One thing I try to do in my reading is include studies of other religions – either in their own words or summarized by others. So I recently sat down to read Derek Cooper’s Christianity and World Religions: An Introduction to the World’s Major Faiths. This book was written by a knowledgeable Christian who has studied world religions in detail for more than a few years. Cooper has also taught these things in a classroom setting.
In this book, Cooper focuses on the following world religions (in this order): Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism & Daoism, Judaism, and Islam. Cooper admitted that some of these religions are diverse (and he does explain the diversity), and he also noted that there are other religions worth talking about, but he limited his studies to these. It is an introduction, so Cooper doesn’t do it all in this book.
I very much appreciate the layout of this book. It is edited well, well structured, well illustrated, and there are helpful study questions, research projects, resource citations, and internet sites for further research. From my reading of similar books, it seems that Cooper is quite accurate in his summaries of these religions. Also, he does his best not to tar and feather other religions, but describe them objectively and only briefly contrasts them to the Christian faith. Cooper even gives some advice on how to respectfully visit non-Christian worship spaces/services.
I do have one major criticism of the book, however. In chapter 7, Cooper discusses theological responses to other religions: inclusivism, exclusivism, pluralism, universalism, and particularism. Cooper says that all of these (except particularism) are historical Christian positions. He also implies that all of these positions are acceptable. Cooper himself doesn’t come down on one position, which was more than a little disappointing. I can’t recommend this book too highly because of this last chapter. If I could tear it out, I would. In fact, if universalism is true, then why in the world would I even care about sharing the gospel with people of other religions? If there is such a thing as an “anonymous Christian,” why bring him the gospel?
The Heidelberg Catechism does a good job summarizing various Old and New Testament texts in Q/A 20: “Are all men saved through Christ just as all were lost through Adam? No. Only those are saved who by true faith are grafted into Christ and accept all his blessings.”
If you’re looking for a book that briefly and accurately summarizes the above mentioned religions, this book does that well. Just skip the last chapter or read it with much discernment.