Should Christians Read the Writings of Other Religions? It Depends…

Have you ever been asked to read the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon or the Bhagavad Gita after encouraging a non-Christian to read the Bible?

If so, should you?

John Piper provides some interesting insights into why one should our should not read the “holy” books of other religions.

The edited transcript follows:

If I want people of other religions to consider the message of the Bible, should I be willing return the favor and read their holy books as well?

I think it depends on how serious they are and how serious you are. It also depends on what kind of person you are. Not everybody is gifted or called to be an analyzer of other people’s religious literature. I think it could be dangerous—especially if the other person is just provoking you.

But if you have a serious conversation going with an intellectual person, a professor of Islam or a thoughtful colleague who takes their holy book very seriously, and you want them to consider reading the Bible, and they say, “Could we trade? We’ll talk about my holy book this week, and we’ll talk about the Bible next week.” And if you are wired to be involved with an intellectual person at that level, then yes! I think that would be good.

I just want to avoid the train of thought that says, “In order to be a credible Christian you’ve got to read the Qur’an, or you’ve got to read the Hindu holy books, or you’ve got to read the book of Mormon.” I don’t think so.

Most people don’t have the time, the inclinations or the intellectual wherewithal to read all the things in the world. And if you said the only way to have a credible faith in Jesus is to read all the options and discover all the reasons why those options don’t suffice, then you’d spend your whole life, or at least a big hunk of it, reading all this stuff.

There has to be a way to read the Bible and see enough self-evidencing and validating truth—Jesus shining forth from the Scriptures winning our trust—that we know this is true and don’t have to be threatened by other holy books that we haven’t read. If you trust that what you have is honey, and somebody else says, “I’ve got another brown thing over here that is honey.” But you know you already have honey, and you can tell it is honey because you’ve tasted it. You don’t need to experiment with every brown thing that is brought to you in order to be sure that what you have is honey.

By John Piper. © Desiring God.

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  • Alen

    I agree with Piper here. There is so many books and so little time. We need to be discerning with our time. Unless we plan on brushing up on our apologetics we better leave the work to the pros :)

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  • Aaron Armstrong

    I really appreciated what Piper said about the “credibility” trap. We would all be much better served by spending more time reading our Bibles to develop the discernment we need and appreciate the richness of God’s word.

    • Andy

      Proud of You, I don’t Agree with what you believe but I am very proud of you!
      As far as the above blog goes I totally disagree with you and Mr. Piper. I think that acceptance here on Earth begins with understanding where each other is coming from. In order to understand your point of view I have to have read or have knowledge of what you believe in, Now I realize that we in the West come from a Judaeo-Christian background and that most of our beliefs are common amongst us. But I have Grown up as A Born Again Christian, I have chosen to seek my Truth elsewhere…. but I have been where you are at! Even Attended Moody Bible College in Chicago!
      My question being… If one is Strong with his/ her faith and one is Smart enough to Read and Understand his own “Holy Book” and one is comfortable and faithful to his/ her beliefs , why is it such a Threat then to find a common ground and pursue Each others sameness, As opposed to ignorantly seeing each others differences?

      • Aaron Armstrong

        Thanks for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully, Andy (how’ve you been since the Accell days, anyway?).

        I appreciate that we disagree on that front; I think if one does have a good understanding of what they believe and why, then one could confidently and intelligently engaging other texts. You have to know what you believe first, which is more where I see Piper coming from.

        That said, the question you raise of common ground and pursuing sameness is an interesting one; there are certain similarities between many belief structures (including the oft-cited golden rule), do the sometimes glaring differences (particularly in regard to motivation for obedience) not necessitate a division?

        • Andy

          I am great Thanks …. I miss the old place some days… not often but I do sometimes!

          I need to give what you just asked above some thought and I will get back to you! It is a big can of worms so to speak!

