Monday, April 20, 2009

Coming Soon from IVP Academic: Buddhism

One of the problems with some Christian treatments of other religions, especially eastern religions, is that they tend to be simplistic if not down right wrong in their representation of the other religion. It's easy to critique something if you over simplify it or misrepresent it. I'm happy to see this work by Keith Yandell and Harold Netland called Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal. Yandell is Julius R. Weinberg Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and Netland is professor of philosophy of religion and intercultural studies and the Naomi A. Fausch chair of missions at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. Paul Williams, professor of Indian and Tibetan philosophy and co-director of the Centre for Buddhist Studies, University of Bristol, U.K says "At last we have a book that moves beyond the inaccurate, rather imprecise and sentimental level of so many books about Buddhism and the Christian-Buddhist encounter, and focuses on a serious consideration of Buddhist truth claims. The opening chapters give an acceptable first survey of Buddhism, and include material on dimensions of Buddhism, such as the personalist school and the historical context for the introduction of some rather idiosyncratic forms of Japanese Zen into the West, that are often neglected in popular introductions. It gives enough detail on Buddhist doctrines for one new to the subject to understand what the issues are and engage in a critical yet respectful manner with them. At many points this clearly written and readable book corrects, from the point of view of Buddhism as it has existed in history and in its Asian context, common Western misperceptions of Buddhism. But the really exciting section of this book is the philosophical analysis of key Buddhist doctrines such as not-self and momentariness. Netland and Yandell take Buddhist truth claims seriously, as Buddhists ask us to do, and in their analysis of those claims they make a truly original contribution, pitched at an accessible yet refined level of philosophical sophistication and knowledge of Buddhist doctrines and debates. The book throws down a challenge to Buddhists to clarify what they mean when they make their claims, and to enter into debate in defense of their truth. This philosophical analysis is followed by an outline of some absolutely fundamental differences between Christianity and Buddhism, and Christ and the Buddha. Here we see the basis of a critical Christian theological engagement with Buddhism as a religion. The book challenges Christians to move beyond polite small talk or minimalizing of essential differences that demand choice and commitment, and engage with Buddhists in debating their mutually incompatible claims to (as the Buddhists put it) 'see things the way they really are' regarding God, Jesus Christ, personhood, and our meaning, purpose and destiny. This book shows us (to use another Buddhist expression) 'analytical meditation' at its finest. It is an exciting book that I shall certainly use and recommend to my students. For those Christians and Buddhists who take truth seriously, and understand the significance of reasoning in making crucial choices, Netland and Yandell's book will contribute significantly to setting the agenda for serious dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism for some time to come." A higher endorsement I can't imagine. The book is due out this July. It is paperback, 224 pages and sells for $22.00.

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