In this session of Secret 16, Pastor David Platt introduces Christians to the beliefs of animism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and atheism. David Platt reminds Christians that we believe in a global gospel in a world of religions. He shares projections about the growth of these religions based on fertility rates and conversion patterns. Islam is projected to see the largest growth, as the number of Muslims is expected to equal the number of Christians by 2050. As Christians, we consider these statistics to ask whether or not the gospel is worthy of our confidence in the midst of so many alternatives. As followers of Christ, we need a biblical view of making disciples and of marriage and procreation.
- Realities in the Present
- Projections For The Future (By 2050)
- Why We Are Here
Good evening. It is good to be together again for Secret Church. It is hard for me to believe that this is the tenth year we have done this. Ten years ago—right around this time—I had just started pastoring the Church at Brook Hills. I was sitting around with a couple guys, talking about my time in underground house churches in Asia where I spent hours in prayer and in the Word with persecuted believers. One of my friends asked, “Why don’t we do that here? Why don’t we set aside time—not just for a 30-minute or one-hour Bible study—but for hours and hours of Bible study, filled with intentional concentrated time in prayer?”
So we agreed to try it. We didn’t know if anyone else would come, but we would be there. We set a date and invited people to join us. About a thousand people came that night in Birmingham, Alabama. Well, at least they were there at the beginning. By the end of our time the numbers trailed off a good bit. We walked through the whole Old Testament together and prayed for the persecuted church in Sudan.
Now here we are ten years later. Tonight we’re simulcasting to the largest group we’ve ever had—over 63,000 people in all 50 states. We’re also going to 84 different countries in South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, central and southeast Asia, Australia—every continent but Antarctica. We’ll work on that for next year. We’re going to go global! But that’s global—if we can get to some scientists working down in Antarctica.
All of these people have gathered together for the purpose of spending hours in God’s Word and praying for the persecuted church around the world. It’s really good to be with you in this room and on the other side of televisions in homes and dorms, in gyms and church buildings—I think there’s even a fire station that has a gathering.
What Does the Bible Say About World Religions?
Hopefully, you have a pretty thick study guide in front of you. The goal of that guide is multifaceted. So first, it’s obviously to guide our time tonight. We’re going to be all over the place in God’s Word, and we won’t have time to turn to all the different texts, so this will help keep us going. But this is a Bible study. I’m not here to share thoughts that I have. That would not be worth us gathering to hear them. I’m here to show the truth God has revealed in His Word. Even as we study different religions in the world, I want us to think about them through the lens of God’s Word.
Which leads to the second thing I want say. I know there are different kinds of people involved in this gathering tonight. There are missionaries around the world who are part of this gathering—people who have given their lives and moved their families for the spread of the gospel to places that are predominantly filled with other religions. I’m assuming most of the people here in North America are followers of Christ, members of different churches.
But I also know that there are some people who are part of this gathering tonight who may not be followers of Christ—maybe even some who identify as a Muslim or a Hindu or Buddhist or animist or atheist or maybe something else altogether. I just want to say from the start that I’m really glad you are here. My hope for tonight is that this will be helpful for you in understanding Who Jesus is and what the Bible says about what’s true and good. The topic for tonight is “A Global Gospel in a World of Religions,” and that word “gospel” means good news. I hope tonight that you’ll get a glimpse of Jesus that will seem like really good news to your heart.
Regardless of who you are, the purpose of this guide is to help you follow along tonight and to give you a resource you can go back to in the days ahead to explore these things further. In order to get through this guide, we’re going to fly at warp speed. Secret Church is like “Open mouth—insert fire hose.”
It’s purposely designed that way. In light of the time I’ve spent with underground churches overseas. I’ve learned that when you’re gathering together in secret—knowing if you’re caught you’re going to be imprisoned or worse—you want to make that gathering count. So we would spend hours in God’s Word in such a way that they could come back to it in the coming days, weeks and months when they weren’t gathered together.
Just look at it this way. You’ve got a year to process all this stuff. I’ve got six hours to give it to you. And we have to take breaks, so less than six hours. That’s why it’s going to be very concentrated, and we’ll be kicking it up into warp speed in just a second.