          • Aaron Armstrong

            Definitely! I look forward to reading your thoughts :)

        • Andy

          I can say I totally agree with you on the fact that there are Glaring outright similarities in almost all belief structures. Almost as though it has been re-written and re-told over and over and over again.
          I know of at least 4 stories in different belief structures that are so similar to Christs and Date to before his Time. I can use the Example of The Egyptian God Horus Born on Dec 25th, Virgin Birth, 12 brothers ( Instead of 12 Apostles) Cured the Sick, Fed the Multitudes, Turned Water into Wine, Walked on water,Said to be the way, the truth, the light, Killed and was Resurrected 3 days later. His Counterpart was Set. Set was the God of Darkness the Destroyer of Light! This is all 3000 years before Christ! before the Inkling of Christianity. Similar Stories out of Norse Mythology, Summarian , Greek and Roman times In the Ancient times of South and Central America! They are all pretty much saying the same things. Why is there so many similarities? Now here is the Thing I have heard time and again… But the Interpretation of Egyptian stories was interpreted by man. So was the Bible…in fact we have what is called the King James “Authorized” Bible it is the Version that a King Said was ok for the Masses to read. What did he leave out? And why did he leave it out? What did the Council of Nicaea Leave Out? Why are these Books in and Why are the others left out… what is being withheld from us?
          No Offence intended
          Thanks Dude
          Say Hi to Emily for me
          Don’t be a Stranger!

      • Keystone

        I think Piper is wrong too. He gives credence to the idea that it is reasonable to know the Truth of Jesus Christ, and then dabble with lesser gods. What a wasted life that would entail.

        There are unlimited ways to counterfeit our money, but the Secret Service is charged with the reponsibility of securing counterfeit. How do they do this? Agents are given TRUE money and told to study it in detail, every detail, miss nothing. After long periods of memorizing the most minute detail of the genuine, any counterfeit placed before an agent stands out like a sore thumb. Each counterfeit has a variance from the genuine money.

        I have not quite put my finger on what it is about the Born Again movement (largely Evangelical) that eventually takes a Christian and ends their interest in Christianity thereafter, but I have seen this often, in perplexion I might add. It takes a lot of guts to have an intimate relationship with the risen Lord, Jesus Christ, and then tell Him, scram! I am looking for Truth and something better than you.

        If you goal is acceptance here on Earth, then Andy is on the right road and will be accepted as he puts on the various masks required to be accepted by each person on Earth’s point of belief.

        However, if your goal is acceptance eternally, then that precludes all imitation sources and finding new life forever in the Way, the Truth, the Light of Jesus Christ.

        A college gal I knew and respected was also a firm Christian. Upon graduation she and I parted and she went West. A lifestyle of incredible promiscuity followed and about a decade later, she came to my house and let it be known she had changed her ways and become Mormon. She gave me the Book of Mormon and told me of Moroni and to read this so that I, too, could know what she now knows.

        I put the book in my reading area and it sat there a long time.
        One day, out of the blue, I heard a voice, for as any Born Again Christian can tell you “My sheep know my voice”. The voice boomed to me when I was alone one day:
        “Why do you keep that false book under your roof?”

        The voice was unmistakable! I had not really ever sat down and read Moroni or what was in there, but my God was not happy it was in my home, any more than He would be happy with other false gods in my home. He seems to prefer purity surrounding Him,…or he skedaddles away fast as a butterfly, when I choose to reject Him. He never forces His way into my home or heart, but is always willing to return when I call out “I am lost” or “It is dark, help me”.

        And all this business about taking up your cross and bear it, coupled with My Yoke Is Light and Easy, makes any cross I find in life bearable provided I yoke it to Him to help with the load.

        Yes, my journey on Earth is not acceptance with other people, my journey on Earth is acceptance with My Lord and Savior. Why would I want to spend time with counterfeit when i am embraced daily with genuine?

        My mother told me the “Stove is hot” when I was young. I had a choice to obey my curiosity, or listen to the trust she had established by loving me from birth. I went with the latter, and have both hands unharmed as a result.

        But My Father in heaven warned me of a hot LAKE of fire.
        Funny thing there…..I can go with my curiosity and touch the Lake of Fire one day, or Trust the love I have and hear Him and obey when he says “Don’t touch!”

        Mr. Piper would be well advised that under no circumstance should any follower of Jesus Christ touch false, counterfeit gods for any reason. You already possess genuine. Why would you want imitation?

