnated after death. Rather, he is simply communicating what the Bible does throughout: dead bodies return to the dust of the ground.

 

JEREMIAH 1:4–5

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

     Reincarnation enthusiasts argue that Jeremiah’s soul existed before he was born therefore implying that he was reincarnated.

 

Response

In Jeremiah 1 God is calling and commissioning Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations. Since God is omniscient (all-knowing of past, present, and future happenings) He could speak of Jeremiah’s future prophetic office without him having yet been born (cf. Galatians 1:15). This passage, therefore, does not suggest Jeremiah pre-existed but rather that he was pre-ordained to be a prophet to the nations.

 

MATTHEW 11:13–14

For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come (see Malachi 4:5–6).

     Reincarnation enthusiasts argue that John the Baptist was a reincarnation of Elijah the Prophet.

 

Response

For several reasons John the Baptist can clearly be demonstrated not to be Elijah the Prophet reincarnated.

     First, according to the teaching of reincarnation, one must first die before he can be reborn into another body. Elijah, of course, did not die but was taken up by a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:11). He, therefore, is ruled out as being reincarnated into John the Baptist or anyone else for that matter.

     Second, even if we allow for reincarnationists to contradict their teaching, John the Baptist flatly rejected being Elijah the prophet. “And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not’ ” (John 1:19–21).

     Third, the above statement about John the Baptist (Matthew 11:13–14) should be interpreted in light of obvious refutations, such as Hebrews 9:27, which says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

     What then is the meaning of Luke 1:17 where it says John the Baptist came “in the spirit and power of Elijah”? The meaning is simply that John the Baptist fulfilled the same prophetic function as Elijah the Prophet. Just as people who work together to achieve the same goal are said to have the same “spirit,” so too did Elijah the Prophet and John the Baptist have the same “spirit” about them. They both served powerfully as God’s chosen prophets.

 

MARK 8:27–30

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

     Reincarnation enthusiasts argue that the people living in Jesus’ day believed Him to have been reincarnated.

 

Response

While some indeed misunderstood Jesus’ unique identity (like those holding to reincarnation do today), Peter certainly did not. He identified Jesus as none other than “the Christ.” Far from acknowledging to having lived previously as John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets, Jesus affirms Peter’s confession and charges His disciples to tell no one.

 

JOHN 3:3

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

     Reincarnation enthusiasts argue that Jesus referred to rebirth as the means to salvation.

 

Response

Reincarnationists are correct in assuming Jesus referred to rebirth as the means to salvation. However, as is usually necessary when dialoguing with cultists, terms must be defined. Did Jesus mean by “born again” physical rebirth after this life as reincarnationists maintain? Or, did Jesus mean by “born again” spiritual rebirth in this life through faith in Him? The evidence clearly supports the latter.

     The phrase “born again” is more precisely translated “born from above,” thus indicating that spiritual rebirth comes from God. This is evident in Jesus’ continuing conversation with Nicodemus which climaxes in the beloved statement from our Lord, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him [present tense] should not perish but have eternal life” (v. 16, emphasis added). Clearly, when Jesus says one must be “born again” earlier in His conversation with Nicodemus (v. 3), He is referring to spiritual rebirth which comes from God in the here and now through faith in Him alone.

 

JOHN 9:1-2

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

     Reincarnation enthusiasts argue that this man was born blind because of previous wrongs committed in a past life.

 

Response

Interestingly, the reincarnationists’ claims are immediately disproven in the next line. Jesus responds to His disciples, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v.3). If this man’s blindness was a result of bad karma and reincarnation Jesus surely would have told His disciples so and not lied to them.

 

GALATIANS 6:7

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

     Reincarnation enthusiasts argue that this verse supports the twin doctrines of karma and reincarnation.

 

Response

These verses have nothing to do with the aforementioned doctrines of demons. The context deals exclusively with judgment meted out by God: to those whose deeds are evil “corruption,” that is eternal separation from God, but to those whose deeds are good “eternal life,” that is everlasting fellowship with God (v. 8). The laws of karma and reincarnation indeed find no home in God’s Word.

 

 

FIVE WITNESSING SUGGESTIONS


The following five witnessing suggestions are not a “magical” formula. God is able to save apart from any work of man. He, however, condescends to use us in reconciling the world to Himself. This is indeed a great privilege! The following suggestions are merely that. You may take them or leave them but I would advise the former. The concepts are not only useful in dialoguing with Hindus, Buddhists, and New Agers, but can be helpful for any witnessing conversation.

 

1. Build relationships

Our fast-paced Christianity says “Quick, get a decision before they change their mind!” In working with Hindus, Buddhists, and New Agers this isn’t the best approach. I’m not suggesting that we put off sharing the Gospel, only that we first focus on cultivating relationships with our misguided friends. Those whom we wish to win to Christ must know that we genuinely care for them and not just their “decision” for Christ. I have heard it said before that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. There's some definite truth contained in this statement. Hindus, Buddhists, and New Agers must first know that we sincerely care for them. Please, therefore, go slowly and always remember… build relationships.

