General CBF / Missions

A book review:Faiths in conflict?: Christian integrity in a multicultural world

Ramachandra, Vinoth. 1999. Faiths in conflict?: Christian integrity in a multicultural world. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.

Dr. Vinoth Ramachandra, Secretary for Dialogue and Social Engagement (Asia) for International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), lives in Sri Lanka.  Dr Ramachandra holds bachelors and doctoral degrees in nuclear engineering from the University of London.  In 1980, he returned to Sri Lanka from England and helped develop a Christian university ministry.  Dr. Ramachandra’s role includes giving public lectures and seminars in universities, helping Christians think and respond to some of the social, cultural and political challenges they face in their contexts throughout Asia.  Other books he has authored include The Recovery of Mission, and Gods That Fail.

The thesis of this book is that Christianity provides the basis for a truly democratic and multicultural society because it allows interaction via story.  Ramachandra argues this thesis by focusing first on the “Islamic resurgence” and some of the myths perpetuated via stereotypes (:12).  He then discusses the secular and religious interplay with nationalism in India and the impact of Christianity and Christian mission in Indian society.  The third chapter examines the uniqueness of the Christian claims of selflessness and exclusivity and questions the implications in today’s world.  Ramachandara then looks at some common misconceptions and accusations toward Christians.  He looks at the idea that Christian mission and efforts of evangelization and conversion act as threats cultural conversion.  He then examines secularism and questions the neutrality of secularism in light of context and ideology asking questions such as, the possibility of developing a view of the common good and value humanity outside of religious perspective? 

Ramachandra lays out his argument in each chapter effectively and efficiently.  His Asian perspective is refreshing and sharp.  His critique of broad and sweeping assumptions about Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and secularism, help the reader cut to the underling questions that need addressing.  One such question is, “How do we move forward in light of the confusion and misinformation propagated between Muslims and Christians.

In answer, Ramachandra reminds us that religion does not encapsulate culture.  Forgetting this matter, can be very dangerous and lead to an impasse between cultural groups.  “Invoking sweeping generalizations about religion or culture can often be not only inaccurate, but also dangerously misleading” (:41).  Perpetuating misinformation between these two religions does nothing to help further an understanding of common humanity and civility.

Ramachandra’s critique of the modern nation-state is scathing.  However, he strokes deep cords of truth in the heart of the Christian in his critique.  His comparison of the nation-state to religion reminds us how easy it is to fill our human desire to worship with something other than the one whom created us.  The implications of such nationalism can slowly lead us toward transformation that devalues humanity and values a system of economy and government. 

The “foolishness” of Christianity Ramachandra argues, is that it is built upon the idea of service, sacrifice on behalf of the other, and transformation in Christ who,as God incarnate, took on the suffering of the world to reconcile those separated from God back into relationship.  The significant difference lies in the helplessness of the human condition to reach God through religious practice.  The Christian God initiates reconciliation in spite of our fallen humanity.  This value of humanity is unique and foundational.

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