Outcalt writes second book with universal religious themes

Review of Common Ground: Lessons and Legends from the World’s Great Faiths

By Daniel R. Gangler*

Common Ground: Lessons and Legends from the World’s Great Faiths by Todd Outcalt

For the second time in as many years, Todd Outcalt has written a book which broadens his readership beyond a Christian audience to include people of historic faith groups worldwide. This one is titled Common Ground: Lessons and Legends from the World’s Great Faiths (Skyhorse, 2015). This book of stories and legends affirms there is a common ground or common themes in the sacred scriptures and other wisdom literature we collectively hold dear despite our theological or geographical moorings.

In Common Ground, Outcalt, a prolific writer and senior pastor of Calvary United Methodist Church in the Indianapolis suburb of Brownsburg, Indiana, goes beyond Christianity in projecting a wider source of not only Christian and Jewish Scriptures and other writings, but also Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, Confucian, Sikh and other sacred writings. In fact, from time to time, he even considers wisdom literature beyond any sacred sources, such as Aesop and famous internationally-known authors of previous centuries.

He hopes readers of divergent faiths and various perspectives will be able to “discover beauty and pleasure in what they do not know, but might learn from the great teachers and sages of the past.” For the most part he contends beliefs are held together with metaphors and innuendoes. If we strive to understand them as literal, we’ll miss and not understand the truth to which they point. This book has more than its share of metaphors and innuendos, both explained and unexplained.

Common Ground is a unique eclectic collection of such wisdom literature presented in a thematic way. Outcalt lists by chapters various truths dealing with humility, mercy, simplicity, crisis, courage, generosity, enthusiasm and integrity. He even dedicates a final chapter to laughter that primarily considers foolishness. In each chapter he introduces truth as a human universal truth, quotes from several sources worldwide and comments on almost each piece as it relates to faith values experienced across many traditions. He produces an ongoing commentary of what he defines as “common ground” for the faiths of the world’s majority population.

Outcalt helps the reader discover many of these values have a shared commonality and that we can hear many of these like stories repeated hundreds of years apart by sages of faith who lived continents apart. He shows by illustration that there are common roots to truths. He points to love as probably the highest truth experienced by all humanity. He writes: “… love is the true aim of all faith and believing. Religious labels, creeds, positions, and movements are but outward manifestations of the true desire, which is to be united with God.”

Even if the reader does not agree with him in his commentary about a particular story, one still has the whole story to ruminate upon. Many of these comments are relevant for contemporary life today. There are more than 200 pieces of literature that Outcalt has copied and on which he reflects. Each example is indexed in the book’s notes. In addition to his commentary, he also contexts most pieces historically so the reader knows where it fits into the grand scheme of the world’s faith traditions.

What’s surprising is that some of these stories he uses from differing traditions are remarkably similar. For instance, Buddha told the story of a wealthy man who had a son who ran away from home centuries before Jesus told the story Christians commonly refer to as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” In both stories, the son comes to his senses and is blessed by his father. Both have themes of salvation, redemption and forgiveness.

In Common Ground, Outcalt illustrates the highest ideals of humanity showing their roots in the world’s historic religions and beliefs. He believes, as humans, we hold many more common ideals and beliefs than differences that separate us.

Outcalt has written more than 30 books with many in six languages. He also contributes articles to many magazines including American Fitness, Cure and The Christian Century. He lives with his wife on several acres of wildlife near Brownsburg. Besides writing and ministry, he enjoys hiking, kayaking and travel.

Daniel Gangler

*Gangler is a retired United Methodist communicator who lives in Indianapolis. He is a long time member and former national president of RCC.

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