Some practical ways to cultivate relationships might be to invite your Hindu, Buddhist, or New Age friend out for coffee or tea. This neutral environment will make your friend feel more comfortable opening up and sharing with you. You might want to begin your conversation by asking them about their family. You might want to follow this up with a question about their personal interests.  Since Hindus, Buddhists, and New Agers enjoy talking about all things spiritual, you might be surprised by how quickly you’re able to steer the conversation toward spiritual things. They’ll gladly share with you their spiritual journey, unless, of course, they feel you’re only interested in making them a Christian. Remember, your goal is to become their friend so just listen to their story. If they’d like to hear your story then share what God has done for you, but be careful not to prematurely press for a “decision” or to monopolize the conversation. Consider re-circling back to them after sharing. I’ve also heard it said before that we have two ears and one mouth so we should spend twice as much time listening than speaking. Again, there’s some definite truth contained in this statement. I’ll comment more on this later.

     Hopefully your friend is actually becoming one. You might want to consider then stepping it up and inviting him to your house for dinner. If he accepts your offer always be sensitive to his food preferences. (By the way, this is something Christians are commanded to do in Romans 14.) For example, a Hindu will not eat beef due to their reverence for cows, so whatever you do, do not serve beef when eating with a Hindu! Many Hindus, Buddhists, and New Agers are vegetarians, and some are vegans, so also be prepared to make a meal without meat or animal products, such as eggs, milk, cheese, etc. If all this sound like too much work, consider their eternal destiny apart from faith in Christ.

 

2. Always show respect

In showing respect to our Hindu, Buddhist, and New Age friends we are not putting a stamp of approval on their beliefs nor are we compromising ours. Showing respect is simply our obligation to all those who have been created in God’s image. Beyond this, showing respect is absolutely central in building healthy relationships. In fact, no relationship will last without this key ingredient. What are some ways we can show respect to our Hindu, Buddhists, and New Age friends? I’m glad you asked. We can show respect in regards to their food. (See above.) We can show respect in regards to their clothing. Turban, shawl, staff, robes, jewelry, none of these should concern us. We can show respect in regards to their beliefs. This doesn’t mean we regard pantheism, relativism, karma, reincarnation or any other belief as possessing any semblance of truth but we can respect the people who hold them.

     Lastly, we can show respect in regards to their religious leaders. Some time ago I was in a conversation with a Buddhist sympathizer. I jumped at the opportunity to express my disapproval of Siddhartha Gautama (a.k.a. Buddha) for deserting his wife and son in search of truth. While any sensible person would likewise disapprove, in retrospect I don’t think it contributed any to the conversation. Fortunately, it didn’t detract (too) much from the conversation as we were soon on to another topic. Regardless, I, and every other Christian, should be careful when critiquing religious leaders, especially if our goal is to win the cultist to Christ. A superior than you attitude is never appreciated.

     Instead of critiquing their beliefs we might do better commending them for their desire to end animal cruelty, poverty, disease, discrimination, etc. After all, aren’t these our desires too? Seeking common ground will beat criticism any day in establishing relationships with our Hindu, Buddhists, and New Age friends. (By the way, if you’re wondering if the Gospel will ever make its way into this conversation let me assure you it will.)

 

3. Listen to their felt problems

As Christians we should be especially sensitive to the needs of others. Do our Hindu, Buddhist, and New Age friends need some kind of help? If so, let us endeavor in every way to meet their needs. It goes back to that statement that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. The quickest way to a hearing ear is self-sacrifice on our parts. This might mean we help them with some work around their house. It might mean we help them financially to get out of a hole. It might mean any number of things.

     Without question, the most effective way we can help our Hindu, Buddhists, and New age friends is to pray for them. When in conversation with them at the coffee shop, your house, or anywhere else, always keep your ear open for ways you can pray for them. If you can’t discern any needs consider asking them if they’re experiencing any difficulty in their lives. Maybe they’re feeling stressed over their current financial situation, maybe they’re burdened over their children’s choices, or maybe they’re suffering physically and are in need of healing. Whatever the need, no matter how big or small, offer to pray for them. If you feel led to lay your hands on them while praying be sure to ask for permission. Make sure you stress in your prayer the personal relationship you have with Jesus and how the one and true God loves them and wants to meet their needs. Tell your friend you’ll continue to pray for him and do it. Just maybe through your prayers he’ll experience the greatest healing of all—the forgiveness of his sins. Remember, God is able to do in an instant what we can’t do in a lifetime.

