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Review: A spectator’s guide to world religions: an introduction to the big five

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Author: John Dickson

Publisher: Bluebottle, Sydney

John Dickson tackles Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism in a refreshingly different way.

He writes so the ordinary person can easily understand and appreciate other religions, and has the knack of avoiding too many extra details which could be confusing.

Dickson does not set out to evaluate how other faiths measure up to Christianity, nor does he try to persuade us of a point of view. In fact, he deliberately steers clear of making out a case for the superior claims of Christianity.

He simply asks the reader to put aside all the preconceptions we may have. Christians, he points out, tend to look at what other religions teach by using set categories such as sin, forgiveness and eternal life. This results in a distorted understanding. Instead, these other religions need to be approached on their own terms.

Dickson’s approach follows the same general pattern in each chapter. He outlines the origins and features of each religion; describes the lives of significant figures such as prophets and gurus; and follows this with information on belief systems, religious practices and historical developments. His handling of each religion remains consistently even-handed and objective.

Many readers will be particularly interested in the chapter on Islam. Here too, Dickson sweeps away common confusions with his explanations on jihad and the different branches of this religion.

A very useful memory-aiding dot point summary appears at the end of each chapter, as well as a short list of famous Muslims, Buddhists etc, and suggestions of books and web sites.

In one of the last chapters, Dickson turns the spotlight on Christianity, viewing it through the lenses of the other beliefs.  This is a very interesting perspective and helpful for discussion.

The final chapter provides all the answers and arguments for demolishing pluralism. We have all heard others make glib remarks about every religion being basically the same, or all roads leading to the one God. This chapter will give you the right ammunition!

Throughout the book, the Christian reader will be making constant comparisons with his or her own beliefs. My own personal reaction was to marvel once more at God’s grace and the hope and freedom we have in Christ.

This book will hopefully leave the Christian reader not only with a renewed respect for those who genuinely follow other religions, but also provide reliable and unbiased information for understanding, discussion and dialogue.

Australian Christian Book of the Year 2005

Added on 28/02/2009 by Jenni van Wageningen