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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, simply, astoundingly brilliant, 16 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Cosmos Reborn : Happy Theology on the New Creation (Kindle Edition)
Having read of John Crowders reputation online I was somewhat skeptical but bought the book as a deeper promoting from God. I didn't expect to agree with it, but often we learn most from what we disagree with.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

My background is Anglo Catholic so the language and the rhetoric are not my usual reading, but the message and the unifying clarity of thought are simply amazing. It is like suddenly watching all the pieces fit together, all the knots unravel and every moment (and if you study theology you can have a lot of these) of sudden discomfort at doctrine evaporate. Suddenly you can embrace all the Bible without having to weight certain sections or dismiss x or y as hyperbole because Crowder's theology ties it all together.

People accuse Crowder of being extreme or unbiblical in his theology, but actually there is nothing new here. There are fragments of his ideas on divine filliation all over Catholic writings, uncannily echoing another controversial writer Josemaria Escrivia. His ideas about the finished work of the cross could be lifted wholesale from nearly any major Evangelical author. His ideas on Christian joy echo Pentecostals such as Max Lucado. His ideas on mysticism and Heaven and Hell echo Greek Orthodox ideas and liberal Catholicism.

He hasn't skimped on his research either, for those who are drawn to theological writers there are extensive quotes and good summaries of ideas from Robert Capon, Karl Barth, Urs Von Balthazar, Charles Spurgeon to name a few. To say that his work is self invented is clearly wrong.

What is new, and painful and yet wonderful is his synthesis of these ideas and his clear language explanation of what all this theology actually means. New, because no-one has ever put ideas together like this, painful because suddenly your realise where you have actually being contradicting yourself, the Bible and God for the sake of doctrinal conformity and wonderful because it now all makes sense.

Even if you cannot accept what Crowder says, and believe me there is much that kicks against traditionally held belief, I would encourage anyone to read this book because it will challenge your ideas and lead you to new places. Having read this book and Mystical Union, I can fully say my ideas have changed. I am not yet singing the same song as John Crowder but the tune is different and he has challenged me to think again. Read this book, be open, be challenged and put his ideas to the test. I can see why people say this book changes lives, it may well change mine.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The intoxicating truth about God, 19 Jun 2014
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J. Mann - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Cosmos Reborn : Happy Theology on the New Creation (Kindle Edition)
I thought this book was worth reading and contained a number of valid insights and observations into the way Christians can understand and experience the gospel, but it was probably more useful in trying to identify why Crowder had got things wrong as in what he had got right.

I'll start with a summary of what I understand the core of the book to be about, then add my own observations and thoughts.

Crowder firstly wants to justify why he is doing "theology" in the at all - he is one of a group who promote a "drunken" experience of the Holy Spirit, a mystical "outpouring" of God as filling the believer with an ecstatic and joyous revelation of God's love and goodness. He points out that while for many believers this experience may in itself provide a validation of the gospel, if they don't understand who the God they are experiencing is, they will lack much of the "glory" of the revelation they are getting.

In addition anyone with a Christian background will have some ideas of God which may well be incorrect or indeed harmful to their Christianity, so believers need to both understand who God really is and discover what is wrong with what most of traditional Christianity says about God.

A considerable portion of the book is taken with the notion of hell, this is certainly the longest chapter of the book. Crowder takes a broadly Bathian position which is unfortunately notoriously ambiguous. There are many New Testament texts which say that Christ died for the sins of the world - so Barth and Crowder following him want to insist that this means everyone, whether they believe or not, are saved - indeed before Adam, before the "foundation of the world" all were already saved in Christ.

For Christians this may - at first appearance - be tremendously reassuring - some Christians do indeed worry about whether they are saved, or whether some close friend or family member were saved. Now we have the answer, and it is "yes".

Yet clearly not all are consciously aware they are saved, nor may indeed want to be saved, which leads us to the issue of hell. For Crowder, all are saved, all will be entering the presence of God at death, but not all want to be saved and so some will not want to praise and worship God, so for such people entering into the presence of God will indeed be "hell" - Hell is not a place, it is a state of mind, it is the mind of the one who has not reconciled themselves to God, entering into the presence of God.

