AIHT Book Reviews
One River, Many Wells
by Matthew Fox
Book review excerpts from Publishers Weekly
Fox, who broke from his Roman Catholic roots with his earlier books The Coming
of the Cosmic Christ and Creation Spirituality, presents quotations from various faith traditions to introduce what he believes are the universals of every faith. The title comes from Fox’s metaphor that every religious tradition is a different well that descends to a single subterranean river of spirituality … (and) … Fox has been one of its greatest popularizers, in the company of such illuminati as John Dominic Crossan and the scholars of the Jesus Seminar.
Using the approach he has named “Deep Ecumenism,” Fox writes about four universal areas of spirituality (relating to creation, relating to the divine, relating to ourselves and relating to the future), integrating quotations from the sacred writings and stories of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, folk religions and other traditions….
Concluding with “Eighteen Myths for Remythologizing our Species” — ranging from the unsurprising insight that all traditions can learn from each other to the intriguing idea that sexuality is sacred — Fox continues to be an articulate presenter of the trends that he helped put in motion.
The Secret Ministry of Jesus: Pioneer Prophet of Interfaith Dialogue
by William W. Mountcastle
Book summary excerpts from University of West Florida
The Secret Ministry of Jesus: Pioneer Prophet of Interfaith Dialogue addresses the questions concerning the crucifixion/resurrection story, the legends of Jesus in India, Tibet and China and the unique style and content of the Fourth Gospel. The book’s discussion asserts that Jesus was a pioneer of interfaith dialogue and a prophet of world spirituality who inspires us to build a world community of justice, peace and love for people of all faiths.
Mountcastle earned his bachelor’s degree from Whittier College and bachelor of sacred theology and doctorate from Boston University. He is an ordained United Methodist Minister, and a retired member of the Nebraska Annual Conference.
The book is appropriate for college and university classes in Bible and Qur’an studies, contemporary theology and current religious issues.
The Energy of Prayer — How to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Book review from Publishers Weekly
Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen master and author of more than 60 books, asks: “Why is prayer successful at some times and not at others?” Other questions also animate this brief primer on prayer: How can we pray for healing, say from lung cancer, when that disease is the natural karmic result of our own choices (e.g., smoking)? And to whom do we pray, especially since Buddhism teaches that there is no separate, distinct being called God who exists apart from creation?
Hanh has a winning style, nimbly mixing deep philosophy with personal anecdotes and helpful illustrations. He also introduces spiritual practices, including the expected (reciting sutras, bowing, or performing walking and sitting meditation) as well as the unusual and ecumenical (praying to the living as well as the dead.) He also dissects the Lord’s Prayer line by line. The book closes with five simple meditation exercises to increase awareness and calm, and some short Buddhist prayers.
Book Description from amazon.com
Exploring why people pray, The Energy of Prayer examines the applications and effectiveness of prayer in Buddhist and other spiritual traditions. The book introduces several meditation methods that re-envision prayer as an inclusive, accessible practice that is not tied to a particular religious or spiritual affiliation, but rather that helps anyone create healthy lives through the power of awareness and intention. Included are visualization and breathing exercises as well as a rich sampling of prayers, chants, and invocations from the Buddhist tradition.
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
by Eckhart Tolle
Book description from penguin.com
Building on the success of The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle presents readers with an honest look at the current state of humanity: He implores us to see and accept that this state, which is based on an erroneous identification with the ego…. mind, is one of dangerous insanity.
Tolle tells us there is good news, however. There is an alternative to this potentially dire situation. Humanity now, perhaps more than in any previous time, has an opportunity to create a new, saner, more loving world. This will involve a radical inner leap from the current egoic consciousness to an entirely new one.
In illuminating the nature of this shift in consciousness, Tolle describes in detail how our current ego-based state of consciousness operates. Then in practical terms he leads us toward a new consciousness. We will come to experience who we truly are—which is something infinitely greater than anything we currently think we are—and learn to live and breathe freely.
Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World
by Lama Surya Das
Editorial review from amazon.com
If you dropped the Buddha into a modern metropolis, would he come off sounding like a 16th-century morality play or more like a drive-time disc jockey? Lama Surya Das doesn’t spin platters for a living, but he does have a hip delivery that belies his years of sheltered training in Buddhist monasteries. In Awakening
the Buddha Within, he borrows a time-tested bestseller format for a 2,500-year-old tradition that comes off as anything but ancient. With the “Five T’s of Concentration,” the question of “need or greed,” and the story of the monk who bares his backside to prove a point, Surya Das invokes a path of wisdom that is as accessible and down-to-earth as a worn pair of loafers.
