Witnessing to Hindus (Part Two: Specific Suggestions)
who take the Great Commission seriously cannot afford to ignore Hinduism.
Not only are one million of its roughly eight million adherents living in
the United States, but the beliefs and practices of Hinduism (e.g.,
pantheism, reincarnation, and yoga) have deeply penetrated Western culture.
In Part One we provided necessary background information for understanding
Hindus. Now we offer six specific suggestions that will help facilitate
meaningful dialogue with them.
1. Ask and
Listen. Hinduism is a vastly
diverse religion in which adherents share similar beliefs but do not have a
common doctrinal creed. As such, it is in some respects a tolerant religion,
allowing some latitude for individual Hindus to choose their own set of
therefore, that you know what your Hindu friend believes. Ask questions
about his or her beliefs concerning God, man, sin, and salvation, and listen
carefully to the answers. Listen closely to the way your Hindu friend
describes the way to enlightenment. He or she might use words such as
“achieve,” “attain,” “overcome,” and “strive.” Such
expressions are significant because they reveal how enlightenment — the
Hindu equivalent of salvation — is based on human effort, and not on
God’s grace. After your friend has used such words, you might discuss
passages such as Romans 3:19-24 and Ephesians 2:8-9, which speak of the
futility of attempting to earn one’s salvation and of how salvation is a
gift from God to be received by faith.
2. Be Aware of
Differing Definitions. Be aware
of biblical terminology or concepts Hindus might misunderstand. For example,
Hindus understand being “born again” as referring to reincarnation, a
bondage from which they are striving to be liberated. In Christian
terminology, however, being “born again” means to be made new or to be
regenerated by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. It is something to
3. Offer Jesus’
Forgiveness. Bakht Singh, a
convert from Hinduism and an Indian evangelist, once said, “I have never
yet failed to get a hearing if I talk to [Hindus] about forgiveness of sins
and peace and rest in your heart” (Hesselgrave, 169). Forgiveness is
certainly a need for Hindus because it is not available in their karma-based
belief system. The law of karma is like a law of nature — every cause has
its effect and there is no place for mercy. The fact that forgiveness is not
available in Hinduism troubles many Hindus, for they are aware that the
actions that bind them to this illusory realm keep accumulating, and the
prospect of escape is hopelessly remote.
One biblical passage
that is good to use is Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary
and burdened, and I will give you rest.” The people that Jesus had in mind
when He spoke these words were those who felt burdened by the impossibility
of attaining salvation through their own efforts.
4. Keep God’s
Personal Nature in Mind. When
discussing your beliefs and those of your Hindu friend, always keep God’s
personal nature in mind. Here are three examples that show how this is
First, the image of
a personal God will help you find ways to communicate the Christian
perspective on spiritual issues. Consider, for instance, illustrating the
various aspects of sin through the image of a personal God:
• What is the
meaning of sin? Sin is the breaking of a moral law: ultimately it is
rejecting and rebelling against a personal God. Why? Because only persons
— not impersonal forces such as Brahman
— are able to make moral distinctions. Only a God who is by nature
personal is sufficient to sustain the foundation necessary for moral law to
• What are the
consequences of sin? Even on the human level, we are aware that sin breaks
• How can sin be
resolved? Through confession and forgiveness. Forgiveness is possible only
in the context of God being personal, for only persons are capable of
forgiving. Brahman, an impersonal oneness, is incapable of forgiving.
Jesus’ parable of
the prodigal son, where the son turned his back on his father and severed
their relationship (Luke 15:11-32), is an excellent illustration of the
personal nature of God. Furthermore, this parable is certainly useful in
explaining the meaning of sin and forgiveness to Hindus.