So now we appear to be back where we started. Christians reading the book who originally might have worried "how do I know I'm saved?" haven't really been helped, except the question has changed to "how do I know I really believe?" The problem remains that there are still people in heaven and people in hell and the challenge to understand how to avoid being in the hell group.

It may help to understand the problem better by taking a step back to see how Crowder got to this point. Traditionally Christian theologians have disagreed about whether individual believers have any role in being saved. Those who say they do are called variously semi-Pelagians or Armenian and those who say they don't are called Augustinian or Calvinist. Let's be clear - no one is saying believers save themselves. Even semi-Pelagians say salvation is only possible through the sacrifice of Jesus, but the key point is he makes salvation a possibility, it still requires the believer to make a decision and believe in order to be saved. Yet for Augustinians even this belief does not originate in the believer, but is a gift from God, so the two sides answer the question "why are some saved and not others" very differently. For the semi-Pelagians some are saved because they choose to believe, but for the Augustinians some are saved because God chooses to save them.

Barth, and Crowder - try to escape this division by saying there is one who is chosen by God - Jesus - and in him all are saved. Now on the face of it this sounds quite clear cut - nothing is required of the individual, no faith, no belief, no good works, because Jesus has done it all, he has led the sinless life, he has believed, he has had faith, he has done it all.

Yet in reading Crowder it soon becomes clear we haven't really made any progress. We still have the same problem but restated in different words. Crowder is clearly still basically a semi-Pelagian, because the responsibility still rests with the believer to wake up and realise that Jesus has done it all, and to enjoy the free gift of salvation. Even though we are all saved in Christ it is still necessary to become conscious of this fact, and that is something the individual has to do. For all his protestations that the believer doesn't have to work up enough faith to save themselves, the believer still has to work up enough belief to believe what John Crowder is telling him about the gospel. A more Augustinian version of what Barth is teaching would say that God makes some but not others conscious of their status in Christ - so becoming conscious that we are already saved is not something we do but something God does.

So Crowder still has some going to heaven and some going to hell, but not because some are saved and others are not - we are all saved - but bizarrely we aren't all conscious of it, and even when we come before God in heaven, when presumably we will be conscious of what has happened - we will nevertheless still be able to rebel against God in spite of this causing us terrible pain and suffering. Crowder says God will respect the individual's right to reject him, and won't force him to worship him against his will.

This seems to beg so many questions it is difficult to know where to start.

Crowder claims to have read and been strongly influenced by Tom Talbott's Inescapable Love of God yet one of Talbott's main arguments that all will be saved is the relationships we have. How could anyone be happy in heaven when they know others are suffering in hell, particularly when those others may be friends and family.

Not only does Crowder never address this, but he has moved hell into heaven - because we are all in the presence of God, having all been saved, yet for some it is a joyful experience and others a painful one. Now having those suffering right next to those worshipping makes the issue of how believers could not be affected by the plight of those in pain and suffering all the more acute.

The idea that individuals have a right to inflict pain on themselves and deliberately do themselves harm certainly doesn't exist in our own society, it therefore seems difficult to believe that God - who is more ethical and moral than ourselves - would regard this as some moral good. If an individual begins to self-harm and looks likely to cause themselves deliberate pain we would usually expect them to be restrained until they recovered. People who are unable to care for themselves are usually regarded not as immoral and in need of punishment, but sick and in need of healing. It seems strange that Crowder never regards those in rebellion against God as being sick, or that God would want to heal them of this sickness, rather than see them suffer.

So in spite of the length of his chapter on hell, Crowder doesn't address many of the arguments made in favour of universal salvation, and his own solution appears ill-thought out and subject to many objections itself. It is good that he has started to address the universalist argument, but disappointing that he has done such a bad job of it.

There are a few other areas of the book worth mentioning.

Crowder makes much of faith as a "work" to earn your way to heaven. He argues that often people see Christianity as saying "only believe and you will be saved" and in doing this makes the believer responsible for generating their own belief, and concerned that if they don't believe they will be damned. He tries to argue that Jesus is the one with the faith, and we don't need faith, as it just another "good work" that religious people promote as a way to get to heaven.

The problem here is that the propositions that Crowder is proposing - we are all saved in Jesus, that Jesus does it all, including not only the good works but the faith - themselves need to be believed. If someone was to say they would give a million pounds to anyone who believed the moon was made of green cheese, their money would be safe, because we know we can't just will ourselves to believe something. There are some things we find believable and some we don't, and some things we aren't sure of.

