God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church by Gerald R. McDermott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was an interesting read. The bulk of the book was McDermott examining the question through how the Israelites, the early church, and early theologians saw it. I appreciated the history because most of it I never heard of before. But the book raised more questions for me than answers.
I had a hard time believing the early church view that the different gods, who they considered real, were originally angels who rebelled against God. In fact these angels were supposed to be ambassadors to the other nations for God. But they got corrupted by power and took all of God’s worship for themselves. So let me get this straight: not one god stayed on God’s side? Not even one? Either we’re not getting the whole story, or God (excuse the blasphemy) is not a good creator.
(And here’s a third thought: who says the gods can’t come back God? One of the earlier theologians Origen, thought this might be possible. Then again, he was already considered a little wacky for castrating himself for God, when he was a teenager.)
What did strike me was how perception the spirit world changed throughout the Bible and early church history. In the Old Testament, there were other gods; God was considered the highest among them, and God used them to be ambassadors to other cultures. When we get to the new Testament, those gods are now angels who had become corrupted by their power; come early church history, those angels have been demons all along, and finally, we get to today’s mindset that there never were any gods to begin with–only God himself.
So which view is right? All of the above? None of the above? Was it just our understanding of the gods that changed, not the gods themselves?
Which leads to my second question “How did myth and culture influence the shaping of the gods in culture?” Anything to do with myth was completely missing from the book, which isn’t surprising, considering this book takes the spirit world very seriously. I think I’ll have to look for that answer elsewhere.
Despite my questions, the book did argue against treating other religions as taboo or something to fear. We can even use other religions to deepen our understanding of God. McDermott says other religions are not our enemies (although the spiritual beings behind them are, whatever they are). The reason why God allows other religions is to give a glimpse of Himself to him, and that we should use that glimpse as an invitation to open dialogue about Truth. But if that’s the case, why only glimpses? Why not fully? Why just reveal himself to just the Israelites? The only way I can see this working is if God revealed himself to earlier people in the beginning, and then each people group began to see God their own way, and then that became other gods and…
Gahhhh…now I’m thinking in circles. And as you can see, my questions are not answered.
I guess this book is good for getting the history of how other religions are seen in the church, and I deeply appreciate that. It did also give me a new way to look at other religions. But ultimately, I don’t think the book provides an answer to its own question.
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