19 May 2022


Critical Evaluation of Harold A. Netland’s Christianity & Religious Diversity

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Academic level: Master’s

Paper type: Book Report

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Pages: 7

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In this highly readable book, Harold Netland explores how religions have changed in the modern day and globalized world and the uniqueness of Christianity among them all. As an expert in philosophical aspects of religion and pluralism, Netland in his book addresses key issues in the understanding of religions today, which he does through challenging common misunderstandings of the religion concept and its relation to culture. In addition, Netland reveals how religious traditions such as Buddhism undergo significant change with secularization, modernization, and globalization. Technology has propelled rapid globalization across the world. Therefore, within the context, pluralism has become a popular world view resulting in the question of how Christianity fits in the current scheme of events. Through his experience as a former missionary and academic prowess, Netland’s Christian and Religious Diversity addresses issues concerning the plausibility of Christian Commitments to Christ Jesus and the unique truth of Christianity in the light of disagreement and religious diversity that exists in the modern world. The critique below includes a brief overview and critical interaction with material. 


At the introduction of the book Netland sets out the objective of the book. In his own words, “the primary purpose of Christian and Religious Diversity is to clarify certain basic concepts, to show how modernization has shaped religious, and to explore some of the epistemological issues arising from Christian’s new awareness of religious diversity” 1 . Netland’s two-fold objective is tackled by dividing the book into two parts. The first part establishes the concept of religions in the modern and globalizing world. On the other hand, the second part lays emphasis on how Christians can remain committed to their religion despite living in a pluralistic world. 

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The first chapter lays the ground work for the rest of the book. Through taxonomies, Netland makes it easy for the reader to understand what he means by religion. Rather than reliance on theological terms, Netland uses the phenomenological appr to define religion with the claim that it is substantial and suitable enough for religious beliefs and practices. Through historical lenses and insights from theologians such as Karl Barth, Netland reveals that religion is not a modern construct 2 . He acknowledges the ambiguity surrounding religious perspectives such as Marxism, Confucianism, secular humanism and Scientology 3 . The most astute aspect of this chapter is that it is hard to develop clear perceptions of religions, cultures and worldviews. In Christianity, for instance, theology can be developed based on the scripture but then there is culture and worldviews that also contribute to the understanding of the religion. The keen analysis on relationships between religion, culture, and worldview are helpful. 

Chapter 2 of Christianity and Religious Diversity addresses changes that take place within religion as they interact with modernization and globalization. Continuing with the historical lens, Netland reveals that the advent of European and American colonialism, crossing of national boundaries, and modern missionary movement has led to the spread of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism sequentially hybridizing traditions and resulting in the emergence of new religions movements 4 . Conclusively, the chapter highlights the increase in pluralism. 

In the third Chapter, Netland uses Buddhism of the west to reveal exactly how globalization can impact religion. Although Buddhism of the West has been embraced, Netland points out that it is flawed 5 . The flaws have been largely contributed by the works of Suzuki. Critics of Suzuki’s Buddhism reveal that he fails to accurately present essential and historic Buddhist teachings, or even the Zen teachings. Netland, however, does not focus on Suzuki’s polemic. On the contrary, through Buddhism, he reveals ways in which the religion has been greatly influenced by factors that do not align to its tradition, so that it can suit in various cultures and worldviews across the world. 

The fourth and final chapter of the first part of Netland’s Christianity and Religious Diversity, focuses on the theme of Jesus in a Global Post-Colonial World. Through the lenses and writings of great thinkers such as Vivekananda, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Mahatma Gandhi, John Hick, and Shusaku Endo, Netland reveals the similarity in the perception of Jesus as a great teacher 6 . Each groups perceives Jesus differently and inconsistently. All of them, however, fail to recognize the divinity and centrality of Jesus as both Man and God. 

Chapter five, which is the onset of the second part of the book addresses the question “Can All Religions Be True?” John Hick’s proposal of religious pluralism reveals that a religion, regardless of being theistic or atheistic cannot have privilege over the others. Further, Netland reveals that regarding fundamental truths such as naturalism varies from one religion to the other. While each religion has some elements of truth, they cannot all be true. Ably, Netland illustrates that the pluralistic arsenal has incoherent results in the various religions, therefore answering the question that not all of them can be true. 