Which leaves the last thing I want to mention before we start: The purpose of this night is not just to go really quickly through a lot of information. The purpose of this night—I want to be clear from the start—is not information, but transformation. My hope for every follower of Christ here or around the world who walks through this night together is not just that we would know the gospel and other world religions better, but that we would be infused with a deep desire to share this gospel in a world of religions. Because if what we’re talking about tonight is true, we cannot keep this gospel—this good news—to ourselves.
So the purpose of this night is not to entertain. You could have found better ways to entertain yourself on a Friday night. It’s not to entertain, but to equip. My prayer is that tens of thousands of followers of Jesus would walk away from this night filled with God’s Word and empowered by God’s Spirit to proclaim the gospel in the world—right where you live and wherever God may lead you in the future. That’s why we’re here. Followers of Christ in underground house churches don’t just get together at the risk of their lives because they want to study the Word. They get together because they want to spread the Word, and they believe it’s worth losing their lives for that. I pray the same would be said of us.
Even for those of you who may not be followers of Jesus right now—just to be totally up front with you from the start—my hope for you is that tonight you might not just hear about Jesus, but you might see He’s good. My desire is that tonight you might believe for the first time in your life that the gospel of Jesus is actually the greatest news in all the world and that you might be compelled to trust Him with your life. So the purpose of tonight across the board is not information—it’s transformation.
With all that said, here we go. I always say that I hope you’ve chosen wisely in the person you’re sitting next to right now. If they are a frequent dozer, or if they’re not good listeners or note takers, you’re going to be at a significant disadvantage because you’re going to need them tonight. So look around the room in here—or in whatever house or place you are. It’s not too late! Feel free to make a switch if you’re realizing you’ve chosen the wrong person to sit by. I’m sure they won’t be offended if you just get up and go somewhere else right now.
Realities In The Present
All right—are we ready? Realities in the present. We’re going to start by painting a picture to show what we mean by the “world of religions.” If you were to take a God’s-eye view of the world, what might you see? The World Christian Encyclopedia lists nearly 10,000 distinct religions and para-religions, including various branches, subgroups and denominations—which includes all kinds of small groups and sects with varied religious beliefs. Of those 10,000, 270 of them have followings of over 500,000 individuals.
Note that the non-religious are included as a “religious stream” in these numbers, based on the fact that their belief systems possess characteristics of religions: an unprovable set of beliefs and often a desire to propagate them. Basically all of us, all over the world, in a sense operate according to a set of beliefs. Our lives are a reflection of the way we view the world and truth in the world around us. Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Those are basic questions we all have answers to in our lives. Our answers aren’t always settled, but we are living according to some understanding of who we are, why we’re here and where we’re going.
Out of those 10,000 religions and para-religions—even the 270 with over 500,000 members each—tonight we’re going to look at what would be called the six largest religions, which can be listed in the order of their approximate size.
First would be Christianity, which is a monotheistic religion based on the Bible and the life and teachings of Jesus. It includes a multiplicity of traditions and confessions and varying degrees of commitment. All kinds of people call themselves Christians, but that doesn’t mean they all believe the same things. This will be true of other religions as well, but it’s important to realize Christianity has a population of over 1.9 billion people. Yet that doesn’t mean all 1.9 billion of those people believe the exact same thing.
In fact, I would say from the start that not all of those 1.9 billion people are Christians. I’ll explain this more a little bit later, but just because somebody says they’re a Christian doesn’t make them a Christian. Jesus Himself taught this in Matthew 7:22-23, where He’s talking about eternal judgment. “Many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
So just because someone—or you—says they’re a Christian, that doesn’t make them a Christian. We’ll see in a minute who a Christian is—what a follower of Christ is according to Jesus. But over 1.9 billion people would identify themselves as Christians in at least 206 countries and over 4,000 people groups.
I mention “people groups” here, because we’ve got to realize that a God’s-eye view of the world doesn’t just see people in terms of countries like we think of today. “People group” is a term that refers to an ethno-linguistic group that shares a common self-identity. So think of ethnic groups that share a common language and cultural characteristics. It makes sense, right? There are diverse groups of people in the United States, for example.
And not even the United States. If you think about a city like New York or Houston or even Charlotte, North Carolina—where I am right now—there are all kinds of people groups represented in all these cities. We’re not monolithic in the U.S. You have Somalis, Nigerians, Pakistanis, Indians, Chinese—on and on and on—living in these cities and in this country. In almost every country in the world you have different kinds of people groups.
