Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The deep and abiding faith of Mennonite mothers

Posted on: April 27th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

 

BOOK REVIEW

Sons and Mothers: Stories from Mennonite Men
Edited by Mary-Ann Loewen
University of Regina Press, 2015
144 pages
ISBN 978-0889774032

 

The genesis of Sons and Mothers: Stories from Mennonite Men came at the June 2013 book launch for a different book, Mothering Mennonite, a collection of stories women wrote about their Mennonite mothers. “That evening, I decided to take up the challenge of crossing the gender/generation divide and allow men to share their stories about their Mennonite mothers,” writes Mary-Ann Loewen, who became the “coaxer,” as she puts it, of stories from the 12 men who appear in this volume.

The contributors—teachers, writers, academics, a poet, a conductor, a therapist, a pastor—often bring literary talent to bear as they write about the maternal relationship against a background of faith.

Michael Goertzen, who now teaches abroad, mixes prose and poetry for a picture of Hilda, who fled the Russian Civil War after the Revolution, with a dose of survivor guilt: “In a silent struggle, she grappled with her own Anabaptist traditions, songs and those abandoned farms of the Molotschna Colony and other communities where she and her ancestors had lived.”

In free verse, Christoff Engbrecht in Winnipeg recalls his mother, Sharon, as “queen of rotundas/lazysusans, vestibules and chandeliers/gorse and hassocks/and slow turf fires.”

Each of the portraits explores a mother-and-son’s relationship with the faith that traces its heritage to the 16th-century Anabaptist (re-baptizer) movement in Switzerland and is popularly named for Dutch pastor Menno Simons. In Canada today, there are about 200,000 Mennonites, with concentrations in southern Ontario and Manitoba.

One revealing aspect of the book is seeing how men discover the complex relationship between mothers and church. Paul Tiessen hints at things hidden in “Things my friends did not know about my mom”—the main thing being his mother Helen’s gradual withdrawal from “the ongoing and vigorous activity of church life.” She would visit her mother on Sundays and listen to the church service “through a closed-circuit hookup.” Tiessen sensitively seeks to understand this through exploring the social and psychological effect of early trauma—another emigration from Russia—on his mother.

For some of the men, a mother’s deep faith drives them further from their religious upbringing, to discover their own relationship with God. There are also universal family dynamics, such as aging mothers who want to stay in their homes through physical and mental crises.

Although the mother-son relationship is universal and relevant to people of all faiths, and even no faith, the book could have benefited from a brief description of the Mennonite movement, just so readers don’t need to have a laptop and Wikipedia by their sides.

In addition, the choice of authors reveals a class bias. All the writers are upper middle class and well-educated. There are no farmers, truck drivers, train engineers, auto mechanics, factory workers. Working-class Mennonite men also deserve to have their stories published—perhaps in a second volume.

Solange De Santis

Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008. Now based in New York, she is editor of Episcopal Journal.

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Anglican Journal News, April 25, 2016

Philip Jenkins: The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand Years Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels

Posted on: April 2nd, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

 

 

THE MANY FACES OF CHRIST
The Thousand Years Story of the
Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels
by Philip Jenkins

Basic Books/Perseus Books Group, Oct. 2015.
Hardcover, 326 pages. $31.00 CAD.
ISBN #978-0-465-00692-6.

 

 

Publisher’s Promo:

The standard account of early Christianity
tells us that the first centuries after Jesus’
death witnessed an efflorescence of Christian
sects, each with its own gospel. We are taught
that these alternative scriptures, which
represented intoxicating, daring, and often
bizarre ideas, were suppressed in the fourth
and fifth centuries, when the Church canonized
the gospels we know today: Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John. The rest were lost, destroyed,
or hidden.

In The Many Faces of Christ, the renowned

religious historian Philip Jenkins thoroughly
refutes our most basic assumptions about
the Lost Gospels. He reveals that dozens of
alternative gospels not only survived the
canonization process but in many cases
remained influential texts within the official
Church. Whole new gospels continued to be
written and accepted. For a thousand years,
these strange stories about the life and death
of Jesus were freely admitted onto church
premises, approved for liturgical reading,
read by ordinary laypeople for instruction
and pleasure, and cited as authoritative by
scholars and theologians.

The Lost Gospels spread far and wide,

crossing geographic and religious borders.
The ancient Gospel of Nicodemus penetrated
into Southern and Central Asia, while both
Muslims and Jews wrote and propagated
gospels of their own. In Europe, meanwhile,
it was not until the Reformation and Counter-
Reformation that the Lost Gospels were
effectively driven from churches. But still,
many survived, and some continue to shape
Christian practice and belief in our own day.

Offering a revelatory new perspective on the
formation of the biblical canon, the nature of
the early Church, the evolution of Christianity,
The Many Faces of Christ restores these Lost
Gospels to their central role in Christian history.

 

Author’s Bio:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Jenkins

 

Author’s Words:

For well over half of Christian history, believers
relied on a body of written and visual materials
going well beyond the strictly defined Bible as
we know it today…. (it is better to stress) the
different  sources of faith in any religion (than
to focus excessively on a received canon such
as the Bible…)

Religions naturally tend to develop other bases
of faith, including alternative scriptures and
devotions, until periodically, these are swept
away by puritanical reform movements claiming
to take believers back to the basics.

That is the cyclical story of all scripture-based
religions…

Throughout history, believers have always felt
the need to justify their ideas and practices by
scriptures, so that the generation of new would-
be gospels is an inevitable and even healthy
part of evolving belief…

Apocrypha in any religion can be defined simply
as “stories people want” (and a study of the
history of Christianity, for example, provides
ample evidence of this…)

As popular needs and concerns changed over
time, so particular scriptures were produced
to meet the new cultural demand, and some
won a significant following…

Rediscovering the lost scriptures forces us
to rethink much of Christian history. Our
chronology of that story often reflects what
was originally a Protestant mythology of the
decline and betrayal of the original Christian
message, a mythology that has subsequently
been adapted by liberal and progressive
Christians… Any kind of authentic Christianity
seems to go missing in action from roughly
400 through 1500 CE, the “long middle”
of Christian history…

In contrast to that pseudo-history, this book
stresses the very strong continuities that
unite the Middle Ages with the earliest
Christian world and the apostolic era…

Those ancient texts (about which I write
here) continued to flourish in many parts
of the Christian world – not only in African
and Asian churches, but also in such bastions
of Catholic faith as Britain and Ireland.

Books that were burned in one region remained
popular elsewhere. (Many of these alternate
scriptures, like the Gospel of Nicodemus,
remained popular even in the heart
of Catholic Western Europe. (Many of these
texts described different concepts of Jesus
that Muslims and Jews would also consider…)

Although the Reformation era witnessed
widespread suppression of alternative
scriptures,  the upsurge of learning and
literacy generated many new approaches
to Christian faith, including multiple new
churches and denominations…

The popular view of Christian history is a
myth, in the sense of a tale recounted to
create or justify a particular kind of faith.

