Review: Talking Doctrine

26116052Talking Doctrine: Mormons & Evangelicals in Conversation edited by Richard J. Mouw and Robert L. Millet is a collection of essays culminating from nearly two decades of intentional inter-faith dialogue between Evangelicals and Mormons. The collection essays are diverse and address a wide assortment of topics that are traditionally associated with the Mormon-Evangelical discussion. Accordingly, the book is helpfully organized underneath two general section headings: (1) the nature of the dialogue and (1) specific doctrinal discussions. It is here that the conversation begins.

The opening section of Talking Doctrine helpfully sets the tone for the conversation ahead. The reader is first brought into the background and context of the project. It is here that the reader encounters the charitable character exhibited in the exchange. The tone is respectful and cordial despite the clear theological differences. As an Evangelical who appreciates inter-faith dialogue and worldview analysis, I found this first section of the book to be an exciting and appropriate demonstration of how responsible exchange should be facilitated. However, I also found myself a bit concerned with the soft-handed approach of some of the Evangelical contributors.

The subsequent section turns more pointedly towards the specific doctrinal differences traditionally witnessed between Mormons and Evangelicals. This interaction was helpful and appropriately modeled. Although, as someone who interacts with Mormons with some level of frequency, I would be hard-pressed to believe that the Mormon contributors of this volume represent the theological convictions of the missionaries that knock on my door. Still, the honest and candid conversation about the trinity, grace, the origins of mankind, the nature of God, deification, and authority are well worth the price of the book—especially if you engage in similar conversations regularly.

Talking Doctrine: Mormons & Evangelicals in Conversation is a valuable book if for no other reason than it models the effectiveness of a relationally driven inter-faith dialogue. If compassion for people and understanding of worldview are absent from our efforts to pursue truth, then our efforts will ultimately fail. There will inevitably be several points of disagreement throughout the book for both Mormons and Evangelicals, both in methodology and affirmation, but the book has undoubtedly accomplished what it intended to accomplish. If you are in the market for an up-to-date exploration into some of the similarities and differences between current theological trends shaping Mormonism and Evangelical Christianity, the present volume is a suitable entry point.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

 

Review: Introducing World Religions

22504659Charles E. Farhadian is professor of world religions and Christian Mission at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. Farhadian has studied at Seattle Pacific University (BA), Yale University (MDIV), and Boston University (PhD). He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Christianity, Islam, and Nationalism in Indonesia (Routledge, 2005), Christian Worship Worldwide: Expanding Horizons, Deepening Practices (Eerdmans, 2007), The Testimony Project: Papua (Deiyai Press, 2007), Introducing World Christianity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), and the Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion (Oxford University Press, 2014). Most recently, Farhadian has released what is sure to be the standard undergraduate-level introduction to world religions from the Christian perspective—Introducing World Religions: A Christian Engagement (Baker Academic, 2015).

Introducing World Religions begins with an excellent introduction to prepare the reader for the forthcoming journey into the religious landscape of the contemporary world. This initial section, the persistence of religion, appropriately positions the reader and introduces the study of religion as an academic discipline. First, Farhadian acknowledges the difficulty that arises when one seeks to definitively define “religion.”  Consequently, Farhadian follows the eight characteristics of religion articulated by Watson King (Encyclopedia of Religion, “Religion,” 12:284): (1) traditionalism, (2) myth and symbols, (3) ideas of salvation, (4) sacred objects and places, (5) sacred actions, (6) sacred writings, (7) sacred community, and (8) sacred experience. Second, Farhadian briefly explores the numerous contexts in which the study of religion is discussed (psychological, social, cultural, historical, and environmental), as well as the various theories of religion (psychological, sociological, anthropological, and economical) articulated and affected by figures such as Sigmund Freud, Emile Durkheim, and Karl Marx.

Introducing World Religion covers eight major world religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism and Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and dedicates an entire chapter to new religious movements (i.e. Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, etc.). Each chapter has four dedicated sections (contemporary snapshot, origins and concepts, worship and practice, and modern movements) and closes with an annotated timeline, key terms, and a further reading bibliography. Throughout each individual chapter, the reader will encounter a number of important terms that Farhadian has highlighted and defined. These terms are also listed at the end of each chapter and included in the glossary with a brief definition for quick reference. Also, as the subtitle alludes, the reader will encounter frequent “Christian Reflection” sections in which Farhadian helps aid the reader to think through various issues from a Christian worldview. These sections are brief and differ in usefulness, but the reader is sure to appreciate the sensitivity of their inclusion for the overall purpose of the book.

