Who is Jesus to you?
If Jesus were to walk in the room right now, what would he look like? What would he say to you? What would you say to him?
Your answers to these questions will be dependent on a number of things.
How he looks may be triggered by an actor who has played Jesus on television, or a painting or picture in your children’s Bible when you were growing up.
What he is like may be inspired by the Bible and what Christian leaders have taught you.
Your relationship with Jesus will be another factor, whether you see Jesus as a friend or a God to be feared.
We all hold a perception of Jesus that we will probably think is an accurate one, but it may be quite different to someone with whom we share our faith.
Should we change their perception and, if so, how do we do this, especially if they are from a different culture to ours? How do those who practice other faiths see Jesus?
BMS general director, David Kerrigan, has found that people from different faith backgrounds often find Jesus an attractive figure.
“People are surprisingly open to hearing about Jesus,” Kerrigan said. “He is a revered prophet in Islam, and while not accepted as God he is seen to have qualities that many will identify from their own religion. Having an understanding of other religions can give us greater insight into how best to share the good news of Jesus with those who see him differently.”
Kumar Rajagopalan, London Baptist Association regional minister responsible for racial justice, agrees.
Rajagopalan was born into a Hindu family in India before moving to the United Kingdom when he was 9; he became a Christian as a university student. He says Hindus are very open to the person of Jesus.
“Hindus are very warm to the person of Jesus,” Rajagopalan said. “Jesus to them is a number of things: a guru, a teacher, he’s a holy man, he renounces everything for the kingdom of God and to serve the father, he doesn’t get married and has an ascetic lifestyle. All of those things resonate with Hindu thinking.
“They hold such people in high regard and veneration, so Jesus is deeply respected by them. On the other hand, they see a disconnection between Jesus and the Church or Christians. ‘The Jesus you preach is not the life that you live,’ they often think. That disconnect jars with them and they can’t reconcile it,” he said.
Rajagopalan said that Christians need to do more work on understanding other faiths and need to relate to them on the basis of friendship.
“With Hindus, it is the consistent friendship that will win through with them,” he said. “Being consistent in terms of friendship, prayer and being there in the ups and downs in order to receive a hearing.”
In other parts of south Asia, Buddhists respect Jesus but are also distrustful of Christianity. Here is the view of a former Buddhist who converted to Christianity from the region:
“Buddhists think Christians misused Jesus and his teaching in order to stabilize colonial rules in the past. They believe that the same thing is happening today in modern colonialism mainly by the U.S.A. Therefore, most Buddhists look at Jesus as a good religious leader; however, they view Christians as enemies and betrayers.”
In Islam, Jesus is Isa and is featured in the Quran as a great prophet, healer and miracle worker but no more than that.
Wissam al-Saliby, partnership manager at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon, said Muslims are keen to challenge the fact that Jesus is God, so focusing on Jesus the person when discussing him is more productive.
“It is much more fruitful to approach a conversation about Christ by focusing on his earthly life and ministry, and on his words and deeds. And to leave space for Christ to reveal himself more fully in their lives by the Holy Spirit.”
Chris Hall is the editor of BMS World Mission’s Engage magazine. A version of this article first appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of BMS’ quarterly publication, Engage, and is used with permission. You can follow Chris on Twitter: @chrishallnewb and BMS: @BMSWorldMission.
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part 2 is available here.