        Last, if I came to you and said: “We have never met, my name is Keystone and I have some crack cocaine for you to try out. Others I give a piece to for free come back forever addicted and buy it from me at any price as eternal addicts”, then very, very few folks would take a piece and start down that horrid road.

        Drugs are given to you by your FRIENDS. If an enemy tried to do this, you would flee. But since you trust your friend, you try a piece and are consumed.

        My friend gave me a Book of Moroni and I took it into my home. I trusted her.
        A stranger knocking at my door would never have been able to get me to take it in my house.

        God knew this for me and said “Why do you keep that false book under your roof?”
        I don’t anymore.
        My friend is decades gone from sight; I know not her outcome.
        My God is still with me……I already know OUR outcome.

        As for seeking common ground, there is no fellowship between darkness and light.
        I choose Light, so there is no fellowship with dark, no common ground at all.
        But anyone is welcome to deceive themself. Isn’t that what the Prince of Darkness is all about?

        • Aaron Armstrong

          Hi Keystone (welcome back to the comments, by the way – I’ve missed your interaction).

          Piper’s not saying at all is that it’s acceptable to “dabble with lesser gods.” Quite the opposite, as the example where he says that in that case it would be fine, provided you’re wired to not be “blown about by every wind of doctrine” and do actually know what you believe and understand your Bible, relates specifically to an evangelistic opportunity, and allowing the truth to expose the lie.

          I really appreciated his point at the end where he says, “You don’t need to experiment with every brown thing that is brought to you in order to be sure that what you have is honey.” Your comments–and your passion–echo this.

          • Keystone

            Thanks for the warm welcome, Aaron. Went to the Holy Land a while. Still in awe.

            Agreed Piper did not say “don’t dabble with lesser gods”.
            I was referring to a higher source than Piper…a source that is clear on Piper being wrong:

            And God spoke all these words:
            “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

            “You shall have no other gods before me.”
            —Exodus 20:1-3

            If you are strong in your faith, deep in your Bible, understand what is written, this is a no brainer to obey a simple commandent.

            Too often, we follow the pastors…..forgetting the Lord.

            The Great Commission does not require we save every soul; afterall, what’s a Hell for?
            Nor does it tell us to seek common ground.
            Nor are we told to force our belief on others ala the Crusades, Inquisitions, et al.

            We choose to make complex, that which HE makes very simple.
            Stress follows.

            Be STILL and KNOW that I AM God!
            Peace follows.

            Blessings to you, Emily and the crew

        • Andy

          This is yet another one I have to sit back and think about! I will get back to you I just need some time to take in and reflect what you have said!

        • Andy

          My Comment was somewhat twisted by you! I did not say that I wanted to believe in what someone else believed! I simply said to find a common ground… To end Violence and Hatred, I am not willing to wear masks to make someone accept me or to accept them . That would be deceitful. I am searching for truth not Faith! Faith is a luxury I do not have! I have seen and done to much and been thru to much to ever think that there is an almighty Father in Heaven who loves me, Let alone knows about me. To Boot….. If I don t follow what he says that he has a place for me that is full of torture and hate and fire and pain and suffering etc. But he Loves me! I have suffered enough now and I still enjoy life to the fullest! I also do not think there is a devil!
          It insults “my” intelligence to think that some all seeing all powerful God is above watching his divine plan unfold….if he has a divine plan why think he is going to arbitrarily stop his plan and listen to our wants and needs and incorporate them into it! Or for that matter allow some lesser Jerk to screw with his plan? It seems kinda silly if he has everything planned out to change his plan just for us and also allow a lesser to him mess with it……Cause he is also a Jealous God!
          As for the Prince of Darkness well where to begin….. I say this…. there is no spooky rotten evil entity controlling my thoughts and Ideas! Let alone my actions! Why is it that I am thought to be monopolized by the Devil if I choose not to follow God? If I choose not to follow God and I choose not to follow the Devil How is that Following the Devil?
          Fence Sitters Unite!