The following chapter establishes what is involved in making Christianity as the only true religion among others all. Netland is keen to reveal that when talking of Christianity, it is important that one distinguishes the social and cultural accouterments from those of the gospel. In other words, chapter six strategically clarifies what is involved and what is not in order to claim Christianity as the only true religion. Netland reveals that proponents and advocates of religious pluralism claim that exclusivism is the root of religious violence and therefore should be rejected. In a real sense, however, consequences are not the causes of religious violence and that a direct causal link should not be established between the two because it is not tied to variables such as culture, ethnicity, economics, and politics 7 . Each individual’s religion may be different from others but then there is the need to have respect for religions that others choose to follow. Put in other words, one can be a believer of the basic moral principles in other religions, but then remain committed to Christianity as the only true religion. Netland concludes this chapter by revealing that propositional truths better apply to religious claims other than traditions. In addition, Netland defines the beliefs of Christianity through 2 Corinthians 5:19. Furthermore the verse offers a paradigm of Christian belief that is centered on Jesus, God as the creator, the riff existing between the Creator and creatures, and the solution 8 . The chapter comes to a conclusion with the acknowledgement of Jesus as the Son of God, God the Son and is both fully human and divine. 

In the seventh chapter of the book, Netland concisely yet thoroughly reveals the epistemology of religion. Also, he gives reasons why regardless of diversity, one should accept Christianity as the only true religion. Netland challenges Alvin Platinga’s epistemology that lacks natural theology supplies 9 . Following a surveillance of various approaches, Netland concludes this chapter by agreeing to Basil Mitchell’s and Stephan Evan’s perspectives, which when combined reveal comprehension of Christian theism. 

Chapter eight and the last chapter of the book, Netland provides the reader with principles of what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in a pluralistic and religiously diverse world. He reveals that it is the obligation of Christians to be faithful to Jesus and be good citizens of the gospel. Christians can therefore embrace the established laws of the land, respect religious freedom, and at the same time hold onto the true claims of Christianity. 

Critical Evaluation 

There is much to praise in Netland’s Christianity and Religious Diversity. This is because of the author’s broad knowledge in apologetic, sociology, philosophy, and world views. The second chapter of the book particularly stands out. Netland asserts that religions are open for examination and they have been impacted by modernization, globalization, and secularization around the world 10 . Contrary to the traditional perception or rather notion Netland suggests that secularization is not a global concern but mainly an issue of Western European and Northern America. In his book, Netland does a masterful job when he reveals that unlike in the past where culture and geographical locations used to play a huge role in determining of religious commitment, the modern society is characterized by freedom to choose among the available alternatives including pluralism. Thus, one of the strengths of the book lies in the author’s ability to reveal to the audience that while the gospel of Christ does not change, it is important for people to continually adapt to the ways in which they share this truth in the constantly changing religious and diverse world. 

Another strength of the book is revealed by its explanation of how pluralism came to be. Through globalization, the missionary work spread and became exposed to diverse cultures across the world. Religions were forced to undergo change to suit the description of those cultures 11 . Admittedly, globalization has been facilitated by technological advancements and innovations. Through technology people have access to various world views and religions. Most of the caricatures exposed by technology, however, are not true. This leaves the audience unsure of their own beliefs. While pluralism is real, it cannot withstand its self-merit because not all religions are true. That is why the author encourages Christians to be aware of their reasons for their beliefs and be able to communicate it to others with different world views. 

Also, Netland interacts well with Plantinga and apologetics. Through the apologetic approach, Netland bases his deductive argument on the statement that God exists. Although he defends theism, he does it uniquely by referencing a wide variety of evidential data, both from shared experiences and the natural world to demonstrate the truthfulness of Christian explanations regarding various issues. Netland states that “While none of these phenomena, either individually or collectively, entail the truth of Christian theism, the argument claims that Christian theism provides a more plausible explanation for these factors than other alternatives” 12 . Protestants, for instance, have neglected the notion of natural theology. 

