Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal
by Keith Yandell and Harold Netland
One main purpose of the text is “not to comprehensively argue for the truth of Christian claims…but to clarify the differences” (p. 176) between Christianity and Buddhism.
InterVarsity Press. P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, 230 pages, 2009. $22.00.
—Reviewed by Dr. Chandler H. Im, director of Ethnic Ministries at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College; adjunct professor of missions at Faith Evangelical Seminary in Tacoma, Washington.
Interfaith interface is one of the most challenging themes in the field of Christian missiology today. During the American Academy of Religion Conference in 2006, Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard Divinity School, proclaimed, “Understanding and interpreting religious diversity…is a theological challenge, a question of faith—age old, yet insistent and new in our time.” Perception of Buddhism as an East Asian religion is an obsolete view. The number of Buddhists and the influence of Buddhism in the West have been steadily increasing in the last 150 years. As the authors claim, “Buddhism has always been a missionary religion, moving intentionally beyond its land of origin into very different cultures and societies” (p. 70). In this outstanding book, Keith Yandell and Harold Netland aptly present historical backgrounds and various topics of all branches of Buddhism, including atheistic, iconoclastic Zen Buddhism and pantheistic (“pan-Buddhistic,” Buddhists would argue) Pure Land Buddhism, et al. They provide a panoramic survey of the expansion and development of Buddhism throughout Asia and the West, elucidating in detail similarities and differences among diverse traditions in Buddhist history. Key Buddhist doctrines such as karma, impermanence, suffering, and enlightenment are well delineated.
One main purpose of the text is “not to comprehensively argue for the truth of Christian claims…but to clarify the differences” (p. 176) between Christianity and Buddhism. The authors emphasize that when comparing doctrinal themes between Christianity and Buddhism, one important criterion to remember is that both Jesus and Buddha must be understood within the religious contexts and worldviews of their times (pp. 195, 201). They conclude that the two major (irreconcilable) differences between Christianity and Buddhism are (1) the existence of God and (2) Jesus as the historical incarnation of God. In short, Buddhism is a “self power” religion, whereas Christianity is a religion of “other power.” In the current backdrop of postmodern religious pluralism, in which religion A is as valid and true as religion B, they competently demonstrate that Christian-Buddhist interface would be fruitless if focused only upon the religions’ similarities without examining their differences as well.
As the book’s title suggests, this book is written unapologetically from an evangelical perspective. However, I would be very curious to learn about Buddhists’ responses to the book’s presentation of their respective Buddhist traditions and buddhologies (plural, as in theologies). Also, to what extent and degree would the various Buddhist schools’ practitioners and scholars hold in high regard and value the Christian authors’ truth claims regarding the existence of God and uniqueness of Jesus as the only Savior?
Overall, this is a long overdue book for students and teachers of world religions, helpful especially for Christians who engage in serious inter-religious dialogue with Buddhists. With clarity, it includes a comprehensive introduction to Buddhist history and doctrine. This book illustrates, from an evangelical position in particular, what interfaith interface between Christians and Buddhists should look like for the purpose of mutual understanding and enrichment, while persuing a quest for truth and reality.
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