In 2018 Being Christian in the Twenty-First Century was published. Following are some relevant questions regarding this book.
Why another book on Christianity?
The Pew Research Center’s “Religious Landscape Studies” continue to deliver bad news for the future of Christianity. As early as the 1930s Pierre Teilhard de Chardin recognized the need to revise the way Christianity was being articulated. Over the centuries layer after layer of dogma creeds and doctrine have grown to smother the meaning of Jesus’ message. This kept the faithful “in line” back in the day when churches had more power over their congregants. But those days are over, and that power has faded. We have all heard professors Einstein’s adage “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” In so many ways, that is what the Christian church has been doing into the twenty-first century.
What is this book like?
Being Christian in the Twenty-First Century presents a rational and pragmatic interpretation of Christianity by going back to its roots in the first century and the centuries leading up to it. By understanding the social, political and religious context of the time when Scripture was formulated one can understand it in a way that makes sense, without need for extraordinary claims that leave post moderns incredulous. By understanding the context of ancient life and progressive thought through the years Christianity can be truly internalized and be independent of irrational faith statements that continue to fall on deaf ears at an accelerating pace.
How is this book different?
Being Christian in the Twenty-First Century integrates the work of theologians throughout the centuries in ways that bring new insights and confidence to the faithful as well as the doubtful. It also brings to the fold relevant findings of contemporary historians, sociologists, archaeologists and biblical scholars to provide a characterization of the matrix within which the ancient Scriptures were constructed. The book is ideal for study groups, with a study guide for each chapter and guidance on establishing and managing a discussion class.
Such a book can be dry and boring. Why should I read it?
Since the book has been published, I have received many humbling accolades. Some have praised the scholarship. Others have commented on how it gave new meaning to their faith. One retired pastor and prior seminary professor commented on how it helped things fall into place for him that much of his seminary training had obfuscated. In advance, I ask your indulgence for the occasional pun or infusion of subtle humor in the book. Yes, even a little humor “can help make the theology go down,” to paraphrase a Mary Poppins theme. But, enough of my thoughts. Here are some excerpts from unsolicited comments of readers of Being Christian.
* Masterfully written and fully accessible to the layperson.
* Gives substance to progressive theology
* After you have read this book, you’re likely to feel revived and have a much deeper connection to Jesus and the Faith.
* Stimulated as much dialogue as any resource we have used to date.
* Asks pertinent questions that require deep thought and reflections.
* Lays out the case for major revisions to orthodox Christian doctrine
* Well-reasoned and clearly written.
* An important contribution to the progressive Christian movement.
Who am I and what do I have to offer Progressive Christianity?
First, some things I am not. I am not an academically trained theologian in the commonly held understanding of the term. I am not a member of the clergy and I have not attended seminary. That may seem disqualifying. But perhaps not. Here is why. I have had a thirty-year career as a college professor and academic administrator. This training has given me the skills for discerning good scholarship and the ability to integrate disparate thought into a coherent thesis. I can study material across multiple disciplines and integrate them into a lucid thematic whole. Additionally, I can express thoughts that are accessible to both clergy and lay persons alike without the use of archaic terminology understood only by theologians. I am not limited in my scope by trendy academic cultures deciding what is acceptable for publication. Further I have no denominational axe to grind, no history of preaching that I must rescind or negate and no congregation that could throw me to the wolves and destroy my career. In other words, I am much freer to call it like I see it. That is what I have done with Being Christian. Try it, I think you will like it.
“Gould, in the tradition of lay theologians like C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, and William Stringfellow, writes with conviction, candor, and clarity as he articulates what it means to be Christian in the twenty-first century. Calling for a more intellectually and spiritually satisfying faith, he bases his thinking on the best biblical and theological scholarship available and presses the reader to think critically and constructively about Christianity. An educator par excellence, Gould has produced an incredible theological text designed for adults, but also fitting for post-modern youth yearning for meaning in their lives and world.” —Donald E. Messer, emeritus president and Henry White Professor Emeritus of Practical Theology, The Iliff School of Theology, and author of Calling Church & Seminary into the Twenty-First Century.
“Born of a questioning faith and informed by rigorous scholarship, Being Christian in the Twenty-First Century is fides quarens intellectum (faith seeking understanding) at its best. Gould’s work is as valuable to the emerging church as that of Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and John Shelby Spong. —Tom Stella, chaplain, retreat leader, former Holy Cross priest, and author of Finding God Beyond Religion.
“Sam Gould turns ‘back to the future’ by offering a progressive interpretation of biblical texts and traditional church teachings that contemporary Christians can embrace as rational, ethical, and humanist. He writes for those who wish to be Christian without forfeiting their critical intelligence or liberal morality. While Gould asserts that Jesus reveals what a fully evolved human life can be, he also calls for ecumenical openness to those of other religious faiths.” —David L. Weddle emeritus professor of religion, Colorado College, and author of Miracles: Wonder and Meaning in World Religions
In 100 pages, Sam Gould has put together a challenging argument for a progressive Christianity in our time, making his pitch to the members of churches as well as pleading for priests and ministers to be more honest and courageous.
Chapters deal with “Being Christian,” “Justification by Faith,” “Jesus: The Fully Human One,” “From Criminal to Christ,” “Atonement,” “Is Jesus the Only Way?” “Scripture: Word of God or Word of Man?” “God,” and “Church.”
Covering such large areas of belief, it is to be expected that the reader might have many questions. Gould anticipates that by providing a very detailed bibliography, an appendix covering the historical backdrop and the politics of first century Galilee and another on the economy, public health and religious matrix of that time.
The book is written in the hope of it being used as a tool for discussion groups. There is a very detailed study guide for each chapter with an introductory essay on “The Adult Discussion Class.”
Gould is an academic whose career has included leadership positions in business and government. He has also studied theology and served in administrative positions in local church settings for over 40 years. This shows in the ways in which his writing is rooted in the reality of the present day church scene. He pays due credit to progressives like Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan and Jack Spong.
Sam Gould dedicates his book to his eight grandchildren “who will face their adult journey in the twenty first century.” If any of my grandchildren have any inclination for or against Christianity, I would be happy to offer this book to them to help them think through the issues. It’s the sort of book I would be happy to give to anyone showing signs of a questioning faith. —Rev. Jim Hollyman, Progressive Voices, June 2018, Progressive Christian Network Britain, United Kingdom
Progressive Voices is the magazine of the Progressive Christianity Network Britain [Registered Charity No. 1102164]. It is published quarterly in March, June, September and December. PCN Britain is itself part of a wider international network of progressive Christian organizations.
About the Author
Sam Gould has served in leadership positions in business, government and academe for over five decades. He has traveled broadly and consulted with organizations in North America, Europe and Asia. Sam has read widely in theology, facilitated adult study classes and served in lay administrative positions in local church settings. Sam brings an executive’s pragmatism, an academic’s scholarship and a layman’s passion to his writing. He lives in Divide, Colorado with Elaine, his wife of 56 years, and serves on the boards of local for profit and not for profit organizations including in his local church.