          What if someone was never given the “privilege” Of God’s Word? Is that still considered controlled by Satan? I mean… the only way into heaven is if you accept Christ as your Savior right? If you are never given the opportunity! How are you going to be punished for it? Seems there are to many loopholes and Gaps to put Something as dear as my faith into!
          I have done nothing I am ashamed of and I have done nothing to screw over anyone else! I do however lack answers to questions that I have had for over 25 years….. Long Before the Dan Brown’s and David Icke’s of the world were putting out their Horse Hockey!
          No Offense intended!
          I actually respect someone who has the Stones to Stand up for what they believe in!
          I just do not like having my words twisted into something they were not!
          You take care
          and Be Good
          And so you know I have followed Aaron’s blog for quite sometime and Have now thought I had something worthwhile to say! Because I didn’t agree with that video. Blind devotion gets us into way to much trouble! I can use Hitler’s Germany as an example! If I have to! I respect Everyone’s beliefs. I am Just expressing mine to Find out some of What Aaron believes to be true! Thats why I have read his blog….also because he is a friend from where I used to work and I always liked and enjoyed my conversations with him. I can honestly say that I know Aaron won’t BS me! He has always been respectful and helpful! If I have a question I know he will answer it and if he can’t I know he will help find the answer. Even if I don’t like the end result!

          • Keystone

            Hello Andy,

            I have not commented at Aaron’s site in some time now, but was generous with comments here in the past. I told him I was in the Holy Land and that is true. But I did not tell the whole truth, and I should.

            I comment widely on religion, spirituality, political, relationship, photography,politics, and an eclectic variety of blogs worldwide. I believe there are plenty of blogs out there, but a shallow neglect of commentary following a post.

            I commented on an atheists blog and found ready acceptance as is.

            In the Christian realm, I have found the most difficulty in comments. I find arguments, divisions, raw emotion, ignorance, holy platitudes, ad hominem attack, and of all places, on many “Higher calling Blogs”, a need for the blogger to receive personal praise, as opposed to developing the topic. “You da man!” Others do not like my specific drawing of my Christian mentor, and why I cling to Christ as a result, for the story made someone feel awkward or uncomfortable.
            They are groupie and you are in or out….just like at church.
            Go away Keystone. Unwelcome here.

            I think even my first post here devolved into an attack, and that was carried to not one, but more than one blog, as the writer spewed anger galore, where I commented…even at third parties unrelated to the discussion. Christians at work, eh???
            I began to see that comments were not being read, listened to, or understood at face value, and began to cut back on comments at Christian blogs, especially Higher Calling Blogs….an ego trip in that name, eh?

            In one case, a gal commented that her husband had left her that day.
            Perhaps six people – Cristians – commented on how awesome the blogger was, totally ignoring this shattered life, so I commented on her future…for I had been where she was now.
            In tears, she signed off, but her blog ironically is ‘A Joyful Girl’, and amazingly, her husband is back in her life now.

            But the warlords of Christianity are turf protectors bar none, and woe unto he who dares express what is true to him. Full agreement is expected, or an Amish-like shunning process begins. I grew weary of the nonsense.

            I reread your comment in full, and mine to see where the vehemence in this current comment gained fuel.

            Now, I do not know much about you, but I know you are a man in search of common ground.

            To do that, this is how you began your common ground finding with me:
            “My Comment was somewhat twisted by you! I did not say that I wanted to believe in what someone else believed! I simply said to find a common ground… To end Violence and Hatred, I am not willing to wear masks to make someone accept me or to accept them ”

            In your original comment, this claim is absolutely true. You said what you said.

            But, Andy, here is what I said:
            “If you goal is acceptance here on Earth, then Andy is on the right road and will be accepted as he puts on the various masks required to be accepted by each person on Earth’s point of belief.”

            In truth, you did NOT say you wanted to believe what someone else believed.
            In truth, I did NOT say you wanted to believe what someone else believed either.

            Apparently, you are able to see something that is not there.
            Something invisible is visible only to you.

            I spoke of the goal of acceptance on Earth and contrasted it as a lower goal, than acceptance of eternal goals.

            The written word is difficult, imprecise, emotionless, can’t read each others face.
            Life is difficult with it.

            We can quibble line by line, set up what was said, meant, misunderstood, rebut all that anew in further comments, but I have no desire to go to the mat with you.

            Your clearest goal is to find common ground.
            In that mission, Andy, what have you found as common ground with me?
            There is a whole world of people out there, but on this day, you and I came together, and your stated goal in life is to seek common ground, so here I am.

