My friend Dave, in his usual way, cuts through the stuff pretty succinctly in this post which, to my way of thinking, is essentially about evangelism.
In it, he talks briefly of those who want to become experts on what other people believe. In my conclusion, we end up with people who know a whole lot about other religions, and don’t know any people who actually practice (or claim to practice) those other religions.
He closes with this:
The best apologetic is to know the Word of God well and simply dialogue with people who need Christ. What do they believe? Not in the sense of what most Christians "believe" on paper ... but what do they really believe in their hearts, about the world, themselves, where they've come from, and where they're going?
Perhaps if we want to know what people believe, we should not read books; we should go ask people.
Of course that requires getting out and talking to people. And that takes some boldness. And that’s why we read books about what other people believe. It’s easier.
I am increasingly skeptical about the value of knowing more about someone’s religion than they know. Of course, I think it helps to know about other religions. But how is my evangelism helped by knowing more than the other guy knows about what he is supposed to believe? Do I really need to refute something he doesn’t believe anyway?
Perhaps if we just go ask a few questions and then listen a little while, we can learn what we need to know about what other people believe, and then know how to point them to Jesus.