Reprinted with permission from Publishers Weekly magazine.

Buddhism | Christian Life and Worship | Catholicism | Islam


The Buddhism of Tibet
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama Trans. and edited by Jeffry Hopkins
Snow Lion
As Tibetan Buddhism matures in the West, the release of more substantive and esoteric literature becomes timely. With this intermediate audience in mind, and with the hope that "even a few people for a short period could have some internal peace," the Dalai Lama here offers two of his original writings alongside two ancient texts. His works "The Buddhism of Tibet" and "The Key to the Middle Way" comprise roughly half of the book. They reveal some of the secondary and more cerebral layers of Tibetan Buddhist study, going well beyond the primary embrace of the Four Noble Truths. Emptiness, "the final mode of being of all phenomena," is a recurring motif throughout the volume. The second half includes "Precious Garland of Advice for the King," 500 quatrains written by Nagarjuna, who lived 400 years after the Buddha. Written to advise the Indian king Satavahana, it has specific counsel on ruling, plus more general material on emptiness and compassion. Although theoretically softened by a caveat of application to both sexes, the prohibition against desiring women, who are partially described as "a source of excrement, urine and vomit," among other similar vitriolic phrases, will be hard to stomach for many. The book concludes with an exposition of a relatively short poem, "Song of the Four Mindfulnesses" by Kaysang Gyatso, the Seventh Dalai Lama. No doubt a book of merit, this volume is most appropriate for serious students who are ready to wade through fairly heavy intellectual currents.

Christian Life and Worship

On Forgiveness: How Can We Forgive the Unforgivable?
By Richard Holloway

Former Bishop of Edinburgh and a divinity professor in the City of London, Holloway offers deceptively simple reflections on the always compelling, ever-relevant subject of forgiveness. Refreshingly free from the extremes of rant and piety, the cosmopolitan cleric instead summons an eclectic and humanistic range of provocative thinkers, from Derrida to Nietzsche, and a generous sampling of contemporary British poetry. The prolific author of "Godless Morality" and 23 other books is fond of attention-grabbing Derridan paradox: Unforgivability is necessary in order to make forgiveness possible. We can practice religion what it signifies without the form of religion, yielding "religion without religion," which can also be seen in the phenomenon of people who are "spiritual but not religious." Although the book originated as lectures at Glasgow University, Holloway's point is hardly academic. He always applies his reasoning to real and historical examples: the Middle East, Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Holloway offers subtle guidance, the kind that is easiest to accept and therefore most effective. He is not imperative: forgiveness is a choice so hard that there is room for the unforgiving, and magnanimity and generosity may work as substitutes for forgiveness in the political arena. This slender book is a reminder that if enormous error is all too human, so too must be the capacity to forgive it and thereby transcend it and, as the author puts it, "reclaim the future." This is an estimable contribution to the growing current literature on forgiveness.

The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity
By Roger E. Olson

In this ambitious book, Olson delineates from an evangelical perspective what is and is not authentic Christian belief. Chapters feature such topics as the Bible, God, Jesus and the Church, beginning with an overview of orthodox belief about the topic, citing Scripture, the Church Fathers and noted Christian writers throughout history. Olson then devotes a section to heretical beliefs, and follows this with an examination of diverse non-heretical beliefs among orthodox Christians (including Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers, and most Protestants). He ends each chapter envisioning greater unity among Christians, despite honest disagreements. While marred by some redundancy and excess verbiage, Olson's writing renders many complex theological concepts surprisingly accessible. And in his attempts to separate heresy from right belief, he acknowledges that those who adhere to beliefs he labels erroneous are usually sincere Christians (he cites wrong belief among fundamentalists, charismatics, liberal Christians and various sects). Attempting to mediate among the myriad dogmas, doctrines and opinions of orthodox Christians is no easy task, and Olson's descriptions of certain right beliefs and heresies (such as the psychological analogy for the Trinity and modalism) are sometimes barely distinguishable. Despite these and other small logical problems, Olson's book contributes greatly to contemporary evangelicalism not only in its impressive survey of many theologies, but also in its use of "The Great Tradition" of Christian belief as an essential guide to orthodoxy.