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Book reviews >

Jesus in the World Faiths: Leading thinkers from five religions reflect on his meaning

Orbis Books £9.99 (1-57075-573-6)
Church Times Bookshop £9

SHOULD the appreciation of Jesus be restricted to Christian views of him? It may come as something of a surprise to many Christians to learn that the Jesus figure has been appropriated by other faith-traditions. Should Christians view this with alarm (the others might misconstrue his "real" meaning), with delight (it is what might be expected, given the universal potential of Jesus’s message), or with indifference (there are no implications to consider, either way)?

The five traditions reflecting on the meaning of Jesus here are Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Each tradition is represented by a block of four succinct responses, and each block contains a leading essay that acts in part as stimulus for the other three commentators.

What is immediately clear is that the reception of Jesus in the other faith-traditions is as various and disputatious as it is in Christianity. The whole is a curtain-raiser for a greater in-depth study. But there is sufficient here to whet the appetite, and to make us realise that pursuing the meaning of Jesus could have an interesting future beyond the usual Christian straitjacket.

What are the prospects? Let me cite three. First, this book demonstrates how each tradition inevitably views Jesus through its own eyes: as prophet (Islam), as symbol of compassion (Buddhism), as realisation of divinity (Hinduism), as liberalising Pharisee (Judaism), as unique embodiment of God (Christianity). The effect is to remind Christians of what has always been the case: that each historical period has redrawn Jesus within its own context.

Second, reflecting on Jesus in a multifaith context easily transmutes into reflection on relations between the faiths more generally, and leads inexorably to the "theology-of- religions" debate. So other faith writers are found reacting more to the developed Christian rendering of Jesus than to the historical figure himself. For their part, Christians cannot judge other faith-traditions simply by the reaction of those traditions to Jesus as such.

Third, interfaith study can sometimes lack a critical historical edge. In particular, historical study helps to put a brake on the endless reinterpretations and reinventions of Jesus, in Christianity and now extending into other faith configurations of his impact. Interfaith understanding would benefit from a bit less idealism in religion and a bit more historical rigour; and this book is no different from many in that respect.

Signalling that Jesus is not the sole possession of Christians, Jesus in the World Faiths points 21st-century Christology in a more self-consciously interfaith direction. How will Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, and even Jewish Christologies sit with Christian Christology?

This could make for some interesting fireworks, especially as the Jesus figure has most often been interpreted as the touchstone of Christian superiority and unique-ness in a world of many faiths.

The Revd Alan Race is Rector of St Andrew’s, Aylestone, and is to receive an Hon. LLD from Leicester University for his work in interfaith education and relations.

To place an order fort his book, contact CT Bookshop

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