Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith Mission Paperback – 1 Aug 2001
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'Netland examines the critical issues that evangelicals must address if they are to grapple effectively with these emerging religious realities. He concludes with a proposal for 'an Evangelical Theology of Religions' that is constructive and hopeful.' Wilbert Shenk, Professor of Mission History and Contemporary Culture --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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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.
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!
* 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.