(this cycle of an original golden age of truth,
followed by centuries of darkness and loss,
and ending with a glorious rediscovery of
what is really true – keeps repeating itself
through much of our religious history…)

Nobody doubts the central role of Christianity
in the history of the West, nor the Bible in
Western culture and art. But for over a
millennium, that biblical world was imagined
very differently from anything we would
recognize today, and was approached by
other scriptures (as we would know them.)

To trace (the real history that existed) we
often have to look beyond the limits of
“the West” as we traditionally define it.

– from Gospel Truths (chapter one)

 

Christian Century Review –
September 30th, 2015

http://tinyurl.com/gs2o6e3

 

 

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst

 

My Thoughts:

Reflecting on growing up in my warm and
supportive Christianity (Canadian Lutheran
yet culturally distinct) I now realize that I
was formed by a faith story that reflects
what the author says “was originally a
Protestant mythology of the decline and
betrayal of the original Christian message”
and the special recovery of that message
to a privileged group of believers.

Never was this more evident than when
we annually celebrated the Reformation 
on October 31st. My pastors would remind
me of, and impress upon my young mind,
the great work of Martin Luther who,
through much turmoil of conscience and
effort, “rediscovered the central core of
the gospel message” – which is to be found
in Romans 1:17.  Here St. Paul reminds us
that “the just shall live by faith, not by 
trying to do good works.”

I was intrigued by the Book of Mormon
and made a personal visit to the place in
Palmyra, Upper New York state, where
Joseph Smith received a special, God-
dictated revelation from the angel Moroni.

I was not aware, at age 15 or so, that I
was being influenced by two major
religious forces that Jenkins writes of in
his current stimulating study on the role
of sacred scriptures in faith development.

Luther connected me with the essence of
faith as I understood it. Joseph Smith was
an example of false teachings that I was
to avoid at my peril.

After reading “The Many Faces of Christ”
I see that my faith and my fears about
faith were both part of a much larger
story that play into my understanding
of what I am as a Christian today.

Both traditions have truth associated with
them. Both can be,  understood by themselves,
narrow and misleading. All are part of a much
larger Christian narrative.

Philip Jenkins never fails to challenge.
He stretches me when I would like to
remain in my comfort zone. He intrigues
me by opening new faith connections that
I might never have imagined were possible.

We have long known of the existence of
non-canonical Christian texts – beginning
with the Gospel of Thomas and expanding
exponentially. What we have not known
has been the extensive influence of such
texts on such large numbers of people
over so long a period of history.

Paul’s core gospel message about
justification may not have been as
important in the great scheme of
things as I was once led to believe.

The Book of Mormon may not have been
so ficticious a book of sacred scripture
as the common wisdom of my background
had taught me.

The great mix of faith traditions currently
included in the umbrella term “Christianity”
may not be so historically unique as we think.

Jenkins’ book reflects erudition and the
ability of a good scholar to push the envelope.
At the same time, it infuses the reader with 
intrigue and the desire to probe further.

We are obviously going through a period
of expansion concerning what it means
to be a Christian today. A cyclical phase
of faith contraction will inevitably follow.

This volume would be a worthy addition to
your library and you would return to it
often, I assure you.

 

Buy the book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/jreqg6h

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XI, No. 32,  April  3rd, 2016

Shane Lopez: Hope is an ancient virtue

Posted on: March 28th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

Making Hope Happen

The author of “Making Hope Happen” says that hope can be cultivated and shared.

Shane Lopez studies hope. What he has found is that hopeful people are more successful, healthier and happier than those who lack hope.

And the good news is that hopefulness isn’t an inborn trait, he said. People can cultivate hopefulness and share it with others.

“The revelation for me over all these years of doing this research is that hope is contagious,” he said. “The intriguing part of that ‘hope is shared’ message is that if you’re around hopeful people, you become more hopeful in time.”

Lopez is a leading researcher in the field of positive psychology and is a Gallup Senior Scientist and the research director of Gallup’s Clifton Strengths Institute. He is the chief architect of the Gallup Student Poll (link is external), a measure of hope, engagement and well-being of U.S. public school students.

Lopez spoke to Faith & Leadership about the implications of his research for individuals, organizations and leaders. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: In your book you have four messages about hope: hope matters, hope is a choice, hope can be learned, and hope can be shared with others. Can you give us a summary of those ideas?

Hope is this ancient virtue that is celebrated across cultures, across religions. Instinctually and intuitively, we believe that it matters, but when you start asking people in a town or a school or a business to really invest in hope, one of their first questions to you is, “Well, does it really matter?”

And I want to say, “You know what? You’ve been honoring hope your whole life. Part of your spiritual life is about hope; we all believe in hope, especially in America.” They still want to know the data. They want to know how hope really plays a role in their daily lives, so we’ve done a ton of studies to demonstrate the extent to which hope matters.

Hope is a choice in that we have this capacity to think about the future that’s unique to human beings, and we build that capacity over time. It’s really a personal choice that is made to either invest in this thinking about the future and your expectations about what might happen or to let each day go by passively without really becoming an active agent in your own life.

Sometimes that choice is made by an individual over time, and sometimes it’s made in the blink of an eye.

Hope can be learned: we have this innate sensibility to think about the future early on, and over time we get better and better and better at it if we’re given the right reinforcement by the right people and we have the right kind of success.

What we truly need to learn over time is that flexible, creative thinking that fills the gaps between where we are today and where we want to be down the road. It fills up the gaps between point A and point B. So that “pathways thinking” is what most people really need to spend their time learning.

But the revelation for me over all these years of doing this research is that hope is contagious. The intriguing part of that “hope is shared” message is that if you’re around hopeful people, you become more hopeful in time. If you’re around hopeless people, you become hopeless over time.

Work is being done by epidemiologists that demonstrates that positive and negative emotions and mindsets are contagious to the third degree. So in other words, my hopefulness spreads to you; you go home and you share it with someone else; and then that someone else sits with a neighbor and shares it with another person.

So it’s moving in a very predictable/meaningful way, but the same is true about hopelessness. So that’s how we temper that message — that hope is shared. You can give it away, but you can also be an agent of despair. So you have to be cautious about how you act each day and what you tend to share with others.

Q: What is the difference between optimism and hope?

Optimism is half of hope. Think about hope as the belief that the future will be better than the present, combined with the belief that you have some power to make it so.

That first belief — that the future will be better than the present — is optimism. Hope adds agency to that optimism.

Agency is this word that we toss around a lot in psychology. It’s really that belief that you can write your own script, that belief that you are the hero in your own journey.

