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Book Review: What’s the Big Deal About Other Religions? Answering the Questions About Their Beliefs and Practices by John Ankerberg and Dillon Burroughs

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What’s the Big Deal About Other Religions provides an introduction to the study of comparative religions through an evangelical Christian lens. Examining Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Wicca, Buddhism, Taosim, Agnosticism, Atheism and other faiths, the authors contrast them with the core doctrines of faith that is based upon the Bible alone, sola scriptura. Not an ecumenical title by any stretch of the imagination, the authors contrast not only widely divergent belief systems such as Shinto and Hinduism with Christianity, but also other Christian-like faiths such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Roman Catholicism. Indeed, the authors coming from a seemingly Calvinistic perspective nearly decry any with Armenian beliefs as following a false gospel.

Inaccurately marketed, the text on the back cover and introduction is at odds with the main content of the book. When I read the back cover it seemed as though the authors were writing a work on comparative religions for the general public, or the common seeker. Certainly they didn’t hide their Christian faith, it was clear in the brief author descriptions provided, but it was never indicated that the thrust of the book was to compare each religion with biblical Christianity. An unknowing reader might be quite surprised to purchase what they felt was a general overview, and encounter a case for Christianity.

This confusion lingered throughout the first portion of the book. The introduction seemed to indicate that the authors would like to help seekers with their spiritual journeys, and they certainly would! Their ultimate purpose is to illuminate the truth and validity of the gospel – an aim I have no quarrel with – but one that is not clearly illustrated in the beginning. While some spiritual seekers who are already being drawn by God to His Son might be interested in this title, those antagonistic to Christianity will not be likely to enjoy this book, or to seek it out. The Lord would certainly find it good for this book to be read by those who don't know Jesus, but they may be confused by to the constant comparisons of each religion to a biblical perspective.  As a result, I feel it would have been a better approach to be clearly up front with the marketing; this is primarily a book for Christians who want to learn about the differences present in other religions so that they can understand and possibly reach these people for Christ.  It certainly will not aid those interested in picking their own religion from a menu of choices, the perspective I entertained as a young adult.

After a short introduction to the claims of Christianity, Ankerberg and Burroughs move into chapters that outline some of the major differences between religions and Christianity. Though the authors treat Christianity as a religion, I’m about to digress – being a Christian is to have a personal relationship with Christ, not a religion as such, with rules and regulations.

Each chapter outlines a general overview of the religion being discussed and a comparison chart that clearly condenses the explanation the chapter contained. The chart compares belief in: God, Holy Book, Sin, Jesus Christ and Salvation between the specific religion and the biblical perspective. While this is a very clear-cut way to illustrate differences, I did find the biblical perspective side of the chart repetitive. The answers on that side were the same nearly every time, with some slight changes if specific differences in that area needed to be focused upon.

The first comparative chapter explores the differences between strictly biblical Christianity (re: evangelical, Calvinistic leaning) and Roman Catholicism. As an introductory work there are many differences that are not pointed out, it is an interesting selection and no doubt will prove educational for the evangelical church, yet no conclusion is made. The author’s seem to be inferring that Roman Catholics are similar to Christians, but aren’t willing to make a firm stance once way or the other. The sections on Mormonism and Jehovah Witnesses do draw a clear conclusion that the Jesus of these faiths is very different than the Jesus of the Bible. As you can imagine, this book is further flaming the anxieties of members of these religions who identify themselves as Christians. It is best to read this book carefully, trying to avoid a knee-jerk, emotional reaction to examine the validity of these conclusions. Anyone who does not have a scripture-based faith is sure to feel defensive while reading this title. Despite the controversy arising over their work, I feel that Ankenberg and Burroughs are accurate, at least to the extent of my own readings in apologetics and based upon my own experiences growing up in a Mormon home.

Due to the wide array of religions explored, each chapter covers only the major points and differences. A scholarly examination of each faith cannot be provided in a work of this scope, but the amount of detail provided is at times surprising. I have counted myself as an atheist for several years before coming to Christ, but I was never aware of the five major types that atheists fall into. Who would have known there was such rich variety within atheism?

Once I got overcame the lack of clarity on the target audience issue I found What’s the Big Deal About Other Religions the most accessible introductory work on comparative religions written for an evangelical audience that I’ve ever read. I’ve never read a work on apologetics as rapidly as I did this title. The easy to read writing style allows any reader interested in exploring religious differences to get their toes wet in a short period of time. I can see this book being used widely in Christian churches as the foundation for group studies and to equip evangelists.

The average believer would also do well to take the time to read this work to acquire the basic beliefs of a variety of religions. Since becoming a Christian I’ve been surprised with the insularity of our faith, how little we know about the world around us. It is vitally important for Christians to know what those unfamiliar with Jesus believe. How difficult it is to reach the world for Christ if we won’t come out of our shells. Let me allay your fears – the authors do not make other religions seem appealing, learning about them should not lead a believer to stumble in their walk. Perhaps readers of this book will feel the Lord leading them to pursue further studies in apolgetics, focusing on a specific religious group; enabling them to effectively reach it’s adherents with the message of hope to be found in Jesus.

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