The essays in this volume were presented at the plenary sessions of the 2002 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Toronto with the theme “Evangelical Christianity and Other Religions.”
In the first chapter Harold Netland (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) addresses “Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth.” He asks why anyone should affirm Christian belief as more true than any other. In summarizing recent approaches to religious truth Netland especially criticizes three: John Hick’s religious relativism, William Alston’s “belief-forming practices” (where a tradition itself molds a justified belief system), and Alvin Plantinga’s Reformed epistemology in which belief in God may be “properly basic” and rational without the need for supporting evidence. Netland deems each of these views inadequate because none necessarily excludes other religious truth claims (e.g., Zen Buddhists might appropriate each argument in their defense). Netland instead affirms “a cumulative case argument”: Christian faith responds best with objective, verifiable answers to life’s major questions (“soft natural theology”), so that reason-ably objective truth is defensible and superior to other religious truth claims.
In chapter two Daniel Block (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) addresses “Other Religions in Old Testament Theology.” After discussing beliefs shared among ancient Near Eastern religions, he focuses on the polemical and antagonistic posture of the Old Testament regarding those religions. Block affirms “unequivocal monotheistic statements” in the Old Testament (e.g., Deut. 4:32–40; 10:17; Ps. 136:1–2) and argues that sometimes the title “God of gods” must be understood in this exclusive sense—even as it is appropriated and turned against the names of other gods. Although the longest chapter in the book, the article is generally succinct and engaging.
In chapter three Gregory Beale (Wheaton College Graduate School) addresses “Other Religions in New Testament Theology.” Beale’s thesis is that the New Testament contains both polemic against and appropriation of pagan religions. He discusses in some detail the use of ancient poets in Paul’s Areopagus address (Acts 17) and suggests that Paul’s Athenian message was rooted firmly in Old Testament revelation. Beale does the same with several verses in the Book of Revelation. Though somewhat tedious for less detail-oriented readers, the chapter engages effectively in the defense of Christian orthodoxy.
Richard Plantinga’s contribution in chapter four (“God So Loved the World”) is a lucid and well-informed overview of how historic Christianity has responded to other religions. The article divides history into pre-Christendom, Christendom, and post-Christendom (from the Renaissance to today). Plantinga argues that in the first and third divisions believers struggled with the presence of non-Christian religions—although he does not ignore the long presence of Judaism and Islam in the European theater. He concludes with recommendations on how to define inclusivism and exclusivism.
Chapter five by Tite Tiénou (“Biblical Faith and Traditional Folk Religion”) seeks to locate African traditional religions on the religious map. He presents a mosaic of criticisms against those in the West who have lacked finesse in African missiological studies. He argues that African traditional religions should be considered a major world religion group, like other major religions. In part his claim seems justified, but similar arguments would support a plethora of other tribal religions to be included as well, from the Polynesia Cargo cults to Mayan religion.
Chapter six, by J. Dudley Woodberry (until recently at Fuller Theological Seminary), is a superb study of “Biblical Faith and Islam.” Woodberry’s decades of experience in the Muslim world give rich insights into how Christians can best dialogue with followers of Islam and share the gospel with them. In the diverse world of Islam Woodberry’s chapter is a gold mine of help on how to speak of Jesus Christ to Muslims.
As a collection of conference lectures Biblical Faith and Other Religions is uneven and somewhat eclectic. Yet the insights of several of the chapters can be of profound help not only to missiologists but also to all who struggle with “the scandal of particularity”—that Christ is the only means of reconciliation with God.
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