The Future of Jesus in Asia

The brand of Christianity that is making headway in Asia—among animists, Buddhists and Muslims alike—is the old-fashioned, classic version that worships its founder as none less than God in human form. This is the only version of Christianity with the power, the grace and the finality to meet the needs, and claim the costly allegiance, of people around the world. There is simply no future for the innocuous alternative Jesus of the religious pluralists.

John Hick, perhaps the highest-profile of today’s religious pluralists, has written: “If Jesus was literally God incarnate, the second Person of the holy Trinity living a human life, so that the Christian religion was founded by God-on-earth in person, it is then very hard to escape from the traditional view that all mankind must be converted to the Christian faith.” Christian missionaries agree. But Hick himself has drawn a quite different inference. He has been on a career-long campaign to downgrade the deity of Christ to a myth growing out of the hyperbolic “love language” of the early church for its leader.

Some people believe that Christianity would be the better for shedding such an arrogant and intolerant view of its founder. They are confident that Christianity could carry on quite well without this now-obsolete and offensive doctrine of the divinity of Jesus Christ. My recent trip to Asia has convinced me otherwise. Here’s why.

In Malaysian Borneo I spent some evenings talking with the Christian children of former head-hunting animists. They told me how their parents lived in perpetual terror of the spirit-world, afraid of ghosts and the darkness of the night-time jungle, crippled by irrational superstitions, and plastering themselves with amulets to ward off the evil forces inhabiting the trees, rocks and birds all around them. These people eagerly embraced Christianity because they understood Jesus Christ to be “king of kings”—more powerful than all the forces that previously intimidated them. The merely-human Jesus of the liberal Jesus Seminar has nothing to offer them.

I also met Chinese Christians in Brunei and Malaysia who grew up in Buddhist families, and once worshipped the family idols themselves. But they found in Jesus Christ a way of escape from the exacting and unrelenting principle of karma. Instead of having personally to pay for every violation of the moral law of the universe, they now claim the “‘alien righteousness” of the perfect Son of God for all their sins. They bask in the freedom of their fully-forgiven status in Christ. They understand that the adequacy of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for the sins of the world rests on the deity, and infinite value, of the one who died for them.

Flying home from Hong Kong I sat next to a Muslim from Delhi who shuttles between high-tech jobs in his native India and southern California. He explained to me his conviction that Islam was the fulfillment of the long, historic development of Western monotheism. This great Western tradition of revelation built upon the foundations laid by Abraham, Moses and Jesus, but found its completion in the ultimate revelation provided through Muhammad. For him, Jesus was indeed a great prophet, but Muhammad was superior. I tried to explain our Christian conviction that Jesus is actually the culmination of the history of revelation, because he is God in human form. Even Muhammad cannot trump that. My Muslim traveling companion would have none of this, of course, but I deplaned in Los Angeles with a deepened appreciation for the essential link between the deity of Christ and the historic finality of our faith.

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