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A Review of
What Christians Can Learn from Other Religions.
J. Philip Wogaman
Paperback: WJK Books, 2014.
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Reviewed by Joel David Ickes
What Christians Can Learn from Other Religions comes at a time when a lot has been said about world religions. It was not too long ago that religious traditions could easily be insulated from others, but in a world of constant communication and travel, contact and competition among religions are no longer avoidable. A new multireligious environment emerges in the post-Christian memory. Though these faiths have always existed—some before Christianity, others after—we find ourselves more and more “bumping into each other” in our communities. We must consider factors such as globalization, immigration, and urbanization playing into the likelihood of crossing paths with someone from another faith. Increasingly, Christians need to learn to have an interreligious dialogue with one another given this reality, so Wogaman’s book is a timely resource that can aid Christians in learning from other religions. The ultimate goal of this book, I believe, is that we all become a little more knowledgeable of and loving towards our others.
This book comes out of Wogaman’s years of interfaith dialogue involvement, which allows him to approach each religion knowledgeably and each issue pastorally. This is evident simply by looking at the back cover of the book where a number of non-Christian religious leaders have endorsed the book (a good indicator considering this topic!). Better yet, Wogaman gives numerous illustrations from the personal relationships he has with adherents of other faiths.
This is a book about seeing truth in other faiths, though it is certainly not one about denying Christian truth. It is a careful conversation about what other religions might teach us—to essentially help us become better Christians. It is not an invitation to convert one way or another, but Wogaman does expect his readers to read openly about primal religions, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese religion, “minor” religions, and even atheism.
Thematic to his approach is looking for the best in other religions. This is especially true in his chapter on Islam. What a few select individuals were responsible for on 9/11, for instance, has overall negatively impacted how American Christians view Islam. We cannot compare the best of Christianity with the worst of Islam (or any other religion for that matter), and we absolutely cannot forget Christianity’s own dark side! There is manipulation of both of what our scriptures say—perhaps the mere fact that many powerful people misuse our sacred texts for their own agendas is a fine point of comparison!
Yet, each religion has its so-called dark sides that are very hard to ignore in interreligious dialogue. I found that Wogaman creatively examines even these negative aspects (or what we perceive to be negative!) of religions. For example, in Hinduism, we tend to be very critical of the caste system as Christians. Wogaman, however, uses this to explain that every social system is somehow “vulnerable to the idolatries of status and the dehumanization created by social divisions” (58). He finds this especially true in the case of the outcastes in Hindu religion. Christians in America, he compares, still live with a caste system in the recent memory of racial inequality. He writes, “While social roles in America are not as rigidly defined as the Indian caste system, Christians do well to heed the Hindu message that whatever our social roles, our deeper life belongs to God and our social role should be defined by the service we can render to others” (58).
There seems to be significant value in identifying these “negative” aspects of other religions, especially considering that these things might point out issues in Christianity that we have neglected. This is most evident to me in Wogaman’s discussion on the Tao and the problem of war. Today there is still disagreement between Christians on whether war is acceptable. Tao has something similar to the just war theory, but it is much more critical of it than what Christians historically have been. War according to the Tao “is treated on bar with a funeral service. Because many people have been killed, it is only right that survivors should mourn for them. Hence, even a victory is a funeral” (87). I see Taoism potentially offering Christians more resources on how to think through the issue of war. Overall, this is an example of how Wogaman creatively presents these ideas in way that we can learn as Christians.