When you attach that to optimism, you’re more self-determined. You are more inclined to create a lot of strategies to get where you want to go in life. You have a greater tendency to connect with people that really can help you get the support and instruction that you need. You look for opportunities that will help you. You look for opportunities to help others.

The agency combines with optimism to give you that sense of action that’s inherent to hope.

Q: Your book focuses largely on personal goals and an individual sense of hope, but I wonder how those goals relate to larger organizational or missional goals.

In the work we’ve done at Gallup, we found that followers need four things from leaders. Stability, trust, compassion and hope are four followers’ needs, so any leader in any organization needs to keep those four needs in mind.

Followers need stability, a stable person who’s true to their word and sense of self. Trust relates to stability but is more of that emotional feeling you get when you’re around someone who is stable and is moving you in a positive direction. Compassion — maybe it’s delivered as tough love, but the love definitely has to be there.

Then the last thing we need is hope.

We’ve done some studies of great bosses. We need hopeful leaders who create excitement about the future, who get rid of any obstacles that are in our way and then celebrate our accomplishments as we make progress and reach our goals.

Q: What can be done to teach people to see and to act upon multiple pathways?

To teach “pathways thinking,” you can stand up in front of a room as a leader and say, “Here’s where we are; here’s where we need to be; here are the four routes that we could take.”

That’s OK, but that doesn’t really teach people how to come up with their own pathways. You just did all the work for them, but when you’re pursuing the goal for the organization and you bump into obstacles, that’s the moment. That’s the teachable moment.

When you feel like, “Hey, here’s our first failure,” that’s really your first opportunity to say, “OK guys, where’s our next pathway? We did not anticipate this. We’re stuck. We need multiple ideas for how to get unstuck.”

So those teachable moments, that’s when you really call upon people to think about pathways, and it’s often best done in a group setting. You know, two, three, 20 people, however many people are around, so that you can really generate this ping-pong of ideas, you know, people throwing ideas out, and then they go back and forth, and they get bigger and better, and other people in that mix realize, “Oh, there are lots of good ideas here. There’s way more than one pathway. There’s way more than one way to get things done.”

So I would say, let’s rely more on show than tell, and when we face obstacles, view those as teachable moments, those opportunities to pull people in and get talking about the different pathways that you can take.

The last thing that I want to emphasize is that pathways thinking is best taught in the context of working on something real. When you’re working on something real, when you have a real project and there are real outcomes that are dependent on you coming up with pathways, and real time lost and real money lost if you don’t figure this out, then the urgency of it all, the excitement of it all, helps you really learn how to do this in the moment.

Q: Having to come up with multiple pathways means you’ve failed in your first attempt, right? What role does hope have in dealing with failure?

Very hopeful people see failure as another opportunity to try. I think everyone can be taught to see failure as another opportunity to try something new, and you have to start by doing that in low-risk situations.

You can’t say, “Hey, you’re going to college now, and you’re going to fail a whole bunch of times, and life will be grand.”

You have to do it when they’re young and there’s not a lot of risk. I think we need to help people get comfortable with failing in low-risk situations but then emphasize that trying is really what gets people to that finish line, not necessarily failing repeatedly.

Q: The goal isn’t failure.

Right. They’ve turned failure into a goal — they’ll tell you these stories: Bill Gates failed so many times, and Michael Jordan got kicked off the team.

So you have to remind people that trying is really the thing that drives us to our success. Don’t celebrate every failure like you’re one step closer to the outcome you desire. It’s really that trying that we can instill in kids and adults that will get you to that outcome.

Q: In some ways, it sounds like what you’re talking about is resilience, the ability to regroup and try again. Do you think resilience is crucial to developing that mindset of multiple pathways?

I would flip that. If you look at all the research on resilience, you can only determine if someone’s resilient after the fact.

So you can only tell the story of resilience if they have bounced back from that thing that they’ve been struggling with, and then when you unpack it, you say, OK, what made them resilient?

If you read any ancient text, they will not celebrate the ancient virtue of resilience. It is not an ancient human characteristic. They’ll celebrate hope. They’ll celebrate faith. They’ll celebrate love.

Those things work together, and we use them strategically to become resilient in the end. So they are intertwined, but I see someone becoming hopeful and dealing with the circumstances of life so that when they get knocked down, they can get back up again and show the world their resilience.

Q: What role does storytelling play?

I think storytelling has a huge role, and not just in developing hope, but this idea of the future and this idea that you’re the hero in your own story.

It really shapes up when you’re 2, 3 years old and starting to think about tomorrow. Tomorrow’s fascinating to a little kid. What will we do tomorrow? Tomorrow really is magical.

So you start telling stories about what I will do tomorrow, and that is the first set of hope stories that you tell in your life. That’s exciting, and most people hold on to that storytelling capacity across their lifetimes.

If you keep yourself at the center of the story, chances are you’re a very hopeful creature. If you see yourself as the guy who’s always getting downed in an argument or you always lose out in a contest or you never get the prize you want in life, chances are you’re not so hopeful.

Q: On a personal and on an institutional/organizational level, storytelling is so powerful.

That reminds me of this company that was going through some big changes, and they were trying to get rid of the old script and start with the new, and one of their organizational development people said, “We’re going to burn the scripts.”

She said, “I mean, literally. Bring whatever document you think represents the old company and what we were doing that we shouldn’t have been doing. Bring that, and we’re going to burn them in a barrel.”

And she did exactly that, and she said, “Now, we need to write the new story.”

I’ve done that with students. I brought in a bunch of flat river stones to college freshmen, and I gave them a Sharpie and I said, “Write the name of the teacher in your lifetime that made you doubt that you could succeed.”

And they wrote the name on the river stone, and at the end of class, we went to the lake in the middle of campus and we threw the stones in and we said, “OK, you no longer need to worry about that person. Now you get to write a story without that person as a character, because they’re not at college. They’re in high school. They were in middle school. They’re behind you. Now you have a clean slate. New time. New story.”

Q: Has your faith influenced your work?

Yes. We’re Catholic. We’ve been Catholic forever. Lopez is Spanish, but most of my people are French Acadian, Cajun, and we were exiled from France, and then we came to Canada.

We were exiled because of our religion again, and then we ended up in south Louisiana, and the place I’m from, New Iberia, is 85 percent Catholic. So being Catholic is a sign of resilience.

We fought to be Catholic. We had to leave two homes to be Catholic, my ancestors did. So that for us represents a story of strength and a story of hope and a story of resilience. So that story for us is part of our overall faith.

So for me, being Cajun and being Catholic means that I’m from a long line of hopeful people who have practiced a religion that we valued so much over the years that we continue to fight for the right to do so, and it’s part of who we are.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, March 28, 2016

Daniel C. Maguire: Christianity Without God: Moving beyond the Dogmas and Retrieving the Epic Moral Narrative

Posted on: March 23rd, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

Review of Daniel C. Maguire, Christianity Without God: Moving beyond the Dogmas and Retrieving the Epic Moral Narrative (SUNY Press, 2014). Paperback. 226 pages.