It seems likely that there are many Christians with reservations about some aspects of Christian belief - maybe some who don't believe in original sin, or that Christianity is the only way to heaven, or that the Bible is inerrant, or that Mary was a virgin. It isn't that people are certain these things aren't true, I'm saying Christians - like anyone else - will find some things more believable than others, you can't just make yourself believe things.

Crowder wants to say "if you just accept everything I'm saying as fact you'll be fine", but people can't just accept something as a fact, it has to be believable, people have a right to ask questions and be sceptical and try to verify if what you are proposing makes sense.

I'd question whether "salvation" and "being saved" are themselves central to the Bible stories. In the Old Testament there is a quite different notion of God as Saviour - it is that God saves us from particular problems and difficulties in this life. God was primarily Saviour to Israel because he brought them out of Egypt when they were slaves, often God is referred to as Saviour because of this act, or because of some particular thing he has done for an individual - so David might say God saved him when he was fighting a battle or hiding from an enemy.

When we get to the New Testament Jesus and Paul continue to use the word in the sense of the Old Testament, that of some this-worldly disaster that God will help his people avoid (for Jesus it is the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 - see The Parousia by Russell). The Pharisees however give the word a new meaning - essentially the same as that of much of evangelical Christianity - of being able to survive a judgement that takes place after death. As Crowder points out, it is the Pharisees who seem particularly concerned about being saved, Jesus himself doesn't going about telling people they need to be saved or asking people if they are saved, rather the Pharisees ask Jesus how they can know they are saved and Jesus typically gives them impossible demands.

Paul like Jesus uses the term "saved" refer not to passing a judgement after death but to God delivering his people from some coming crisis which will take place in the near future.

A more important term - which Crowder doesn't really discuss - is being chosen. It could be argued that the whole Bible consists of stories of people chosen by God. Even Adam could be seen as being chosen (there is a fascinating book called Beyond Creation Science by Martin and Vaughn which follows this theme), as Gen 2:7 could be read as God made the race of humans (just as he had made birds, beasts etc, we don't imagine he just made two of each kind at creation), then Gen 2:8 would mean God took one particular human - Adam - and placed him in the garden. This makes sense of there apparently being people already living outside the garden when Adam is banished, as Cain's punishment seems to indicate in Gen 4:16 first that God has to set a mark on Cain to prevent anyone else killing him, and second when Cain moves out to east of Eden he takes a wife and builds a city. Admittedly this also rather undoes Crowder and Barth's use of Adam as "in Adam all died" - as the "all" in this case would be the chosen people, not all humanity, but if being saved isn't the central theme of the Bible this doesn't particularly matter.

Being chosen isn't the same as being saved - those chosen by God have a purpose and duty to help others or take part in some plan or purpose to do good. Israel as a nation are chosen as "a light to the nations", Moses is chosen to bring Israel out of slavery, David was chosen to liberate his people, Joseph was chosen to help Egypt and the surrounding nations avoid famine, Esther was chosen to save her people. God chooses people to take part in his great plan to bless the world, they don't all have the same tasks and they certainly aren't about "saving" people in the sense of enrolling them in a particular religion, although they might be about saving in the sense of avoiding some disaster. The message of the Bible, over and over again, is responding to God's call to do good in this life, it isn't about making sure everyone is "saved".

The next part I want to discuss is the notion of "sinless living" - or that when you are saved the Holy Spirit takes away the desire to sin, and makes you literally holy and good. Interestingly this is a significant diversion from the reformation position (which to be fair Crowder does acknowledge). There is a quiz around on the internet called "are you a Protestant or a Catholic?" in which the general difference between the two groups is identified as the idea that when you are saved God actually changes you into a good person, rather than declaring you good in a formal, legal sense - the former being the Catholic position, the latter traditional protestantism.

Crowder doesn't think your salvation depends on you being good and living a sinless life, but does suggest that you are radically changed and all desire to sin will go at conversion. He admits that you may still sometimes sin, but that this would be rare and unusual, and due to a forgetting of who you are - pure and holy.

