Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tenth Book of Christmas: Jesus and the Religions of Man

Twelve Books that show how Christmas changed the world.

On the tenth day of Christmas, our True Love gave the world: fulfillment of ancient hopes.

This book, my longest so far, is an attempt to show empirically that looking at world religions, Jesus really is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life."  The longest section of this book argues that Jesus is "the Way" in the sense described in most of the other books in this series: his life has inspired change for the better in this world.  So one thing Jesus and the Religions of Man does, is summarize the history given in these other books.  It shows, in relation to other traditions, how the Gospel has inspired needed reform around the world. 

But I'd like to focus on the question of "truth" here, and how Christianity relates to other religions. 

Just  yesterday a skeptic told me:

"Now, christianity happens to be the 'true' one, and also the one you were born into, of all of the thousands of faiths you yourself said are praticed by man. A little convenient don’t you think?"

The implication is, that if Christianity is true, all other religions must be simply or mainly "false." 

But pick up a Bible, and you know that can't be right.  Christians have included the holy Scriptures of another religion -- the Bible -- as the biggest part of their own holy book! 

And you don't have to read very far in the New Testament to see that Christians do not mainly repudiate Jewish tradition -- though neither do they accept it in exactly the same form.  The key word is "fulfillment."  The life of Jesus is the central story in the history of Israel.  He is the greatest prophet, the Son of David, the Lamb in the thicket, the Suffering Servant.  All the Old Testament is rechanneled, refocused, and renewed in the life of the Son of God. 

Paul Tillich claimed something similiar about how Christianity has related to other religions.  The Gospel becomes:

"A crystalization for all positive religious elements after they have been subjected to the criteria involved in this centre." 

The "centre," of course, being the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 

This is the perspective from which I describe world religions (including secular religions, like communism) in Jesus and the Religions of Man

Why do I include my own book in this list?  Of course, because I think it adds something valuable to the list. 

Looking back at it eleven years later, I see some serious deficiences in Jesus and the Religions of Man.  A year before 9/11, there is no chapter just on Islam.  Some may wonder why I write a chapter about Marxism, instead.  (Aside from the fact that I knew more about it -- but even then, it seemed to have been consigned to the "dustheap of history.") 

Reviewers, however, have often said very nice things about this book:

Frederica Matthewes-Green: "David Marshall takes cultural analysis several levels deeper, and in prose that is several levels higher, than we've come to expect. The result is not only enlightening but also a great deal of fun to read."

David Leshana: "Very well done . . . This book should be read by all who . . . are preparing for ministry in an increasingly multicultural world."

Leslie Keylock: "Carefully reasoned and beautifully written by a man who has read widely . . . One of the finest books on world religions I have read in a long time."

The book takes some patience to read.  But I think most readers will find it substantative, and ultimately rewarding. 

Other Books: On fulfillment, I have so many recommendations, it's hard to know where to start.  See Richardson's books, described earlier in this series.  C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton were great fulfillment thinkers: Chesterton's Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy crystallize his thinking here.  (Lewis' thoughts on the subject are scattered all through his works, including in personal letters.)  J. R. R. Tolkien's "On Fairy-Stories" is a profound essay with elements of fulfillment, and shows where Lewis' idea about religions came from.

But perhaps the ambitious might like to start at the beginning, with Matthew, St. Paul (Acts 15 & 17), Justin, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata), and Augustine (City of God).   Then plunge into Roberto De Nobili, Mateo Ricci and his Chinese disciples, and Alexander De Rhodes (see post earlier this year).  Read 19th Century Protestants, John Farquhar and James Legge.  (Lots of reading in this latter -- he has two main fulfillment texts, though, which are shorter.)  Read my True Son of Heaven: How Jesus fulfills the Chinese Culture, or else Lin Yutang's beautiful From Pagan to Christian.  And DO NOT neglect Don Richardson's Eternity in Their Hearts

That'll keep most readers occupied for a while.

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