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Book reviews >

Glimpses of Jesus in other faiths

We need generosity of spirit to learn from those not of this fold, declares Martyn Percy

Jesus Beyond Christianity: The classic texts
Gregory A. Barker and Stephen E. Gregg, editors
Oxford University Press
hbk £45 (978-0-19-955345-7);
pbk £16.99 (978-0-19-955344-0)
Church Times Bookshop £40.50/£15.30

IN THE foreword to this volume, Archbishop Desmond Tutu invites us to read with the quality of ubuntu — an expression that, he helpfully points out, is not easy to translate from the Nguni language. Nevertheless, ubuntu issues an in­vitation: to be warm, willing, and welcoming, and possess a gen­erosity of spirit that affirms that our human­ity is bound up with others. We are not individuals, but rather persons in communion.

And ubuntu recognises that we need not be threatened in the pres­ence of diverse views and opinions. It is only together that we discover wisdom and truths; one cannot pos­sess all, and yet all may possess some.

Moreover, truth is not the pos­sessed — it is the possessor. What we know and hold dear is always partial and provisional. That is why we need humility and com­munity, fostering listening, respect, and appreciation as we listen to and learn from others.

So far, so good — and that’s just the foreword. So what is the rest of this book about? As the editors state in their preface, the volume offers key texts on Jesus from four (other) world faiths: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. In all, there are 56 readings spanning two millennia of thought, and materials drawing on sources as diverse as the Talmud and the Qur’an through to the 14th Dalai Lama and Mahatma Gandhi.

Each of the four sections is complemented by new scholarly reflection, and has accompanying notes that address some of the more challenging issues that the passages might raise.

The book is a feast. Readers can graze on Isaac of Troki’s meditation (the Church, not Jesus, is the heretic) from a Jewish faith perspective. From Islam, sample the writings on Jesus from the Qur’an, and from the Persian Sufi, Jalalud­din Rumi (Jesus and the fool). As food from a Hindu perspective, writers such as Keshub Chunder Sen and Ram Mohun Roy are offered. And from the many wells of Bud­dhist thought, Ouyi Zhixu and Sheng Yen join with others to open up the debates about how Jesus has been received and understood in the East.

There is a venerable Christian tradition of seeking dialogue with other faiths, and in sharing across our respective traditions. The Chris­tians of Constantinople — as well as further east, and even beyond Christendom — were among the first to discover the riches and wisdom to be found in conversa­tions with other faiths, old and new.

This tradition has seen something of a recent and vibrant reflourish-ing through the work of John Hick, John Robinson, and others. This impressive and prestigi­ous book continues that fine spir­itual and academic tradition of faith seeking understanding in a world of many beliefs. And in particular in this volume, Jesus is at the very centre of the collective points of focus.

At a time when world faiths con­tinue seeking promising ground for dialogue, this book issues an extra­ordinary invitation to Christians: to recognise that this same Jesus who calls us all into a life of praise and discipleship is also known by “sheep who are not of this fold”. In the Gospels we learn that Jesus reached out beyond his own to people of other faiths. So there are always “other” stories to tell about who Jesus is, and what he has done for those who are beyond our imme-diate horizons.

Barker and Gregg have produced a remarkable book that opens up some of these new vistas — on lands and peoples that the Christian world seldom imagines, let alone sees.

Canon Professor Percy is Principal of Ripon College Cuddesdon and the Oxford Ministry Course.

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