Christian Dogma: The 21st Century Perspective

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Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Christian Dogma: The 21st Century Perspective

  1. Review

    The author introduces himself by stating that he has been a Christian all his life and has served in many leadership roles in the Church during his adult years. He began what he calls his “journey toward religious maturity” at age fifty-nine. Now, he considers himself a Christian-in-exile. His purpose in writing this book is to help other people avoid a self imposed exile by introducing “to the laity of the Christian religion – people in the pews – some intellectual facts about their religion that are not being presented to them from the pulpit.” For it is his conviction that if the Church is to survive in the twenty-first century, “a comprehensive review of the traditional dogma of the Church is in order.” The book in unique in using a combination of fiction as the story line and nonfiction articles and excerpts from books inserted into the story at intervals.

    The story begins on a stormy night. Tom Porter and group of people waited in the lobby of the First Citizen’s bank building hoping for a break in the storm so that they could reach their cars and head home. After some time of waiting, Tom decided he would make a run for it. As he stepped off the curb he was struck by a mini van and knocked into the ground. The Emergency Medical Service arrived and Tom was placed in the ambulance. One of the medical personnel asked if anyone knew him. Barbara MacIntire, who worked as a receptionist in the insurance office where Tom worked, said that she did, so she was asked if she would like to accompany him to the hospital. When they arrived she telephoned Tom’s wife Janet. After days of anxiety over Tom’s survival and his weeks of slow recovery he was released and returned to work.

    On the day of his return, after a warm, “Welcome back!’ by his fellow workers, Barbara MacIntire called to ask if she could say “Hello.” After greeting each other she shared with him that during her conversations with Janet she was shocked to be told that she and Tom did not believe in God. Tom replied, “If you’re speaking about the Christian God, the God of Abraham, yes, that’s true. I don’t believe in that God.” Barbara replied that she is saddened by this revelation and wants to talk to Tom about it. They agree to meet for lunch soon.

    This brief exchange sets up the format for the development of the story. As a committed Christian, Barbara feels called to witness to Tom and Janet that they may recover their faith. And Tom, in response to her concern, feels a responsibility to share his journey. The heart of the matter is that Tom and Janet have ceased to believe in supernatural theism – God ‘up there’ or ‘out there.’ They also have difficulty continuing to express Christian faith in terms of a three thousand year old mythological world view and “outdated dogma.” At each of his meetings with Barbara, before or after their exchanges, he leaves with her an article or an excerpt from a book to help her understand how he has come to his present understanding. Included is material from Bishop John Shelby Spong, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, Bishop John A.T. Robinson, H. A. Overstreet, Karen Armstrong, Peter Berger, Paul Tillich and Lloyd Geering. As the conversations continue, Barbara shares some of the material with her husband. She also seeks the counsel of her minister who listens to her struggles and concerns. He admits to her that when he attended seminary thirty years ago, he was “privy” to the point of view expressed in the material Barbara has read. But he admits he is afraid that if he shared what he knows he would be “run out of town before the day ended.”

    The final chapter contains an address given by Lloyd Geering in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1998, “ Being Religious in the Twenty-First Century.” He highlights the issues Tom and Barbara have discussed, using the pre-European Maori culture as an example of the necessity of coming to terms with cultural change. He points out that for the past three hundred years, Western culture has been engaged in finding a new conceptual language to describe and interpret reality, which is the issue facing the Church today. Using Paul Tillich’s description of religion as “ultimate concern” he suggests that being religious in the twenty-first century is a matter of being ultimately concerned about the population explosion, the exhaustion of the earth’s non-renewable resources, accelerating air pollution, the destruction of the rain-forests, the depletion of the ozone layer, the fragile global economy and the “increasing competition among individual, classes, cultures, corporates and nations, coupled with the quite unequal use of the earth’s limited resources.” He writes, “In other words, the God-symbol, if we still choose to use it in the twenty-first century, will refer to the sum total of those things which will concern us most and which call forth from us the same gamut of emotions of awe, wonder, gratitude and obligation as they did in the past when our forbears had a different view of reality and used a different conceptional language.”

    I found this book so engaging and illuminating it was difficult to put down. Reading it will provide a resource to enrich conversations between friends about their “ultimate concern.”

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