Nobody really says it, but more and more people are trying to do it. I say this from personal experience of talking to hundreds of people on Uber and Lyft. They go to church, but they don't care about Jesus. They claim to be Christian (or Catholic) with no mention of the Savior. Christianity is more a culture than a creed.
That's why I'm reviewing this book that comes out July 27, 2018.
You know there’s a problem when chapter 7’s title is “Christian Agnosticism.” This must be the most liberal book I was given to read, but I wanted to give its logic a chance. Also, it’s apparent from my conversations with many supposed “Christians,” that this is relevant to the real experience and lifestyle of many more people than I would like to admit.
He shows what this book is about in the introduction. He states that it is possible to enjoy the benefits of Christianity without being “Christian” in true belief. He also proposes that strong Christian beliefs (deity of Christ, gospel, etc) actually have “no positive effects on the lives of Christians.” A belief in God may in fact have detrimental results. Yet there is meaning in the Christian experience even, or especially, without them.
The author is an agnostic who believes only in the possibility of absolute beliefs. He believes that God is real, but we as humans are unable to make an “absolute presupposition that God exists” or that he has sent special revelation in the form of the Bible.
Let me get to the point. He writes, “The importance of Jesus in our lives does not depend on…whether he was actually the son of God.” What matters is how we “interpret his advice” and how his story affects our lives. This belief is in stark opposition to traditional Christianity and the revelation of the gospel.
Although logical gymnastics is used to redefine words like “faith” and “belief,” the author’s presupposition boils down to this common thinking – The story/beliefs of religion is unimportant insofar as it helps you on your path to enjoyment and self-discovery. That’s what matters, not the actual beliefs.
This book highlights the subjective experience. In contrast, absolute beliefs undermine human responsibility. Not only that, he writes that to believe in divine revelation is to disrespect God. Say what? Wow, his version of God (or the God archetype) must be entirely different from yours and mine, because I’d be offended if someone didn’t believe my words.
I’ll concede that absolute beliefs have been the cause of many religious wars (e.g. Crusades, Ireland) and splits in the church (e.g. Reformation), and many of these disputes have been ugly. Yes, there’s a problem. However, it does not mediate a pragmatist effort of anti-absolutist, veiled subjectivism.
The author’s premise most obviously falls apart when he talks about science, "not as a discovery of truths." He maintains that science cannot give us real knowledge of “supposedly true facts.” Rather, science is more of a social construct, much like religion. More than theologians, I think scientists would be more in disagreement by that remark.
It’s ironic that he criticizes the results of the liberal Jesus Seminar for “applying criteria…to ensure results that fit the preferred liberal picture…and confirmation bias.” Yet he does the same thing to Jesus by elevating human experience above absolute claims of divinity (the Bible). By that criterium, the conclusions are already mapped out, and Jesus is just a character in a story, relevant only to our subjective experience and journey. By the end of the book, as predicted, the teachings of Jesus are more important than the person of Jesus. What’s worse is that he insinuates that Jesus was thinking in the same construct.
I think it’s fine to disagree with the Gospel. But what is offensive about this book is that he tries to redefine the Gospel. He redefines “atonement, grace, and salvation.” He ridicules the very essence of what it means to be Christian and denigrates it to a mere culture of faith (not belief). He says that Jesus has been misinterpreted by history, that Jesus never meant to take anyone’s place of sin responsibility, and sin “cannot be removed by magic.” He draws from mostly anti-Christian philosophers like Sartre, Nieche, or Kierkegaard. It’s no wonder he ends up with mostly anti-Christian implications.
In terms of writing style, like most academics, he takes a long time to get to his point. He feels the need to define every subject word ad infinitum and explain every tangential detail. It’s not necessary; people could easily follow your train of thought. In addition, the dual categorization of the left hemisphere God (i.e. of the brain) and the right hemisphere God was simply ridiculous.
You could actually start reading this book with chapter 7 without missing too much; everything is summarized in the first few paragraphs. Interestingly enough, his writing becomes more focused hereon.
It’s unfortunate that a book that purports fresh new ideas is riddled with spots of failed logic and rational thinking. But the author reveals why he started with negative bias against Christianity. He writes, “My overwhelming experience of church…left a negative impression so deep that I struggle to engage more positive emotions with Christian worship even today. I think this was because it was primarily about power: the power of a social institution imposed upon participants by appeal to the authority of a supernatural entity.”
This actually explains a lot. I could understand fully why he cannot examine this subject with objectivity. In short, this book isn’t worth the read, Christian or not.
However it reveals that for someone to be logically consistent in trying to live as Christian without Christ, you have to disregard the Bible and treat it as nice little moral stories to learn from, not as divine revelation. You have to treat everything in life as subjective to your own experience, including discoveries in science, since there is no absolute truth. This kind of subjectivity will wreak havoc on your sense of morals, observation of facts, and the importance of life after death.
As the author summarizes, religion indeed acts as a power play among political characters. However, to lump the whole of the Christian gospel in that mix fails to see why a person cannot be Christian without Christ.
On the other hand, I now see that in order to counter the failed logic of those who try to be Christian without Christ, I have to emphasize the importance of absolute truths as revealed in science and nature (and life), and that divine revelation is the only way we can know God. And there is nothing subjective about that!
I would like to thank the publisher for an advance copy of this book.