Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions?
This is the question asked by Gerald McDermott in his book Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions? Jesus, Revelation & Religious Traditions (Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000). Over the past couple of weeks I have been both listening and reading this book and currently about half way through. Some my initial thoughts and questions included the following: 1. What exactly do you mean by learning? 2. What can we learn (and cannot)? 3. If I am to understand that learning from world religions means another provisional revelation outside of Christ and the Scriptures, am I to think that the fullness of Christ and sufficiency of Scriptures is not enough? In other words, what can we learn that we have not been taught in the person of Christ and the Scriptures? 4. To assume that we can learn from other world religions carries a presupposition that other world religions are compatible with Christianity if not add to it (thereby denoting inadequacy). Is there biblical warrant to show that Christianity is compatible with other world religions and that God chooses to reveal himself outside of the Living (Jesus Christ) and written Word (Scriptures)? Those were my initial questions when starting this book. If do not already know, McDermott is an inclusivist, and I mention that because it is worth noting a person's presuppositions and entry point in the argument. While it would be idealist to approach the discussion as an objective observer, we know this is simply not true, and McDermott is not merely being descriptive but also implicitly prescriptive in his thesis. In his introduction, McDermott presents one of his overarching goals of his book:
This book is the beginning of an evangelical theology of the religions that addresses not the question of salvation but the problem of truth and revelation, and takes seriously the normative claims of other traditions. It explores the biblical propositions that Jesus is the light that enlightens every person (John 1:9) and that God has not left Himself without a witness among non-Christian traditions (Acts 14:17). It argues that if Saint Augustine learned from Neo-Platonism to better understand the gospel, if Thomas Aquinas learned from Aristotle to better understand the Scriptures, and if John Calvin learned from Renaissance humanism, perhaps evangelicals may be able to learn from the Buddha--and other great religious thinkers and traditions--things that can help them more clearly understand God's revelation in Christ (12). Emphasis mine.Now this is a striking statement. The proof texts McDermott uses is often given to make the case for general revelation, but as you will see in his book, McDermott is arguing for another kind, a third kind if you will, of revelation that comes not from general or special revelation but other religions. Interestingly enough, McDermott does makes the confession that although "condemnation is indeed the result of some of this revelation [general revelation], Scripture also hints that the Spirit uses this revelation, no doubt in conjunction with others, to lead some to God" (54). So here you have the argument being made that general revelation in effect is salvific as the Holy Spirit applies this revelation to people --well, okay the Scripture hints in a no doubt sort of way. In any case, McDermott is making the case that evangelicals and can and should learn from world religions, a learning which contributes to a better understanding of what it means to be Christian and a more complete revelation of what God has done for us in Christ. Your Thoughts So what do you think? Do you believe God has provided for us revelation of Himself in Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, or Sikhism? To take the question a step further, can evangelicals learn from atheists or naturalists? Should Christians today be "plundering the Egyptians" to find greater and deeper truths about God in order that we might better know Him? Or, do you believe that God has revealed Himself fully and definitively in the person of Jesus Christ and the Scriptures? Let me know what you think.