A Christian and Two Buddhists Walk into Starbucks

By: Elias Ayala
(M.A.T & Mdiv)

I was trying to get some work done at a local Starbucks near my home when I overheard a rather interesting conversation. Two Buddhist gentlemen were discussing the impact Buddhism has had on their lives. They went on and on about the practical benefits of the Buddhist philosophy of life and how it has brought them to a place where they can genuinely love other people and the world around them. One of the gentlemen, very passionately tried to express to his friend some Buddhist concept while drawing an analogy from a movie he had seen recently. He was having difficulty remembering the name of the actor. As he stumbled over his words trying to remember, I interjected; I believe you are thinking of Ray Liotta. I am not sure if I was correct, but the gentlemen laughed and warmly invited me to join in on their conversation. I had told them that I apologize for interjecting, but they were talking about two of my favorite topics, movies and religion.

After a few minutes of introductory remarks, the gentlemen noticed I was a Christian. Looking at me kindly, he shared with me that I could be an even better Christian if I were to also adopt the philosophical principles of Buddhism. It was at this point where the conversation began to get very interesting. His comment obviously struck me as intriguing. I asked the gentlemen if he was familiar with the Christian faith. He responded that he was raised a Roman Catholic; But I prodded a little more deeper. You don’t find the Christian faith and the tenets of Buddhism to be contradictory, I asked? Not at all he responded. Both Christianity and Buddhism teach the love we are to have for all men. He went on to suggest that Buddhism is more of a philosophy and way of life than it is a religion. He explained that there can be atheist Buddhist, Hindu Buddhist, agnostic Buddhist, and so on. It was at this point where I began to explain the perceived problems with his position, because inherent to his view was the position that not only is Buddhism consistent with Christianity, but that all religions were valid paths to the truth.

This discussion brought up a very relevant issue that is quite important to the realm of apologetics. How are we to share the exclusive claims of Christ to people who think Christianity is just one of the many paths to truth? For one, the Christian who desires to be faithful to Christ must continue to speak the truth in the love even if this truth bumps heads with those who deny it. At this point in the conversation, I began to share with the two gentlemen that while I appreciated their thoughts, it seemed as though their position was not a rational one to hold. I said this respectfully and it caused the gentlemen to listen to my following explanation very carefully. I began to share with them the exclusive nature of the Christian faith. The One whom they claimed taught things consistent with Buddhism (Jesus Christ), also said things like, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”(John 14:6). Furthermore, I explained to them Acts 4:12 which reads, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”. Or again, “A man cannot serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24).

In reality, even in the places where Buddhism and Christianity seem to agree (within the realm of ethics), there is still a fundamental difference in the foundation upon which those ethics are built. For the Christian, every good work and act of love springs forth from a desire to please the One true God who has revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. The exclusive claims of Christ upon humanity are diametrically opposed to any idea of syncretism with other worldview foundations. The notion that all religions are valid paths to the truth is not only unbiblical, but it is also logically incoherent. This is not an expression of narrow mindedness, but rather, it is an issue of logical necessity. The reality is that all religions make certain truth claims. The opposite of true is false. Thus, if a religion makes a truth claim that is in fact true, then any proposition that does not conform to that truth must be false. For example, if there is only one true God in existence, then it follows that there are not many gods in existence. Monotheism and polytheism cannot both be true at the same time and in the same way. Or, if Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and peace with God, then it follows that salvation and peace with God cannot be obtained by some other means.

As I was explaining these points, one of the gentlemen nodded his head and said, “I never thought of things that way”. However, the other gentlemen keeping firm to his convictions said, “That is wonderful that what you have explained is true for you. However, there are many truths. It was at this point that he revealed his position that “truth” is person relative. People define truth for themselves; such that my Christian conviction was my truth, and his Buddhist convictions were true for him. So I kindly responded, “Are you telling me that there are no absolute truths, but rather, truths that we define for ourselves?” He responded, that is exactly what I am saying. So I responded, “Is it absolutely true that there are no absolute truths?” My question seemed to draw him aback, and he began to see the point I was trying to make. I began to explain the exclusivity of truth. I was even able to briefly explain the gospel to the gentlemen and presented it as a truth, which negates propositions that are contrary to it. Eventually, we drew our conversation to a close. The two gentlemen thanked me for the kind interaction and at that point we parted ways.

Meaningful evangelistic opportunities can spring forth in what appears to be the most random moments. That is why the apostle Peter tells us that we are to “always” be ready” (1 Peter 3:15). We must always be ready to stand firm on our Christian principles, one of which emphasizes the exclusive claims of Christ. The truth is that there is indeed salvation in no one else, and we should not be ashamed or embarrassed to admit this when in dialogue with unbelievers. Let us speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) holding firmly to the teachings of Christ as we proclaim the good news that sinners can have peace with God through his Son.

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