So yes, Christians live in over 200 countries in the world, but sociologists have identified over 11,000 different people groups in the world. (You can get more information about this on the People Groups website). But this statistic is telling us that out of those 11,000 people groups, in a little over 4,000 of those the predominant religion is Christianity. And those people groups, by the way, are different sizes, so one of those people groups could include hundreds of millions of people, and another people group could include only hundreds of people or thousands of people.
The other term we’re going to see here is “unreached people groups,” of which there are 1,251. This designation refers to people groups among whom there is no indigenous community of evangelical Christians who are able to engage that people through church planting. Technically speaking, the percentage of evangelical Christians is less than 2% in that people group.
Now, you’ll notice pretty clearly here that the modifier in front of “Christian” is “evangelical.” That’s a word that means gospel-believing, Bible-believing Christians. That modifier is necessary because—just like I mentioned a second ago—there are many people who call themselves Christians but who don’t believe the gospel or don’t believe the Bible. Christianity may be more of a cultural identification for them, or maybe they believe a false distortion of the gospel.
This is true in various cults around the world that call themselves Christian but deny the core truths of the gospel. This is true not necessarily with all Catholics, but it’s true in official Catholic teaching in various places around the world. And for that matter, this is true in the Bible Belt of America, where nominal cultural Christianity is rampant—people who call themselves Christians in name only, but there’s no real relationship with Christ.
Again, we’re going to talk about this more, but suffice it to say at this point, just because someone—or even a group of people—is identified as Christian doesn’t mean that that person or that people group believes the gospel revealed in the Bible. But that’s a big-picture overview of Christianity.
Then you have Islam, which is a monotheistic religion articulated in the Qur’an and by the teachings and example of Muhammad, who is considered to be the last prophet of God. We’re going to talk about each of these. But the population of people who would identify themselves as Muslims would be over 1.7 billion. And again, that’s not a monolithic group either. There are all kinds of different beliefs within Islam. Islam is present in at least 149 countries—and country numbers like this are getting harder and harder to track because of the migration of people around the world.
But Islam is the predominant religion in approximately 2,317 people groups, and 2,121 of those people groups would be considered “unreached.” That means that in those 2,121 people groups, less than 2% of the people in that group are evangelical Christians. And practically, that means if you’re part of an unreached people group, you have not heard the gospel. You’ve never had somebody explain to you what we’re about to talk about tonight. You haven’t been “reached” by it.
We’ve got to make sure this is clear from the start. When we say “unreached,” we don’t just mean people who don’t believe the gospel. That could be said for all kinds of people and people groups in the world. To be “unreached” means not just that you don’t believe the gospel, but you’ve actually never heard it. You don’t have access to it. You don’t know a Christian who can explain the gospel to you. You don’t have a church where you can see the gospel visibly portrayed as it’s verbally proclaimed. You don’t have access to the gospel.
This is why we don’t say, “Well, I don’t know why we talk about unreached people around the world. I mean, there are unreached people in my office. There are unreached people in my neighborhood.” Those people aren’t unreached. You say, “Well, how do you know?” Because they’re in your office. They’re in your neighborhood. They have access to the gospel! How do you know? You’re it.
So we’re talking about people who don’t have access to the gospel. There are 2,121 predominantly Muslim people groups, filled with hundreds of millions of people, who’ve never had anyone even share the truth of the gospel with them. That’s what it means to be unreached.
Then there’s atheism. I realize it’s controversial, particularly among atheists, to even call atheism a religion. People debate this point in different ways. My goal is not to have the debate tonight for the purposes of this time. We’ve got to land somewhere. My goal is simply to say there are a lot of people today—over 1.6 billion of them—who identify themselves as either atheist or at least agnostic.
Their atheism or agnosticism plays itself out—at least practically—in a belief system which functionally denies the existence of a God or gods. In other words, 1.6 billion or so people live as if there is no God or gods. Or in a more settled atheism, they may explicitly affirm there is no God or gods. In over 110 countries and in 287 people groups who are predominantly atheistic or agnostic, 198 of the people groups are unreached.
As an example, think of entire people groups in Communist nations where the existence of God has been completely and explicitly denied by the government. People grow up with hardly any concept of God, much less a God Who loves us enough to come and save us from our sins. That’s totally foreign to them. Then of course with the rise of secular atheism in the West—Europe, North America—an increasing number of people who have very little if any concept of God may not have heard the gospel.
