Monday 1 December 2014

Book Review: "A Trinitarian Theology of Religions"

"A Trinitarian Theology of Religions" By Gerald McDermott & Harold Netland
Oxford University Press, pp 336.

Star Rating: 4 out of 5

The church is indebted for the contribution made by this book. I cannot think of another book which intelligently interacts on an academic level, from an evangelical perspective, with the many aspects of religious pluralism which are found in many parts of the world, including the West. This book is published by the highly acclaimed Oxford University Press and this alone causes me to pause in thankfulness. It would have been unthinkable in the 1950's to have evangelical scholars publishing on such a topic by such a publisher. This shows how far the influence of evangelical scholarship has advanced, by the grace of God, in the last sixty plus years.

The target audience of this book is primarily the evangelical world and the authors seek to competently handle two opponents. The first are wild liberal claims that move on a syncretic trajectory, the second are narrow-minded evangelicals who refuse to even talk about other religions with a kind of bigotted blindness. Indeed the opening chapter gives a masterful explanation of the bounds of what it means to be evangelical  (pp 4-6), and also a summary of the three possible responses to religious others: exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism (pp 12-21). This book contends for the exclusive claims of the gospel, but it does so responsibly. Our theology affects our attitudes, and these need to be biblical in order for the church to win religious others to the gospel.

Perhaps, the weakest link in this book is chapter 2 on "The Triune God". While I greatly welcomed the chapter on the subject, it left me with the impression that the authors assumed too much knowledge that the readers already held on the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is a non-negotiable for such a book, because this marks out the Christian God as unique among the many other claims for deity. 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 and each one upholds the exclusive claims of the gospel, while interacting with many different religions and religious leaders. Such religions as Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, as well as individuals such as the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Ghandi and Confucius. A highlight section is found in chapter 4 on "Salvation and Conversion". The growing but unbiblical claims of universal salvation are tackled "head on". The idea of a universal salvation is swiftly rejected, and everlasting punishment is unashamedly defended. Evangelicals are no longer immune to liberal claims, as Rob Bell's book "Love Wins" proves. However, this 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 this book because Gerald McDermott is an advocate of Edwards and he uses him without "trying to smooth off the rough edges" of his favourite theologian's clear sighted view of sin, judgment and hell. Perhaps a return to reading some of Edwards' sermons such as "The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners" could embolden the church to preach clear truth in our own generation.

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