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Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Christianity and World Religions" (Derek Cooper)

TITLE: Chrisitianity and World Religions: An Introduction to the World's Major Faiths
AUTHOR: Derek Cooper
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 2012, (242 pages).

What do people do when they go to a mosque, a temple, a synagogue, or other places of worship? How can we be more sensitive to religions that are different from the ones we hold? If you are looking to learn more about religions, or if you are a Christian wanting to understand more about the 6 major religions of the world, this book introduces you to "six rival stories" to Christianity. At the same time, it provides "six Christian responses" to them. The six religions covered are Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Judaism, and Islam. Concerned about how little Christians in general understand the other faiths, Cooper prepares this volume for the purposes of informing Christians about the basic tenets of these religions. At the same time, he helps Christians to understand their own faith and how different it is from the others. For example, not all Muslims are the same. There are Sunni and Shite Muslims. There are also many different types of Judaism, such as Orthodox and Reformed, Conservative or Reconstructionist.  Each emphasis is explained with charts, comparisons, and illustrations.

The six part framework is used for describing each religion. Part One talks about the beginnings of each religion, with stories of their origins, founders, and religious sources that come into existence. Sometimes, there is a brief comparison with Christianity. Part Two dives more in depth into the historical origins, and surveys how the religions evolve through the centuries. Often, the author brings its inter-religious interactions during its evolution, like how Hinduism and Buddhism evolve parallel to each other. Part Three comprises descriptions of documentation and holy books, revered by the religion being discussed. Islam has the Quran. Judaism has the TANAKH. Hinduism has many sacred writings such as the Vedas, Sutras, Brahmanas, etc (Shruti, heard writings) and the Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, and others (Smrti, received writings). Buddhism has the Buddhist Scriptures, while Confucianism and Daoism reveres the teachings of Confucius and Tao Te Ching respectively. Part Four describes the beliefs and the key religious propositions and doctrines. This section is perhaps the most illuminating part of all. Part Five talks about the specific practices and applications of the religions, and Part Six is about how the Christian can begin a conversation with the respective religious practitioner, using some common concepts that both parties understand.

The second half of the book is more Apologetics in nature, not only describing what Christianity is, it also describes the biblical as well as theological responses to all of the above religions. Chapter 6 is about how the Bible has responded to other religions. Like in the Old Testament, there are already warnings for the Israelites to heed, with regards to avoiding other gods and idols, the warnings and the punishments. It touches on the questions of whether these idols are mere gods in themselves, or are they a manifestation of the devil and demonic forces. Are they imaginary or real? It also brings in the New Testament examples, like Paul's message at the Areopagus in Acts, as well as the Apostles teachings against idolatry. The author feels that there is a direct link between other religions and the human tendency to create their own religious systems. In other words, they are inclined to make gods into their own image. Chapter 7 brings in a theological response to help Christians navigate the culture of pluralism and to distinguish the diverse religious concepts and differences. Cooper brings in some tough discussion on inclusivism, whether anyone can be saved outside the realms of Christianity, on exclusivism such as Christ's claim as the way, the truth, and the life.  On pluralism, the author discusses on how a Christian can interact with others of a different religious persuasion. Universalism and particularism are also discussed. Cooper concludes with Richard Niebuhr's classic thesis on the five major approaches to culture and religion. Readers need to decide for themselves what approach to adopt.

My Thoughts

When Paul preached the gospel at the Areopagus, he was also inviting listeners to consider what he had said. Three possible responses to his message. One can reject it outright. One can consider the message first. Finally, one can accept it, and take the step toward getting baptized.  In the same manner, Derek Cooper aims to equip readers with a fair understanding the world's six major religions. This is even more important especially now where pluralism is widespread and religious tolerance is required, even demanded in many places. That said, the best way for Christians to be equipped is to know what others believe, and to know what they themselves believe. This is what education is about. Pluralism is nothing new. In Paul's time, there were many Greek gods and rival deities. Note too that the religions chosen are of particular interest to the author and the place where he teaches. Around his seminary are "booming Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim populations." So what Cooper is writing has a very personal relevance for him and his students. What is important to note is that the book's primary audience are Christians, and the book's purpose is to equip readers with a knowledge of these six major religions, and how different they are from Christianity. It is viewed from a Christian worldview.

The book is clear and highly informative. There is a fair amount of details that the author has clearly outlined for anyone desiring a quick appreciation of the six major religions of the world. Cooper presupposes the reader is Christian, and thus, skips a chapter that describes Christianity like the rest of the other six major religions. Instead, he puts Christianity as a lens to see the other religions, in the second half of the book. I think it is a good idea to incorporate Christianity as a "seventh" religion, as it is a major one. That said, doing it will mean making the book much larger. The intent is an introduction, and readers with an understanding of Christianity in the first place will benefit most. Having said that, casual readers can easily understand more of the differences between Christianity and the rest, through the multiple points of references and comparisons with Christianity throughout the book. This I believe is the strength of the book.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by P & R Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.


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