Christianity & Religious Pluralism by Harold A. Netland

Christianity & Religious Diversity: Clarifying Christian Commitments in a Globalizing Age by Harold A. Netland is an informative book. As a Christian, it’s how little I knew about other world religions. Below is an excerpt from a critique that I completed for an apologetics’ class.

With increased globalization, the interactions with other religious cultures and practices that are different from Christianity is unavoidable. Christianity & Religious Diversity is an excellent resource to help Christians understand these dynamically complex situations. Pluralistic religious belief systems and how to engage with them. However, Netland suggests that before engaging with other world religions, Christians should learn about the cultures and religious beliefs to successfully coexist and affirm their own beliefs. Furthermore, it is important to learn about the different religious beliefs and philosophies of this modern world, because Christians can expect challenges to their own faith. Therefore, Christians need appropriate responses to inquiries and differences of opinions from non-believers. Consequently, being able to competently defend the reasons they believe in God. Under guidance from the Holy Spirit and their hope in Jesus as Lord and Saviour in a monotheist religion.

Netland points out that even though, Christians cannot prove that Christianity is the “one true religion” this does not mean their faith is incorrect or false, or that another religion is true or should be preferred.[1]It simply means that Christians do not have the skills or knowledge to communicate their faith in a way that is expressively convincing to a nonbeliever. Therefore, Christians need to reconsider what religion means to them in a globalized culture.

Based on Netland’s process for addressing this concern, Christians must understand that globalization works both ways.[2]Not only is the West transferring Christian religious theology and Western cultural norms, but the East is also exporting religious traditions to the West.[3]This understanding of the effect of globalization requires diligent awareness for Christians. While practicing tolerance, Christians need to remain alert and avoid absorbing unsound religions dogma.

While Christianity & Religious Diversity reads like an abbreviated apologetics book, Netland’s examination of the need to understand religious diversity in a modernized global society by Christians includes much more than a mere defense of the Christian faith. Netland argues for the importance of both “the theological and the phenomenological”[4]aspects of Christianity by not merely debating reasons for faith, but also how that same faith is practiced in the context of a global society. So that Christians live productively in a pluralistic world.

Netland recognizes that diversity, not only between religions but within the same religion exist.[5]Christians must now consider that diversity that now exists. For, Todd Miles shares a similar view of pluralism, which incorporates the awareness of many religions, the worship of diverse gods, and the conflicting opinions on the nature of reality and the moral world.[6]While, Cordaun emphasizes the concept of inclusivism and the “view that there is actually only one true religion; other religions are either inadequate forms of it or followers of other religions, even though they may not know it, actually receive the benefits of that one original religion”.[7]

Christianity & Religious Diversity is written with an evangelical Christian worldview and is perhaps most appropriate for theology students, theology professor, scholars, academically trained church leaders and the truly inspired layperson. Individuals who would like to learn more about how to discuss the challenging landscapes of religious diversity in a pluralist culture.

The book is well-organized in a logical sequence. While, Netland is obviously an expert and experienced at adapting the material for diverse disciplines, such as theology, religion, missiology, sociology, biblical studies, and philosophy, a major limitation is that the book does not seem an easy read for the public. There are numerous references to foundational concepts from many disciplines. Although, Netland footnotes extremely well (almost every page) and makes an admirable effort to consider this aspect by providing the sources that support his claims. The book is still very complex, convoluted, and scholarly in its presentation of a comprehensive analysis of the modernized global religious landscape.

However, people interested in the effects of globalization on religion will find this book helpful and possibly an enjoyable. Netland’s writing style is meticulous, prudent and expressive. He portrays well the religious trends and how best to discuss them. He tackles a complex issue and addresses the multifaceted qualities of religious diversity, the nature of truth in religion, apologetics, and the interactions between believers from diverse perspectives without rambling or misguiding the reader down a convoluted path. Which was most likely, not easy an accomplishment with such an involved and broad-ranging topic. With a lengthy and extensive bibliography, which helps the reader, who wants to pursue the topic further.

What are we to make of religious diversity and the role of Christians in an increasingly pluralist world? Well, with a missionary focus, Netland tackled that question in Christianity & Religious Diversity. Concluding that Christians’ perception of their faith, as not only true but true for everybody, is an idea that can no longer be taken for granted among an increasingly pluralistic and diverse culture.[8]While the book also allows non -believers to better understand the Christian perspective, it encourages Christians to follow the Great Commandment, loves God and neighbor according to Matthew 22:36-40 (KJV) as they affirm their place in a global society.

[1]Harold A. Netland, Christianity & Religious Diversity: Clarifying Christian Commitments in a Globalizing Age(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015),165-169.

 [2] Ibid.

 [3] Ibid.

[4]Ibid., 24-30.

 [5] Ibid., 229-251.

[6]Todd Miles, A God of Many Understandings?(Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishing House, (2010), 6-9.

[7]Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 56-77.

[8]Ibid., Christianity & Religious Diversity, 229-254.