Over the years I’ve seen Christians shaping God in their own image — in each case a dreadfully small God. Some Roman Catholics still believe only they will gaze on heaven’s green pastures… There is the God who has a special affection for capitalist America, regards the workaholic, and the God who loves only the poor and the underprivileged. There is a God who marches with victorious armies, and the God who loves only the meek who turns the other cheek. Some like the elder brother in Luke, sulk and pout when the Father rocks and rolls, serves surf-and-turf for a prodigal son, who has spent his last cent on whores. Some, tragically, refuse to believe that God can or will forgive them: “My sin is too great”.
Any church that will not accept that it consists of sinful men and women, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the gospel of grace. As Hans Kung say, “it deserves neither God’s mercy nor men’s trust. The church must constantly be aware that its faith is weak, its knowledge dim, its profession of faith halting, that there is not a single sin or failing which it has not in one way or another guilty of. And though it is true that the church must always disassociate itself from sin, it can never have any excuse for keeping any sinners at a distance. If the church remains self-righteously aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God’s kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Intellectual ambiguity can be very uncomfortable. It is always easier to be sure of something. A religion that neatly provides all the answers saves you the frustration and anxiety that inevitably accompany a struggle with difficult questions. Fundamentalism is especially dogmatic and detailed in describing a grand scheme. The Bible is offered as the inerrant word of God, revealing the path of history, a plan of salvation, and predictions about the future. Reasons and justifications are given. And for questions that still remain, there is the ultimate comfort that comes with trusting that a benign father God had everything under control.
In conservative Christianity you are told you are unacceptable. You are judged with regard to your relationship to God. Thus you can only be loved positionally, not essentially. And, contrary to any assumed ideal of Christian love, you cannot love others for their essence either. This is the horrible cost of the doctrine of original sin.
Ancient religion and modern science agree: we are here to give praise. Or, to slightly tip the expression, to pay attention. Without us, the physicists who have espoused the anthropic principle tell us, the universe would be unwitnessed, and in a real sense not there at all. It exists, incredibly, for us. This formulation (knowing what we know of the universe’s ghastly extent) is more incredible, to our sense of things, than the Old Testament hypothesis of a God willing to suffer, coddle, instruct, and even (in the Book of Job) to debate with men, in order to realize the meager benefit of worship, of praise for His Creation. What we beyond doubt do have is our instinctive intellectual curiosity about the universe from the quasars down to the quarks, our wonder at existence itself, and an occasional surge of sheer blind gratitude for being here.
It is important for Christians to understand how their religion is viewed by others and where the greatest friction exists between Christianity and the faiths accepted by billions of our fellow humans. I found it best, as a Christian, to take this material in small bites. Due to its very nature, the majority of the contents of this book are in direct opposition to the Christian faith. A believer should not be too unsettled by reasoned assaults on what they purport to have absolute faith in. That said, it is naturally unnerving to be confronted with worldviews that are directly opposed to aspects of the thing a person has the most faith in. In order to get the most use out of a work like this, and it has much use for Christians, is to read one or two of the pieces at a time and mull them over with an understanding and objective mindset. Remaining somewhat objective and keeping ones passions at bay will allow there to be a great deal of value taken from this book. The best way to find out what you believe, how much you really believe it, and why you believe what you do is to allow your beliefs to be honestly and rationally challenged. This book also shows areas in which much of the friction between religions and cultures is based on miscommunication and misunderstanding. The various world religions should respect each other’s differentness, but it is better for all parties is everyone is well informed. This book will definitely help any Christian be more informed about the religious views of others and to better form his/her understandings of his/her own faith. ~ jwoodward at Amazon.com
How does the gospel relate to a pluralist society? What is the Christian message in a society marked by religious pluralism, ethnic diversity, and cultural relativism? Should Christians encountering today’s pluralist society concentrate on evangelism or on dialogue? How does the prevailing climate of opinion affect, perhaps infect, Christians’ faith? These kinds of questions are addressed in this noteworthy book by Lesslie Newbigin. A highly respected Christian leader and ecumenical figure, Newbigin provides a brilliant analysis of contemporary (secular, humanist, pluralist) culture and suggests how Christians can more confidently affirm their faith in such a context. While drawing from scholars such as Michael Polanyi, Alasdair MacIntyre, Hendrikus Berkhof, Walter Wink, and Robert Wuthnow, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society is suited not only to an academic readership. This heartfelt work by a missionary pastor and preacher also offers to Christian leaders and laypeople some thoughtful, helpful, and provocative reflections.
Kant distinguished between noumenon and phenomenon, or between a Ding an sich and that thing as it appears to human consciousness… In this strand of Kant’s thought — not the only strand, but the one which I am seeking to press into service in the epistemology of religion — the noumenal world exists independently of our perception of it and the phenomenal world is that same world as it appears to our human consciousness… I want to say that the noumenal Real is experienced and thought by different human mentalities, forming and formed by different religious traditions, as the range of gods and absolutes which the phenomenology of religion reports.
