Christianity provides a firm basis for respecting people of other faiths. Jesus assumes that nonbelievers in the culture around them will gladly recognize much Christian behavior as "good" (Matthew 5:16; cf. 1 Peter 2:12). That assumes some overlap between the Christian constellation of values and those of any particular culture and of any other religion. Why would this overlap exist? Christians believe that all human beings are made in the image of God, capable of goodness and wisdom. The Biblical doctrine of the universal image of God, therefore, leads Christians to expect non-believers will be better than any of their mistaken beliefs could make them. The Biblical doctrine of universal sinfulness also leads Christians to expect believers will be worse in practice than their orthodox beliefs should make them. So there will be plenty of ground for respectful cooperation.
Christianity not only leads its members to believe people of other faiths have goodness and wisdom to offer, it also leads them to expect that many will live lives morally superior to their own. Most people in our culture believe that, if there is a God, we can relate to him and go to heaven through leading a good life. Let's call this the "moral improvement" view. Christianity teaches the very opposite. In the Christian understanding, Jesus does not tell us how to live so we can merit salvation. Rather, he comes to forgive and save us through his life and death in our place. God's grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior.
Christians, then, should expect to find nonbelievers who are much nicer, kinder, wiser, and better than they are. Why? Christian believers are not accepted by God because of their moral performance, wisdom, or virtue, but because of Christ's work on their behalf. Most religions and philosophies of life assume that one's spiritual status depends on your religious attainments. This naturally leads adherents to feel superior to those who don't believe and behave as they do. The Christian gospel, in any case, should not have that effect."
Tim Keller, "The Reason for God."
I've been sitting on this quote for a while, wondering if a few days would dull my reaction to it. Not so much.
On the one hand, it's nice to see a Christian acknowledge that those in other religions or no religions at all can be as nice, kind, compassionate, and overall as good as Christians.
That may be the only positive thing I have to say about this. What I'm really honing in on is the idea that Christians should expect to find non-Christians better than the Christians. One, because I don't see the New Testament as a whole espousing that view. If you are supposed to be the example for non-Christians, if you are supposed to let your light shine and people see your good works so God gets praised, then Christians should be better. I don't see Paul telling the churches that it's okay if they don't behave as well as the pagans. He tells them to stop behaving as the pagans, and be better, because of their connection to God. God/Jesus is supposed to change said believer for the better.
Two, it sounds like an excuse. Since Christians acknowledge their failure and sin-status, and aren't trying as much to merit anything, this is why non-Christians will behave better than Christians. It's okay for the Christian to be "less than" because that's how the Christian gets accepted by God.
Three, it pretty much reduces the non-Christians behavior to selfishness. Yes, the non-Christian may be better, kinder, morally superior and so forth. This is *only* because the non-Christian thinks s/he gets something out of it from God. It's not because the non-Christian might just think it's the best way to live one's life. No, the non-Christian is just being self-focused.