The unique revelation of God through the Jews and through Jesus does not imply that no other revelation of God's character has ever occurred. That is the basic premise that motivated Gerald McDermott to write Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions?: Jesus, Revelation and Religious Traditions. As he describes the book, it is "the beginning of an evangelical theology of the religions that addresses not the question of salvation but the problems of truth and revelation, and takes seriously the normative claims of other traditions."
The first five chapters of the book are McDermott's argument that we can indeed learn more about Christianity by understanding various ideas and concepts from other religions. He believes that the Bible even suggests that God may have sometimes revealed Himself to those outside of Israel and the Church. He also offers a possible new interpretation of revelation, and argues that God has revealed religious types in other religions (which is different from both special and general revelation). Then he looks at three Christian theologians who have used extensive knowledge from outside the Church to help them understand the revelation of Christ better (Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin).
The next four chapters are observations from McDermott's study of four major religions. He offers insight and perspectives from Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism and Islam. Each of these religions, says McDermott, can teach us something new about Christ, or at the very least, teach us how to view something we already know from a different perspective.
While many of those who accept the possibility of revelation in other religions tend to adapt Christian doctrines to fit that which is revealed in other religions,McDermott feels he has found in other religions a strong confirmation of Christian doctrine which allows for a new, and deeper insight. But there are some objections which can be raised in response to McDermott's insights, and he understands this. Thus, he asks and answers five questions which can and have come up regarding the issue of revelation in other religions: 1) Do we not already know the truths revealed in other religions? 2) Does new revelation compromise the biblical canon? 3) How does believing in the possibility of revelation in other religions affect missions and evangelism?; 4) Why study other religions when we do not know our own? 5) What is the purpose of learning truth from other religions?
Provocative and insightful, this book will open your eyes to the God who has made Himself known among the nations. You will gain an understanding of other religions, and their search for God, and you will understand Christianity better as well.
A 2001 Christianity Today Award of Merit winner! "Arguably, the church's greatest challenge in the next century will be the problem of the scandal of particularity. More than ever before, Christians will need to explain why they follow Jesus and not the Buddha or Confucius or Krishna or Muhammed. But if, while relating their faith to the faiths, Christians treat non-Christian religions as netherworlds of unmixed darkness, the church's message will be a scandal not of particularity but of arrogant obscurantism. "Recent evangelical introductions to the problem of other religions have built commendably on foundations laid by J. N. D. Anderson and Stephen Neill. Anderson and Neill opened up the "heathen" worlds to the evangelical West, showing that many non-Christians also seek salvation and have personal relationships with their gods. In the last decade Clark Pinnock and John Sanders have argued for an inclusivist understanding of salvation, and Harold Netland has shed new light on the question of truth in the religions. Yet no evangelicals have focused--as nonevangelicals Keith Ward, Diana Eck and Paul Knitter have done--on the revelatory value of truth in non-Christian religions. Anderson and Neill showed that there are limited convergences between Christian and non-Christian traditions, and Pinnock has argued that there might be truths Christians can learn from religious others. But as far as I know, no evangelicals have yet examined the religions in any sort of substantive way for what Christians can learn without sacrificing, as Knitter and John Hick do, the finality of Christ. "This book is the beginning of an evangelical theology of the religions that addresses not the question of salvation but the problem of truth and revelation, and takes seriously the normative claims of other traditions. It explores the biblical propositions that Jesus is the light that enlightens every person (Jn 1:9) and that God has not left Himself without a witness among non-Christian traditions (Acts 14:17). It argues that if Saint Augustine learned from Neo-Platonism to better understand the gospel, if Thomas Aquinas learned from Aristotle to better understand the Scriptures, and if John Calvin learned from Renaissance humanism, perhaps evangelicals may be able to learn from the Buddha--and other great religious thinkers and traditions--things that can help them more clearly understand God's revelation in Christ. It is an introductory word in a conversation that I hope will go much further among evangelicals." (Gerald McDermott, in the introduction to Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions?)
Gerald R. McDermott (Ph.D., University of Iowa) is professor of religion and philosophy at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. He is also a Teaching Pastor at St. John Lutheran Church. His other books include , , , , , , , and
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