With or Without God

Invisioning a future in which the Christian church plays a viable and transformative role in shaping society, Gretta Vosper argues that if the church is to survive at all, the heart of faith must undergo a radical change. Vosper, founder of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity and a minister in Toronto, believes that what will save the church is an emphasis on just and compassionate living-a new and wholly humanistic approach to religion. Without this reform, the church as we know it faces extinction.

Vosper addresses the issues of spiritual fulfillment, comfort and connection in the modern world through a thoughtful and passionate discourse. She urges a renewal of old doctrines but does so with dignity and respect. Offering difficult but penetrating insights into a new generation of spiritually aware — and spiritually open — people, With or Without God offers a startling model for a renewed church as a leader in ethics, fostering relationships, meaning and values that are solidly rooted in our own selves.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “With or Without God

  1. Review

    It is always hard reviewing a book when you have met the author. Almost like a theistic image of God breathing down my neck, I can’t help but feel Gretta Vosper is watching me and keeping some sort of record book. Having said I will try and be fair to her work in her book With or Without God and our friendship.


    Gretta Vosper is the chair and founder of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity and ministers in Toronto at West Hill United Church. Like most (if not all) liberal thinking writers in the Christian Church she has been attacked by conservatives and fundamentalists and applauded by liberals and progressive inside and outside Christianity. Her sermons are witty and colourful, full of modern and pop-culture references, the symbols she uses are fresh to Christian expression, and her liturgies are unlike anything uttered in most Churches today. Vosper is a radical Christian voice on the edges of theology, spirituality, and religion.


    Strangers to Christianity or those with only a passing knowledge might be confused at what they see and what they hear (and what they sing as well!) but all these concerns and challenges are met in her book, With or Without God: Why the way we live is more important than what we believe. In the book, Vosper details the basic history of Christian beliefs and how the old paradigm of God, life, and the universe has brought Christianity dilemma after dilemma. But more then that, with new ideas and expressions, Vosper presents a way forward by liberating Christianity through reconstruction and responsible change. Her requirements for such changes demand an open mind, passion, creativity, intellectual rigour as well as honesty, courage, respect and balance for the task ahead.


    The book is an enjoyable read, full of wonderful details about her faith and her faith journey, in which both service in illuminating the path of what she hopes to be Christianity’s future. Without or Without God is an genuine study of personal faith and the current problems facing Christianity today, in many ways it is not unlike the famous John A. T. Robinson’s Honest to God (one of Vosper’s influences and inspirations). Vosper answers the problems and challenges facing Christianity with honesty and authenticity. After listening to and meeting her at the Common Dreams 2 conference for religious progressives in Melbourne (Australia), the work her congregation is doing and their support in ministry should be further testimony of her personal and spiritual integrity.


    My biggest issue with the book is her portrait and understanding of Jesus, both within the realms of the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith and her complete misrepresentation of Albert Schweitzer, the father of the Quest for the Historical Jesus. She claims that Schweitzer’s research revealed that Jesus was a “first-century Jew” who “had little to say to the ethical and moral struggles of the contemporary world (p. 152)” which is incorrect because it was Jesus that inspired him work in Africa. Vosper continues to claim that her image of Jesus is similar to that of the Jesus Seminar, arguing that Jesus “stripped of the designation as God’s only begotten, complete with its requisite claims to salvation, there is nothing that he said or did that we must take more seriously than anything said by anyone else (pp. 238-239).” I strongly disagree with this statement that “Jesus” however we understand or define him is foundational for those who call themselves. True, Jesus words and deeds have their short comings and their failures, but I still believe that Jesus in his life contains a value in which I seek to be identified with. To remove this value or to make it equal to all others would strip me of my ability to call myself a Christian, that is, a follower of Jesus the Christ.


    But what upsets me the most is the main thesis of the book, arguing from the very beginning that what we do is more important then what we believe. I agree whole heartily that faith and action cannot be separated but this is not to say that faith is irrelevant, that we can indeed continue with or without God. I am someone who still wishes to continue with ‘God’, a word I believe is still worth saving. Names, titles, definitions, and language still matter to me and while they are all full of problems, they still remain central to me and to other Christians around the word. I do not deny the problems Vosper has pointed our, nor do I wish to ignore for the sake of security and unity, I simply do not have answers yet and I cannot follow Vosper and her path. I find myself asking, if there is no God, or no Christ, then why bother with the Church?


    Having said all of that, With or Without God by Gretta Vosper is a must read for all those willing to ask the difficult questions facing the Christianity of today. Vosper provides an enjoyable in depth book tracing a possible future for Christianity. I expect more and greater works from Gretta Vosper in the years to come and wish to announce that she will become a key voice in the shaping of Christianity’s future.

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