So, Christianity, Islam, Atheism and then Hinduism. Hinduism is a conglomeration of philosophical and cultural ideas characterized by a belief in reincarnation and a pursuit of liberation from the cycle of reincarnation. All that we’re going to dive into later. But there are over 915 million Hindus in the world in over 50 countries, with approximately 1,235 predominantly Hindu people groups, of which 1,115—almost all of those—have little to no knowledge of the gospel.
Then two more. Buddhism is the belief system of those who follow the Buddha, whereby saving oneself comes by following a regimen—a path or ritual—marked by meditation and mantras. There are over 250 million people in 62 countries, with 354 predominantly Buddhist people groups, of which 296 are unreached. So about 83% of the predominantly Buddhist people groups in the world have little to no knowledge of the gospel.
This is an interesting religion that’s hard to pin down, but I’m convinced that it warrants significant attention tonight. Animism is a belief system that claims that non-human entities—animals, plants and inanimate objects—possess a spiritual essence or soul. It includes the belief that there is no separation between the spiritual and the physical worlds, and that spirits exist not only in physical objects but also in phenomena such as thunder, wind and shadows.
Now, I don’t have numbers for this religion in the same way I do for others because animism—as we’re going to see—sometimes stands alone as a religious system, but many times animism is actually intertwined with all the other religions I just mentioned, including Christianity. Many people who practice animism may not call their faith animistic, but functionally that’s exactly what it is. Gailyn Van Rheenen, an expert on animism who wrote Communicating Christ in Animistic Contexts, estimates that upwards of 40% of the world’s population is animistic. That’s billions of people. We’ll dive into that more in a minute.
If you want to go more into those statistics and what they represent alongside other religions of the world, check out the People Groups website, where there is all sorts of research on the religious makeup of peoples and nations around the world and the state of gospel access among them. But these are the realities around us in a world of religions right now.
Projections for the Future (2050)
But what about the future? How is the religious landscape of the world changing? How is it projected to change over the next few decades? The Pew Forum did a massive study of world religions, using all sorts of data, and these were their findings. Now, obviously, whenever we’re looking at the future, we do so humbly. Only God knows what the future holds. But if current trends continue, barring unforeseen factors that might change certain trajectories, these are future projections for 2050.
Let’s start with some overall conclusions. Number one: by 2050, if current trends continue, the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians in the world. Right now the number of people in the world who identify themselves as Christians is about 1.9 billion, while the number of Muslims is 1.7 billion. Christianity is therefore the largest religion in the world, but by 2050—if projections prove true—that will no longer be the case. Christianity and Islam will be approximately the same size.
Now, that doesn’t mean the number of Christians is expected to decline significantly. In fact, the number of Christians is projected to rise at the rate of increase of the world’s population—about 35%. However, the number of Muslims is projected to increase at twice the rate of the world’s population—about 73%. So Islam is expected to spread about twice as fast as Christianity over the next few decades. That is a huge overall conclusion.
Second, though nonreligious adherents will increase between now and 2050, they will make up a declining share of the world’s total population. “Nonreligious adherents” is the term used in the Pew research to describe atheists, agnostics and secularists. They’re expected to increase, but not as fast the rate of population growth.
What about other religions? The global Buddhist population will remain approximately the same—which actually means that a smaller portion of the world’s population will be Buddhist, because it’s going to be increasing over the next couple decades. And interestingly, like Christianity, the global Hindu population will increase at the rate of the world’s population growth.
Factors at Work
There are all kinds of factors at work in these numbers that are very interesting. It’s not just proselytization that affects the expansion or decline of a religion. These numbers take into account fertility rates that are very significant. The replacement level in the world is about 2.1 children per woman. That means the minimum number typically needed to maintain a stable population in the current world is for each woman to have about two children—2.1 to be precise. That would be kind of weird though.
The global average today is 2.5 children per woman, which means the population of the world is not projected to stay stable—it’s going to increase. But this is why that number—2.5—is really important. Because when you start looking at different religions, you realize the rate of children per woman among Muslims is 3.1 children per woman, or about 50% higher than what is needed for the population to stay the same.