While Netland proclaims Christianity as the only true religion, he also posits that Christians have an exclusive mindset about religion that breeds fear of others. Miroslav Volf, in his study, lays emphasis on religious harmony and agreement for peaceful coexistence of Christianity with other religions 13 . Netland opposes the notion revealing that we do not need to accept other people’s religion in order to be respectful. As Christians, however, is it not possible to live in harmony with those we have disagreements? This question reveals the reality of pluralism and can be difficult for Christian commitment. According to Netland we are called to coexist peacefully with people of other religions that we strongly disagree. In a real sense is this possible? Netland is keen to remind the reader that personal faith in Christianity should be unshaken even in the modern world of religious diversity and globalization. Christians should think apologetically and at the same time be open to truths that could exist in other religions. 

The book has no glaring weaknesses. However, a few suggestions could help bring comprehension and clarity on a few issues. First chapter three and four have been mixed up. In the third chapter of the book, Netland illustrates using Buddhism yet the references used highlight more of Buddhism encounter with Westernization other than with Christianity 14 . The solution would be perhaps to use similar examples as those in the fourth chapter. Secondly, Netland uses a phenomenological approach to define the beliefs of a religion. With the aim of identifying the mainstream beliefs. However, he undercuts this approach when he references 2 Corinthians 5:19 as his guide in defining beliefs. He should have taken into consideration the various historical times and traditions to define religion beliefs. These suggestions are minor and do not detract the overall success of the book. 

In conclusion, Netland’s Christianity and Religious Diversity is recommended for all Christians that seek to understand pluralism. Netland’s broad knowledge and personal experiences have helped establish both philosophical and evangelical issues revolving around religious diversity. Being in church and refusing to engage culture in Christianity is not true discipleship. Furthermore the call of Christ is for Christians to be loving and fearless in their interaction with other religions 15 . Netland’s book is resourceful in equipping Christians with the needed interaction. For people that are unfamiliar with the diversity in religion, the book’s depth and breadth may be a bit staggering. A thoughtful reading, however, is key to navigating the thorny issues of pluralism. Combining theological resources with insights from diverse fields such as history, philosophy, sociology, and religious studies, Netland’s Christianity and Religious Diversity is a useful text for students and professors alike in courses such as mission studies, religion and intercultural courses. Although the book robustly holds onto Christianity, it respects other beliefs and therefore it n other alternatives” ()etland pastors, and scholars. ies, pluarlism n ermore the call of Christ is for Christians to be tho s imperative for missionaries, pastors, and scholars. 


Armajani, Jon. "Review of Flourishing: Why we need religion in a globalized world by Miroslav Volf."  The Journal of Social Encounters  2, no. 1 (2018): 93-95.

Casanova, José. "The Karel Dobbelaere lecture: Divergent global roads to secularization and religious pluralism."  Social Compass  65, no. 2 (2018): 187-198.

Craig, William Lane. "Is Uncertainty a Sound Foundation for Religious Tolerance?." In  Religious tolerance through humility , pp. 23-38. Routledge, 2016.

Gunnarsson, Gunnar J. "From religious homogeneity to secularization, diversity and pluralism." (2017).

Hampton, Thomas. "Karl Barth and the study of the religious enlightenment: encountering the task of history: By Michael Jimenez. Lanham, Maryland, Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2018, 222 pp., $100 (hardcover), ISBN 978-1-978700-42-0." (2019): 1-2.

McMullin, Steve. "Church Renewal in the Digital Age."  Post-Christendom Studies: Volume 3  3 (2019): 381.

Netland, Harold A.  Christianity and religious diversity: Clarifying Christian commitments in a globalizing age . Baker Academic, 2015.

Pazos, A.M., 2016.  Pilgrims and pilgrimages as peacemakers in Christianity, Judaism and Islam . Routledge.

Riis, Ole. "Modes of Religious Pluralism under Conditions of Globalization." In  Democracy and Human Rights in Multicultural Societies , pp. 251-266. Routledge, 2017.

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