Archive for Religion

The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View

The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View, by Tim Crane (Hb $24.95, Kndl $14.72) 224 pp

MeaningAmazon: Contemporary debate about religion seems to be going nowhere. Atheists persist with their arguments, many plausible and some unanswerable, but these make no impact on religious believers. Defenders of religion find atheists equally unwilling to cede ground. The Meaning of Belief offers a way out of this stalemate.

An atheist himself, Tim Crane writes that there is a fundamental flaw with most atheists’ basic approach: religion is not what they think it is. Atheists tend to treat religion as a kind of primitive cosmology, as the sort of explanation of the universe that science offers. They conclude that religious believers are irrational, superstitious, and bigoted. But this view of religion is almost entirely inaccurate. Crane offers an alternative account based on two ideas. The first is the idea of a religious impulse: the sense people have of something transcending the world of ordinary experience, even if it cannot be explicitly articulated. The second is the idea of identification: the fact that religion involves belonging to a specific social group and participating in practices that reinforce the bonds of belonging. Once these ideas are properly understood, the inadequacy of atheists’ conventional conception of religion emerges.

The Meaning of Belief does not assess the truth or falsehood of religion. Rather, it looks at the meaning of religious belief and offers a way of understanding it that both makes sense of current debate and also suggests what more intellectually responsible and practically effective attitudes atheists might take to the phenomenon of religion.

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God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God

God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God, by Gregory Boyd ($14.95 pb, $9.99 Kndl)

GodofthePossibleAmazon: 

From Publishers Weekly

This exceptionally engaging and biblically centered text defends a theological claim that is generating heated controversy among evangelicals: that from God’s perspective, the future is partly open, a realm of possibilities as well as certainties. Boyd, professor of theology at Bethel College (St. Paul, Minn.) and author of Letters from a Skeptic and God at War, displays a remarkable ability to make “open theism” accessible to a wide audience. Open theism usually receives a cool reception among evangelical theologians, whose views of divine foreknowledge often echo Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin, as well as Hellenistic philosophical theology. This classical tradition interprets God’s perfection as eternal changelessness, ruling out the possibility that God could learn new information, or that God’s intentions could change. Boyd sidesteps the more abstruse theological debates surrounding this issue in favor of a patient, but not pedantic, exposition of a “motif of future openness” in biblical narrative and prophecy. These biblical texts repeatedly portray God as changing plans in response to human decisions, viewing future events as contingent and even being disappointed at how events turn out. Boyd clearly believes the debate over open theism has gotten off to an unfortunate start, as disagreements about the “settledness” of the future have unnecessarily been interpreted as challenges to God’s omniscience or sovereignty. This convincing, clear book promises to raise the caliber of argument in the controversy.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

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The End of White Christian America

The End of White Christian America, by Robert P. Jones ($14.99 Kndl, $17.47 hb)

ChristianAmazon: Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), challenges us to grasp the profound political and cultural consequences of a new reality—that America is no longer a majority white Christian nation.

For most of our nation’s history, White Christian America (WCA)—the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals. But especially since the 1990s, WCA has steadily lost influence, following declines within both its mainline and evangelical branches. Today, America is no longer demographically or culturally a majority white Christian nation.

Drawing on more than four decades of polling data, The End of White Christian Americaexplains and analyzes the waning vitality of WCA. Jones argues that the visceral nature of today’s most heated issues—the vociferous arguments around same-sex marriage and religious liberty, the rise of the Tea Party following the election of our first black president, and stark disagreements between black and white Americans over the fairness of the criminal justice system—can only be understood against the backdrop of white Christians’ anxieties as America’s racial and religious topography shifts around them.

In 2016 and beyond, the descendants of WCA will lack the political power they once had to set the terms of the nation’s debate over values and morals and to determine election outcomes. Looking ahead, Jones forecasts the ways that they might adjust to find their place in the new America—and the consequences for us all if they don’t.

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Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed

Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed, by John B. Cobb Jr ($12.99 Kndl, $17.42 Hb)

JesusAbbaAmazon: The church has emphasized ideas about God that have marginalized Jesus’ understanding of his spiritual Father, his Abba. We commonly think of God as a demanding lawgiver and judge, an omnipotent ruler, or an ultimate philosophical principle. None of these works well today.

In contrast, Jesus’ view of God as spiritual Abba still truly works when it is given a chance. Christians should be open to accepting the ideas of the one they call Lord and Savior. In Jesus’ Abba, one of the greatest theologians of this generation boldly argues for a new view of God, through the eyes of Jesus.

John B. Cobb Jr. interprets the whole of Jesus’ life and ministry, and death and resurrection, in light of Jesus’ understanding of God. He also shows that Paul shared this understanding and that it played a central role in Paul’s churches. Ultimately, Cobb argues that Jesus’ view of God fits our actual experience today, that it is supported by the evidence of the sciences, and that it encourages appreciative learning from other wisdom traditions and cooperation with them in redeeming the world.

With this book, John B. Cobb Jr. makes his ultimate and most impassioned plea for us to rediscover God through Jesus.

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Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, by Drew G. I. Hart ($9.99 Kndl, $12.61 pb)

troubleReview in Christian Century here.

Amazon:  What if racial reconciliation doesn’t look like what you expected? The high-profile killings of young black men and women by white police officers, and the protests and violence that ensued, have convinced many white Christians to reexamine their intuitions when it comes to race and justice.

In this provocative book, theologian and blogger Drew G. I. Hart places police brutality, mass incarceration, antiblack stereotypes, poverty, and everyday acts of racism within the larger framework of white supremacy. Leading readers toward Jesus, Hart offers concrete practices for churches that seek solidarity with the oppressed and are committed to racial justice.

What if all Christians listened to the stories of those on the racialized margins? How might the church be changed by the trouble we ve seen?

Key Features:
-Written by well-known theologian and blogger Drew Hart with foreword by Christena Cleveland
-Hard-hitting analysis of racial injustice in the twenty-first century
-Provides a call to action for Christians committed to racial justice and creative proposals for antiracist practices for churches

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American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism

American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism, by Matthew Avery Sutton ($25.82 Hb, 24.53 Kndl)

ApocalypseAmazon: The first comprehensive history of modern American evangelicalism to appear in a generation,American Apocalypse shows how a group of radical Protestants, anticipating the end of the world, paradoxically transformed it.

Matthew Avery Sutton draws on extensive archival research to document the ways an initially obscure network of charismatic preachers and their followers reshaped American religion, at home and abroad, for over a century. Perceiving the United States as besieged by Satanic forces—communism and secularism, family breakdown and government encroachment—Billy Sunday, Charles Fuller, Billy Graham, and others took to the pulpit and airwaves to explain how Biblical end-times prophecy made sense of a world ravaged by global wars, genocide, and the threat of nuclear extinction. Believing Armageddon was nigh, these preachers used what little time was left to warn of the coming Antichrist, save souls, and prepare the nation for God’s final judgment.

By the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan and conservative Republicans appropriated evangelical ideas to create a morally infused political agenda that challenged the pragmatic tradition of governance through compromise and consensus. Following 9/11, the politics of apocalypse continued to resonate with an anxious populace seeking a roadmap through a world spinning out of control. Premillennialist evangelicals have erected mega-churches, shaped the culture wars, made and destroyed presidential hopefuls, and brought meaning to millions of believers. Narrating the story of modern evangelicalism from the perspective of the faithful, Sutton demonstrates how apocalyptic thinking continues to exert enormous influence over the American mainstream today.

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The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem

The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem, by Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan ($9.33 pb, $1.99 Kndl)\

lastweekAmazon: Top Jesus scholars Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan join together to reveal a radical and little-known Jesus. As both authors reacted to and responded to questions about Mel Gibson’s blockbuster The Passion of the Christ, they discovered that many Christians are unclear on the details of events during the week leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion.

Using the gospel of Mark as their guide, Borg and Crossan present a day-by-day account of Jesus’s final week of life. They begin their story on Palm Sunday with two triumphal entries into Jerusalem. The first entry, that of Roman governor Pontius Pilate leading Roman soldiers into the city, symbolized military strength. The second heralded a new kind of moral hero who was praised by the people as he rode in on a humble donkey. The Jesus introduced by Borg and Crossan is this new moral hero, a more dangerous Jesus than the one enshrined in the church’s traditional teachings.

The Last Week depicts Jesus giving up his life to protest power without justice and to condemn the rich who lack concern for the poor. In this vein, at the end of the week Jesus marches up Calvary, offering himself as a model for others to do the same when they are confronted by similar issues. Informed, challenged, and inspired, we not only meet the historical Jesus, but meet a new Jesus who engages us and invites us to follow him.

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As a Driven Leaf

As a Driven Leaf, by Milton Steinberg ($9.25 pb, $8.79 Kndl)

leafAmazon: A spirited classic of American Jewish literature, a historical novel about ancient sage-turned-apostate Elisha ben Abuyah in the late first century C.E. At the heart of the tale are questions about faith and the loss of faith and the repression and rebellion of the Jews of Palestine. Elisha is a leading scholar in Palestine, elected to the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court in the land. But two tragedies awaken doubt about God in Elisha’s mind, and doubt eats away at his faith. Declared a heretic and excommunicated from the Jewish community, he journeys to Antioch in nearby Syria to begin a quest through Greek and Roman culture for some fundamental irrefutable truth. The pace of the narrative picks up as Elisha directly encounters the full force of the ancient Romans’ all-consuming culture. Ultimately, Elisha is forced by the power of Rome to choose between loyalty to his people, who are rebelling against the emperor’s domination, and loyalty to his own quest for truth.—Publishers Weekly

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The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement

The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement, by Michael J Gorman ($43.77 hb, $31.55 pb, $9.99 Kndl)

[This has got to be a bit of a slog, but maybe not.  Came up as part of an ongoing conversation within the Adult Ministries Cmte. — rls]

Here is a link to a review in Christian Century.

AtonementAmazon: In this groundbreaking book, Michael Gorman asks why there is no theory or model of the atonement called the “new-covenant” model, since this understanding of the atonement is likely the earliest in the Christian tradition, going back to Jesus himself. Gorman argues that most models of the atonement over-emphasize the penultimate purposes of Jesus’ death and the “mechanics” of the atonement, rather than its ultimate purpose: to create a transformed, Spirit-filled people of God. The New Testament’s various atonement metaphors are part of a remarkably coherent picture of Jesus’ death as that which brings about the new covenant (and thus the new community) promised by the prophets, which is also the covenant of peace. Gorman therefore proposes a new model of the atonement that is really not new at all-the new-covenant model. He argues that this is not merely an ancient model in need of rediscovery, but also a more comprehensive, integrated, participatory, communal, and missional model than any of the major models in the tradition. Life in this new covenant, Gorman argues, is a life of communal and individual participation in Jesus’ faithful, loving, peacemaking death. Written for both academics and church leaders, this book will challenge all who read it to re-think and re-articulate the meaning of Christ’s death for us.

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The Fifth Gospel: A Novel

The Fifth Gospel: A Novel, by Ian Caldwell ($19.98 hb, $12.99 Kndl)

fifthAmazon: “Masterful…The Fifth Gospel is that rare story: erudite and a page-turner, literary but compulsively readable. It will change the way you look at organized religion, humanity, and perhaps yourself.” —David Baldacci

“A gripping thriller rich with human drama and forbidden knowledge.” —Lev Grossman

A lost gospel, a contentious relic, and a dying pope’s final wish converge to send two brothers—both Vatican priests—on an intellectual quest to untangle Christianity’s greatest historical mystery.

Ten years ago, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason’s The Rule of Four became a literary phenomenon that sold nearly two million copies in North America and was hailed by critics as “ingenious…profoundly erudite” (The New York Times), “compulsively readable” (People), and “an exceptional piece of scholarship” (San Francisco Chronicle). Now, after a decade of painstaking primary research, Ian Caldwell returns with a masterful new thriller that confirms his place among the most ambitious popular storytellers working today.

In 2004, as Pope John Paul II’s reign enters its twilight, a mysterious exhibit is under construction at the Vatican Museums. A week before it is scheduled to open, its curator is murdered at a clandestine meeting on the outskirts of Rome. That same night, a violent break-in rocks the home of the curator’s research partner, Father Alex Andreou, a Greek Catholic priest who lives inside the Vatican with his five-year-old son. When the papal police fail to identify a suspect in either crime, Father Alex, desperate to keep his family safe, undertakes his own investigation. To find the killer he must reconstruct the dead curator’s secret: what the four Christian gospels—and a little-known, true-to-life fifth gospel known as the Diatessaron—reveal about the Church’s most controversial holy relic. But just as he begins to understand the truth about his friend’s death and its consequences for the future of the world’s two largest Christian Churches, Father Alex finds himself hunted down by someone with a vested stake in the exhibit—someone he must outwit to survive.

At once a riveting intellectual thriller, a feast of biblical history and scholarship, and a moving family drama, The Fifth Gospelis “a story of sacrifice, forgiveness, and redemption. Peppered with references to real-life people, places, and events, the narrative rings true, taking the reader on an emotional journey nearly two thousand years in the making” (Library Journal,starred review).

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