So assuming that Muslim children grow up to become Muslim adults, that means the number of Muslims is exponentially increasing—if for no other reason than Muslim families are having a lot of children. And Christians are having fewer children—2.7 children per woman, which is just slightly above the average rate of the world as a whole. With that information alone, we shouldn’t be surprised to see the number of Muslims in the world quickly catching up to the number of Christians.
Hindu families have about 2.4 children per woman—just slightly lower than the global average. Folk religions—and in the Pew research, that would be similar to what we’re calling animism tonight—have about 1.8 children per woman. Non-religious people are having about 1.7 children per woman, and Buddhists have the lowest rate at 1.6 children per woman.
If you look at those numbers, it’s simple to see that this is one of the most significant factors in those overall conclusions we described: Muslims catching up to Christians, the non-religious decreasing in the percentage of overall population, and Buddhists becoming a lower percentage of global population. In part these trends are simply the result of some groups not having many children. Fertility rates are significant in the growth or decline of world religions.
Then we can look at age differences. Think about this. In 2010, 27% of the world’s population was under the age of 15. So of the world’s population that was under 15, 27% of them were Christians, 30% Hindus—but mark this down—34% of the youth in the world under the age of 15 were Muslim. Then you look at the other side of the age spectrum, and in 2010, 11% of the world’s population was over the age of 59. Among the older population in the world, Buddhists were 15%, Christians were 14%, non-religious were 13%, folk religions were 11%, and Hindus were 8%. But then notice—the lowest among all these were Muslims, at 7%. So, get this: Based on what we’re seeing here, Muslims are significantly younger than people from other religions—and they’re having more children.
So that’s fertility and age. Then you add on top of that conversion patterns, which is probably the most humbling of all. Conversion patterns refer to the number of people who convert from one religion to another. Maybe somebody’s born into a family who believes this or that, and they grow up in that way, but then they convert to another belief, another religion. If the conversion patterns continue as they’re trending and nothing changes, then Christians are projected to experience the largest net loss.
There’s a whole science to how they calculate this, and obviously we know this can change. But again, if current trends continue, approximately 40 million people are projected to convert to Christianity between now and 2050. Which sound great…until you realize that approximately 106 million people are projected to leave Christianity. Well over twice as many people are projected to leave the Christian faith as those who are expected to embrace the Christian faith.
So again, this night is not about information. This night is about transformation. This night is about mobilizing thousands of believers to change the trajectory of the world. That’s what this is all about tonight. One other significant note in conversion patterns: when it comes to Buddhism, Buddhists are expected to lose approximately three million adherents through conversion to other religions over the next few decades.
And then, one other particular factor we have to take into account when thinking about the growth and decline of world religions is international migration—the movement of peoples and ethnic groups around the world. Between 2000 and 2010 alone—just those ten years—nine countries gained over a million international migrants. United States gained eight million. Spain, Italy, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom also gained millions of migrants. So the people of the world are moving and mixing all over the world—which is changing the face of the world, particularly the West.
Think about Europe. In Europe, the Muslim population is expected to increase from 5.9% to 10.2%. Without migration the Muslim population would only rise to 8.4%. In other words, the Muslim population in Europe is growing, not just because Muslims are having children or people are converting to Islam—that’s happening—but also because Muslims are moving in droves to Europe.
And then you think about North America. In North America the Hindu population is expected to increase from .7% to 1.3%—so nearly double. Without migration the Hindu population would remain approximately the same. The Hindu population is doubling in North America. There is a large Hindu temple near my house in Virginia. When I go back to where I grew up in Metro Atlanta, I see one of the largest Hindu temples in the world—outside of India—in the neighborhood where I used to live. In large part this is because of international migration.
Regions of the World
This then affects different regions of the world in different ways. It’s interesting when you take all these factors and then look at different parts of the world. Take Sub-Saharan Africa, for example. Due to high fertility rates, the population of Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow from 12% of the world to 20% of the world. So the percentage of Sub-Saharan Africans is expected to almost double in the world’s population over the next few decades. Now think about it. How does that affect world religions?
Well, high fertility is projected to fuel growth in both Muslim and Christian populations. Specifically, if you think about Christianity, the Christian population is projected to double from 517 million to 1.1 billion—from 24% to 38% of the world’s Christians. In other words, approximately four out of every ten Christians will live in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2050. Forty percent of Christians—almost half—will be in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Or think about the Asian-Pacific region of the world. That percentage of the world’s population is expected to decrease from 59% to 53%. So what does that mean for world religions? Taking into account not just fertility rates but also age and international migration, although India will continue to have a Hindu majority, by 2050 it is projected to have the world’s largest Muslim population, surpassing Indonesia. So if current trends continue, by 2050 India will be the largest Muslim country in the world AND the largest Hindu country in the world.