Daniel Maguire is a liberal Roman Catholic theologian and Professor of Ethics at Marquette University. Author of eleven books and editor of three anthologies, he specializes in social justice, medical and ecological ethics.

The book begins with a disclaimer, disarming for anyone with preconceived ideas about what to expect from an ordained priest who has taught almost exclusively at Catholic universities: “When I knelt on the marble floor of the chapel in Rome and heard the bishop intone over me, ‘Tu es sacerdos in aeternum’ (you are a priest forever), I could never have imagined I would one day write this book. In these pages, I argue against the existence of a personal god, the divinity of Jesus, and the belief that continued living is the sequel to death. I find no persuasive arguments for any of those hypotheses.”

Maguire claims that his intellectual integrity required him to write this book. “The guiding maxim of my intellectual journey has been to follow the truth wherever it beckons.” Accordingly he dedicates it to the American Association of University Professors “which stands tall as the defender of academic freedom and integrity.”

Christianity without God comprises four parts. The first examines traditional concepts of a personal deity; the second, how Jesus of Nazareth came to be declared God; the third addresses the implications of human evolution for belief in immortality; the fourth offers a radical vision of humanity inspired by the Hebrew Prophets and the gospels.

Maguire’s approach to the Hebrew Bible is literary rather than historical. Yet he maintains its abiding significance for our political and ethical values. In the Epilogue, he states: “One can profit from the poetry of early Israel in its polytheistic period without embracing polytheism. Biblical disarray and confusion about afterlife in some parallel universe does not destroy the poetic brilliance of that complex classic.” The Hebrew Bible is our “epic moral narrative.”

Maguire traces the tortuous path of ancient Israel from pre-exilic polytheism and monolatry to post-exilic monotheism. He targets supernatural theism, anthropocentrism and its concomitant, anthropomorphism. He eschews “god-talk.” Human beings have never agreed on the meaning of the word “God.” Morality does not depend on “unstable god-talk.” In fact, morality does not depend on religion. This, after all, was the gist of Socrates’ argument in Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro. The distinction is important and also advantageous: “A definition of religion that leaves out god-talk can include nontheistic religions such as Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.”

Traditional concepts make it difficult to speak of God in a coherent way. The word “God” is either meaningless or misleading. Consequently philosophers resort to analogy, symbol and myth. Apophatic theologians have recourse to saying what God is not rather than describing what God is.

Maguire dismisses outright negative theology, calling it The Apophatic Hideaway. “In popular piety, moreover, the apophatic doesn’t fly. Anthropocentrism reigns. There are no apophatic pews in churches.”

For Maguire the three Abrahamic religions are intrinsically anthropomorphic. They depend on divine revelation (Torah, Gospel, Qur’an):

“The very concept of ‘revelation’ is as anthropomorphic as Jesus. ‘Religions of the book,’ Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, posit a talking deity, talking as anthropoi do. And Nicaea’s homoousios decision made anthropomorphism official church doctrine.”

Moreover the dogmas of the Incarnation and the Trinity accentuate the problem:

“Ironically, Jesus himself is a huge problem for Christians who want a transcendent non-anthropomorphic deity. From what we know of him, Jesus did not buy into a god hidden in abstractions. His god was not neuter but was clearly anthropomorphic and gendered. ‘Abba, Father,’ Jesus called him, the affectionate, very personal term for father in Aramaic.”

Maguire next traces the development of Christology, culminating in the Council of Nicaea (325 CE). Nicaea supplied the Emperor Constantine with the requisite theology for his project of unifying the Empire. He quotes Eusebius’ description in his Life of Constantine of the lavish banquet that concluded Council of Nicaea, with the bishops entering the luxurious imperial apartments, flanked by the imperial bodyguards!

Maguire accepts the prevailing scientific worldview, citing Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan. Since evolution is integral to that worldview, it impinges directly on belief in an afterlife:

“Evolution poses questions for afterlife believers. The hardest question is: when in the evolutionary process did immortality kick in? Our divergence from the apes began about seven million years ago. How far did evolution have to advance before we became immortal?” (Author’s italics).

The Hebrew Bible offers vague notions of an afterlife in Sheol, the abode of the dead in early Hebraic thought. The dualistic concept of an immortal soul entered Judaism during the late Second Temple era, with Hellenistic influence.

The final part of the book, The Quest for a Global Ethic, is by far the best. It offers a radical, visionary and prophetic view of humanity’s future, inspired by the images of paradise in Genesis and Second Isaiah. Maguire traces its roots to Sumerian cuneiform and the dream of a paradise called Dilmun:

“It was poetry, not geography or history, and it echoes still in the Genesis story of paradise. Literal-minded folk have often taken the Genesis paradise story as fact and have done digs to see if there are remnants of this paradise somewhere between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers—a sorry witness to our metaphor-crushing dullness. There are enough hints in the Genesis story to make the point that this is myth, not facticity. The trees are not oak or elm but trees of life and of the knowledge of good and evil, serpents talk, and angels staff the gates to this paradise. This is Dilmun poetically calling out.”

The Christian movement began as a Jewish sect, called The Way (Acts 24: 5, 14). It was a way of life rather than the system of beliefs that developed later. Maguire maintains that Christianity needs to recover its Judaic roots. Consequently he privileges orthopraxis over orthodoxy.

The book reprises Lloyd Geering, Christianity Without God (2002) and Gretta Vosper, With or Without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important than What We Believe (2008). It follows in the wake of Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith (2010) and Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (2013). It is indicative of a shift in global Christianity away from doctrines and dogmas to ethical and experiential concerns. For conservatives and traditionalists this movement is unsettling.

In the Epilogue, the author recounts the reaction of a colleague: “A theologian friend who read my manuscript is in somewhat reluctant agreement with the case I made but she chided me saying how it used to be exhilarating to wake and see the special glory of Der Morgensonnenschein [Ger. morning sunshine], to feel invigorated by a sleep that ‘unravels care,’ and to say in the face of it all ‘Thank you, God!’”

This is an honest, engaging and challenging book, with a good index, extensive notes and an annotated bibliography. Though addressed primarily to the academy, it is recommended for the general reader.

 

©William Converse, 2015

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

William Converse e-mail, February 11, 2016

James Carroll: Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age

Posted on: March 23rd, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

Review of James Carroll, Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age. (Viking Penguin, 2014) 352 pages.

James Carroll is a former Roman Catholic priest, author of eleven novels and seven works of nonfiction, including, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History (2001) and Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How an Ancient City Ignited our Modern World (2011).

