Previous | Next

Fall 1998 · Vol. 27 No. 2 · pp. 196–97 

Book Review

Who Do You Say That I Am: Christians Encounter Other Religions

Calvin E. Shenk. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1997. 294 pages.

Reviewed by Peter Penner

In this book Calvin Shenk attempts to show how one can remain focused on Christ and yet dialogue sympathetically with other religious persuasions. He does not hesitate to explore the questions about “those who have never heard.” Is there a rationale for “the wider hope?” He admits that “there are no simple answers to the question of the unevangelized” (228-29).

Shenk, Professor of Religion at Eastern Mennonite University, has a doctorate in religion and culture. As a professor and traveler in various parts of the world, particularly Ethiopia, he frequently had opportunity to dialogue with other religionists, especially those of Muslim faith, who derived from Africa and India.

What Shenk does first is to explore the issue of religious plurality and within that the questions of exclusivism and inclusivism. Can one write convincingly of the exclusive claims of the Gospel? They have been severely challenged and increasingly so in recent times. Shenk himself firmly believes that Christians need to go back to the first century to see the Gospel as proclaiming a unique event in history: the coming of Jesus Christ (71-72).

Following two chapters which provide OT and NT perspectives on world religions, the author deals with the theological issues of religious plurality. Here he asks, among other relativistic questions, whether “general revelation” provides another path to salvation. If one cannot accept that, how does one dialogue with those who hold other views with equal conviction? How does one avoid the “arrogant intolerance” with which many Christians have been charged? (133) Or how does one deal with pluralists who can be, and often are, as intolerant (“coercive and absolutist”) as the old fundamentalism of the 1920s. {197}

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this study is the question of the Christian’s witness. In his chapter on Christology he begins with the question: “How do we portray Christ and not betray him?” (157) In this pluralistic world so much depends on the forms and styles of witness. All too often Christian witnesses have been seen as fallible in their “misuse of power, divisiveness and their reduction of the gospel to doctrine, ritual, or morality, and their identification with Western culture.” Many Muslims particularly have their “tattooed memories” of encounters with Christendom. “Our being must be in harmony with our doing and saying” (245-46).

This book is highly recommended for those teaching and taking courses in religious studies, as well as for all those who are witnessing to, and dialoguing with, people of other persuasions, whether in our multicultural urban settings or abroad.

This is also a great book for all Christians who have not been exposed to the study of other religions. It asks the questions many have been afraid to ask or did not know how to formulate. Christians are to be always ready to give an answer to those who ask. This book will help them be prepared to dialogue with other cultures.

Peter Penner, Calgary, Canada
Professor Emeritus of History
Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick

Previous | Next