SALEM, Va.-In his new book, God's Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions-Insights from the Bible and the Early Church, published in January 2007, Dr. Gerald McDermott of Roanoke College's Religion and Philosophy department explores diverse answers to a question he's had for several years.
He asks, "If there is a God, and if this god has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, then why would this all-powerful God permit the rise and flourishing of other religions?"
"Writing about world religions in the last ten years has helped me better understand the relationship between Jesus and Muhammad, or Jesus and the Buddha," McDermott says. "I first got interested in this discipline when I started teaching the world religions eighteen years ago and reflected on my relationships with friends who practiced other faiths.
McDermott says that his personal faith also helped inspire him to write his sixth book. He has used his writing experience as an opportunity to continue his project of working at what he calls "a Christian theology of world religions." This is the third in a series of his books on the subject.
Through his extensive research, the writer says he discovered that biblical authors, along with early theologians, have shared the same question. He explores and develops their conclusions to offer his readers a broader comprehension of other religions from a Christian perspective.
"There is truth in world religion. For example, when Muhammad says there's only one true God, a Christian has to say 'Amen!' When Buddha says you can't separate self from the rest of reality, a Christian has to say there's truth there," McDermott says.
McDermott says that, contrary to popular impressions, the world religions teach the same moral principles, while applying and interpreting them differently. "No great religion says it is OK to be selfish, or to commit adultery," says McDermott. But he argues that once you start asking whether there is a god (some religions deny it), what that god is like, and how we can reach that god, you find the religions saying very different things.
"I hope that readers will see two things. First, that religious pluralism is not new-there was as much in the ancient world, if not more, than today. Second, if we're looking for answers to questions about religious pluralism, we might look first at early church theologians who will surprise us by their intelligence and profundity," the writer says. "I hope that a Christian would say, as these early thinkers did, that there's an overlap between Christianity and other faiths."
Without missing a beat to keep up with his rapidly-increasing list of religious literature, McDermott already has written another book that will be published in September 2007. Titled Claiming Christ: A Mormon and an Evangelical Debate Jesus, McDermott co-writes with a Mormon theologian at Brigham Young University, debating the identity of Jesus.
Crossing other boundaries, McDermott also is organizing a conference called "Introducing Jonathan Edwards to Europe" in Budapest. This will be the first conference on Edwards, widely regarded as the greatest American theologian, ever held in Europe.
The professor mainly taught American and world religions for his first 16 years at Roanoke. In those years, he gained a reputation among colleagues and students for his vast range of knowledge and experience in world religions.
"Teaching at Roanoke has helped me tremendously. I learn as I teach; I gain new insights from my colleagues and students. Roanoke College has made it easy for me, in various ways, to write," McDermott says.