Questions before Answers?
A post below considers how to evangelize in the age of technology. In this post here, I would like to consider a somewhat different topic. Communicating the truth of Christianity, in my view, depends not first upon convincing people that it has the right answer, but rather upon convincing them that it is asking the right question.
Christianity’s central question is “How can I/we escape the bonds of sin and death?” Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, the life, offers the answer to this question. The Christian idea of “salvation” is wrapped up in the answer to this question.
As Archbishop Joseph Di Noia rightly observed in his book The Diversity of Religions: A Christian Perspective, other major world religions do not have the same question. The central issue for Buddhism is how to limit and ultimately escape suffering. One website I consulted, in fact, describes the Four Noble Truths as “a contingency plan for dealing with the suffering humanity faces –suffering of a physical kind or a mental nature.” Christianity, in contrast, does not give suffering such a central place in its framework–suffering is not something to be directly avoided or minimized–in fact, there is a long spiritual tradition of encouraging those in physical or mental pain to join their suffering to that of the crucified Christ.
I suspect that one of the challenges that Christianity faces in evangelizing today is to convince people that it has the right questions. Do people see sin as their basic, existential problem? Do people in the West long for eternal life? Or do they think the problem of suffering is more pressing?