The Christian literature marketplace is expanding to include an ever-wider array of genres and techniques. Authors are mixing it up, applying techniques and styles often found in genres other than their own, claiming them for their own work. In his Great Conversations series Zacharias joins the ranks of these authors seeking fresh, innovative writing. Each title features a fictional conversation between Jesus and an influential faith figure, philosopher, or contributor to human thought on the nature of life, God, and salvation.
Distinct even in appearance, New Birth or Rebirth - Jesus Talks with Krishna is a tiny hardcover (90 pages, and will fit into the smallest purse) and appears more akin to a gift book — minus the satin ribbon bookmark — than it does to the large, paperback tomes of questions and answers that sit in the apologetic section of my bookcase. The differences go far beyond appearance and length however, affecting the form and content of this title, if not the function.
Written in the field of comparative religion, Zacharias contrasts the Hinduism of his native India with his own Christian faith using a fictional conversation between Jesus and Krishna. Subramanian, a Hindu who lived and converted to Christianity in the 20th century, is transplanted into this fictional setting to eavesdrop and contribute to the fictional dialogue. He provides a listening ear, recording mind and probing questions for Jesus and Krishna to wrangle with. This story is his retelling of the conversation he witnessed to his fictional friend Richard.
The aim of New Birth or Rebirth is to educate and inform Christians about the Hindu faith (and vice versa, though written primarily for a Christian audience), and to contrast the major figure of each. In attempts to establish evidence of an archetypal theme of the sacrificial God, comparisons pointing out the similarities between Krishna and Christ have become somewhat commonplace. Zacharias points out the differences between the two, correcting any misunderstanding that Krishna and Jesus play the same role in their respective faiths.
The prose is very simple, arranged like a play, or Pilgrim’s Progress, with each character’s name preceding their spoken words. Very few external descriptions are provided, though a few do pop in, similar to stage directions. The reader is confronted with pure dialogue, no fripperies. The fictional conversation ranges through a wide variety of topics relating to the differences between Hinduism and Christianity including the most popular questions we have in the West – "Why do Hindus revere cows?" – to the more obscure: “Did Krishna literally have 16,000+ wives?” Some conversational topics are straightforward explanations, while others veer into the wildly philosophical realms.
Zacharias ultimately uses the contrasting of the two faiths to clearly illuminate the heart of the Gospel message: that Christianity is not a religion, not following a set of rules or trying to reach God on our own terms, but a real relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I was so thankful for Zacharias’ depiction of this often overlooked truth (even by Christian authors, who bandy the term religion about far too freely) that it brought tears to my eyes as he reminded me of Jesus’ never-ending love and compassion for us.
Following this moving revelation, the author moves on to a conclusion that left me confused at best. Using an analogy that was unclear, and not previously anchored to existing references in the text, he left me completely in the dark with what he was trying to communicate in his wrap-up. If you have read this title and understood his concluding analogy, please let me know! My husband is also in the dark on this one. This short, insightful title deserved a more decisive ending that could be clearly comprehended by all.
Comparing two faiths is delicate work, and putting words into the mouths of two characters as revered in their respective followings as Jesus and Krishna is a daunting task indeed. Zacharias manages to present his case clearly without coming across as condescending and mocking of those holding disparate beliefs. He successfully expresses the Christian message while still treating the Hindu religion with respect.
I believe that Zacharias’ depiction of Jesus is fairly true to scripture. He manages to include scriptural truths throughout this fictional Jesus’ words without quoting directly, leading to a naturally flowing conversation throughout New Birth or Rebirth. The author has taken a risk in the Christian marketplace. Some readers are certain to be rubbed the wrong way by the very idea of a fictional conversation between Jesus, a real figure, and Krishna, a mythological one. However, I feel that Zacharias – while using Hinduism as a foil – succeeds in accurately depicting the heart of Jesus, for all people to be made free of the law of sin and death.