The value of this book is that it brings together many of the "stars" of religious pluralism: John Hick, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Paul Knitter, and several other leading lights of the school. Their arguments are often interesting, passionate, and pithy: this is a very good introductory text if you want to know the "elementary forms of pluralistic life," so to speak. I especially like Wilfred Smith's historical perspective.
The problems, however, are many and deep:
* It is hard, ultimately, to escape the charge of "exlusivism" that Hick and his tribe bring against orthodox Christianity. Hick's own thinking derives from the Christian tradition, and even his "Real" has been criticized (by at least one Buddhist) as too much like God. Of course Christians find it too little like God. But the essential problem is that the ineffability of the "Real" makes it impossible to say anything about Him, yet Hick NEEDS to say things about him, or why not just be quiet? Especially, Hick has to deny that the Real is biased for good against bad -- but he can't really think that, so he sneeks in goodness by the back door, as is usual with incoherent philosophies.
* The choices are supposed to be "pluralism," "exclusivism," and "inclusivism." This is, I think, a poor way of framing the options. In a dissertation I am presently writing, I argue that neither pluralism nor exclusivism are really even possible, still less practical. Every reasonable worldview includes some things, and excludes others, and attempts to get around this never work.
* We are supposed to assume that the issue on which religions should be compared is salvation. This is, of course, absurd: Lesslie Newbigin rightly rebukes the arrogance of the idea that it is the job of theologians to decide who goes to Heaven.
* There's some bad history in this book. Hick, for instance, simply ignores the more subtle arguments made by Clement of Alexandria, etc, and loads the mantle of "exclusivist" on Christians prior to the Voyages of Discovery. This is nonsense. Hick's historical myth: exclusivism, then the discovery of other religions, followed by "inclusivist" epicycles to try to save the uniqueness of the Gospel -- ignores the collosally important fact that Christianity AROSE in an era of religious pluralism. The Gospel appealed to Greeks and Romans BECAUSE of their religious training, I argue, not in spite of it. And who is Hick to say they were wrong?
* Another reviewer points out that some of his Christian students felt that the authors of this book have it in for Christianity. They do. The rules they follow are simple, but of course unstated: (1) One must never say something bad about any non-Christian religion, without noting allegedly parallel Christian crimes. (2) One must say that no religious tradition is better or worse than another. (3) However, it is fine to blame Christianity for bad things, without saying anything bad about its competitors. (4) All white people are "Christians" when we talk about the crimes they commit, even if they don't care for Christianity. (5) One need not discuss the enormous positive influence genuine Christians, inspired by true love of Christ, have had around the world: this might make people of other religious faiths feel bad.
I favor a model of religions that I call "Fulfillment Theology:" identified with the likes of Clement, Augustine, Ricci, Chesterton, Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis. Hick and his co-writers do not say much about it, and as I recall, what they do say is not much to the point. I write from this perspective in my book, Jesus and the Religions of Man, and offer a full defense of it in my upcoming dissertation, in the context not of India (as is the habit) but of China.