Did Christianity influence the concept of a personal God in Hinduism? What books would you recommend that compare Christian scriptures/doctrine with Hindu Scriptures/doctrine?

Hello Charles,

Great to learn that you are from Mumbai! I was raised in Mumbai as well in a Hindu family and came to a faith in Christ while in Mumbai. One of the ideas in Christianity that had appealed to me as a Hindu initially was personal relationship with God our Creator. My family since my conversion has adopted the ‘bhakti tradition’ of ISKCON where the personal nature of God is magnified. I have a couple questions:

  1. I have heard that the spread of Christianity in India may have influenced the development of the personal concept of God in Hinduism. What is some supporting historical evidence for this theory?

  2. What books would you recommend that compare Christian scriptures/doctrine with Hindu Scriptures/doctrine?

Thank you for your time.

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Hi Lakshmi:

How lovely to learn of your journey to Jesus from a Hindu home, always fascinating to hear such accounts, especially when it’s from closer home :slight_smile:

Interesting to observe that your family has turned to the Bhakti tradition, perhaps to match up to your claim of having found a personal God, in Jesus.

Let me start by saying, what I heard a colleague of mine here (Daniel Thejus) said last week when teaching a group of indigenous missionaries here. He said, “every Hindu is a Hinduism”! That’s very basic and crucial to our subject matter here.

For the others that are following this thread - Dharmic traditions, generally espouse that there are three paths to ‘enlightenment’, ‘moksha’ or ‘nirvana’ - Gnana Marg (Way of Knowledge), Bhakti Marg (Way of Devotion) and Karma Marg (Way of Works). Any one of these could be chosen by a sincere seeker to find ‘enlightenment’ or work their way to god.

The idea of a personal God, is there in Hinduism as well to an extent. But we need to qualify what each of our faith systems, mean by the usage of the term ‘personal’ god/God. The idea of ‘Ishta Devta’, is one way of looking at it. Each family having their own ‘personal’ deity is one way of understanding this usage in Hinduism.

The ideas of ‘Saguna’ (with qualities) and ‘Nirguna’ (with ‘no qualities’)is also important to remember here as two broad ways of understanding god, within different Hindu traditions. Those that believe in Brahman being ‘Nirguna Brahman’ are essentially believing that ‘god’ doesn’t or cannot have qualities. Or that he transcends qualities, as ‘qualities’ are thought to be lower order categories. People that hold to such a philosophy, are worshipers of the ‘Impersonal Infinite’. And that a lofty idea in Hinduism.

The other idea of a ‘personal’ god, that you are perhaps alluding to is closer to the idea of the Christians. But still by a very long shot.

The Christian idea of a personal God, rests in the idea of the ‘Personhood of God’ in the Godhead. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. His ability to personally relate with us and our privilege of personally knowing and reciprocating that relationship with Him, etc.

But here’s the watershed point. In Mark 12:30, Jesus mentions, the 1st Golden Rule. He says, that we shall love the Lord our God, with all our heart (seat of emotions), soul (seat of will), mind (seat of intellect) and strength (our physicality). If it rings a bell, this is close to the idea of the three paths of ‘Gnana’ (Knowledge-Intellect), Bhakti (Devotion-Heart/Soul) and Karma (Works-Physicality). But here’s the difference - in Hinduism one could choose from the three, but in Christianity we are called to love him, with our all - Not ‘for’ salvation, but ‘from’ salvation! After having been saved a wholesome disciples is one that loves God with his all and the way that he validates it, is through the 2nd of the Golden rule, “to love our neighbour, as ourselves”!

This is the outworking of the Christian idea of ‘Personal’ God. A ‘relational being’ that expects us to relate with him and the created world, the way he does!

This nowhere close to Shankara’s idea of ‘Bhakti’, where his main empahsis was the ‘ontology of the Universe’ - the ‘nature’ (guna) of the ‘Ultimate Reality’ (god/universe/cosmos). Therefore, “the Bhakti movement is not as concerned with… one’s personal interaction with god.”
(read more here, https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/bhakti-movement-ii/introduction-to-hinduism/timothy-tennent)

I’m not entirely sure if the idea of Bhakti, as posed in the question, has been borrowed by Hindus from Christians. I haven’t looked into that deeply. The philosophical thrust of the ‘bhakti movement’ is an ontic referrant of the nature of the Ultimate Reality and not ‘relationality’ as some Hindus might want to advance. But again, “every Hindu is a Hinduism” and so one can’t corner them and we should try to either!

