BAHA'I-CHRISTIAN DIALOGUE: Some Key Issues Considered
One religious group to originate in the past two centuries that has not received enough attention from evangelical Christians is the Baha'i World Faith.1 Baha'is believe that all of the world's major religions are progressive revelations from God, each designed for its particular historical era. The Baha'i religion teaches that Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Muhammad, and the Bab (the Persian founder of a nineteenth-century religious movement which laid the foundation for Baha'ism) were all prophets or manifestations of God for their time.2 However, Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i religion, the successor of the Bab, and the most recent manifestation, is the one who should now be revered and obeyed.
Baha'u'llah's greatest teaching was the oneness and unity of mankind. According to Baha'u'llah, every race, both sexes, and the great religious truths all come from one God. While Christians may appreciate some of the humanitarian and peace doctrines of the Baha'is, they take issue with the Baha'i claim to compatibility with their faith; for Baha'ism denies several essential Christian doctrines.
Since the publication of my Christian response to the Baha'i World Faith, Baha'i (Bethany House, 1985), I have had several encounters with both Baha'is and non-Baha'is who have questioned my position on a number of key issues regarding the relationship between Baha'ism and Christianity. For example, in a detailed critique of my book, Steve McConnell, a non-Baha'i from Bellevue, Washington, asked me, "Could Christianity's conception of God withstand the cursory logical tests to which you subject the Baha'i's God?"3 McConnell contends that it is unfair for me to argue that because the Baha'i manifestations of God give us contradictory concepts of God (monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, etc.), the Baha'i view of God must be false. After all, he insists, the Christian conception of God has its own logical problems.
In February 1988 on a Boston radio program I had the opportunity to dialogue with Robert Stockman, a Baha'i leader and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. Stockman argued that just as the Jewish leaders were mistaken about Jesus' fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, so also the Christian church has failed to see how Baha'u'llah fulfilled a number of biblical prophecies. In his view, Jesus was rejected because the Jews interpreted the Old Testament prophecies literally, and in the same manner, Christians do not see Baha'u'llah as the Second Coming of Jesus because they interpret the New Testament prophecies literally.
Another interesting response came from a Baha'i in southern Nevada, Bill Garbett, who told me that Baha'ism has suffered no divisions as has Christianity in its many schisms. He concluded from this that the Baha'i World Faith must be God's religion.
In this article I will respond to these arguments as they relate to the different views held by Baha'is and Christians on (1) the nature of God, (2) biblical prophecy, and (3) religious unity.