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Concepts of God: Images of the Divine in the Five Religious Traditions (Images of the Divine in Five Religious Traditions) Paperback – April 1, 1998
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"fascinating reading" * The Lecturer (Journal of NATFHE) * "readers...will find it stimulating and thought-provoking" * Buddhist Studies Review * "Prof. Ward has made a useful contribution to a dialogue which continues to provide new insights for all concerned." * Buddhist Studies Review *
About the Author
Keith Ward is Regus Professor of Divinity at Oxford University and a Canon of Christ Church. Among his influential books are God, Chance and Necessity, his exploration of the compatibility of a scientific worldview and the existence of a creator God, which was published to widespread critical acclaim in 1996. Also published by Oneworld are Ward's God, Faith and the New Millennium and In Defence of the Soul.
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Ward does two things simultaneously that are very difficult to do: On one hand, he allows each tradition to speak in its own voice without pressing them into a mold of pre-packaged politically correct "sameness". So, he allows genuine difference in the content presented by each religion. He does not pretend that all religions are simply "saying the same thing".
On the other hand, he presents a compelling case that each religion finds a way to deal with a common structure of religious experience. Ward shows how each religious tradition (including sub-traditions in each major tradition) all exhibit a six-fold "fiduciary structure" (i.e. a structure of "fides", or faith, in a Transcendent Reality). Each of the six elements in the fiduciary structure have a basic duality, or polarity, around which the element revolved. For instance, all religions have a structural element of "The Real" or "The Transcendent", with an essential bi-polarity of whether this Real is a Passive Void (an indefinable Abyss of pure Being) or is an Active Person (such as a Personal God).
The other structural elements include: 1. The Authority, alternating between pure mystical experience, or dictated revelation through a great Book or great prophetic figures; 2. The Goal, alternating between absorption into the Real, or as a personal loving relationship of obedience to the Real; 3. The Means of attaining liberation, alternating between "works" of moral, ascetic, and ritual effort, and grace, or the free, unmerited gift of the Real; 4. The Limitation of experiencing the Real, alternating between a denial of the goodness and usefulness of the material world as a vehicle for liberation, and an affirmation of the material world as a gift to help persons toward liberation; and finally, 5. The Cause of personal separation from the Real, alternating between unintentional ignorance and illusion on one hand, and intentional sin and evil leading to judgment.
What is truly interesting to see in Ward is how he shows that all religions, in fact, have means of dealing with each of these bi-polarities in the structure of religious experience. He points out that religions we would usually associate with "impersonal" and "immanent" ideas of Ultimate Reality (such as forms of Buddhism and Hinduism), actually speak of Ultimate Reality in personal terms to offset the dominant themes. Likewise, he points out that every religion- from the most "self-help" oriented religions, to those that claim to rely only on divine grace, do in fact make room for BOTH grace and works in their religious systems.
I heartily recommend this book. However, it is not an "easy read". Like this review, the sentence structure is often dense and philosophical. If you want a more accessible read from Ward that covers much the same area, try Ward's "The Case for Religion".