Leading Thinkers from Five Religions Reflect on His Meaning
Gregory A Barker (Editor)
Category: Doctrine and Theology
It is a great delight to introduce Greg Barker's book on Jesus in the World's Faiths. The theme of his book is incredibly important. No person in history has had the same impact as Jesus has had on world religions. Most of us think of him as the central figure of Christianity. But Jesus himself lived and died as a Jew and in the last two centuries there has been an increase recognition of the Jewishness of Jesus and how much his teaching owes to his Jewish imheritance. Similarly, Jesus is a major figure in Islam, referred to frequently in the Quran and Hadith, where he is seen a major prophet and messenger of God. Likewise, Jesus has increasingly been seen by Hindus as an avatar of Krishna and the image of Jesus can constantly be seen in popular religion as one of the manifestations of God. Within Buddhism, Jesus can be thought of as a great ethical teacher, a brother of the Buddha, or as a saviour figure fulfilling the Bodhisattva ideal.
What Greg has done in this book is to get twenty representatives from five different faiths to say what Jesus means to them. What is fascinating is that the differences are not so much between religions as inside them. The different Christian responses, for example, range from those who see the uniqueness of Christ as essential to Christianity and those, like Archbishop William Temple, who believe that the same word of God which inspired Jesus was also at work in the lives of Isaiah and Plato, Zoroaster, Buddha and Confucius.
Likewise, the Jewish responses range from those who say that Jesus has no meaning or place within Judaism to those who hail Jesus as a Jew, as a Hebrew of the Hebrews who did not wish for or teach a new religion, and within whose Gospel teaching all Jews can feel at home.
Similarly in Islam, there are those who see a gulf or abyss between Christianity and Islam and those who see the person of Jesus as a bridge across that abyss. Both viewpoints are fully represented here.
The same is true of Buddhism, which is represented by writers from very different traditions. They approach Jesus in different ways but all seem fascinated by him. In the Theravada tradition the appeal is to the humanity of Jesus, while in the Pure Land tradition they may see at work "the other-power of inconceivable reality transforming the life of Jesus". The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying that Jesus was either a fully enlightened being or a Bodhisattva with a high degree of spiritual realization.
What is incredible in this book is the distinction of so many of the scholars Greg has persuaded to write. They are drawn from the top flight of international scholarship. What is even better is that he has persuaded them to write short readable essays which go straight to the heart of the matter. I know of no book which covers Jesus in the world religions in the way this does or speaks with such lively immediacy about him.
Paul Badham, June 2006
Professor Paul Badham is Professor of Theology and Religious Studies and Director of the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre, University of Wales, Lampeter. His review appears here courtesy of Common Ground, the Journal of the Council of Christians and Jews.Orbis Books | Order from www.christianbookshops.org | Order from St Andrew's Bookshops
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