Christianity & Religious Diversity: a book review

There is an increasing awareness of religious diversity in the West due to globalization. Harold Netland, professor of philosophy of religion and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is someone with keen insights into the implications of the modern religious climate for those of us with Christian commitments. In Christianity & Religious Diversity he untangles issues facing Christians today.

Netland states that this is not an introduction to religion, but “a  selective treatment of issues related to religious diversity and Christian commitment” (xi).  He divides his exploration of the topic in two parts. In part one,  he explores the nature of religion in the modern, globalizing world. In part two, Netland discusses ‘Christian Commitments in a Pluralistic world.’ Part one describes the lay of the land, and part two is designed to help Christian religious philosophers, missionaries and apologists navigate it.

Part one begins with Netland recounting recent academic debates about the nature of religion, its definition and its relationship to culture.  He observes several important features of our contemporary religious climate: (1) a direct link between a religion, worldview or culture cannot be assumed; (2) religion and culture cannot be reduced into each other; (3) religions and cultures are fluid and change overtime; (4) People have already had multiple cultural identities, and increasingly people have multiple religious identities too (35-39). Chapter two explores the way that modernization and globalization have changed religious commitments by making choices available while simultaneously eroding our epidemiological certainty.  Chapter three examines Buddhism and the way it has adapted with modernism and globalization. Chapter four shows how Jesus Christ has been adopted by many different religious  and cultural traditions. Examples include the Hindu Renaissance (such as Mahatma Gandhi’s use of Jesus), John Hick’s pluralism and Shusaku Endo’s novels.

Chapters five through seven of part two deal with the problem of making Christian truth claims in a pluralist age. Chapter five answers the question, “Can All Religions Be True?” [Spoiler Alert: No]. Chapter six explores the notion of ‘Christianity as the One True Religion’  and chapter seven talks about the reasons for belief in a diverse age. Netland, earned his doctorate under John Hicks and he unpacks many of the the problems with Hicks pluralism. Netland’s final chapter forms a conclusion to these essays. Netland urges missionaries, apologists and evangelists to  both remain faithful disciples of Jesus and to be good neighbors, respectful in dialogue with those in other faith traditions.

Netland is brilliant at synthesizing the literature from diverse disciplines such as philosophy of religion, missiology, sociology, economics, biblical studies, and theology.  He offers a comprehensive analysis of our post-colonial, global religious landscape. Anyone interested in the effects of Globalization on religion will find this book informative.  Netland’s prose is careful and circumspect and what I appreciated most was his descriptions of religious trends. This will be most useful for apologists and students. I give it five stars.

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book from Baker Academic in exchange for my honest review

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