Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions is a guide for evangelical Christians. The book is not a text for readers looking for an objective or multi-perspective study tool.
Beverley is an academic and an evangelical Christian. He openly admits, or warns, that he wrote the book from his evangelical Christian perspective. He writes "I realize that my Christian perspective will create tensions at certain points with followers of other religions or with academics of no religious persuasion. My criticisms of various groups and leaders are offered with a deep recognition of my own fallibility."
According to Beverley, the book is an introduction to "all of the major religions of the world and hundreds of new ones." In addition to offering "bare facts about the various groups and leaders covered," Beverley "provides opinion and commentary both about many controversial issues related to the study of religion in general and specific religious groups" and what he believes "are necessary criticisms on relevant and important points." He adds, "negative statements are not meant to ignore or downplay the ways in which virtually every religion offers love, identity, and meaning to its followers."
The book's framework is based on ten principles that form the Christian paradigm for assessing religions that Beverley believes offers a proper Christian response to religions.
1. All religions and philosophies are to be measured by the final revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
a. Simply, the Bible does not teach that all roads lead to God.
2. Commitment to Jesus demands that the study of religions be carried out in love.
a. Christians should respond with love, not hatred, bigotry or ignorance.
3. Christian response to religions involves a commitment to truth.
a. This includes commitment to Christ as the Truth and avoiding lies, half-truths, and distortions.
4. Christians must recognize the contradictions and ultimate disunity that exist among the religions of the world.
a. The religions of the world often disagree on even basic points.
5. Disciples of Jesus must recognize every significant point of agreement with people of other religions and even those of no faith.
a. There is no harm in recognizing the goodness and truth in non-Christian paths.
6. Those who trust the gospel of Jesus must recognize the power of the dominant liberal perspective on religion and religious study.
a. The acceptance of all religions as paths to God has grown and confidence in the Christian gospel has eroded.
7. The Christian church must affirm that the mercy and love of God shown in Jesus are sufficient to answer all concerns about God's fairness in a world of religions.
a. Christians must resist attempts to down play the supremacy of Jesus in making Christianity more acceptable.
8. Those who trust in the Christian gospel must not forget the wrath of God that stands against the wickedness of a fallen world.
a. This applies to the secular and religious communities, for in both the Lord's name is taken in vain.
9. Christians must repent in sorrow for the ways in which we have not allowed the gospel to critique the church through the ages.
a. Religion can be unbelief even among those who claim to follow Christ.
10. A Christian response to religion must include respect for human liberty.
a. Since coercion is antithetical to Jesus' treatment of others and acceptance of the Christian gospel is only real if freely done, Christians must respect the freedom to reject any religion, including Christianity,
By proffering these principles, Beverley makes clear that his critical analysis of the world's religion is not a license for evangelical Christians to be bigoted or hateful against non-Christians.
Beverley offers ten multifaceted tests for evangelical Christians to apply "in approaching their own faith tradition and that of any religious group."
1. The God Test
2. The Christological Test
3. The Biblical Test
4. The Love Test
5. The Spirit Test
6. The Freedom Test
7. The Psychological Test
8. The Social/Political Test
9. The Prophetic Test
10. The Rational Test
The amount of criticism throughout the profiles makes clear that these tests are basically the "evangelical Christian tests" by which all other religions will fail.
Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions profiles more than 200 religions, sects, and cults, some of which are not well known. To some extent, each profile features historical information; timelines; photographs; side notes; leader profiles; key principles and beliefs; analysis and critique; opinions and commentary on controversial issues; and recommended resources.
When it comes to a review of people's belief systems and what gives them strength and hope, there is a fine line between academic analysis and the appearance of un-Christian-like judging.