Second, the fact
that God is personal has implications for the destiny of the individual
after death. To “know” the impersonal Brahman
of Hinduism is to merge into the oneness of Brahman and to lose one’s
identity as a distinct and separate individual. There is a drive within each
of us, however, that makes us want to cling to our existence as personal
beings with all our might. Is your Hindu friend really willing to stand by
his or her belief that such a drive is nothing more than the ignorance of
our separatistic egos? Moreover, is it not true that we are most fulfilled
as persons when we are in a friendship or love relationship? Since that is
where we are most fulfilled, think of how much greater our fulfillment is
when we are in fellowship with a personal, holy, and loving God! Such a
fulfilling relationship is precisely what the God of the Bible offers, and
it’s a relationship that will last for eternity (see John 14:2-3; 17:3;
In the parable of
the prodigal son, the father longed to be reunited with his son in the same
way that God longs to be in a relationship with us. Ask your Hindu friend,
“How does it make you feel when you know that someone – a father, a
mother, a spouse – longs to be in a relationship with you?” Then ask,
“Is your concept of God able to sustain such a love?”
Third, probably the
most common Hindu objection to Christianity concerns the Christian belief
that there is only one way to God. Hindus believe that each person can
choose whatever way is best suited for him or her. Why is that? Because most
Hindus see Ultimate Reality – Brahman – as being an undifferentiated
oneness. If such a view of God were true, then it would follow that there
are many ways to God, because God would be an underlying force, then sin is
nothing more than a matter of ignorance; it carries no real consequences
with respect to our relationship with God, for it would not be possible for
us to sever our connection to such a source.
By way of a
response, if God is by nature personal, then the issues of knowing God are
different from those of “knowing” an impersonal, indifferentiated force.
With a personal God, the issues are similar to those of relating to a
friend, a parent, or a spouse. Such relationships involve issues of morality
and trust. If the morality and trust that underlie any relationship are
broken, then that relationship will be broken. Sexual infidelity, for
example, will break a marriage relationship. The implication of such a truth
is that sin carries real consequences. It breaks our relationship with God.
If our primary
problem is that we have broken our relationship with the Person of God, we
can understand why there is only one way to God. Consider this question: How
many ways are there to restore a relationship that you are responsible for
There is only one
way, and it involves confessing your guilt and receiving forgiveness.
Salvation is a matter of reconciliation, and this reconciliation was
historically made possible through the death of Christ on the cross (2 Cor.
5:18-19; Eph 2: l2-l6). It is the restoration of a previously broken
5. The Objection That “Jesus
Christ Is Not Unique.” The
Hindus see their gods and avatars (incarnations) as manifestations of
the impersonal Brahman. These manifestations come through Vishnu, the
preserver deity. Hindus view Jesus as merely one of a number of avatars.
Your Hindu friend might be wiling to incorporate Jesus into his or her
pantheon, but would not be willing to accept Jesus as the exclusive
incarnation of God.
Is the incarnation
of Jesus really the same as Vishnu’s incarnations? Consider the
If the objection to
Jesus uniqueness comes up, encourage your Hindu friend to read through the
Gospel of John and to judge the issue for himself or herself. Remind your
friend that even Gandhi said, “I shall say to the Hindus that your lives
will be incomplete unless you reverently study the teachings of Jesus” (Hingorani,
Inclusiveness of Jesus. While
you want the Hindu to see how Jesus is unique, you will also want to share
how Jesus Christ is inclusive toward
others. Point out that:
Christ beckons “all you who are weary and burdened” to come to Him (Matt. 11:28,
The inclusive Christ associated
with the most unlikely of people, even the social outcast
(Luke 19:1-10) and the sinner
The gospel of Jesus
Christ is intended for the whole
world. As John wrote: “I looked and there before me was a great
multitude that no one could count, from every
nation, tribe, people, and language,
standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9,
emphasis added). Such an all-embracing Christ will naturally appeal to the
Hindu (Sudhakar, 3).— Dean C. Halverson and Natun Bhattacharya
trans. The Bhagavad Gita.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975.
Hesselgrave, David. Communicating
Christ Cross-Culturally. Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1978.
(ed.). The Message of Jesus Christ by
M. K. Gandhi. Bombay:
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1964.
“Mission to the Average Hindu.” (Unpublished paper, no date)
Dean C. Halverson is World Religions Specialist for International Students, Inc., and Natun Bhattacharya, a former Hindu, is the Director of Support and Development for International Trainers with Mission Training International. Please see Dean C. Halverson, ed., The Compact Guide to World Religions (Bethany House, 1996) for further thoughts on reaching Hindus.
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