            You undoubtably have me boxed in as a Christian you used to be and know.
            You have suffered enough too you told us.

            We have common ground there Andy.
            I have been to 16 funerals in 17 months all family and friends, youngest age 22 scheduled to be best man in a family wedding, and on vacation surf boarded and snapped his neck. Dead.

            Mom died.

            Why were there five preganancies, but I only have an older daughter, and a youngest daughter living, with 3 children in between never celebrating years with me? She would be entering college this September, but I can’t take her there. Only in my memory.

            How could I be successful in sales in 2006 on the East coast, 2007 on the west Coast, then go deaf, and be unemployable in sales forever as I can not hear on the telephone?

            Why do people think being deaf is being retarded?
            I am the same me inside, but everyone else has changed as if deafness is contagious.

            Why is my house collapsing and the insurance claim denied infull?

            Why, if my phone was stolen coming home from Israel, reported to cut it off immediately on USA soil, and telling them every month, by driving 40 miles because I cannot call Verizon, still billed every month despite it not existing? I need it to text message.

            Why did they shut off my netbook because the phone bill for a nonexistant phone goes unpaid?
            I need email because I can not hear.

            Why did I find evidence of an abortion, because she did not know the father, and had a fling with her high school boyfriend for years in a house I bought, but never knew I owned?

            Who is breaking into my home despite changing the locks three times and shelling out $600 that I do not have?

            Who stole the entire contents of everything I own in Florida (placed in storage a full home)?

            Why have I been hit from behind while perfectly still in my car, totalling three cars in two years, and hospitalizing me twice? They peeled me out and are in awe that anyone could live after.

            My best friend is dying, another has Chrohn’s, a cousin died of cancer last week, and another last month of cancer. What’s up with that?

            How did my grandson become autistic?

            The alternator blew on my auto last month and the fridge and all foods and meat spoiled as I sat on Mount Nebo looking across to Jerusalem, just as Moses did. Bye $1200.

            Why are my brother’s brains spread on Highway 41 in that motorcycle accident with no helmet?
            What about his three kids now?

            Why don’t companies hire deaf people?

            Why is my sister going blind? God she is bitter about it.

            You knew he was stealing $120,000 from me and never let me know God…WHY?

            “Honey, take your sister and put her in the car seat, I will pay for the groceries and be right out.
            Shame does that when people criticise your purchases and you pay with food stamps. I still keep one in my wallet, and I did not want the kids to know the attorney took all the money. No food left. They never knew.”

            Do we have enough common ground in suffering,or should I list another 10, or 100?

            Why does a stranger named Andy accuse me falsely?

            Why, in seeking common ground, does he mock my religious beliefs?
            Omniscience, plans of God…check.

            Add up the sum of your suffering and the sum of mine and it pales to Job.
            Add all suffering in the world and THAT pales to Christ.

            My daughter, one of the two in five still alive wanted to make a snowman.
            We rolled the tennis ball of snow, into a grapefruit size, then basketball size, then more forever, until suddenly…two rolls and I could push no more. A base was born.

            We repeated this for a middle part. It was all I could do to lift this middle and i huffed and puffed away. My breath was crystalizing before my eyes as I struggled to make a belly for a 5 year old daughter.
            “Did you see that honey?”

            “What daddy”

            “My breathe…watch”. And I blew out again.

            “You do it”. and she did and saw her breath.

            “Do you know what that means honey?”

            “Nu-uh daddy”

            “Honey, breathe is invisible. It can not be seen. But you just saw the invisible become visible!!!”
            “And it always happens in the coldest times of our lives honey; you never see the invisible breath in summer”

            “What else is invisible to you, but you know it is there?”

            “Electricity daddy. I saw it when you turned on the light to read to me”

            “Anything else?”

            “God is invisible daddy”

            “Is he ever visible?”

            “He is to me daddy. Can you see him?”

            “All the time honey. Anyone can see what they want to find if they look”

            Well Andy, I know you are looking. And when you do that, the invisible becomes visible, especially in the coldest times of your life. Thank God for those times. It is then that He is likely to show up, put an arm around you, and walk with a friend.