But if the Real in itself is not and cannot be humanly experienced, why postulate such an unknown and unknowable Ding an sich? The answer is that the divine noumenon is a necessary postulate of the pluralistic religious life of humanity. For within each tradition we regard as real the object of our worship or contemplation. If, as I have already argued, it is also proper to regard as real the objects of worship or contemplation within the other traditions, we are led to postulate the Real an sich as the presupposition of the veridical character of this range of forms of religious experience. Without this postulate we should be left with a plurality of personae and impersonae each of which is claimed to be the Ultimate, but no one of which alone can be. We should have either to regard all the reported experiences as illusory or else return to the confessional position in which we affirm the authenticity of our own stream of religious experience whilst dismissing as illusory those occurring within other traditions. But for those to whom neither of these options seems realistic the pluralistic affirmation becomes inevitable, and with it the postulation of the Real an sich, which is variously experienced and thought…
There can be no doubt that the doctrine of the Incarnation has been taken during the bulk of Christian history to constitute the very heart of Christianity. Hammered out over five centuries of passionate debate, enshrined in the classical Christian creeds, explored and articulated in the great systematic theologies, the doctrine expresses, so far as human words permit, the central belief of Christians that God himself, without ceasing to be God, has come amongst us, not just in but as a particular man, at a particular time and place. The human life lived and the death died have been held quite literally to be the human life and death of God himself in one of the modes of his own eternal being. Jesus Christ, it has been firmly held, was truly God as well as being truly man. As we have seen, this belief is not only expressed in the doctrine of the Incarnation, but also in countless hymns and devotional rites that belong to the very stuff of living Christianity, not to mention the art and sculpture which it has inspired down the centuries.
The Ages of Faith, which are praised by our neo-scholastics, were the time when the clergy had things all their own way. Daily life was full of miracles wrought by saints and wizardry perpetrated by devils and necromancers. Many thousands of witches were burnt at the stake. Men’s sins were punished by pestilence and famine, by earthquake, flood, and fire. And yet, strange to say, they were even more sinful than they are now-a-days.
Habits of the Heart is required reading for anyone who wants to understand how religion contributes to and detracts from America’s common good. Describes the social significance of faiths ranging from "Sheilaism" (practiced by a California nurse named Sheila) to conservative Christianity. It’s thoroughly readable, theologically respectful, and academically irreproachable. ~ Michael Joseph Gross • First published in 1985, Habits of the Heart continues to be one of the most discussed interpretations of modern American society, a quest for a democratic community that draws on our diverse civic and religious traditions. In a new preface the authors relate the arguments of the book both to the current realities of American society and to the growing debate about the country’s future. With this new edition one of the most influential books of recent times takes on a new immediacy.
If it were desirable upon the part of God to send his son to save the world from eternal perdition, why was it that, when he did arrive, so many nations were kept in ignorance of his mission? Even the Jews, God’s chosen people, had no knowledge than an incarnate deity was to expire on the Cross. If the regeneration of the world had been the object of Christ, would it not have been better, instead of ascending to heaven, for him to have remained on earth, teaching practical truths, and showing by his own personal example how the world could be rescued from that moral and intellectual darkness and despair to which it had been reduced by the influence of a degrading theology?
Some people construct a Christianity which consists entirely of a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and has virtually nothing to do with the church. Others make a grudging concession to the need for church membership, but add that they have given up the ecclesiastical institution as hopeless. Now it is understandable, even inevitable, that we are critical of many of the church’s inherited structures and traditions. Every church in every place at every time is in need of reform and renewal. But we need to beware lest we despise the church of God, and are blind to his work in history. We may safely say that God has not abandoned his church, however displeased with it he may be. He is still building and refining it. And if God has not abandoned it, how can we?
Others may protest that intellecutal discussion can neither build Christianity nor destroy it. They may feel that religion is too sacred to be thus bandied to and fro in public debate, too sacred to be talked of — almost, perhaps, too sacred for anything to be done with it at all. Clearly, the Christian members of the Society (Oxford Socratic Club) think differently. They know that intellectual assent is not faith, but they do not believe that religion is only ‘what a man does with his solitude’. Or if it is, then they care nothing for ‘religion’ and all for Christianity. Christianity is not merely what a man does with his solitude. It is not even what God does with His solitude. It tells of God descending into the coarse publicity of history and there enacting what can — and must — be talked about.
And I still think that the agnostic argument from similarities between Christianity and paganism works only if you know the answer. If you start by knowing on other grounds that Christianity is false, then the pagan stories may be another nail in its coffin: just as if you started by knowing that there were no crocodiles then the various stories about dragons might be helpful to confirm your disbelief. But if the truth or falsehood of Christianity is the very question you are discussing, then the argument from anthropology is surely a petitio.
The funniest book ever written about why your religion is false! Whether you're a Christian or a Jew, a Muslim or a Hindu, a Rasta or a Jain, an Environmentalist or a Cheondoist, a Scientologist or a Giant Stone Head Worshipper, your religion is false. But don't feel bad — so is everyone else's! When you want to know what not to believe, this is the only book you need. In addition, you'll learn: Why "god" doesn't exist; Why there's no such thing as a "soul"; How to find "meaning" in a religion-less world; Which of your religious heroes are pedophiles; Why "religious tolerance" is a terrible idea. And, as a bonus, the greatest religious joke ever told. You can't afford not to read this book! ~ Product Description. Editor's note: Though the Table of Contents looks promising, be sure to preview this book before purchasing to determine if you can find any humor or insight here.
It seems that there is a general rule in the moral universe which may be formulated “The higher, the more in danger”. The “average sensual man” who is sometimes unfaithful to his wife, sometimes tipsy, always a little selfish, now and then (within the law) a trip sharp in his deals, is certainly, by ordinary standards, a “lower” type than the man whose soul is filled with some great Cause, to which he will subordinate his appetites, his fortune, and even his safety. But it is out of the second man that something really fiendish can be made; an Inquisitor. “It is great men, potential saints, not little men, who become those who are readiest to kill for it”. For the supernatural, entering a human soul, opens to it new possibilities both of good and evil. From that point the road branches: one way to sanctity, love, humility, the other to spiritual pride, self-righteousness, persecuting zeal. And no way back to the mere humdrum virtues and vices of the unawakened soul. If the Divine call does not make us better, it will make us very much worse. Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst.