In May I posted Part One of The History of Religion- Books and Beliefs so now here is Part Two. Originally I had intended it to be just one entry but as History of Religion- Books and Beliefs (Part One) got longer, I realized that it would be best to split up the reviews by books. I read these two books Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms and Eternity in their Hearts almost simultaneously. And I think they are more interesting when viewed together but they can also stand on their own.
I borrowed this book from a friend after our conversation about culture and the gospel. I had read one of Don Richardson’s books before but Eternity in their Hearts gives a broader look across many different cultures. Even before I read this book, as a Christian I believe that God has woven himself into the fabric of this world. “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” Ephesians 1:4 NLT “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20 NIV I believe the Bible is true. I believe the Christian faith is reasoned and reasonable and can stand up to scrutiny.
So with this in mind, I was not surprised as I read through Eternity in their Hearts and heard the stories of past and current cultures that have evidence of the one true God and the Christian gospel in their culture despite never having been previously expressed to the Bible or Christian proselytizing.
In the Part One post I had a couple quotes where people claimed that their religion was the oldest or their scripture was the most accurate. It was these quotes and others similar that hung in my mind as I considered the information in Eternity in their Hearts. It made my mind work as I considered truth and what truth actually means. This of course is a bigger question and discussion but this short Youtube video Truth Refocused does a great job of presenting why truth can’t really be relative and to each his own.
I can’t do justice to this book by summarizing the stories, if you’re interested, you will have to read them on your own. But I can tell you that stories of cultures that cross continents Greek in Europe, Inca in America, Mbaka in Africa and the Chinese in Asia are thought provoking. And that’s just Chapter 1 which tells about cultures and people who have knowledge about a “Vague God”. These cultures all have a name for or a belief in a supreme God that has been passed down often with stories that parallel Biblical stories with amazing accuracy. “The Chinese call him Shang Ti- the Lord in Heaven….In Korea he is known as Hananim- The Great One…Belief in Shang Ti/Hananim predates confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism by an unknown number of centuries.”
Chapter 2 continues to dig deeper and focuses on an area in and around Burma where multiple people groups had hymns were waiting for the “Lost Book”. All of these groups were waiting for a sacred book and some even had detailed hymns and Biblical stories that were also passed down and continued to whet the people’s appetite for more knowledge that they believed would be found in the “Lost Book”. “Karen prophets actually taught their people hymns passed down from generation to generation by verbal communication alone…Karen hymns to Y’wa reveal how astonishingly clear the concept of the one true God can be in a folk religion!”
I could continue because this book keeps going through Papua New Guinea and many other places. It explores many people who had glimpses and even more of the gospel before ever having the Bible or hearing the Gospel, causing them either to look expectantly towards a time when they would hear the truth more fully or in some cases this knowledge just proved to be a platform for understanding the gospel in their culture and context. It is definitely worth reading but I have a couple warnings. You will need to ignore the heavy use of the exclamation point (which I get because it’s an exciting topic but not enough to merit all the exclamation points used). Also when the author moved away from his story telling strength, his theories and arguments, while still compelling, can get dense and difficult to wade through.
But despite those warnings, Eternity in their Hearts is an interesting and thought provoking read. If you like history, religion and culture, this book combines them all.