When you think about Asia-Pacific, you have to think about both India and China. China is a country where, praise God, the church has grown significantly over recent years. One study estimates that the Christian population in China grew at an average annual rate of 7% between 1950 and 2010. Seven percent for 60 years! That’s glorious. The reality is, if that rate were to continue—and that’s a significant “if”—over half of China’s population will be Christian by 2050. That was unheard of 50-60 years ago.
Now, that’s not necessarily projected to occur, but that’s why I love this quote from the Pew Forum:
Though that scenario may be unlikely, it offers a rough sense of how much difference religious switching in China maximally could have by 2050. Extremely rapid growth of Christianity in China could maintain or, conceivably, even increase Christianity’s current numerical advantage as the world’s largest religion, and it could significantly accelerate the projected decline by 2050 in the share of the global population that is religiously unaffiliated.
In other words, the health of the church and the spread of Christianity in China is extremely significant for the spread of the gospel in the world. Then you go to Latin America and the Caribbean, Christians there are projected to remain the largest religious group—approximately 89% of the population. Again, that’s self-identified Christianity, and in many cases that’s a pagan, animistic form of Christianity—even a Catholic version of Christianity that completely denies the gospel. But Christianity in name is projected to remain the largest religious group. However, the non-religious are projected to increase slightly, from 8% to 9%.
What about Europe? Europe is the only region in the world where the total population is projected to decline, because Europeans are having fewer babies than what is needed to maintain a consistent, stable population. Partly as a result of that—in addition to the age differences and the conversion patterns we talked about—the Christian population is projected to decrease by approximately 100 million people in Europe, while other religions are projected to increase. The non-religious will increase to about 23%. Muslims will be at 10%, which is up from 5.9%. Both the Hindus and Buddhists will go from .2% to .4%. So while the Christian population will decline, many other religions of the world in Europe are expected to grow—most of them to the point of doubling.
And then, what about us in North America? Here in our culture, Christians are projected to decrease from 78% to 66% of the population, while the non-religious are projected to increase from 16% to 26% of the population. And in the middle, the fastest-growing religious groups are Muslims and followers of other religions.
This is humbling, isn’t it? Do you think we need to think together about how to share the gospel in a world of religions? Now, I want to be sure to continually emphasize that these changes are not guaranteed, but are projections—based on solid data, but projections nonetheless.
All kinds of unforeseen events, including war and conflict, could change those numbers either slightly or significantly. Even since that research was published, the Syrian conflict, ISIS, the global refugee crisis which has risen to new proportions—all of these are affecting reality in all kinds of ways. I read an article just two days ago that was reporting on a survey among 13-year-old children in Italy, who were asked, “If ISIS came into your home and told you that you had to convert to Islam, would you do it?” And 90% of the kids said they would.
War and conflict, disease and famine—these could strike in any number of ways and affect fertility rates, conversion patterns, international migration, shifts in economic power. When you look at Europe, the United States, China, India and other economic powers, technological innovation is progressing rapidly in a way that none of us can keep up with. Political upheaval in a number of places in the world could affect all of these numbers.
But then we must add the potential impact of missional awakening. What if the church of Jesus Christ awakened from our slumber? What if we woke up and realized the global, eternal realities that surround us—particularly here in our culture—and stopped wasting our lives on a nice, comfortable Christian spin on the American Dream? What if we started spending our lives for what matters in the world and for what matters in eternity—both for the people who live around us and people who live far from us?
Why We Are Here
That’s why we’re here. In the next few hours, my aim is to help us discern how the gospel compares and contrasts with Animism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Atheism. My aim is to help us discern how the gospel compares and contrasts with these other belief systems in the world and to decide whether or not the gospel is worthy of our confidence. How firmly should we hold to this gospel in a world of different religions? Is the gospel just one option among many? And if it works for you—great. But if not, let it go and explore elsewhere.
Do we believe John 14:6, which says: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’”?