It’s not an easy path — it demands thought, effort, and discipline. But Surya Das is there for you, lighting the way to wisdom training, coaxing you into ethics training, and laying out step by step the path of meditation training. And if that’s not enough to get you to live in the now, consider these words of the enlightened lama: “You must be present to win.”
Meeting God: Elements of Hindu Devotion
by Stephen Huyler
Editorial review from Publishers Weekly
For centuries, India’s strict caste system prohibited many Hindus from worshipping their gods in a public way simply because lower caste Hindus could not afford the services of a brahmin (a priest). Yet Huyler, co-curator of the Puja:
Expressions of Hindu Devotion exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, notes that these lower caste families and individuals found many ways to worship and to keep alive devotion to their own religion. In what is sure to become an enduring work, the author provides descriptions of the many devotional rituals that occupy Hindus as they seek darshan, seeing and being seen by God.
In an opening chapter, Huyler explains the major concepts of Hindu devotions: puja, “a ceremonial act of showing reverence to a God or Goddess through invocation, prayer, song, and ritual;” dharma, “the supreme law of righteousness;” karma, “the doctrine of absolute responsibility;” varna, the caste system; Brahmanas, priests and their families. Using stories and photographs, Huyler describes the elements of public worship in a Hindu temple, the rituals accompanying worship in the home, the practices surrounding community festivals, processions that honor specific deities and the coming-of-age ceremonies that mark adolescence and old age.
Photos grace every page: 200 in all, gorgeous full-color depictions of temples, household shrines, statuary of deities, sacred sites such as the Ganges River and people engaged in particular ritual activities and processions. Huyler’s riveting prose and lavish photos bring Hinduism and its practices to life in all their richness and diversity.
God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions?
by Gerald McDermott
Book review from Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, reformation21.org
The theme that emerges from the book is that from the perspectives of the Scriptures and the early church fathers… the pagan religions are seen “not simply as human constructions but as spiritual projects as well.” In other words, the religions are based upon the reality of spiritual beings and forces (“gods” in Old Testament and “powers” in New Testament). The author claims that modern views of religion have tended to deny the spiritual realities of gods and powers.
The idea of an invisible world of spirits, demons, and the like is familiar to missiologists, even though in Western cultures influenced by modernism and secularism, the spirit world is largely ignored and disbelieved. McDermott examines the Scriptures and early church fathers to discover that they all attest to the reality of pagan religions, though there is great diversity of views and perspectives of that reality.
… The book is very applicable to reading required for seminary courses dealing with the occult in contemporary society. However, it manages to be both academic and practical. Whether or not one agrees totally with every point raised in the book, the author raises some issues that are very pertinent to ministry challenges in our day.
… At the same time, the book manages to avoid minimizing the spiritual challenge of rival truth claims, providing a fresh look at an old battle.
The Battle for God: A History of Reformation
by Karen Armstrong
Editorial review from amazon.com
About 40 years ago popular opinion assumed that religion would become a weaker force and people would certainly become less zealous as the world became more modern and morals more relaxed. But the opposite has proven true, according to theologian and author Karen Armstrong, a former nun who documents how fundamentalism has taken root and grown in many of the world’s major religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Even Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism have developed fundamentalist factions.
Reacting to a technologically driven world with liberal Western values, fundamentalists
have not only increased in numbers, they have become more desperate, claims
Armstrong, who points to …bombing, …crusades, and …assassination as evidence
of dangerous extremes. Yet she also acknowledges the irony of how fundamentalism
and Western materialism seem to urge each other on to greater excesses. To “prevent
an escalation of the conflict, we must try and understand the pain and perception
of the other side,” she pleads.
With her gift for clear, engaging writing and her integrity as a thorough researcher, Armstrong delivers a powerful discussion of a globally heated issue. Part history lesson, part wake-up call, and mostly a plea for healing, Armstrong’s writing continues to offer a religious mirror and a cultural vision.
Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding
edited by David R. Smock
Book summary from amazon.com
Drawing on their experience in organizing interaction and cooperation across religious boundaries in the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, Northern Ireland and the Balkans, eight Christian, Muslim and Jewish contributors explore the formidable potential of interfaith dialogue.
(Articles in) the first part of the volume analyze the concept and its varied application, (articles in) the second focus on its practice in specific zones of conflict, and the third assesses the experiences and approaches of particular organizations. When organized creatively, interfaith dialogue can nurture deep engagement at all levels of religious hierarchy, including the community level.
It draws strength from the peacemaking traditions shared by many faiths and from the power of religious ritual and symbolism. Yet, as the authors also make plain, it also has its limitations and carries …risks.