The dilemma of whether Christians should study other religions is a question as old as the early days of the church, and it has come up again and again over the centuries. The gospel is, after all, the only way to salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:11–12). God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). Furthermore, false religion is actually considered demonic (1 Cor. 10:21).
So is there truly any benefit to learning other religions or can it only be detrimental to believers? Should a follower of Christ study anything that is not truth? Could it ruin your relationship with God?
The answer is both yes and no.
Studying other religions can be a powerful and useful tool, however it also can be harmful if not done correctly. Here are some of the positives and benefits to studying other religions, so you can best decide what is right for you.
It can expand your own faith in God...
Contrary to popular belief, studying other religions can help you grow your faith in God. It can be enjoyable to learn about other religions as a means of affirming your faith in God. You can build yourself up as a believer who will bring glory to God, and possibly others to Christ.
While Christianity is arguably the biggest religion in the world, it certainly isn’t the only one. There will be atheists, Buddhists, and the like that you will encounter throughout your life. These people might want to challenge your beliefs as a Christian. Do you have answers to their questions? Are you able to really stand up for what you believe in? This is where studying other religions can be beneficial.
When you have those real encounters with people of other faiths, you can begin to see how much your faith actually means to you. You can prove to yourself further how much you do trust God, and don’t have any desire to fall into other lifestyles.
2 Timothy 2:15 commands us to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." However, saying you "just have faith in God" isn't a bullet proof answer. It's convenient to say, but testing yourself in other cultures and religions can help you prove to yourself you really believe it.
Furthermore, it can give you the confidence to share your faith with others when you know how deep rooted it is in your heart. You can live up to Jesus’ commands to share Christianity with those you encounter, despite them not always agreeing with you. Many that follow other religions don’t understand Christianity like you do, because they only see it through a distorted societal lens (much like you possibly not understanding Islam correctly due to only seeing what is on the news). In other words, we can study what is going on in the minds of our non-Christian neighbors so we can communicate the gospel in a way that, hopefully, makes sense to them.
When armies study the battle plans of the enemy, they want to know how the other general thinks and what his normal battle plans and tactics are. The more you know about the way the enemy operates, the better you are able to defeat or counter them. There is great value in studying other religions because it gives us the knowledge to know what they believe in and to have a greater understanding of why they believe it.
Perhaps the most remarkable example of Paul knowing and using pagan religion to help make the gospel clear to his hearers came during his stay in Athens on his second missionary journey (Acts 17). He knew pagan literature well enough to quote it from memory, and could speak to them in terms they understood. Paul would never say that paganism was a valid means of access to God in any way. He knew paganism quite well, however, and he used that knowledge in his evangelism.
Learning other religions, reading books on evolution and testing your beliefs by reading blogs on atheism can be helpful because it gives us a greater understanding of why others believe what they believe. If we don’t know what they believe in comparison to how a person can be saved, we won’t know how to contrast and compare any of the differences.
...but it also can hurt your faith.
Not all Christians have the capacity to dive head first into studying other religions. Think of it as going to the gym. Newcomers never come to a bench press and do their entire body weight on the first day. It takes time and effort to do it right.
It is recommended that one studies other religions and rebuttals to Christian beliefs with the help of other believers. Many Christians that study attacks to Jesus or start dabbling in other religions do so alone and it shakes their faith completely. They go into studying other religions without first having a secure, permanent foundation in Christ.When their beliefs are then challenged, they waver and crumble. They don’t know how to properly respond, and instead of turning back to Jesus to learn the truth they get sucked in to atheism or other religions.
However, when guided by a mentor through proper reasoning and accurate and verified information, it will become more beneficial to continue to study. They can help you make sure you are staying focused on the true reason you are studying. In addition, when questions come up that make you doubt your faith, you have a trusted source that can help you identify how Jesus would respond.
To understand the beliefs and faiths of others does not only strengthen and verify our faith but also helps us lead others of different faiths to Christ. We must be ready to give an answer when an answer can lead others to the truth.