Is Jesus the way to God, or is He a way to God? That’s a huge question. And if He’s the way, is He just the way for us, or is He the way for all? In the words of Acts 4:12, is there salvation found in anyone else? Is there any other name whereby my neighbor—or the nations—can be saved? And if not, then what does that mean for how I live? Is the gospel worthy of our confidence—and is the gospel worthy of the commitment of our lives to make it known in the world? Privatized faith is a curse across contemporary Christianity. Countless Christians may not say we believe, but we live like we believe, that Christianity works for us—we worship Jesus—but who are we to tell somebody else what they need to believe? Who am I to plead with my neighbor to believe in Jesus? Who am I to go to another nation to tell people there what they need to believe—that they need to believe in Jesus? So we keep it to ourselves. And that’s the question I want to ask. Is this gospel worth a commitment of our lives to making it known in the world, so that more and more and more people believe the gospel and know God forever (2 Corinthians 4:13-15).
Which means we need to ask some questions in the church. In light of all that we talked about above, we as a church have got to ask: will we have children? Now, that may seem like an odd question to start with, but I hope it’s clear from what we’ve seen that part of making disciples is making babies. Right? Babies who grow up and hear the gospel and come to believe the gospel, who are raised to proclaim the gospel all over the world. If we don’t have children, we’ll severely limit the growth of the church. That’s a fundamental part of who we are from the beginning of creation. Genesis 1:27-28 says,
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
God’s initial command to man and woman—“Be fruitful. Increase. Multiply.” It’s in the Word.
So I’m compelled to ask, particularly in our culture, are we going to change our casual approaches to marriage? I’m not talking here about how we’re maligning and misdefining marriage in our culture. I’m talking about casual approaches to marriage in the church, among Christians primarily in their 20s and 30s.
I want to be really careful here. I want to couch all that I’m about to say with a couple caveats. I know there are single brothers and sisters who right now are thriving in your singleness for the spread of the gospel, and I want to do nothing but affirm you in the same way Paul did in 1 Corinthians 7. But there are others of you, particularly precious sisters in Christ, who are single right now. You desire to be married, but you’re surrounded by a dearth of single brothers who are stepping up to the plate to take responsibility for a wife. And that’s primarily who I want to talk to.
Single brothers in Christ—high school, college students, young professionals in your 20s and 30s—you’re surrounded by a culture that takes a casual approach to marriage, viewing it as unimportant. It’s something to be delayed as long as possible—if ever—resulting in all kinds of single men running off to all kinds of pursuits in this world, while prolonging taking responsibility for a family. I want to challenge you to change that in your life, to step up and take responsibility for pursuing, finding and caring for a wife. There are countless strong Christian single sisters who are waiting for you to step it up. None of them are perfect—but neither are you. So commit yourself to loving and caring and providing for a wife, like Christ does the church. It’s a picture of the gospel. And then when you do, to the extent which you are physically able, have babies! So will we change our casual approaches to marriage and will we counter cultural attitudes toward multiplication?
Again, I want to couch this question with a caveat, because I know what it’s like to long to have children and for God not to provide in the way you’re hoping. Heather and I walked that road for long years, through which He led us down a path of adoption—for which I am so grateful. What I’m talking about here is the cultural attitude that says, “Kids are expensive and a hindrance to you experiencing all you want to experience in your life and your work in the world.” I want to call you to counter that, biologically or through the beauty of adoption or however.
Psalm 127 says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord….Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” So, to the extent to which you are able, fill the quiver. Fill the quiver with arrows and shoot them into the world for the glory of God’s name. Children are not a barrier in your life—they’re a blessing for your life, and to the world.
So, here’s the deal. I’ve joked at Secret Church before, but this could make for a great date night. Have Secret Church in your home. Make some popcorn. If you’re having a date night—husbands and wives, this portion is my gift to you—a way you can apply the Word just as soon as Secret Church is over. Just hold out! But husbands, this is your night. Just look at your wife and say, “Babe, James 1:23. We don’t just hear the Word—we do what it says. And, ah, you heard Genesis 1:28, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’ Let’s obey.” If we want to spread the gospel in the church, we need to have children. All right. In a church where we have children, we’re going to ask that question of world religions.