In Christ Actually, Carroll reprises themes from his earlier books, but here his aim is broader, namely, the “retrieval of a sustainable faith for our time and place.” Pivotal to this task is his recognition that Jesus Christ was Jewish. Carroll recounts his intellectual and spiritual development growing up in an Irish American Catholic family on a U.S. Airbase in Germany where his father was an Air Force General. Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl and Elie Wiesel’s Night obliged him to acknowledge that Jesus was a Jew and that his God was the God of the Jews: “That was his Abba, the God of Love who—this must be emphasized—always was and always will be neither an ‘Old Testament God’ nor a ‘New Testament God,’ but the God of the Jews, pure and simple.” Moreover, for Jesus,” the Scriptures” were the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament!

Carroll repeatedly asks himself the question, Why does Jesus continue to influence me? He finds the answer reading the New Testament through the lenses of modern biblical scholarship and theological reflection. If the Jewish War (66-73 CE) was the metanarrative of the Gospels, the Second World War was the larger narrative of the Holocaust. The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE eventually led to the parting of the ways between the nascent Christian movement and Rabbinic Judaism. Our Gospels, composed after 70 CE, reflect the growing antagonism between the two movements.

Carroll draws on the massive scholarship of John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinkng the Historical Jesus (1991-2009); Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah (1994) and John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (1994). He acknowledges “a large debt” to Elaine Pagels and to the  distinguished Talmudic scholar, Daniel Boyarin:

“Informed by such scholarship, I am attempting an instance of faith submitted to reason, which, in this era, means doctrine rescued from all that is doctrinaire. Therefore, the beloved Creed must be criticized. Its every word, the theologian Hans Küng writes, ‘must be translated into the post-Copernican, post-Kantian, indeed post-Darwinian and post-Einsteinian world, just as former generations, too had to understand the same Creed anew at decisive shifts of historical epochs.’ History shapes faith, which might seem the most banal of observations, yet in a tradition that long ago set itself against history, it is revolutionary.”

Carroll shows how the emphasis shifted from Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God to the person of Jesus himself. Defined dogmatically as one in being with God, his humanity and his Jewishness were de-emphasized. “The deep past is far more present with us than we think—not only a past that is defined by the figure of Jesus, but a past that took its shape from forces with which, despite seeming dissimilar at first, we are in fact quite familiar.”

The book’s title is taken from a letter Bonhoeffer wrote to his friend Eberhard Bethge, “What keeps gnawing at me is the question, What is Christianity, or who is Christ actually for us today?”   (Author’s emphasis)

Bonhoeffer‘s Papers and Letters from Prison and his Ethics form the basis for Carroll’s reflections. Bonhoeffer addressed the Jewish question in the historical context of Hitler and the Third Reich. Though he died before the War ended, he was quite capable of imagining the enormity of the Holocaust and Hiroshima. He also foresaw the negative consequences for conventional religion. Collins reflects, “What happens when traditional belief slams into the wall of the Holocaust? When it plunges into the abyss of Hiroshima?” Those questions draw me to Bonhoeffer and his crucial intuition that religion and Jesus Christ are not identical.”

Europe’s abysmal moral failure after 1945 to acknowledge the endemic anti-Semitism that enabled the Holocaust also called into question the underlying assumptions of the Enlightenment. Leibniz’s theodicy was now unthinkable.

Carroll quotes Elie Wiesel ‘s description in Night of the agonizing death of a Jewish youth on the gallows at Auschwitz: “For Wiesel, this moment epitomizes the death of God, an end of faith that equates, as negating revelation, with the theophany on Mount Sinai. Indeed, Auschwitz was the opposite of theophany—the manifestation of nothingness.”

For many Jews the Holocaust destroyed their traditional understanding of God’s covenant with his chosen people. Yet it empowered secular Zionists to establish the state of Israel in 1948.

Carroll takes up Bonhoeffer’s challenge, What is the future of Jesus in a secular age shaped by science and technology?

Bonhoeffer recognized that a secular age would be “religionless.” Postwar Existentialism in Europe and the “Death of God” movement in the United States in the 1960s presaged the “New Atheists” and today’s “Nones” (the religiously unaffiliated):

“In the 1960s, Bonhoeffer was posthumously conscripted into the briefly voguish Death of God movement in Britain and America, which made watchwords of his nascent notions of ‘religionless Christianity’ and ‘man come fully of age.’ Whether obsequies for ‘theological theism’ are a function of maturity is debatable, to say the least, yet Bonhoeffer’s seemed an uncanny anticipation of Europe’s postwar exodus from religion, with the resulting mass redundancy of church buildings and the muting of the voices of clergy. Today, apart from the hollow formalism of royalty-ruled churches in Britain and Scandinavia, institutional religion has entirely vacated the public realm of Europe—and, in some places, the private conscience, too. In America, the decline of mainstream religion was slower in coming, but the Death of God presented itself as a theological problem more in the United States than anywhere.”

Carroll ponders Professor Charles Taylor’s enigmatic question in A Secular Age (2007), Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in 1500, whereas in 2000 it is not only possible but almost unavoidable? Yet, as Taylor remarks, “Belief in God isn’t quite the same thing in 1500 and 2000.”

Carroll restates in contemporary terms the question central to the Gospels, Who do you say that I am?  He also explains why it still matters. He subscribes to a “high” Christology. The ultimate paradox of Christianity is that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. To deny this is to relegate Jesus to history, “ultimately to be forgotten.” He considers misguided the efforts of the Jesus Seminar to go “behind the texts” to find “the historical Jesus.” There is no “unmediated” Jesus:

“Yet Jesus is elusive. If he were not, he would be useless to us. An ultimate paradox lies at the heart of Christian belief: Jesus is fully human; Jesus is fully divine. Best to say frankly right here at the outset: Jesus as God and Jesus as man are the brackets within which this inquiry will unfold. It will look at Jesus, the Scriptures, and tradition in the contexts of both history and theology. It will ask how the texts about Jesus were written at the start, how they were interpreted early on, and how they can be understood today. This means keeping in mind at least three distinct time frames—the lifetime of Jesus, the era some decades later in which the Gospels were composed, and the present Secular Age, when faith in Jesus and in the Gospels has become a problem unto itself.” (Author’s emphasis)

In the end, Carroll asks his readers to imitate Jesus. “The key to the actuality of Christ is precisely in the imitation of Jesus.” (Author’s emphasis) Albert Schweitzer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dorothy Day were three Christians whose lives imitated Christ’s. We need to follow their example.

This is a timely and thought-provoking book. There is a good index and over fifty pages of notes.

Highly recommended.