 

4. Focus on your relationship with Jesus

How can you focus on your relationship with Jesus? I’m glad you asked. The easiest way to focus on your relationship with Jesus is to share your conversion story (a.k.a. personal testimony). Why share your conversion story? I’m glad you asked again. Alvin Reid in his book, “Evangelism Handbook,” provides the following reasons. Your conversion story is relevant. People are seeking to hear about real life experiences. It’s also unique. While we may not speak authoritatively on anything else, we all speak authoritatively when sharing how God has changed our lives. Finally, sharing our conversion story holds up a mirror for our friend to examine himself against. Reid goes on to give the following guidelines for sharing your conversion story:

  • Write out your testimony, seeking the Spirit’s guidance.

  • Give adequate but precise details showing how Christ became your Lord and Savior and how Christ meets your daily needs. Make sure you exalt the Christ of your experience more than your experiences.

  • Use language the nonbeliever can understand.

  • Relive your testimony as you tell it. This will enable you to present it with loving enthusiasm.

  • Relate your testimony to the Scriptures, using pertinent verses as they are needed.

  • Be brief (2 minutes or less). People are interested in your testimony but not your life story.

  • Share your testimony regularly with other Christian members of your family, then with Christian friends, until it becomes a natural part of your daily conversation. Then share it with your lost friends and others.

  • After sharing your testimony, ask, “Has anything like this ever happened to you?” This question is a simple way to move into the gospel presentation.

In addition to sharing your conversion story there are three important considerations when working with our Hindu, Buddhist, and New Age friends.

 

First, remember that Hindus, Buddhists, and New Agers believe in Jesus too. He’s an avatar. He’s a guru. He’s a bodhisattva. He’s an enlightened one. He’s a good teacher. He’s who you conceive Him to be. He’s just not God in flesh who died for the sins of the world and rose three days later. When dialoguing with our friends be sure to define Jesus as the one of history whose life and teachings are recorded in the Bible.

     Second, remember also that Hindus and Buddhists especially are “trapped” within the karmedic cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. They believe that salvation or release can only be achieved through “good works” (see “KARMA AND REINCARNATION above). Therefore, emphasize again and again that Jesus has done all work necessary forever. He has paid our sin debt in full. Remind them of Jesus’ words on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Explain again and again that salvation is a free gift; their sins can be forgiven if they only repent and trust in the risen Christ. Consider quoting to these wearied souls the words of our Lord in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

     Three, don’t be a hypocrite. You probably didn’t expect this as an important consideration but it is indeed. Walking our talk is a must. Hindus, Buddhists, and New Agers are attracted to many of Jesus’ qualities, such as His selflessness, His humility, His love, His kindness, His mercy, His devotion, and the list continues. If while sharing our testimony we play the hypocrite and fail to imitate our Lord our message of salvation in Christ alone just might fall on very hard soil. (Our friends already vigorously deny there being only “one way” to God. Let’s not pour fuel on the fire.) On the contrary, if while sharing our conversion story with our Hindu, Buddhist, and New Age friends, they see that we strive to imitate our Lord, Jesus will look that much more glorious and all the more worthy of worship.

 

5. Believe and pray for God’s supernatural intervention

The most important question of all time was asked by the most important historical figure of all time. In Matthew 16 Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is? The disciples give some popular guesses of their day. Jesus then asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answers him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Did you catch what Jesus just said? It was His Father who revealed Jesus’ identity to Peter. Peter didn’t come to this realization on his own. It was the Father’s work. Jesus says the same in John 6: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Again, it’s the Father’s work. Nearly 2,000 years have come and gone and nothing has changed. It’s the Father’s work to reveal His Son’s identity. Lofty words, brilliant apologetics, riveting testimonies, none of these will convert the sinner. It’s the Father’s work to reveal His Son’s identity. So what shall we do for our Hindu, Buddhists, and New Age friends? Pray. Pray sincerely. Pray continually. Pray that the Father reveals His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, build relationships. Yes, always show respect. Yes, listen to their felt problems. Yes, focus on your relationship with Jesus. But above all, pray for God’s supernatural intervention!

 

 

Sources Referenced

“The Kingdom of the Cults” by Walter Martin (common beliefs)
“The New Age Cult” by Walter Martin (responses to karma and reincarnation)
“Correcting the Cults” by Norman L. Geisler and Ron Rhodes (responses to karma and reincarnation)
“Evangelism Handbook” by Alvin Reid (five suggestions)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYVXT7pgsbE (five suggestions)  
http://www.ukmce.com/witnessing/sharing-the-gospel-with-hindu-people/ (five suggestions)
http://www.hinduministries.org/pointers.htm (five suggestions)
http://www.gotquestions.org/witnessing-Hindus.html (five suggestions)
http://www.equip.org/article/witnessing-to-hindus/ (five suggestions)
https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2012/06/sharing-jesus-with-buddhists (five suggestions)
http://www.comparativereligion.com/reincarnation3.html (responses to karma and reincarnation)

 

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