The ISKON idea of ‘bhakti’ (devotion), Ex. Mira Bai’s devotion to Krishna etc., is majorly a ‘relational devotion’, but this again is different from the way Christians relate to their God as - Father - Son, Master - Slave, King - Servant dynamic. While God for sure is our friend and also a ‘husband’ to the husbandless - but in a more redeeming/care-taking way.

So I’m not even suggesting that we need to, claim that the idea of ‘personal’ God, needs to be claimed to be a Christian idea that was borrowed by the Hindus from us. We don’t have to feel compelled to be the source of origins of all ‘helpful’ ideas. If there are some in other worldviews, we can look at it as common grounds for evangelism and as conversation starters.

So I’m not providing any historical evidence for the theory. I haven’t researched it enough, to provide you those, if at all they exist :wink:

Aww…That almost became a ‘paper’!

Hope it helps, Lakshmi. May God be pleased to touch your folks through your prayers and witnessing in the days ahead.

God bless!

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@Charles_Joseph, thank you so much for your thoughts and time on my question. My question also stemmed from a talk I had heard previously by Jerry Thomas from India. He referred to the following attached evidence (second para) by Bhandarkar, “Report on the search for Sanskrit manuscripts”, for Christianity influencing Bhakti tradition. I am not well versed in the works of the different scholars to know if that’s the general agreement, but it sparked my curiosity. I do agree with you that we do not need to claim the idea of personal God as a purely Christian idea for evangelism and it may be best to focus on what we do agree with Hindus. I will look into the article by Timothy Tennent and his books. Thank you for the information.

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Hi Lakshmi:

Thanks for giving me the context. I’m aware of Jerry’s work here. Perhaps you are referring to one of their “Indology Conference” talks. The thing about academic papers/publications is that, they are ideas that an author advances. Often times these are critiqued subsequent publications. So it might be important to follow the thread and look at a counter to the idea presented in one paper. These are academic efforts in working the angles of a particular issue or idea. Not established truth/facts.

The narrative of some Christian apologists have been to establish that “All Truth is Christian Truth” and the tendency is to validate this premise. Therefore, one could get lost in attempting establish this, to any truth found elsewhere and source it from the Christian faith. A classic case in point is the “Prajapathi” approach that you’d be familiar with.

Academically this could be a noble/welcome pursuit. Provided the lines of argument are stringent and sound and valid and the citations are robust.

As F. Schaeffer famously said, “all Truth is God’s Truth”. This is a very loaded statement. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to establish Christian sources, for figments of Truth, that might be found in other worldviews.

However, evangelistically the barrier that majority Indians (Hindus) have with us Christians is our ‘high-handed’ approach. For a country and a culture that’s recovering from colonial supremacy and sees Christianity as a White man’s religion, this approach is very detrimental. With the resurgence of Hindutva and a narrative that emphasizes the richness of the Indian culture and the depth of Eastern Spiritual Thought etc., (valid as they are!) a Hindu would hardly be open to such an apologetic.

A positive apologetic is what would help, in my opinion, which you have graciously agreed to in your response. Often times in our zeal to establish truth, we loose our balance and veer off from the center of what I call the “Truth - Grace” continuum. Jesus was such a Champion of delightfully marrying “Truth and Grace” in his conversations with pre-believers!

NB: As I’d mentioned earlier, the idea of ‘personal’ god, in Hinduism as Shankara advanced it, is purely an ontological descriptor and not a ‘relational’ idea. The word ‘personal’ is in danger of being equivocated, here.

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@Charles_Joseph, a lot of great thoughts to consider - careful consideration of research, the truth-grace approach in evangelism and paying attention to differences on similar sounding terms. Greatly appreciate your time and your detailed response. Thanks again!

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