 

©William Converse

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

William Converse e-mail, February 11, 2016

Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion

Posted on: March 22nd, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

STRANGE GODS
A Secular History of Conversion

by Susan Jacoby

Random House Canada, Toronto
Hardcover, 464 pages. $35.00 CAD.
ISBN #978-0-375-42375-8.
(Released February 16th, 2016)


Review of the Book by Gary Wills
New York Times Review of Books
February 26th, 2016:

http://tinyurl.com/zamywbn

By Dr. Wayne Holst

My Thoughts:

Jacoby is unapologetically a “new
atheist” according to the current
parlance of religious understanding,
but she is a respectful scholar and
debater; providing many intelligent
arguments to support her case.

I like this book, even though I don’t
always agree with the author.

In this volume, her main argument seems
to be that while many would see the term
“conversion” as a good thing, she would
beg to differ. Her book is specially
targeted at the true believers of any
faith, but particularly those who follow
one of the three great faiths of Jerusalem.

Jacoby is like other modern new atheists, in
that some of her criticisms are devastating.
This author is an historian of substance
and, as such, she challenges many of
the sacred cows of the faithful. She can
be counted on to pose some critical
questions that you may not have heard
before.

But she does it with a certain grace.

As I read her substantial book of
500 pages, I am often left with a kind
of “yes/but” response to the points
she makes. In other words, she offers
some real critique to some of my own
unchallenged assumptions about being
a Christian and wanting others to be
Christians too. That is a mute point for
me because my theological specialty
is missiology, the study of proclaiming
the good news of the Christian Gospel
across the divides of faith or unbelief.

As a result, I can’t think of a better way
to grow in my understanding of the faith
I devoutly claim and the discipline of
the religion that I follow.

Jacoby treats me and my faith with respect.
She does not try to demean or belittle me .
Yet, she leaves me free to question things
I have previously taken for granted as true.

If you want specific arguments, I suggest
you spend time with this book.

It will take me some time to adequately
respond with grace to some of Jacoby’s
claims, but I need to “work with” some
of them, in any event.

“Blessed assurance?” – indeed. But that
should not come without a lifetime of
struggle and perseverance.

This is not a book for the faint of heart, but
if you want to grow your faith – even at the
risk of losing some comfortable assumptions
this is a book I would highly recommend.

Buy the book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/jlup4bv

 

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XI, No. 30,  March  20th, 2016

A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology

Posted on: March 17th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

Review of A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology. J. Richard Middleton. Baker Academic, 2014. 332 pages. Paperback.

  1. Richard Middleton is a theologian and biblical scholar. Born in Jamaica, he comes from the Wesleyan Methodist tradition. He holds degrees from the Jamaica Theological Seminary and the University of Guelph. His doctorate is from the Free University of Amsterdam. Currently he is professor of biblical worldview and exegesis at Northeastern Seminary and adjunct professor of theology at Roberts Wesleyan College. He is author of The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (2009) and Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Post-Modern Age (2006).

A New Heaven and A New Earth is an excursion into the realm of biblical eschatology, specifically New Creation Eschatology. It essays to correct “an unbiblical dualism that separated the world into the sacred and the secular, holy and profane, spiritual and material, personal and social.” Readers of N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (2008) will find themselves in familiar territory. However, Middleton’s bold assertion that the Bible never uses “heaven” for our eternal destiny may surprise them:

“Not only is the term ‘heaven’ never used in Scripture for the eternal destiny of the redeemed, but also the continued use of ‘heaven’ to name the Christian eschatological hope may well divert our attention from the legitimate expectation for the present transformation of our earthly life to conform to God’s purposes. Indeed, to focus our expectation on an otherworldly salvation has the potential to dissipate our resistance to societal evil and the dedication needed to work for the redemptive transformation of this world. Therefore, for reasons exegetical, theological, and ethical, I have come to repent of using the term ‘heaven’ to describe the future God has in store for the faithful. It is my hope that readers of this book would, after thoughtful consideration, join me in this repentance.”

Middleton bases his interpretation of biblical eschatology on key texts taken from both the Hebrew and Greek Old Testament (Masoretic Text and the Septuagint) as well as the Greek New Testament. His exegesis of Jesus’ sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4: 16-30) is pivotal for his argument

Middleton contends that the Biblical narrative of redemption and restoration is holistic, not dualistic. The expression “heaven and the earth” in Genesis 1:1; 2:1, like the “new heaven and new earth” of Isaiah 65:17; 66:22 and Revelation 21:1, is a merism for the whole created order.

The book is divided into five parts: 1. From Creation to Eschaton; 2. Holistic Salvation in the Old Testament. 3: The New Testament’s Vision of Cosmic Renewal. 4. Problem Texts for Holistic Eschatology. 5. The Ethics of the Kingdom.

In an appendix Middleton traces how Christian understanding the Hebrew Bible’s holistic vision of a renewed cosmos gradually changed, starting with the Epistle of Barnabas and Justin Martyr in 2nd century, through Iranaeus of Lyons and Origen of Alexandria in 3rd century, to Eusebius and Augustine of Hippo in 4th-5th century. Augustine’s idea of the millennium ultimately prevailed in the West. Earlier ideas though suppressed resurfaced later, with Joachim of Fiore in 12th century and the Anabaptists in the 16th century. The biblical vision was never entirely lost:

“The very persistence of the millennial idea during the first few centuries of the church, despite derogatory comments by its detractors regarding its ‘Jewish’ or ‘materialistic’ nature, testifies to the ongoing power of the biblical vision of a this-worldly redemption, even among those who had begun to assimilate a Platonic vision of the afterlife. By the fifth century, however, both millenarianism and the idea of a permanent renovation of the cosmos (with the exception of the resurrection of the body) had effectively disappeared from Christian eschatology.”

Middleton seeks to remove the Neo-Platonic overlay that Christian exegetes superimposed on the Hebrew text. They read the Old Testament in either the Greek Septuagint, with Neo-Platonic presuppositions that distorted their understanding of the Hebraic worldview. Under Neo-Platonic and Gnostic influences, Christian focus shifted from this world to the next. This shift in   emphasis would have been alien to first century Aramaic-speaking Jews in Galilee though not to Hellenized Jews living in the Diaspora, people like Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Jesus.

Middleton is highly critical of contemporary conservative Protestant eschatology, especially Rapture Theology and the Prosperity Gospel that originated with the 19th century Anglo-Irish evangelist, John Nelson Darby, one of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren and the father of premillennial dispensationalism. “Rapture” is derived from the Latin raptus, used in the Vulgate to translate 1 Thessalonians 4: 17. The Scofield Reference Bible, first published by Oxford University Press in 1909, diffused Darby’s ideas worldwide. Hal Lindsey’s best seller The Last Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series of books and movies popularized it. Zondervan published The Great Planet Earth in 1970. Within five years, it was reprinted forty-five times. It has since sold over thirty-five million copies.

