Isn’t Christianity just like all the other man-made religions?

No.  It is different in some very important respects, all of which point to it being true.  Here are a few points to consider.

1) Christianity is one of only a few candidates that has stood the test of time.  The vast majority of religious movements die out quickly or never reach any kind of critical mass.  If God has a true message at all for the world to hear, wouldn’t one expect it to have survived in one of the major religions?  If not, each of us has little hope in finding it anyways, so it makes sense to focus on the major candidates.  There are four great world religions to which over 1% of the world’s population belongs: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.  I will also discuss Judaism since many readers are familiar with it.  These five cover about 75% of the world’s population. (I don’t include “Chinese traditional” and “primal-indigenous” as religions but categories too broad to evaluate and not directed at all of mankind.  “Non-religious” is a sizable group as well but I am not treating that religion at all.)

2) Christianity appeared on the scene at a known point in history.  To the extent a religion claims a basis in historically true events, such a claim is more readily subjected to examination if the historical origins of the religion can be examined.  There is virtually no dispute that Christianity appeared in the middle of the 1st century A.D. (or C.E. for those who don’t view Jesus as Lord), and Islam in the 7th century.  The founding events of each have a historical context, even if people disagree about what exactly happened, and their scriptures emerged during the first generation of witnesses.  Either of these religions can be the truth, or a fraud. It is very unlikely that they are legends.

Hinduism, Judaism, and (to a lesser extent) Buddhism, on the other hand, have origins far back in the mists of time. The possibility of much of the source material of those religions being legendary is high, because so much more time elapsed between the events and the earliest written sources.

3) Christianity proclaims a truth about God.  While Christianity proclaims God as Creator of heaven and earth, Buddhism doesn’t proclaim a God at all, at least not in the sense of a Creator.  It has been termed a spiritual philosophy.  While Buddhism may be classified as a religion in sociological terms, non-belief in God make it not really comparable to Christianity in the sense that Islam and Judaism.  Some forms of Hinduism are monotheistic, but others are atheistic or polytheistic (probably in a superficial sense, see excerpt from Chesterton here), making it particular hard to categorize.  I believe in the existence of God on grounds that are different from why I believe Christianity to be distinctively true among world religions; for these reasons, Islam and Judaism (along with deism, a subset of the non-religious category) are the most plausible competitors.

4) Christianity speaks to all of mankind.  Hinduism is intimately bundled up with the national tradition of India, just as Judaism is intimately bundled with the national tradition of Israel. I suspect this is why there is relatively little available in these religions (compared to Christianity or Islam) in terms of apologetics (reasoned attempts to convince outsiders why they should believe the truth of a religion’s claims).  It is extremely hard to build a historical case for the truth of the Old Testament or the Vedas (Hindu scriptures). No one is even sure in which century they were written.  Granted, some Christian apologetics attempts to support the historical truth of the Old Testament narratives, but most of this is done by arguing for the historical truth of the Resurrection first, and then indirectly arguing for the reliability of the rest of the Bible.

Besides Christianity, Islam stands alone among the world’s great religions in terms of having an important message to give to all of humanity, and seriously attempting to justify its claims to skeptics using reason and evidence.

5) Christ is reported to have performed numerous miracles before large crowds. The New Testament portrays Jesus as a public figure who displayed the power of God on many occasions, often before many people, as in the feeding of the 5000 or the post-Resurrection appearance to more than 500. Whether or not one believes these accounts, they are quite different from what is reported in Islam or Buddhism.  Muhammad received his revelations from God privately in a cave, and is not reported in the Qur’an as having performed miracles. Buddhist teaching is mostly hostile to the concept of miracles, although miracle stories about the Buddha did develop.

There are numerous miracle stories in Judaism and Hinduism, but as mentioned before these do reports do not come from a known historical context the way the New Testament miracles do, so it is difficult to make any statements at all about the first generation of believers.

6) The first Christians suffered and died for their faith, with no obvious ulterior motive. While I would agree in one sense that Christ was not a Christian, His ministry was the spark that started it all, and it brought Him neither riches nor earthly power, but arrest and crucifixion. The Acts of the Apostles records the death of the apostle James in (circa 44 A.D.), executed by King Agrippa. Later church sources suggest that of the 12 apostles, only John died a natural death.  Josephus records the death of James the Just (circa 62 A.D.).  Paul’s letters tell of ongoing persecution and imprisonment in the first decades of Christianity.  There are plenty of examples in history of men willing to die for false ideas, but none of men willing to die for ideas they know are false, and these men were in a position to know.  Jesus and the first Christians were by all worldly standards complete failures.  The best explanation for why they told the world what they had seen and heard was because they simply believed it to be true and of infinite importance.

Islam, on the other hand, was founded by Muhammad, who was accomplished in business, political, and military affairs.  While he is said to have met with opposition early on in his preaching, by the end of his life he was the conqueror of Arabia and founder of a great empire.  His followers might have had any number of motives to go along with what he had to say.

7) Christ was unique among founders of great religions in claiming to be God.  You’ll have to read the Gospels to understand this last point.  The basic idea is that we know from history and the nightly news that people claiming to be God are typically obvious lunatics (or liars looking to make a fast buck).  None of the other “great sages” of history (Socrates, Buddha, etc.) ever claimed to be God.  Yet Jesus is typically thought to be wise and good even by those who don’t believe he’s God.  It is a most unusual thing.  The best explanation is that He was telling the truth.

There are many other reasons to believe that Christianity is unique among world religions, and likely to be true.  The best full account, in my opinion, is given by G.K. Chesterton, in his classic book The Everlasting Man.

Ultimately, there is no definitive proof for Christianity.  As with any other ancient event, we have no physical evidence of what happened, only documentary evidence.  It is up to each of us to judge whether the story is true.  Of course, this is not meant to be a pure exercise in scholarship, but rather a conversation between a person’s heart and God in light of the Gospel message itself.  Nevertheless, Christianity stands apart from the other religions in that a plausible case that can be made from the facts alone.