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“Honest to God: Christianity at the Convergence of Tradition, Reason and Mystery by John Speers

A Book Review


Honest to God: Christianity at the Convergence of Tradition, Reason and Mystery by John Speers is a fascinating analysis of the current challenges facing the Christian church. He begins where so many of us do. The Christian religion expresses profound, deep spiritual truths. The problem is the Christian story and scheme for salvation are no longer historically credible. The story communicates through myths that are not literally true. It is critically important that we be honest about this situation.

The Christian religion has responded to the modern world by doubling down on dogma and belief. The obsession for correct belief has pushed concern for direct, subjective experience of God to the margins which has caused most Christians to miss the point. True religion comes from a personal awareness of God. This encounter with God as Spirit is ineffable, not definable, and has no relation to doctrine or belief. This God as spirit is experienced within our inner most being. Religion that doesn’t focus on such an encounter is a fraud.

He moves on from this introduction to point out that religions are not created out of the thin air, but rather are a product of how humans think. In the ancient world, the vast majority of people had what can best be described as a prerational consciousness, a social intelligence centered around instincts and emotions that enabled them to live in communities.

The Christianity that resulted from such thinking inherited a God of supernational theism, a transcendent being sitting in heaven. Jesus was pictured as a divine superhero. The focus of this religion was to gain everlasting life in heaven as a reward for correct belief. Correct belief was defined as belief in the literal truth of Christian scripture, the divine word of God, and the idea of substitutionary atonement in which it was believed that Jesus suffered a tortuous death as a payment for human sin. Christianity at this level of consciousness was based on fear of a tyrannical God; and, as the early modern period emerged, an extreme hostility among Conservative Christians developed toward science and the rational consciousness that brought about the scientific revolution.

The scientific revolution came to Europe towards the second half of the Renaissance period with the revelation of Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543 that the sun rather than the earth was the center of the universe. This discovery was followed by astonishing developments in mathematics, physics, astronomy, human anatomy, and chemistry. The revolution was made possible because of a huge shift in human consciousness. Reason became king. People began to think critically and in the abstract. Unless a premise was based on objective facts it was seen as not credible, useless.

Such thinking was devastating to prerational religion. A God in heaven was discredited. God the creator was diminished by Darwin’s theory of evolution. The literal truth of the Bible became highly questionable due to the application of reason to its study and the quest for historical truth. Many cherished church doctrines were put into question because of similar methods of analysis. The Church is still struggling with this revolution and the form of consciousness that came with it with the result that Christians in both Europe and the United States are leaving in large numbers.

Speers places hope in experiential, apophatic spirituality as a pathway to transrational consciousness. Transrational consciousness fully accepts the reason that drives the scientific revolution, but it also understands that reason has its limits. This new form of consciousness involves a balance between prerational and rational intelligence. It sees a world in which there is both objective and subjective truth.

From the perspective of transrational consciousness, Speers creates a vision of the Christian church for the future. God is redefined as the mysterious source of all being, the Spirit that is behind all matter and is experienced deeply within individual human beings. Faith becomes trust in the mystery and reality of this Spirit. Authority lies not in sacred scripture or the church as an institution, but in the truth of the experience of God’s goodness and love. Jesus is pictured as a fellow human being, the seed of a transforming mythical story.

With regard to myth, it is reinterpreted not as literal history, but as containing levels of meaning beyond what appears on the surface. Speers reinterprets several Christian myths based on transrational thinking—the creation stories, the Virgin Birth, the crucifixion and resurrection, the trinity, and other widely held Christian doctrines. His work here is impressive. His point is that there is much to value in the Christian tradition if we rethink it in ways that make sense to people living in the twenty-first century.

Speers worked as a computer programmer for most of his professional life. He has a Master of Divinity degree from Drew University School of Theology, and was a pastor for a short time in an emerging church under the auspices of  the United Church of Christ. On the phone, he told me that Honest to God represents a lifetime of thinking about these issues, and it shows. His book is a brutally honest search to find new meaning for a traditional church that is slowly dying. The book is skillfully written, well argued, and full of impressive insights. I highly recommend it to you.


John Speers is hosting discussion of Honest to God at

He is retired after a career in computer programming. Speers has a B.A. degree in psychology from SUNY New Paltz and an M.Div. degree from Drew University Theology School. He has been engaged with issues of spiritual growth and understanding, especially in a Christian context, for most of his life. You can find a more extensive biography as an appendix to Honest to God.


Dr. Rick Herrick (Ph.D., Tulane University), a former tenured university professor and magazine editor, is the author of six published novels and two works of nonfiction. His latest books are A Christian Foreign Policy, A Man Called Jesus, Jeff’s Journey, and A Second Chance. His musical play, Lighthouse Point, was performed as a fundraiser for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. Herrick is currently retired, living in Bluffton, SC. He is married with three children and seven grandchildren. You can find him at



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