Middleton contends that preoccupation with personal salvation and the impending Second Coming of Christ promotes individualism, consumerism and escapism. It leads to indifference to social and economic issues, like the ecology and climate change. Middleton agrees with N.T. Wright that our beliefs about life after death affect our beliefs about life before death:

“The point is that the transition from otherworldly salvation to a holistic understanding of the kingdom of God is impossible without personal transformation. The shift to a truly biblical understanding of salvation cannot be limited to head knowledge without moral responsibility. To put it another way, we cannot separate eschatology from ethics.”

These ideas are not new as Middleton acknowledges. He references the eminent French theologian and ecumenist Oscar Cullmann’s highly controversial book, Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? The Witness of the New Testament, published in 1956. There he maintained that it was a mistake to attribute to primitive Christianity the Greek belief in the immortality of the soul. The two views were quite disparate. Belief in the resurrection of the dead belonged to the Hebraic belief in cosmic redemption, the renewal of the whole created order.

Middleton’s book is sure to upset Christian conservatives and liberals alike. A student once described him as more liberal than the liberals and more conservative than the conservatives. Yet his holistic view of the natural world is very much in accord with recent pronouncements by Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, aka “the Green Patriarch.” Middleton does not shy away from controversy. He remains optimistic that attitudes are beginning to change:

“The worldview of many in the church is slowly being transformed in a more holistic direction. With new ears we are even beginning to hear the first episode of the story in Luke 4: 16-30. Many Christians are beginning to grasp the biblical truth that redemption is holistic, that no dimension of earthly life (and that includes the social order) is in principle excluded from God’s transformative purposes.”

On the book’s cover is a painting by the 19th century French landscape painter, Jules Dupré. There are detailed footnotes, tables and figures, an index but no bibliography. A New Heaven and A New Earth may profitably be read together with Howard Snyder, Salvation Means Creation Healed. The Ecology of Sin and Grace: Overcoming the Divorce between Earth and Heaven (Cascade Books, 2011)

Both highly recommended.

© William Converse, 2015

Chapter 1 addresses the problem of otherworldly expectation. Chapters 2 and 3 explore the human calling in God’s world and offer an overview of the plot of the biblical narrative, from creation to the eschaton. Chapters 4 to 6 focus on relevant passages in the Hebrew Bible that support the vision of a holistic, earthly existence. Chapters 7 through 10 examine New Testament eschatology proper, specifically the hope of the resurrection and redemption of creation itself. Chapters 9 and 10 address texts that seem to contradict his views

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

William Converse e-mail, February 11, 2016

Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World

Posted on: March 16th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

 

 

FLOURISHING
Why We Need Religion

in a Globalized World,
by Miroslav Volf

Yale University Press.
Hardcover, 2016.
280 pages. $35.00 CAD.
ISBN #978-0-300-18653-6.

 

 

Author’s Bio:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miroslav_Volf

 

Author’s Words:

“Flourishing” is the title of this book. It stands
for the life that is lived well, the life that goes
well and the life that feels good – all three
together, inextricably intertwined…

(My) claim is this: far from being a plague on
humanity, as many believe and some experience,
religions are carriers of compelling visions of
flourishing. In this book, I highlight key elements
of these visions in world religions, sketch why
they are needed in a globalized world, and explore
how religions can advocate and embody them
peacefully and in concert while taking seriously
the claims to truth they make.

– from the Preface

 

By Dr. Wayne Holst

My Thoughts:

I am grateful to the Englewood Review of Books
for providing the following assessment of this
accessible but challenging book.

Please click and read the following:
http://tinyurl.com/hv93bmo

 

I summarize:

Robert D. Cornwall is the author of this
review and he writes a good assessment/
introduction to it. It would be redundant
to repeat verbatim what he has so well
outlined. But here are my thoughts.

Volf believes that world religions, at their
best, can play a major role in shaping the
ongoing globalization process. In other
words, in a world growing increasingly
interactive and smaller, religion need
not be an adversary, but rather an asset,
to the global life that is opening today
to all humans on the planet.

Since all faiths posit some foundational 
understanding of what a divine-human
relationship is all about, this common
vision is necessary for the human
community to flourish. By this, he takes
exception to new atheists and other
nihilists concerning religion, and sees
it as a positive, not a negative, influence.

Material life is not enough. There must
also be “the transcendent” part of life if
we are to flourish.

Religion must relate to the state, and to
politics, but since one “cannot live by
bread alone,” how should faith make a
unique and positive contribution to
public life without becoming a pawn of
the state?

The first part of the book deals with the
challenge of globalization to world religions.
Globalization brings the world religions
into contact in ways they have not previously
experienced.

We need a “world theology” in which the
emphasis is placed on finding a common
core uniting all faiths to reduce and eliminate
conflict between them.

In the second part, Volf outlines how the
various faiths can engage each other:
with respect, pluralism and reconciliation.
We need to do this in spite of the realities
of both apostacy and desire to convert that
exists in all religions.

Volf addresses all the major faiths in his
book but makes it clear where he stands
as a Christian. He concludes with an epilogue
on how Christian faith can challenge nihilism
in its various forms and contribute to human
flourishing.

(He describes exclusivists as both the
fundamentalists and the a-religious
libertines operating on opposing ends
of the human spectrum.)

He believes that religious exclusivists are
important in all the traditions and their
relationship to the state. But they must
engage society and other faiths respectfully.
Unfortunately, this does not always happen
and most religions suffer because of it.

Religion is not going away, however.

In truth, it is becoming more an issue for
global flourishing than perhaps ever before.

Not everyone will want to navigate the
clear arguments of this book. Still, for
those wanting to take an in-depth look
at current understandings about the 
place of religion in the world from a
very wise and articulate scholar and
writer – this, like all of Volf’s books – 
would be a very productive read.

Buy the book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/z8ovbc5

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XI, No. 29,  March  13th, 2016

How to Read the Bible

Posted on: March 10th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

HOW TO READ THE BIBLE
by Harvey Cox

HarperOne: Toronto ON.
Available March 1st, 2016
Paper, 257 pages, $20.00 CAD.
ISBN # 378-0-06-234316-1

 

 

Publisher’s Promo:

Renowned religion expert and Harvard Divinity
School professor Harvey Cox deepens our
experience of the Bible, revealing the three
primary ways we read it, why each is important,
and how we can integrate these approaches for
a richer understanding and appreciation of key
texts throughout the Old and New Testaments.

The Bible is the heart of devotional practice,
a source of guidance and inspiration rich with
insightful life lessons. On the other side of the
spectrum, academics have studied the Bible
using scientific analysis to examine its historical
significance and meaning. The gap between these
readings has resulted in a schism with far-reaching
implications: Without historical context, ordinary
people are left to interpret the Bible literally, while
academic readings overlook the deeply personal
connections established in church pews, choir
benches, and backyard study groups.

