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Ploughing the Religious Landscape

The Jesus Connection by Roy Abraham Varghese

Varghese's book is a work of both apologetics and study of the philosophy and thought of other religions. Varghese looks at how the major religions, including Persian and Eastern thought pave the way for the coming of Jesus in their theology, in their basic assumptions about the world, and in their practices. Overall, this is a splendid resource for seeing the different religions providing fertile soil for the coming of the Lord. Yet, it was also a work of immense learning as Varghese takes us through the various lines of thought that are indicative of the ancient religions before Christ. How does he do this?

One, Varghese traces the fundamental practices and thought of the ancient religions by focusing on areas such as sacrifice, creation, atonement, and sin. These fundamental beliefs are given various meanings by the different religions but cast in a similar discussion to both the Jewish understanding of these themes and the New Testament application of these themes from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Why is it that so many ancient beliefs and practices bear such great similarity with the religion of the Jewish people and the subsequent followers of Christ? Varghese stars with in chapter 2 linking the similarities between various belief systems with a certain specific set of criteria: "a God who is supreme, the soul, the human thirst for God, the need for expiation and propitiation, the need for a system of salvation, a destiny after death, interaction between God and humanity (prophecies, incarnation)" (40). Varghese ends with the point that a true vision of the human condition starts and ends with love, and later on by extending the argument to a God who pursues his creation at all costs through love.

Varghese rightly understands the Jewish message of faith in looking at unique features that are now where else witnesses in other religions: Quoting Stanley Jaki Varghese writes, "men who appeared out of nowhere again and again with the same stern message from God" (82). The second dimension of the prophets was the command to love God. Third, we have the hard fact of Jewish monotheism" (82). Clearly, the Jewish faith depended upon the commandments of God being followed by Israel, and yet, this was not the sum total of Jewish experience. God was unwilling to be one in a pantheon of foreign deities, but is unique in all his ways and being.

I thought that Varghese's chapter entitled From Explanation to Encounter was one of the best chapters in the book. Varghese lays out for the reader a process of research, analysis and inquiry that asks both questions of the relevant data and of ourselves concerning the truth of Jesus. Varghese writes, "If God did reveal himself in history, it is reasonable to believe that he would have to preserve the memory of his actions in a text and/or a tradition of some kind. ..the text and tradition would need some kind of authority...Only a living witness could provide this kind of authority" (99). This logic is quite compelling because Varghese asks the right questions regarding God's revelation. An authority is only as good as what he bear witness to (truth or falsehood). Lastly, I thought Varghese made the right move at the end of the chapter by pointing the questions back to the reader to ask "Who do you say that I am?" (104)

Although I still am a bit skeptical about drawing too many parallels to ancient religion and the Jesus phenomenon I see the value in providing a fertile landscape for the coming of Jesus into the world. I think the value in this work is both relational and apologetic. If we bring people into the story of Jesus and the world in which he lived, they can see the claims he has made about himself more clearly. Lastly, Varghese does a good job at looking at the skeptical side of critics and their conclusions and providing an alternative picture of the coming Jesus to those who still seek him.

Thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy of this book.


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