            I wish space and time permitted me to tell you the miracles that occurred in the murky moments listed above. This God is so awesome I can not describe him in mere words.

            And, who knows….the globe is small, maybe one day, we will meet and put an arm around you, and walk with a friend too.

  • Robert

    Mr. Piper has provided an excellent rationale for refusing the offer to read the Bible:

    “Most people don’t have the time, the inclinations or the intellectual wherewithal to read all the things in the world. And if you said the only way to have a credible faith in [Allah; Mazda; Ginesh; Thor….] is to read all the options and discover all the reasons why those options don’t suffice, then you’d spend your whole life, or at least a big hunk of it, reading all this stuff.”

  • Amber

    On a side note, I don’t think it’s helpful for Christians to read other religious writings with the implicit reason of discrediting them. I think you should approach any text with a desire to understand, not discredit. When we do the latter, approaching a text with pre- and misconceptions of other faiths and the assurance of the superiority of our own, it leads to very poor scholarship. Our responses to people of other faiths often become tangential, small-minded, and generally miss the point all together when we start with this bias.

    • Aaron Armstrong

      Very true, Amber; pretexts do definitely color our scholarship. No better place to look than a great deal of biblical criticism (since it all starts from the position of needing to debunk the Bible–the Heresy of Orthodoxy speaks well to this point).

  • Alen

    Andy, you’re misinformed. It seems to me you’ve watched Zeitgeist. You can even Wikipedia “Horus” and see that there is no evidence of such facts. I think one guy recorded such information but gave absolutely no proof. The same with the other myths you mentioned. It’s all pretty much fabricated. The only myth that is even somewhat similar is that of Dionysis and that myth came after Christianity. The only similarity between that and Christ is that both rose from the dead. Other than that it’s completely different. (The myth wasn’t that popular either, I don’t think Wikipedia even mentions it but I could be wrong).

    Historically speaking there is no doubt that Jesus existed and that He died. The only real argument one can offer is whether or not He rose again. In the synoptic gospels it’s recorded that He died and when He rose again the Jewish leaders bribed the guards whom were protecting His tomb to lie and say His disciples stole His body.

    Even if these gospels weren’t written by the men that their name is attached to (Matthew, Mark and Luke) they were written still within the first century. My point is there was no reason to include this information unless Christ really did exist (since people were still alive to prove them wrong and say that such a man never lived) and 1) Didn’t rise again so therefore what the Jews were saying was true or 2) He did rise again and the Jewish leaders were lying.

    According to 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostles and hundreds of witnesses claimed he did. It would be kind of hard for Paul to lie when he wrote that letter, considering everyone (or at least the vast majority) who was around when Christ died was still around now and could easily disprove him. In case you’re wondering, not even the most critical of scholar’s doubt the existence of Paul and that he actually wrote these letters during the 50s-60s AD.

    If you want to talk about similarities between sacred writings, you have better luck with the OT. The Psalms and Proverbs share some linkage to Egyptian writings of the same time period they were written in. Not enough to be any real concern or for that matter prove anything. Also, there is of course the common belief in a mass flood, which at the least proves one happened,

  • Aaron Armstrong

    Andy, with regard to the examples of similar stories, research has found that actually these similar mythologies showed up well after the spread of Christianity and of late (as popluarlized by films like Zeitgeist) have been given an even more overt spin to look reminscient of it.

    Three quick examples:

    Horus according to legend, was born when his mother Isis took the dismembered penis of her dead husband Osiris, and used magic to fashion a golden fallus with it to impregnate herself. Mithra, another popularl parallel, was said to have been born of a rock. Dionysus was said to have been born after Zeus disguised himself as a human and impregnated a human princess.

    But all of these stories began to circulate after Christ’s birth, death and resurrection (which I wholeheartedly affirm).

    You’re asking great questions, and they’re probably ones that would be better addressed offline. Would you want to grab a beverage and some wings sometime and we can catch up and talk about these?

    I’d love to do whatever I can to help you find the answers you’re looking for. Let me know!

  • Andy

    Sure Pal ne time! Let me know!

    • Aaron Armstrong

      Awesome – I’ll send you a message on Facebook to set up a time :) Looking forward to it!