G McDermott & H Netland
Oxford University Press
Star Rating: 4
From both an academic and evangelical perspective, this book interacts intelligently with the religious pluralism so prevalent in the western world. The church is indebted for the book’s contribution to this topic.
It is published by the highly acclaimed Oxford University Press, which in itself causes me to pause in thankfulness. It would have been unthinkable in the 1950s to have evangelical scholars publishing on such a topic with such a publisher. Yet, by the grace of God, the influence of evangelical scholarship has advanced greatly in the last 60 or more years.
The primary audience is the evangelical world. The authors seek to competently handle two opponents: the first are those holding wildly liberal and syncretistic claims; the second evangelicals, who narrow-mindedly refuse to even talk about other religions.
The opening chapter gives a masterful explanation of the boundaries of what it means to be evangelical (pp. 4-6). It also summarises three possible responses to religious ‘others’: exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism (pp. 12-21).
It contends for the exclusive claims of the gospel, but does so responsibly. Our theology affects our attitudes, and these need to be biblical, in order for the church to win those of other religions to the gospel.
Perhaps the weakest link is in chapter two (‘The triune God’). I felt the authors assumed too much trinitarian knowledge on the part of the readers.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a non-negotiable, because it is this that marks out the Christian God as unique. However, greater explanation of the foundational aspects of the Trinity should have been given in the same helpful way that the opening chapter outlined foundational material.
There are five further chapters. Each upholds the exclusive claims of the gospel while interacting with many different religions and religious leaders. Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism are treated, while individuals such as the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Ghandi and Confucius are discussed.
Chapter four (‘Salvation and conversion’) is a highlight. The growing but unbiblical claims of universal salvation are tackled head on. This posture is swiftly rejected, while everlasting punishment is unashamedly defended.
Evangelicals are no longer immune to these liberal ideas, as Rob Bell’s recent book, Love wins, proves. However, as the book refreshingly summarises: ‘For the biblical and especially New Testament authors, hell is not a problem but a solution’ (p.181).
The influence of Jonathan Edwards is felt throughout. Gerald McDermott is an advocate of Edwards and uses him without trying to tone down Edwards’ clear-sighted view of sin, judgement and hell.
Perhaps a return to reading some of Edwards’ sermons, such as ‘The justice of God in the damnation of sinners’, would embolden today’s church to preach clear truth to our own generation?