Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith and Mission/No Other Gods before Me? Evangelicals and the Challenge of World Religions

Article excerpt

Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith and Mission. By Harold Netland. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2001. Pp. 366. Paperback $27.

No Other Gods Before Me? Evangelicals and the Challenge of World Religions. Edited by John G. Stackhouse, Jr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001. Pp. 208. $19.99.

Just eleven days before he died, Paul Tillich gave a lecture entitled "The Significance of the History of Religions for the Systematic Theologian" (1965). In this lecture Tillich expressed his hope for the future of theology, that it would see "an extensive and intensive mutual interpenetration of systematic theology and the religious history of mankind." Now, forty years later, that is very much what we see happening.

Missiological studies from the evangelical perspective have come a little late to the scene but are now catching up fast, and in these two books there is plenty of food for thought on how Christian theology needs to change in light of the multifaceted encounter with transformed world religions. Such a theology must examine how one should evaluate Christianity's absolute claim on truth in relation to the comparable truth claims of other religions.

Harold Netland has written one of the very best accounts of the roots of contemporary religious pluralism; very convincingly he analyzes the challenge to Christian mission that comes from pluralism. The book has two parts. The first explores historical, social, and cultural contexts within which religious pluralism has emerged and become so influential. Netland not only gives a persuasive description of how the religious landscape is changing and how religions are transformed but also moves on to the normative questions. In the second part of the book he attempts to respond to issues raised by religious pluralism. What distinguishes this approach is the insight that contemporary pluralism cannot be understood adequately apart from appreciation of the broader historical, social, and intellectual transformation of the past several centuries.

The most influential apologist for religious pluralism in the West is John Hick. Netland thus devotes several chapters to a thorough analysis of Hick's position, and the book as a whole can be seen as a sustained response to Hick's views. …