Defending God before Buddhist Emptiness -- By: Russell H. Bowers Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 154:616 (Oct 1997)
Article: Defending God before Buddhist Emptiness
Author: Russell H. Bowers Jr.

Defending God before Buddhist Emptiness

Russell H. Bowers Jr.

[Russell H. Bowers Jr. is a Missionary Appointee to East Asia School of Theology, Singapore.]

In the past, apologetic work was considered complete when engaging only Western philosophies and objections. Wilbur Smith’s Therefore, Stand opens with 102 pages outlining “The Forces and Agencies Engaged in the Modern Attack upon Evangelical Christianity,”1 and yet it makes but passing reference to non-Western thought. Today, however, such an approach is clearly inadequate. The world is shrinking so fast that Westerners often rub shoulders with people from dramatically different backgrounds. And many Westerners are increasingly viewing life through Eastern spectacles. Sermon and catechism give way before mantra and meditation; guru and avatar displace pastor and savior; resurrection and judgment founder before reincarnation and karma. From Star Wars to Shirley McClain to Tina Turner to The Tao of Physics Hindu and Buddhist presuppositions are encountered. The State of the World Forum in 1995, attended by such notables as George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and Mikhail Gorbachev, included a half day of practicing “mindfulness,” the heart of Buddhist meditation. What all this means is that if the church is to defend Christianity adequately, apologists must answer Muhammad and the Buddha as well as Aristotle and Hegel.

For centuries the East and the West—and specifically the religions of Buddhism and Christianity—maintained only superficial relations and tended to view each other as oddities. But Western interest in Oriental thought was stimulated through the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Dialogue developed following World War II and accelerated after Vatican II. In

1980 the first International Conference on Buddhist-Christian Encounter was held in Honolulu. Fifty persons attended that conference; more than 150, the second conference in 1984; and more than 750 from 19 countries and 34 states attended the third conference in Berkeley in 1987. Journals devoted to interreligious dialogue thrive; books are published and seminars are convened on this subject. Consequently an unprecedented desire stirs today to determine what Christianity and non-Christian religions have to say to each other and what relations should exist between them. Evangelicals need to address the issues raised by this dialogue.

The pace of interaction is accelerating, and the agenda is deepening. Only two decades ago Dumoulin asserted,

Unity is not the goal of the dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism, neither syncretisticall...

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