The underlying theme of this book is peace and nonviolence. The author and his wife have helped launch the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking in Milwaukee. Rynne traces the formation and life of Mohandas Gandhi growing up in India, studying in England, and working in South Africa and India. He points out that Gandhi's fundamental beliefs were in the Hindu concepts of atman (the innermost essence of each individual), moksha (liberation), karma (actions and their effects on this life and future lives), dharma (the law built into the universe that makes all cohere), reincarnation (transmigration), and cow-protection (following from his belief in the unity of all life). At the same time, he rejected the caste system in India. Gandhi's religious views included the belief in the fundamental unity of human beings and the necessity of humans working together to relieve human suffering. Growing up as a Hindu in India, Gandhi's basic criticism of Christianity was that Christians should live their faith and do less verbal preaching of it. In this respect, Gandhi was highly influenced by Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel. He also was greatly influenced by the symbol of the Jesus' Cross. According to Gandhi, the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, a popular religious poem within the epic Mahabbarata, was "the most important influence of all on his life and praxis" (p.32). He concluded from this study that ahimsa (doing no harm) is one's greatest duty. Both moksha and ahimsa are a pursuit of liberation for all people and not just for individuals.
Gandhi gave new meaning to the English phrase "passive resistance." He replaced it with the Indian term "satyagraha" (firmness in the truth). He claimed that it better understood and explained the position of oppressed peoples. It went beyond passive resistance, civil disobedience and pacifism. Satyagraha is bold, assertive, and risk taking. It includes ahimsa, tapasya (self-suffering), agrapha (force) and satya (truth). In Rynne's words: "...all four of these components work together to form satyagraha: resisting oppression assertively (agraha) through nonviolent, loving action (ahimsa) to find the living truth in the situation (satya), a truth that is discovered and authenticated through self-suffering (tapasya), a truth that transforms the situation and brings opponents together" (p.68). Satyagraha is both a theological vision and a way of life bringing about conflict resolution through nonviolence. It is a win-win situation without compromise. Following Gandhi's principles, freedom fighters were successful in the United States' civil rights movement, in South Africa against apartheid, in the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and the Solidarity revolution in Poland.
Rynne goes on to show that four major Christian theologians have been especially influenced by Gandhi's thought, namely, C.F. Andrews, a Christian missionary in India, John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite theologian, Bernard Haring, a Roman Catholic moral theologian, and Walter Wink, a Christian biblical theologian. He gives specific examples where Gandhi's influence is found in their writings. He also traces the history of the violent approach found in the practice of Christianity all the way back to the time of the Roman emperor, Constantine, and the Edict of Milan in the fourth century. He points out, however, that historical satisfaction theories of soteriology are being surpassed by contemporary views in terms of peace and nonviolence. Whereas great theologians such as Anselm in the past taught salvation as coming about through the obedient sacrifice of Jesus on the cross which appeased an angry God who needed to be satisfied by the blood of his Son, more contemporary soteriologies try to show that it was Jesus' whole life of suffering by practicing what he was preaching that brought about atonement. Rynne points out that: "Christ died because of the way he lived—not because God the Father had him killed. Historically, Jesus' message and his actions upset the powers that be" (p.160). Gandhi always considered himself to be not a theoretician but a man of action and he admired Jesus for this as well. Jesus embraced and taught nonviolence and salvation today is continuing Jesus' work of nonviolent action by individuals in community. Whereas Jesus has shown the Way by the life that he lived and for which he died, individuals in community continue living that life of nonviolent love in discipleship.
Rynne has captured in this volume the message of Jesus reflected in the teaching of Gandhi. Perhaps the world at large will also grasp this message as well when it comes to the realization that peace and human fulfillment come about not by domination but by self-giving love. Rynne has done a major service for religious people of all denominations by presenting this in-depth study of Gandhi's life and teaching that offers a model and a new way of understanding Christian salvation and our purpose on earth.