“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world”
— 1 John 4:1 (KJV)
So begins the first page of Josh McDowell’s and Don Stewart’s book “Understanding Non-Christian Religions: Handbook of Today’s Religions” [ published by Campus Crusade for Christ, 1986]. In my college days I use to help run a Bible study for Campus Crusade for Christ. In those days my understanding of other religions came solely from books like this. And I did not doubt these books because the Bible told me that anyone teaching a faith different from my own was preaching with a “false spirit” so reading their books was a dangerous thing to do and should only be left only to those with a special gift from God to see through the dangerous lies.
As I read them now, after years of living in other countries and with people of other faiths, I laugh at their over-simplification, stereotyping and stone-throwing. But this is not only a foible of Christian writers. I have read books by Theravada Buddhists typifying Northern Buddhists, of Democrats typifying Republicans and of Atheists typifying theists and watched similar over-simplifications, demonifications, stereotyping and stone-throwing.
Sure, it is important to understand how positions differ. But if it is your mission to understand a group outside your own group then I suggest try reading their stuff — and preferably their best stuff. Don’t depend on the the premasticated versions — chew the stuff on your own when possible, or at least realize the limitations of your opinions.
Note: I wrote a post years ago with the same intent: Curriculum of Understanding