Building out of Christ's great commission to his church and speaking into the great diversity of our time, Tim Tennent, associate professor of world missions at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, encourages evangelicals to take their seat at the religious round table and to start talking with the advocates of competing world religions. Cognizant that theology and mission must go together, Tennent offers his readers a focused treatment that engages doctrinal challenges to Christianity from Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. At no point does he gloss over the many differences that set Christianity apart from other faiths, and yet he everywhere encourages serious dialogue and advocates our being good listeners as well as charitable conversation partners.
As a committed Christian, I can only applaud Tennent's work as a valuable contribution to motivating evangelical Christians to enter the thought world of others and thereby fulfill our obligation to engage the world for Christ. Far from being one of those volumes that stands outside the bounds of historic Christianity and which presents the Christian Gospel as simply one among the many different paths to god, Christianity at the Religious Roundtable is written by a representative of biblical Christianity and conforms to the historic confessions.
Written with the intention of marshaling greater evangelical Christian involvement in interreligious dialogue and with the goal of preparing Christians to respond to the objections of non-Christian religions (p.10); Tennent argues for and writes from what he terms "an engaged exclusivist" position. That is, our author rejects the all too familiar pluralist position and, in the end, embraces the exclusivist position in a critical and more nuanced way (p.16ff). This is a great boon for committed Christians who may often struggle to find learned, sensitively written, up to date, dialogically oriented materials which affirm the unique authority of Jesus Christ, as well as the centrality of gospel proclamation, and the explicit need for repentance and faith based on the knowledge of Christ.
Structured around fictional conversations between an evangelical Christian and informed members of the three largest non-Christian religions, Tennent tenders a series of high quality exchanges and models penetrating insight and persistent graciousness. Each section opens with some general remarks that serve to orient the reader and then sets forth a dialogue concerning the doctrine of God (Brahman, Dharma-kaya, Allah), and a dialogue concerning a second doctrinal matter (Hinduism's doctrine of creation, Buddhism's doctrine of ethics, and Islam's doctrine of Christ and the Incarnation). While students of world religions may have covered some or much of this material elsewhere, yet what is distinctive about this volume is the way in which the dialogues that make up the body of the work allow for such a vigorous two-way exchange of ideas. In the spirit of Raymond Lull, Tennent really has the positions `talk back' to one another.
In addition to the well written chapters that showcase both the authors own prowess and overarching method, we are also provided with several "case studies" or readings in interreligious dialogue that are then applied back to the discussions occupying the body of the text. (The figures cited in the case studies are the Syrian apologist Justin Martyr, the Hindu convert Brahmabandhav Upadhyay, and the Western European scholar A. G. Hogg). Together with the epilogue, these concluding chapters further assist us to reflect upon the many pressing issues that have and will continue to arise when Christians seriously converse with men and women of divergent faiths.
Once again, I can really only applaud Tim Tennent for sharing with us the fruits of his own studies and efforts. Reading his work not only leaves one aware of how disinterest and non-participation neither serves the gospel well, nor advances our task, but it also provides a good deal of motivation to engage in meaningful dialogue with Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic colleagues, neighbors and friends. Moreover, it quietly reminds us that although the blanket of ecumenism and relativism seems to cloak many of the opportunities we have for dialogue, yet such an atmosphere need not always require the abandonment of the Christian message, only its wise and winsome presentation.
As a final word let me state that I personally found the two chapters on Islam to be among the best. In a day of growing awareness about Islam, Tennent here provides us with examples of the kind of high quality, accurate, charitable and specific material that we need in order to dialogue with the Islamic mindset. Indeed, one can only hope that our author's next volume will be one similar in style but wholly devoted to Islam. Until then, let me suggest that any evangelical wanting to better engage the differing world religions can hardly do better than to pick up this book.