Doubts and Loves: What is Left of Christianity?

Bishop Richard Holloway, until last year the head of the Scottish Episcopal (Anglican) Church, has admitted that he may have ceased to be a Christian although he has given his life to the faith. In his new book, Doubts and Loves, the former bishop of Edinburgh also says he has “ended up in my sixties the kind of bishop that I attacked when I was a priest in my thirties. This book may conclusively demonstrate my departure from the faith … On the other hand … it may offer a lifeline to people who, like me, want to remain members of the Christian community, but only if they can bring their minds, formed by the science and philosophy of the day, along with them,” he writes.

Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Doubts and Loves: What is Left of Christianity?

  1. Review

    Richard Holloway retired at the bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Anglican Church of Scotland in October 2000. The author of twenty-three books, he has served as Professor of Divinity in the City of London and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The intriguing title and subtitle of his book are reflective of his own experiences. His doubts have driven him to the realization that the paradigm of traditional Christianity is no longer plausible for him and many people of post-modern consciousness or relevant to contemporary life. His love of the "moral passion" of Christianity led him to undertake the task of exploring new ways of understanding the Christian tradition, relevant to our time.

    The basic assumption underlying his search, echoing Thomas Kuhn’s thesis, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, is that all paradigms, which he defines as "habits of thought and practice," are human constructs, and therefore historically conditioned. For example, he writes, "It is obvious that the astronomy of the creation narratives of Genesis no longer works for us, so it is just silly to cling to that ancient paradigm as a piece of descriptive science." He believes that if biblical and theological constructs are to be meaningful to us to day it is critical to distinguish between the meaning and the "historical packaging," between the kernel and the husk. If you cannot accept this distinction, you will anxiously lust for the certainty of fundamentalism. If you can accept the distinction, you will, Hollowly suggests, "find yourself in a state of permanent, but relaxed and expectant uncertainty."

    Part One is entitled The Shaking of the Foundations, the title of a book of sermons by his theological mentor Paul Tillich. Holloway is convinced that the foundations of a traditional Christian understanding of life have been shaken by post-modern, contemporary culture. This has confronted many people with the choice of abandoning Christianity because it is "so manifestly out of tune with what you consider to be the best values of contemporary culture" or "clinging to a version of Christianity that is profoundly antipathetic to the freedoms of post-modern society." Holloway’s agenda is to "discover new ways of using the Christian tradition that will deepen our humanity, our care of the earth and for one another."

    Part Two is entitled Rebuilding the Ruins. He explores the meaning and contemporary relevance of Biblical narratives such as the Exodus, the story of Adam and Eve, the concept of Hell, Justification by faith, the Resurrection, the Nativity stories, Jesus and the Incarnation. His exploration reveals the opposing sides in the contemporary battle for the Bible, between those who take the Bible seriously but not literally, and those who take the Bible literally but not seriously. He writes that, as a fruit of his work, he has come to "believe passionately" that "we ought to switch the emphasis in Christianity from belief to practice, from Orthodoxy to Orthopraxis, from believing things about Jesus to the imitation of Jesus."

    Part Three is entitled What is Left of Christianity. He devotes chapters to describing Jesus as "The Outsider" who had a vision for a new society of justice and mercy and who sought to build a community "that would strengthen the weak in their struggle against their dominators." In his concluding chapter, Holloway contrasts what he calls the "theology of death" and the "theology of life." The theology of death, which is the controlling paradigm of traditional Christianity focuses on the death of Jesus, and is often, interpreted as "saving" people out of this fallen, wicked world. The theology of life emphasizes the goodness of creation, that God, in Jesus, chose to dwell in the world, and invited us "to feel at home in it, to reverence it, and to practice the disciplines of sharing its good things with others, particularly with the poor of the earth."

    In his acceptance and affirmation of his doubts, in his pursuit and celebration of his love, Holloway concludes, "What is left of Christianity should be the practice of the kind of love that subverts the selfishness of power, whether it is the subtle power of spiritual or the brutal power of political institutions."

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