Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ravi Zacharias' Latest in "Great Conversations"- Jesus and Krishna

Instead of reading the latest in Ravi's 'Great Conversations' series ("New Birth or Rebirth: Jesus Talks with Krishna"), I bought an audiobook (downloaded from and listened to the 2-hour long audio content read by Simon Vance masterfully. The premise is that of an Indian expat talking to his American Friend, Richard, in the city of Mathura, regarded as the historical Krishna's birthplace. Richard asks questions to his Indian friend, Subramaniam, a Tamil Brahmin by birth and rearing, and a recent convert to Christ. Subramaniam narrates a mystical experience he had as he struggled to understand what Jesus would say to Krishna in the context of Indian sensibilities and understanding of modern life.

I thought the narrative of this imaginary conversation just about scratched the surface of what would be a raging debate if prolonged further, but it was very clear in understanding where the superficial similarities between Christianity and Hinduism ended and where the fundamental differences started. Ravi narrates this with much more sensitivty than I have seen other Christian authors do, although some of the contentious aspects of the Hindu epics and philosophy are broached here as well. I'm sure Hindu readers would feel that this was "Krishna in the dock" as opposed to "Jesus in the dock" (dock referring to the courtroom cage in which a witness takes her stand and is cross-examined). Certainly Ravi comes from a Christian vantage-point, and as so many Hindu intellectuals have undertaken to place Jesus in the dock, I felt this was a ncessary position for Ravi to take. Some of the Hindu scholars such as Swami Prabhupada have attacked Christian thought and offered defenses for Hindu practices and tradition. These defenses are directly quoted and dissected in this book and in that context some of their questions on Christianity are answered.

To a large extend I felt that Ravi was trying his best to focus on core ideas in Hinduism and not quibble over peripherals. The character Subramaniam asks the prickly questions, Jesus asks him frequently to be patient, Krishna asnwers these questions and his answers prompt Jesus to pose deeper questions behind Subramaniam's seemingly abrasive ones. Issues which are highly sensitive to Hindus, such as the caste system, reincarnation, cow-slaughter are raised, and whether or not the answers satisfy each inquirer, the beginning of possible answers to these issues are placed at the table. It is for the reader or listener to understand where these will lead.

Ravi quotes Jesus from the Bible very often. He also portrays Jesus as very often asking Krishna questions in response to his own questions. After one such altercation, Krishna asks him why he poses these counter-questions, to which Jesus answers that the purpose is only to let him open up within his own assumptions and not to sidestep the question itself.

Definitely a good read for a Christian to understand how to relate to Hinduism and more importantly, to Hindus. The sight of evangelists criticizing Hinduism as demonic lies and fulminating against Hindu leaders are sadly all too common. This would be neither acceptable to Hindus nor an attitude that Jesus would approve of. There is something in the gentle but firm responses of Jesus in this imaginary conversation that we can all learn from.

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