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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

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.


Blogger pregador27 said...

I used to think "All truth is God's truth." However, stating that is a dangerous position because cults take maybe 1% truth and wrap it in 99% lies (or even worse- 75% trtuh wrapped in 25% lies) and lead people to hell. Hinduism and islam (etc.) have nothing worthwhile to offer.

11/11/2006 08:20:00 PM

Blogger brittney said...

Hey, I wanted to talk to you about this particular question. I think I talked to you briefly once before about it.

11/13/2006 10:46:00 AM

Blogger Timmy said...


Indeed that is a very dangerous position/statement ("all truth is God's truth").


We can discuss this before we start slinging some boxes around. :)

11/13/2006 01:44:00 PM

Blogger Laura said...

OK, my two cents: all Truth is to be found in God's Word. But some truths in the world (and I suppose that would include world religions) can make good analogies for the tough-to-wrap-your-brain-around Truth of Scripture. Furthermore, it can (sometimes, maybe, hedge, hedge, hedge) be helpful to look at the practices of, uh, practitioners of false religions, people who, though they are just trying to get more coins and oneups in the Supernatural Mario Brothers game of life, do so with fervor -- a fervor rarely seen in Western Christianity. It reflects poorly on us in a world context (as well it should) if we can't even muster up the strength (oh, it's a metaphor, for pete's sake -- should I mention the Holy Spirit?) to spend time in prayer or whatever when we're the ones who have seen the True and Living God.

I am not an inclusivist. Not. An. Inclusivist. Just sayin'.

11/13/2006 04:33:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


There is no doubt that the Laodicean age in which we live could learn a lesson from the evangelistic fervor of J.W.'s or the consistent prayer life of Muslims. My question would be, then, what exactly are we learning (if anything)? I would argue that we are learning stuff about ourselves (through conviction and self-examination) and not new information about God.

So I would agree with you on your comment. :)

The argument McDermott carries (if I understand him aright) is that other religions possess true information about God that should be retrieved by Christians with the goal of having a better (or deeper?) understanding of God's revelation in Christ. Such a truth would inherently be propositional (i.e. their holy writings) or personal (i.e. experiences, testimony, etc.). What I am hearing more, however, is the practical side of religious life (such as meditation, prayer, boldness in witnessing, etc.). My second question then would be whether or not this could be categorized as "truth" to be "learned." Methinks of these in another category such as virtues and not truths.

Anyone disagree?

11/13/2006 06:29:00 PM

Blogger A' said...

Before even touching the arguement of whether or not one should study other religions for some light on understanding the Gospel, I would have to state that I don't treasure, dig deep in, and thirst for the unending well of Truth found in Scripture. There is plenty about Christ that I have still yet to find. Only when I feel sufficient in my full understanding of the full counsel of the Word that I would have any reason to delve into some other religion to seek Truth. But since a) I will never fully understand all the depth of Scripture and b)even if by some chance I did I would never admit or feel that I did, there is absolutely no need to seek Truth in another religion. (P.S. I have spent my past two summers in India have seen many other religions. I agree with the above comments that you do see a passion in practitioners of other religions that is convicting and I agree with you timmy--that the truth is, this is conviction of my own state and not any new revelation of God's Word or character).

11/15/2006 12:07:00 AM

Blogger Gordan said...

May I offer the caution that we ought not automatically accept the "passion" and "zeal" that is found in false religions as a virtue?

I mean by that, I think what I see as passion and dedication in my Mormon friends is to be explained not as a manifestation of their love for their god; but it is a manifestation of the fact that they believe their eternal destiny is dependant, in part, upon their present zeal.

Their dedication to things like tithing and prayer and church participation is directly linked to their honest belief that doing those things keeps them out of hell.

If you believe you make it or miss it based on your own efforts, then your only options are zealous dedication and damnation.

The zeal in false religions is quintessentially inwardly directed: they are zealous for their own exaltation.

Christians ought to be just as zealous, but for God's glory and in thankfulness.

11/15/2006 12:24:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


Thanks for pointing that out. Your point is well taken and one that I failed to mention in an earlier comment. While their zeal often is much greater than the average Christian, you are correct in showing why they are so zealous. In their view, their eternal destiny hangs in the balance.

On the other hand, I wonder if we as Christians have an even greater why than the Mormons or JW's - that being jealous for the name of Jesus. I see this in Paul in his reason for suffering, abandonment of others, imprisonment, etc. His passion for God was not to secure what one would think was in his hands (of course it wasn't), but his passion was an extention of the passion of Christ - a passion for God's glory.

For instance, consider Paul's introduction and benediction in the book of Romans as a sort of book ends if you will:

"through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ."
Romans 1:5-6

"and thus I have made it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build o someone else's foundation."
Romans 15:20

My hope is that we as Christians will be shown to be a people "zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14) not because our eternal destiny hangs in the balance, but because of our desire to see the name of Jesus spoken from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

11/15/2006 01:11:00 PM

Blogger ThinkingAhead said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/31/2008 07:28:00 PM

Blogger ThinkingAhead said...

Love this book. It strongly reminds us that there is an opening for the Truth resident in our humanity, the broken image. It also helps us to obviate the cultural supremacy where Christianity been known to stumble. The presumption, for example, of Westernism's superiority, without suffucient critique, leaves much room for militarism and too little for environmentalism.

3/31/2008 07:29:00 PM


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