This again seems problematic, there are surely many Christians struggling with different sins. I guess Crowder would tell them they aren't seeing themselves as they really are in Christ - without sin - they are seeing themselves as still having their old nature, and this is a false awareness. This seems difficult - like Christian Scientists who don't believe sickness and disease are real, and if we acknowledge their reality we become subject to them.

For a Christian struggling with different sins, for Crowder to say their desires aren't real seems very similar to saying a Christian who is sick isn't really sick, in order to become well they just need to acknowledge they aren't really sick.

Such denial sounds simply delusionary - and leads to the possibility that someone might stop taking their medicines on the grounds that the disease isn't real anyway.

There are a number of times that Crowder asks the question how much sin is too much - can I be saved and sleep with my girlfriend, do drugs, bully people, steal and so on? Luther said "sin boldly" but Crowder doesn't really seem to have an answer to such questions - he doesn't give one anyway. Indeed his standards of behaviour - such as no sex before marriage - seem to come from Christian tradition rather than being Biblically based.

The problem with Crowder's position is that people look to themselves and their behaviour as evidence of their conversion, rather than being saved by "faith alone" he does appear to be defending a faith plus works formula if not for salvation at least for genuine belief and conversion.

The next topic I want to look at is the Trinity. Crowder calls his theology trinitarian and makes much of humanity in Jesus being taken into the Godhead - so there seems to be a sense that when God became human, humanity became divine. This whole trinitarian notion of God seems very pagan - if there are three persons in the Godhead, then there are three Gods, not one. It doesn't matter about being the same substance, three people are three Gods. The Bible however is very clear that there is only one God - God is one, and that means one person, not three. The idea that God needs to have three persons to be Father, Son and Spirit is as ridiculous as saying God needs to be separate people to listen to two people pray at the same time or appear in a vision to more than one person at the same time. God is able to be Father, Son and Spirit, as well as Wisdom, Logos and all the other titles and roles, without being split into separate persons. For an excellent Biblical account of this, see David Bernard's "The Oneness of God".

The trinitarian "family" of God the Father, Son and Spirit (echoing other pagan "holy families") creates a community into which humans can only enter through the Son, but the entry takes humanity into the Godhead. A Oneness view of God turns God's relation away from this divine family back into God's creation, so God's love and care are outward, into creation. Relating to God does not require that we become divine or need to enter into the Godhead, but to acknowledge that when God created, the creation became what God related to, God was happy with it, saw that it was good, and we know and relate to God through being part of that creation, not leaving it and becoming divine.

Although Crowder likes to say he doesn't mind what other Christians think of him, I can't help thinking he is too cautious in many of the positions he takes simply because he does worry at some level about the opinions of others - it seems as if his logic should take him further than he is prepared to go, and it is really just a loss of nerve that is holding him back.

So in conclusion a fascinating book that engages the reader with some interesting ideas, but which ultimately needs to go further to uncover the intoxicating truth about God.
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5.0 out of 5 stars life giving, 4 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Cosmos Reborn : Happy Theology on the New Creation (Kindle Edition)
This book is one of the best expressions of the gospel of Jesus that I have read. Refreshing and liberating. This is the Good News.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A breath of fresh air, 2 Feb 2014
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This book helped me get my head together and breathe, setting me on an amazing journey with Jesus. Absolutely necessary to read if you want to understand the gospel on a level deeper and more sincere than the spoon fed, flaking-dry, exhausted, you'd-better-tick-the-boxes-and-beg-god-to-forgive-you evangelicalism.

An absolute must read for westerners searching for more.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This is a must read!, 27 Oct 2013
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This has become one of my favourite books (apart from the bible of course!). John shows that the door to revelation is in the floor and humility is the packaging revelation is wrapped up in. He shares how he doesn't have all the answers but goes on to look at both sides of the coin and what the bible actually teaches on a number of hot topics such as hell. This book will set you free from the bondage of the law and get you living under grace! Learning its okay that I don't have all the answers and that my walk with Jesus will be a life long discovery of His goodness! Make sure you read this book and prepare to have your head blown off! Great read!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome!, 16 Oct 2013
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The way John Crowder expounds the Truth contained in scripture re: what Jesus has done for the Cosmos is mind-blowing! Religiosity in old ways of thinking is exposed and the Truth is opened up clearly. It's simply and clearly explained with nothing complicated to confuse. I was captivated throughout.
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