In How To Read the Bible, Cox explores three
different lenses commonly used to bring the
Bible into focus:

• Literary—as narrative stories of family conflict,
stirring heroism, and moral dilemmas;
• History—as classic texts with academic and
theological applications;
• Activism—as a source of dialogue and engagement
to be shared and applied to our lives.

By bringing these together, Cox shows the Bible in
all its rich diversity and meaning and offers us a
contemporary activist version that wrestles with
issues of feminism, war, homosexuality, and race.
The result is a living resource that is perpetually
evolving as our understanding changes and deepens
from generation to generation.

Author’s Words:

I was born, as many of us were, in a Bible-
drenched country… In Protestant America,
with its historic aversion to “idols”, the Bible
was the only universally recognized sacred icon.

(One day I looked inside the (unused) Bible in
the home where I grew up. It seemed like a
preserve for family history, nothing more. I
was intrigued.)

I think of my personal history with the Bible
as unfolding in three stages. The first I call
the “narrative” stage. Like many people, I
simply took the Bible at face value and more
or less literally, although even as a youngster
I had my doubts about some of the accounts
that seemed improbable.

The second phase of my evolving understanding
of the Bible  might be called the “historical” one.
It began when I was in college and continued
through seminary and beyond. In this period,
the emphasis was on the context in which a
a particular book was written, for and to whom,
when and why.

The third stage which has been developing over
my adult years, I would call the “spiritual” stage.
I do not, however, mean “spiritual” in a narrow
or merely inward sense but in a holistic one that
includes inner and outer, personal and social…

I will have more to say about all these modes
in the rest of the book…

All of these ways of grasping the Bible remain
part of my repertoire. But I believe they need
to supplement and complement each other in
order to get the most from any reading of the
biblical texts. That is something I attempt to
do throughout his book…

(I try to answer the question of how to start
reading the Bible, and go back to my three stages
of my life with the Bible – the narrative, historical
and spiritual. This means that the best way to
read any passage in the Bible is to incorporate
all three elements…)

First, never forget that the story is utterly
fundamental.. “What is happening here?”

Second, become an amateur history detective
and uncover the “who, when, where and why
about a particular text…” I will include “Study
Tips” throughout the book to assist with this
step.

Then, move to the spiritual stage. Start to
engage the text in a no-holds-barred wrestling
match. Listen, and be prepared to change,
but also to argue. Respect the right of the text
to say what it says and not what you would
like it so say. But don’t be cowed by it. Insist
on your right to see things differently if you
do. This is what I mean by “dialogue,” and
if you open both your mind and your heart to it,
the spiritual meaning for today of any text
will find its way across the centuries.

I guarantee it.

– from the Introduction

 

 

Author’s Bio:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_Cox

 

 

By Dr. Wayne Holst

My Thoughts:

Few theological teachers of the past half-
century have covered the breadth of modern
themes and key issues that Harvey Cox has.
He has written many books.  For me, here
are some that taught the most –

It all began in 1965 with a very popular book –
“The Secular City” in which the new author
started to introduce several generations of
students to what is now a taken-for-granted
reality – secularization; i.e. living without an
apparent need for God in our western societies.
Here he introduced many to liberation theology.

“Turning East’ (1978) started us thinking about
the value and importance of eastern religions
before many of us had any idea of their value
for human spirituality in our time.

“Many Mansions” (1988) was a book I used
in many religion classes to introduce the
modern necessity of interfaith relations.

“Fire from Heaven” (1994) is one of the best
introductions to the global phenomenon of
Pentecostalism, and still available.

“The Future of Faith” (2009) an insightful look
into the ways faith continues to be globally
vital and significant in spite of the rise of
the new atheism and the “nones” in our time.

Now, with this book, Cox takes us back to
our Judeo-Christian foundations – the Bible
– and our need to recover what we have
lost because it seems to be a dated book.

As much as we want to be spiritually attuned,
ecumenically open and wise to inter-faith
developments in our modern world, we need
to re-ground ourselves in the foundations of
the Jewish and Christian tradition. That
foundation is the Bible.

How can we truly know who we are while
encountering ‘the other’ in all its expressions
if we fail to come to terms with our religious
heritage? I can only contribute to the dialogue
if I know who I am as a Christian.

Cox continues to impress with his perceptions,
clarity and insightfulness. Age has not clouded
his vision (he is 87) and time has not dampened
his vitality and enthusiasm as one of Harvard’s
most popular professors.

You will not go wrong to include but another
book by Harvey Cox in your library.

Buy the book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/hx3p9h6

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XI, No. 28,  March  06th, 2016

With Us Always

Posted on: March 10th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

WITH US ALWAYS
Daily Devotions
Framed by the Movies.
Edited by Aldia Smith, 2015.

United Church Publishing House, Toronto.
Paperback, E-book and Kindle editions
$12.95, $9.26 and $7.95 CAD
ISBN #978-1-55134-235-1.

 

 

By Dr. Wayne Holst

 

My Thoughts:

Any attempts to blend the Holy Scriptures and
lections with modern culture can be problematic.
Alydia Smith does a good job of avoiding shallow
associations simply to be trendy.

I do appreciate her attempts to avoid becoming
lost in either the scriptures or the movie subjects
she works with in these 41 reflections. Usually,
she makes it easy to move from one source to
the other, resulting in mutual enrichment.

The material the author provides is suitable for
a Lenten devotional study series, but is not
confined to Lenten use. Contemporary cultural
influences are with us all the time. They don’t
have to be fitted neatly into church year seasons!

The reflections are organized into seven parts,
for possible use during Lent, Holy Week and
Easter. Her daily readings include a special
passage of scripture plus commentary. Then
the categories of “Watch” – a video clip or a
movie; “Reflect” – questions for group use
based on what has been viewed; “Pray” – a
spiritual meditation based on the day’s theme;
and finally “Sing” – hymns or songs to draw the
total experience together into meaningful closure. 

Guidance for discussion groups is included.

Instructions are provided for how to rent certain
movies, while much of the internet sources are
free and require only appropriate viewing equipment.

Many of the themes Smith addresses are timeless
and don’t depend on the suggested video or movie
sources. Creativity may be required when a particular 
item is not available. That said, the author has done
a thoughtful piece of work for each day and the
process probably works best when her proposed
resources are utilized.

The project was developed as a congregational
activity, but it can also be attempted, with adaptation, 
for personal use or for groups without a church
connection.

I am particularly pleased to see a series like
this emerging from a mainstream (more liberal)
denominational base. E-book/Kindle editions
assure group leaders that the resulting study
will not be expensive for participants.

Thanks a lot, Alydia, for your work on this.

Buy the Paperback from
United Church Publishing House
http://tinyurl.com/jtcre4c

Buy the Kindle Edition from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/glr6hr3

 

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XI, No. 27,  February  28th, 2016