My name is Mark Anderson, and I write as a Christian. With graduate degrees in both Christian religion (Westminster Theological Seminary) and Islamic studies (McGill University), I’ve spent years studying the world’s two biggest religions. My aim here is to help people understand the Christian faith better. (My other website www.understandingislam.today aims to help people understand Islam better.)
Distortion leaves us relating not to what other people truly are, but rather to our false image of them. The secular media and academia in the West have a strong anti-Christian bias. The same is true of the media in Muslim-, Buddhist- and Hindu-majority countries. This bias shapes the lens people see through, often distorting more than clarifying. And this can leave people struggling to see any good in Christians or their faith.
If all I know of Christianity distorts or caricatures it, I’ll find it hard to come to terms with its reality and may find contempt for Christians more natural than respect.
Since religious faith or the lack of it goes to the heart of who we are, contempt for a person’s faith commitment will inevitably show in my attitude to them.
This puts a premium on understanding truly. It also suggests that most people who reject Christianity reject one or another distortion of it. Unfortunately, misinformation is self-propagating and understanding–seeing past the myriad of distortions out there, to reality–is often difficult to attain. True understanding demands that we listen well and work hard at seeing things from the other person’s perspective. This effort pays off in more ways than one. The truer my view of another religion, for example, the more truly I’ll be able to appreciate my own faith too. And everyone–secularists included–has some sort of faith.
The word Christianity has multiple definitions. I use it here in a normative sense, to refer to the beliefs, values and actions that should shape the life of Christians. Rightly understood, being a Christian means embracing an entire way of life, not merely adding a religious layer or component to a secular lifestyle. Rather, we should allow God to transform our beliefs, ideas, attitudes, desires, goals and actions–everything–to be like those of Jesus. That involves a moment-by-moment struggle with a world intent on pulling us away from him. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Some people like to stress the similarities between Christianity and Islam, and there are indeed some very real similarities. Christianity has a vision for the whole of life. Christianity begins with a creator God who reveals himself and with scriptures we hold to be God’s Word. Christianity invites the whole world to submit to Christ and his law, which we believe spells freedom and will shape our eternal destiny. Islam is similar in all these respects.
But Christianity differs profoundly from Islam in the nature of its law (Matt. 22:36-40). Islam’s vision for the world is also radically different in that Christianity includes no mandate to rule a geopolitical entity in its founder’s name. Instead, Christians are called to infuse every part of whatever culture they live in–including its politics–with Christ’s light. Islam clearly offers a different vision, law and invitation from those of Christianity. Pointing out such differences kindly can be very helpful.
My aim here is to present the Christian faith as clearly, cogently and honestly as possible–not to push Christianity on anyone.
I hope secularists, Muslims and other will also take the trouble to explain their faith in this way to Christians, myself included. This is where our journey toward mutual understanding and its many fruits begins. My larger hope is that this website will help non-Christians move beyond just understanding, to relating to Christians as friends and brothers and sisters, and to working with them for the common good.
Contrary to what most people in the West believe, religion is not in decline worldwide. It’s definitely in decline in the West. But we in the West don’t often realize how much of a bubble we live in. In fact, demographers at the Pew Forum predict that 60% of the world’s population will be either Muslim or Christian by 2050, just thirty years from now. This means the future will partly depend on how well Muslims understand Christians–and vice-versa. It also means that secularists need to divest themselves of their anti-religious biases so that they can understand us better too.
Everything starts with understanding.