Gerald R. McDermott is a prolific writer and Anglican priest. He has earned several secondary degrees, one of which is from a Baptist seminary, despite his Anglican position. He currently holds the Anglican Chair of Divinity of History and Doctrine at Beeson Divinity School. Prior to this office he was the Professor of Religion at Roanoke college. His extensive writing includes theology, history, and religion. This particular book is small in size and titled “pocket guide,” which makes it convenient for quick use and research.
The introduction to the book has been well written and begins with a time line identifying the beginning of each religion. The introduction is quite impressive, not only does he outline the book, but he also answers the very important question, “why study religion?” (9) Included in the introduction is a demographic of the world religions. McDermott explains the importance of learning other religions, and in a systematic way. The values of learning other religions are listed as follows, “learn about your world, effective witness, understanding your own faith, be a better disciple, and working with others.” (12-15) He concludes with an overview explaining that the book will be succinct in nature and explains the exact same questions that will be asked in each chapter. The questions are, “what is the ultimate concern? (This means the final goal adherents are seeking.), What is this religions view of reality? (God or the gods, are they real? What are they like? Can they help us? The human self, what is the human nature? For example, is it bad, created, divine? The physical world, is it real, eternal or created, bad or good?) What is the basic human problem? How is the basic human problem resolved?” (16) These charts are helpful for a succinct explanation of the basic foundation of each religion.
The religions discussed within the book are Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, Christianity, Shinto, and Islam. In addition to the previous mentioned chart are additional charts that specify god’s, leaders, and rituals of each religion. Each chart is useful in a better understanding. One more chart includes a testimony of a follower within each religion. This is interesting as each individual comments on their own personal experience. However, where there is one testimony it lacks the diversity of each denomination within the religion. Since the book was intended to be concise it is clear that there was no room for more than one testimony. Perhaps an appendix would be more suitable to appropriate such an addition.
The book is informative and McDermott shares enough information for the reader to understand the basics. If more is necessary for the reader McDermott does include titles for further reading. It is unclear why McDermott used the testimony of Catholics in the Christianity section, a bit of disappointment. An example of the above mentioned discrepancy of using only one person as a representative of each religion. But, he does provide a narrow view of the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. Within the conclusion of the book he contrasts the liberal and conservative Christian, an unexpected explanation.
In the last chapter, titled “Two Common Questions,” he provides answers. The questions, “should we evangelize people in other religions? And, can we learn from other religions?(133-135) He believes so, and writes concerning the first question, “now by evangelism I don’t mean proselytizing, which is often coercive, rude and insensitive. No, true evangelism is when we take the time to make a lasting friendship, listen to our friend’s perspective, offer loving help where it is needed, and humbly and respectfully share the gospel when the Spirit opens the door-not before.” (134) In response to the second question he shared the testimony of a young Muslim man who demonstrated bravery despite probable critics. This young man inspired McDermott. (137)
In the absolute conclusion of the book McDermott reminds readers that the enemy is not other people, but “sin, the flesh, and the devil… principalities and powers.” (138) He writes, “this means our witness as Christians to members of other religions should involve patient conversation not hostile argument, plenty of listening and befriending before any attempt to persuade.” (138) Due to the size of the book McDermott has only a listed a small bibliography. But he does include a glossary (which is helpful) and some recommended books for each religion.
McDermott, Gerald R. The Baker Pocket Guide to World Religions: What Every Christian Needs To Know. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008.
Samford University. Beeson Divinity School.