And then, in the world will we make disciples? Will we make disciples? Are you and I, as followers of Christ, going to be intentional about making disciples of Christ—like we’ve been commanded to do? “Follow Me,” Jesus says early on in Matthew 4:19, “and I will make you fishers of men.” But He said in Matthew 28:18-19, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” So see it from the beginning to the end here in Matthew. To be a disciple of Jesus is to make disciples of Jesus. Every disciple of God is designed to make disciples.
And it makes sense, doesn’t it? If you know Jesus is the only way to God in a world where people are following all kinds of ways—if you know Jesus is the only way—then you can’t keep that to yourself. It’s like having a cure to an eternal cancer and watching people die with it without doing anything about it. He gives you life. He gives you family. You give your time. You give your resources, your energy, your focus, your work, to making Him known, to calling people around you and peoples around the world to believe in Him.
Not long ago I read an article by Douglas Murray from the U.K. In it he was talking about the growth of Islam in the West—in Europe and America. I want you to hear what he said:
For some years now I have been especially struck by accounts I have heard and read of people who have chosen to convert to Islam. Partly these stories are striking because they are so similar—and not only to each other. They are almost always some variant of a story nearly any young person could tell. They generally go something like this: “I had reached X age (often the twenties or early thirties) and I was in a nightclub and I was drunk and I just thought, “Life must be about more than this.” Almost nothing else in our culture says, “But of course this is not all.” Instead the voice of our culture just says, “Repeat, repeat.” In the absence of such a voice they search, and they discover Islam. The fact that they land on Islam is a story in itself. Why do these young men and women (very often women) not reach out and find Christianity? Partly it is because most branches of mainstream Christianity have lost the confidence to proselytize.
In the rest of the article he goes on to talk about how more and more today Christians either deny the gospel—we’ve talked about people who call themselves Christians but don’t even believe the gospel—or Christians who sit silently with the gospel. And when you think about it, both lead to the exact same result: people in the world not being persuaded to believe the gospel. They bear the same fruit.
My hope as a result of this night is that God might do a work in our hearts in such a way that we’ll walk away from here confident in this gospel and committed to giving our lives, or for those of us who have families to leading our families, or to starting a family—all of us committed to making the gospel known in a world of religions.
Session 1 Discussion Questions
Study Guide pp. 7-13
- Name some followers of other religions that you know personally. Discuss any attempts you’ve made to share the gospel or talk about spiritual things with them.
- Why does it feel intimidating to share the gospel with someone from another religion?
- As you approach this study, what questions do you have about Islam? Buddhism? Hinduism? Atheism? Animism?
- Why is it appropriate to study atheism among other religious groups?
- What projections for religious groups in 2050 were most surprising to you?
- What does marriage and procreation have to do with a study of world religions? In what ways has the church adopted a view of marriage and children that is cultural rather than biblical?
- Which of the religions covered in this study do you feel least equipped to engage?
- Why is a study like this needed for every Christian (and not just missionaries)?
- Those with a religious affiliation greatly outnumber those without a religious affiliation. Why do you think this is so?
- How are you planning on applying the truths of this study?
Key Terms, Concepts, and Scriptures
Realities in the Present
- Out of 10,000 distinct religions and para-religions in the world, 270 of them have followings of over 500,000 individuals. These numbers include the non-religious, like atheists, as their belief systems are very similar to recognized religions.
- In addition to covering the basics of Christianity, this study will focus on the following religions: animism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and atheism.
Projections for the Future [by 2050]
- While the number of Christians and Hindus is expected to increase at the rate of the world’s population, the population of Muslims will grow at double that rate (73%). In fact, the number of Muslims is expected to equal the number of Christians by 2050.
- Projections for the populations of world religions are based on fertility rates, age differences, conversion patterns, and international migration.
- The greatest population growth is expected to take place in SubSaharan Africa, with the number of Christians in that region projected to double by 2050. The population of Europe is expected to see the greatest decrease, and the number of Christians is expected to drop by approximately 100 million.
- If the Christian population in China continues at the current rate, over half of China’s population will be Christian by 2050. India is expected to have the world’s largest Muslim population by that same date.
Why Are We Here?
- The goal of this study is to discern how the gospel compares and contrasts with the world’s major religions and to decide whether or not the gospel is worthy of our confidence.
- As Christians, we must recover a biblical view of marriage and children (Genesis 1:27-28; Ephesians 5:31-32; Psalm 127:3-5), and we must obey Christ’s command to make disciples (Matthew 4:18-22; 28:18-20).