This is a book by a Christian for other Christians and non-Christians may cringe at some of the content. Whilst I applaud the author's general intention and his broad approach, the arrogance of traditional Christianity still shines through. Johnston spends much of the book trying to convince us of the need for the 'inculturation' of Christianity, to make it more acceptable to the East so that it may grow and become better established there. What he does not state explicitly (but is clearly implied) is why Asia will benefit from this when it already has its own rich religious traditions, the very things that Johnston praises and says Christianity must learn from! Perhaps the East is better of with Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Shintoism, etc. and the Christian churches would be better employed putting their own houses in order in the West.
That said, Johnston is courageously critical of many aspects of the Catholic Church's activities and he emphasises the importance of mysticism, noting that it is only at the level of the heart that real religious union can occur. This needs to be stated but is of course 'old hat', having been repeated by every saint and sage worth his/her salt for thousands of years: Johnston refers to Ramakrishna and Vivekananda in particular but does not develop their essential teachings despite the fact that the harmony of religions was the centre-piece of Ramakrishna's extraordinary life. Johnston is clearly very knowledgeable about Buddhism but I felt that more attention to Vedanta and Yoga would have produced a better argued book.
However, Johnston does make wonderfully clear the importance of meditation and prayer compared with theology and ritual. Indeed, having read the book, I am left with the strong impression that the major cause of the divisions that Johnston seeks to overcome is the nature of traditional religion itself and that only by transcending it can true love, peace and harmony be found in this world. Religions are just the pathways, spirituality is the goal: perhaps this is what Johnston really wants to tell us - but does not dare......... and anyone who has read the Vatican's declaration "Dominus Jesus " of four months ago will understand why!
This is my first encounter with William Johnston, and I am not a Catholic--those readers more familiar with Johnston's views and more Catholic in persuasion will want to keep that in mind when reading my review. This book does an excellent job in tracing the decline of the Western church and envisioning its rebirth through dialogue with Eastern religions. I agree with much that Johnston has to say. He is obviously a loving and courageous spiritual leader with a prophetic message for the future of Christianity. In spite of his bold criticisms of the Catholic church, however, I was somewhat put off by his constant need to qualify his statements, apparently to avoid sounding too "unorthodox." Johnston seems oblivious to the condescension of the Pope's statement that "members of other religions...receive salvation through Jesus Christ, even while they do not recognize or acknowledge him as their Savior." While this point of view is certainly more inclusive than that of the past, it still arrogantly insists on the superiority of Christianity. A more objective observer would be quick to point out that members of other religions do not receive "salvation" through Jesus Christ at all--they receive "salvation" through their own religious systems. As long as Christianity insists on the "uniqueness" of the "Christ event," it will never achieve the harmony with world religions that Johnston longs for and the survival of the planet depends on. It is time for Christians to recognize that, like all religions, Christianity is just one path among many paths of equal value. In spite of Johnston's bias, this is a valuable book; and I recommend it highly to all those interested in Christian mysticism and the survival of Christianity in the third millennium.