by Harold A. Netland
— Reviewed by Brady Kal Cox, graduate student, church history, Abilene Christian University.
Due to the globalization of our world, members of religious communities can no longer ignore questions concerning the diversity of various religions and faith traditions. Harold Netland writes this comprehensive and interdisciplinary introduction to the subject of religion in the modern world to confront the challenge of religious diversity.
According to Netland, “This book is an attempt to clarify certain basic concepts, to show how religions have been shaped by modernization and in turn adapted to it, and to explore some of the epistemological issues arising from Christians’ new awareness of religious diversity” (p. x).
Netland begins by clarifying what religion is and provides two ways to understand religion: the theological and the phenomenological approaches. He makes it clear that it does not make sense to speak of one culture as being true or normative for all people, but that he is going to make a case for speaking of one religious tradition (i.e., Christianity) as being true and normative for all people.
He continues on to describe how religion has been affected by secularization and globalization. He uses the development of Buddhism over the past 2,500 years as a case study, and goes into great detail in his description of the Buddhist tradition and how it has changed since the time of Siddhartha Gautama.
Following this description, Netland makes the works of John Hick and Peter Byrne on religious pluralism accessible to the reader, yet expresses that their arguments face insurmountable problems and are thus untenable. Likewise, his use of the works of Alvin Plantinga and William Alston on Reformed epistemology may be convincing to the Christian reader who is not familiar with their works.
However, he only describes the current epistemological issues. Due to this, he recognizes the need to appeal to natural theology because it is important for Christians to provide reason for their beliefs in a religiously diverse environment.
Netland states, “Natural signs can be used in constructing a comprehensive cumulative case argument for Christian theism, thus showing that there are strong reasons for adopting Christian theism rather than other religious or nonreligious alternatives” (p. 228). However, he does not distinguish how this claim is not applicable for other religious traditions (e.g., Hinduism).
In his conclusion, Netland encourages disciples of Jesus to cultivate virtue while living in religious diversity. He then outlines five helpful themes that Christians ought to keep in mind while engaging in religiously diverse contexts (e.g., respect for others and rejection of violence), and charges religious leaders to protect and encourage civic virtue among lay members of all religions and faith traditions.
Netland achieves what he set out to do in this text. He clarifies basic concepts about religion, effectively demonstrates how religions have been shaped by and have adapted to modernization, and explores in great detail the epistemological issues related to the awareness of religious diversity. This is a very helpful text for the Christian reader who is curious about how to describe Christian commitments in our increasingly globalized age.
Check this title:
Leirvik, Oddbjørn. 2015. Interreligious Studies: A Relational Approach to Religious Activism and the Study of Religion. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
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EMQ, Vol. 52, No. 4. Copyright © 2016 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.