Top positive review
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Essential questions for a better way forward
on 19 October 2013
I found this book a gripping read, with very useful information in the footnotes. He argues for a more credible and useful approach to the Bible than what he calls the 'constitutional approach' to the Bible (the tendency in evangelical circles to see it as a doctrinal and rule-based book). He shows how throughout history many evangelicals have often been on the wrong side of the argument (e.g. those that argued that slavery was biblical) and that they may well be on the wrong side of current debates around human sexuality. He shows how fundamentalist fascination with the 'end times' is based on a misunderstanding of scripture. He argues for an inclusive faith based on working to establish the Kingdom of God (as proclaimed by Jesus) in the here and now , a mission that is fuelled by the confidence that the Kingdom is based on what is eternal. Within its scope it is brilliant, a book that would indeed transform the faith if only it was read widely and with an open mind. It wonderfully dismantles fundamentalism and challenges the limitations of conservative interpretations of Christianity. Brilliant as it is (and my summary has not done justice to its brilliance), there are a number of limitations of scope that have held me back from giving it five stars. First, Brian says little that liberals have not recognised decades ago (and that I realised a couple of decades ago). The main difference is that Brian avoids getting caught up in issues around the literal nature of miracles etc, exactly what the historical Jesus said, which New Testament letters were genuinely written by Paul etc - the kind of issues that Bishop Spong addresses in books such as 'Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism'. He seems to believe that compared to the issues he has raised, the kind of issues biblical scholars debate in their books are relatively minor. He is probably right on this, but not everyone will see it that way. Certainly his dismantling of fundamentalism might be more effective if he emphasised more the contradictions in a literal reading of the Bible. Second, many of the problems he identifies are transcended if one approaches Christianity from a mystical perspective - to the mystic it is obvious that Christianity is about the journey of dying to the ego, and and discovering the Source of life that makes awareness possible, rather than being about rules and theological doctrines. A mystic approach, to me, explains better what Christianity has to offer (saving us from the ego identification with separation, and finding our true selves in the eternal Wholeness) than the liberal build-a-better-society approach that Brian seems to propose (not that the two approaches are mutually exclusive, but a lot of what Brian proposes could equally be proposed by a compassionate humanist). Third, he does not challenge the ego's need for security in the way that Peter Rollins for example, does in 'Insurrection' and 'The Idolatry of God', Sooner or later the exploration of transforming the faith has to address whether Christianity offers security or instead dismantles the ego's need for it. The answer to this question will determine the shape of Christianity in the decades and centuries to come. But these limitations of scope are a minor issue in what is an excellent challenge to the Christian community. Whereas some evangelicals have - in response to emerging challenges - simply tried to add some modern rhetoric and greater compassion for the poor on top of their belief structures, Brian invites the believer to let go of what they have been clinging to, so as to advance into new territory (territory which, I believe, is not really new but a genuine expression of the kingdom/ realm/ system / society proclaimed by Jesus 2,000 years ago).