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Encountering religious pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith and Mission [Hardcover]

Harold Netland

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There is a growing consensus that religious-cultural pluralism is weakening the fundamental existent truths on which all religious traditions have relied. Faith and commitment are awash in a sea of competing claims. In this wide-ranging study, Harold Netland examines pluralism historically, theologically and philosophically. As he rightly points out, the Christian faith emerged in a religiously plural context, but Western Christendom tried to insulate itself against other religions. Over the past three centuries modernity has eroded much of this protective intellectual and cultural structure that Christendom had devised and the future of Christian faith in the West promises to be in an environment of vigorous pluralism.

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best comprehensive work on pluralism from an evangelical 14 Mar 2005
By M. B. Trapp - Published on Amazon.com
So I'm sitting at work bored, and I decide to look up a few of my favorite books on Amazon to see how others rated them. The best book I've ever read on religious pluralism from an evangelical perspective is Harold Netland's "Encountering Religious Pluralism." I read it almost three years ago for a seminary class, and it still affects how I approach the issues and problems that our pluralistic culture raises for someone coming from a traditional Christian perspective. Imagine my surprise to find out that no one had reviewed this fine work. Thus I took it upon myself to be the first.

Netland's strength lies in his ability to cover a broad range of topics concerning religious pluralism while remaining lucid and concise in his writing. For example, he not only gives a brief history of religious pluralism and how the church has reacted to it, but he also levels sophisticated critiques against it and even devotes a chapter to the most ardent modern day religious pluralist, the philosopher of religion John Hick. And he doesn't just give us Hick's views, he actually goes into detail into Hick's personal journey from being a conservative Christian to a radical pluralist.

Netland's critiques of Hick and other modern pluralist views are trenchant. Of course on the surface it seems very warm and fuzzy and modern to proclaim that all religions are really different manifestations of the same ultimate reality, but Netland points out the serious problems with this view. Take, for example, Hick's notion of "the Real." In Hick's view, all the religions of the world are nothing more than different cultural manifestations of human responses to "the Real." What matters is that we live a life that is not self-centered but Real-centered. But in order to avoid what would seem to criticize the differing (and often contradictory) moral claims of different religions, Hick excises all notions of morality from the Real.

Well, this is problematic. Is a Muslim view that Jews are equivalent to dogs and that there is nothing wrong with murdering them an appropriate response to the Real? What about other religious views that promote, for example, racism or violence or nationalism? Were the Aztecs appropriately responding to the Real by making human sacrifices? Netland points out the inherent contradiction here: in his efforts not to seem "judgmental" concerning a religious tradition (or to make value judgments concerning whether one religious tradition is superior to another), Hick has seemingly abandoned all rational moral judgment. According to Hick, the Real is essentially undefinable, which, in practice makes it essentially meaningless.

Furthermore, in promoting religious pluralism, one has to pass judgment on the various religions anyway, at least in regard to their exclusivist claims. It is very nice to tell me as an evangelical that my beliefs are simply one way of approaching God and that all other religions are equally valid ways. The problem, of course, is that in doing so the very core of my belief (the exclusivity of salvation through the atoning work of Jesus Christ) is thrown out. And the fact of the matter is that the world religions say fundamentally different things about ultimate reality which cannot be reconciled. The difference between a belief that ultimate reality exists as an impersonal cosmic force and a belief that ultimate reality is grounded in an infinite, personal God is equivalent to the difference between competing views as to whether the world is flat or whether it is round.

Since I read this book three years ago, I may be reading some of my own views back into Netland, but I doubt it. Whenever a Christian asks me the best book to read about religious pluralism and a proper Christian response to it, Netland is what I recommend.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profoundly Compelling, Solid Scholarship 27 Mar 2009
By Scott Julian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Netland presents a very compelling case for the traditional Christian viewpoint of exclusive truth and does so with fairness, grace, generosity and above all a deep and scholarly engagement with the issues involved. The book simply gets better as one reads through it. Some of the initial chapters were tough sledding as Netland addressed the underlying philosophical issues involved, but in doing so he builds a strong foundation (if not credibility) for what is to follow.

The tone of the book was such that this reviewer wondered if he would "defect" in some way and make some significant compromise on the exclusivity of the Christian faith, but he never did, though open minded individuals will appreciate his nuances and carefully wrought arguments. All this makes his conclusions all the more compelling, and make the book a exemplar of how inter-religious dialog (and indeed, Christian witness of any kind) should take place.

I was profoundly challenged by this fine book, both intellectually and behaviorally. That's a lot to get in return for less than $20!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an eye opening read 27 Dec 2012
By AJ - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
just finished reading this book for a grad class. Although the book did seem a bit wordy at times the subject matter and author's obvious passion for the subject made up for it. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in missiology for the 21st century or any layman wanting to be more effective in reaching a religiously diverse culture in America. Kudos to Netland for tackling this very delicate and sensitive subject.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Book on Religious Pluralism 26 Oct 2011
By B.Lie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This work by Netland is outstanding for many reasons. Here are some of them:

* It combines the historical, philosophical, theological and apologetical perspectives on religious pluralism. All written in a very readable way.

* Its critiques on John Hick's pluralistic hypothesis is profound and reliable. It doesn't attack straw man as many others. This is very understandable since the author was once a student of Hick himself. Hick also addresses Netland's critiques (from his previous book, Dissonant Voices) in his book A Christian Theology of Religion. It shows that Netland is considered as one of serious challengers to Hick's pluralism.

* It is both descriptive and prescriptive. It challenges Christians to engage with one of the most important issues in the Christian mission and philosophy of religion today.

* The section on evangelical theology of religions is short but illuminating. Netland believes that there are three elements that involve in human religions namely, creation and revelation, sin, and satanic/demonic influence. The third one is clearly politically incorrect for many and yet Netland is not hesitate to state it. His exposition on these three points alone deserves the price of the book.

In short, this is simply the best book on religious pluralism. Whether you are an evangelical or not, the book will benefits you.

If Dr. Netland read this review, I just want to say thank you for your work. You are doing a significant ministry by focusing your research on this important area.
0 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dry Reading 22 Nov 2012
By T. Clauer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book for a class that I may take at a seminary. I have read nearly half the book. For me, this book is boring. The writer spends too much time in the details. There are a lot of new words, people name's and their books. So far, there is one page that I found interesting. That was in the notes on the bottom of a page concerning the pluralism of Islam stated by Baxter. Page 95. The writer constantly says that he needs to discuss the background on various subjects, but does a poor job relating it to the present. Maybe it will get better during the last half of the book. I will finish reading this book, but I do not recommend the book.
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