There are always limitations with the amount of content that can be included in an introductory work such as Introducing World Religions. This is especially the case when an author is looking to engage with other religious systems from a specific worldview. Still, I believe that Farhadian has maintained the needed balance between introduction and reflection with precision, and the reader will benefit greatly from his attention to detail. Furthermore, consistently Farhadian exhibits a clear desire to engage the landscape of world religions from a Christian worldview, and do so in such a way that the reader is encouraged to think critically as they interact with other religious systems near and far. The content within the book is clear and well organized for this task. Add a whole host of full-color illustrations, photographs, tables, maps, and sidebar discussions, and you have the recipe for a world-class textbook.

If you are a teacher or professor looking for an engaging textbook that will help you students shape a Christian worldview while engaging world religions, then Introducing Word Religions by Charles E. Farhadian is certain to be a welcomed addition to your course curriculum. If you are a student, pastor, or interested layman who is looking for a solid introduction to the religious landscape of the contemporary world, then Farhadian has provided a top-contender. Introducing World Religions is clear, stimulating, and bursting with useful information for readers of all backgrounds. It comes highly recommended.

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review: Handbook of Religion

18652917Finding a reliable resource that surveys the religious landscape of this contemporary world is a daunting task. Not because there is a lack of resources, but because there is a lack of good resources. In fact, the options for such resources are almost beyond count, but the content therein is often mediocre at best. This is true across the board for all faith systems who actively seek to engage other religious worldviews. However, with the release of Handbook of Religion: A Christian Engagement with Traditions, Teachings, and Practices (Baker Academic, 2014), the once difficult task of sifting through growing mountains of possibilities for useful information has become a whole lot easier for the Christian. Handbook of Religion is a comprehensive compendium of Christian engagement with the various manifestations of religious belief around the world. This type of book is nothing new to the market, but the judicious execution and intentionality interaction of this resource are unique beyond anything else currently available.

Handbook of Religion opens with a strong introduction to properly orient and familiarize the reader with the Christian engagement of other religions. The book is then divided into four subsequent sections: (1) World Religions, (2) Indigenous Religions, (3) New Religious Movements, and (4) Essays. First, the “World Religions” section seeks to interact with some of the major world religions from a Christian perspective (i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam). Each major world religion is discussed in detail, including interaction with the history, beliefs, and practices of the religious system. Moreover, specific chapters on each major religion are dedicated to Christian contact, theological exchanges, current issues, and adherent essays. Second, the “Indigenous Religions” section seeks to interact with some of the native religions around the world. This section follows the same format as the prior, but the religions are discussed geographically as opposed to with specified titles (i.e. India, China, Europe, Africa, Oceania, etc.). Third, the “New Religious Movements” (NRM) section seeks to interact with some of the more recent religious phenomenon around the world (i.e. Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Satanism, Atheism, etc.). This section, like the prior two sections, follows the same chapter format of discussion. Lastly, the “Essays” section provides a number of useful essays concerned with religious engagement with broader social issues (i.e. science, gender, violence, human rights, environment, etc.).

Handbook of Religion is prosperous in the execution of the intended goal for several reasons. First, the breadth of interaction in this resources reaches every corner of the earth—literally. It is easy to find resources that engage the major world religions from a Christian perspective, but rarely will the reader encounter a comprehensive look into the indigenous religions. This will better prepare the sensitive reader to serve in these areas. Second, the vast diversity of contributors to this volume is incredibly valuable for the reader. A total of fifty-five of the top religion scholars in the world, representing a broad spectrum of Christianity and other religious faith systems, contributed to this volume under the editorial guidance of Terry C. Muck, Harold A. Netland, and Gerald R. McDermott. Third, the inclusion of an “Adherent Essay” brings balance and insight where balance and insight is needed. Fourth, each essay concludes with a brief bibliography. This will help the curious reader investigate deeper as interest arises. Fifth, the generous number of “Study Aid” sections throughout the volume bring the reader in contact with helpful charts, maps, timelines, and sidebar discussions. I personally found the timelines to be extremely helpful when examining the history of the religions, and I think the reader will as well. Lastly, the layout of the volume is extremely user-friendly. This may not seem like a big deal for most, but the content on a page is only as good as it is able to be consumed by the reader. If the content is a burden to consume it is nearly useless. This volume delivers solid and digestible content in an inviting and engaging environment—a combination not often seen, and rarely executed well.

Handbook of Religion: A Christian Engagement with Traditions, Teachings, and Practices may appear as just another mediocre world religion textbook from a Christian perspective, but don’t let your presumptions lead you astray. This volume is comprehensive in scope and judicious in examination. Muck, Netland, and McDermott have assembled an appropriate team for the task of this resource and the reader will benefit greatly from having it on their bookshelf. Normally a review on a book of this caliber would conclude with a recommendation to pastors, teachers, and students, but this would be highly misdirected. If you are a Christian living in this world and engaging those around you, this book should be in arms reach of your nightly reading chair and consulted often.

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.