I haven't written about these books yet in Connections,
but I've read them and found them interesting.
What Does a Progressive Christian Believe?: A Guide for the
Searching, the Open, and the Curious, by Delwin Brown (Seabury Books,
|Brown, a lay United Methodist who is dean
emeritus of Pacific School of Religion and formerly a professor at Iliff
School of Theology, gives a helpful presentation of a Progressive
understanding of Christianity. His book is what he calls
"introductory in character for ordinary people, not specialists.
Brown is concerned because the progressive Christian voice seems to have
stopped speaking, and he feels it urgently needs to be speaking. Here he
describes what he sees as the very worthwhile perspective it has to offer.
War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation's Veterans from Post-traumatic
Stress Disorder, by Edward Tick (Quest Books, 2005)
|Tick is a psychiatrist who has treated PTSD victims since
1979. He has treated veterans of every modern war, beginning with World
War II. He sees war as a living archetype inherent to the psyche, which we
will never end through purely political or historical means. He believes
PTSD is "best understood as an identity disorder and soul wound,
affecting the personality at the deepest levels." I wish this
fascinating book were being read and discussed in all churches.
A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus, by George W. Baldwin
|Baldwin is a United Methodist clergyman and
former seminary professor who felt called to live in voluntary poverty and
lived in Nicaragua for 12 years before settling in Montana. He believes
the biblical theme of "salvation" has been the common expression
of Christianity and represents no serious influence upon or threat to the
Powers. The other major theme of the New Testament,
"liberation," was more prominent in the life of Jesus bit has
not been promoted in Western Civilization, Baldwin finds, because it
represents a challenge to the injustices that accompany the systems of
domination. A powerful and provocative book.
|This isn't a book, but it's a statement I wish all
churchgoers would read and consider seriously, comparing what it says to
what the gospels report Jesus saying and doing. It's a very powerful
document composed in 1985 by a group of South African Christians. Reading
it makes me wonder if I or many of the churchgoers I know are at all
serious about being followers of Jesus. It's scary but inspiring—very
potent. You can get the whole document free by clicking
Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris (Vintage Books,
|This is a very small easy-to-read book by a neuroscientist
who is a self-labeled atheist. I wish every churchgoer would read it and
every Sunday School class would read and discuss it. I believe that we
Christians need to take Harris's views seriously and use them to show us
how we would need to present Christianity differently from our usual ways,
if we wanted to convincingly refute what he and other current authors with
similar views are saying. Being hostile to them (as Harris says many
Christians are, in the letters they write him) is counterproductive, and
quoting the Bible to them is unconvincing. In my opinion, we urgently need
to figure out how to do something more effective, if we don't want
Christian influence in the U.S. to decline any further.
No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, by
Reza Aslan (Random House, 2006)
|This is a very well-written book by a Muslim who is in his
30s. He was born in Iran and lived there until he fled to the U.S. at age
10 with his family.
Love Is Stronger Than Death: The Mystical Union of Two Souls,
by Cynthia Bourgeault (Lindisfarne Books, 2001)
|This book by the
author of The Wisdom Way of
Knowing, which I wrote about in the May
2005 Connections, is beautiful, thought-provoking, and very
unusual. It's Bourgeault's account of her spiritual friendship with a
hermit monk. You may be a bit skeptical, as I was, about her description
of how their relationship has continued after his death, but don't let
that keep you from reading this intriguing book—a love story and an
inspiring spiritual-journey story all in one.
Religious Abuse: A Pastor Explores the Many Ways Religion Can
Hurt as Well as Heal, by Keith Wright (Northstone, 2001)
|In addition to discussing the
more familiar forms of abuse that sometimes happen in the church, pastor
Wright emphasizes what he considers the ultimate form of abuse—the
conviction that one's belief system is the only correct or valid one. I
wish every church member would read this easy-to-read but powerful book.
Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of
Christ, by William T. Cavanaugh (Blackwell Publishers, 1995)
|This is an unusual book
that I found very intriguing. Cavanaugh uses the Pinochet regime in
Chile and the Catholic church's interaction with it, to illustrate his
claim that in the Eucharist the church becomes the true body of Christ
and the body that can most effectively oppose cruel, authoritarian
regimes. Cavanaugh compares the tortured and "disappeared"
Chilean Christians to the early Christian martyrs. "From a
theological point of view," he says, "the conflict is the
same: it is the conflict between Christ's body on earth and the powers
of the world which refuse to recognize Christ's victory over it."
"For the church itself," explains Cavanaugh, "martyrdom
disciplines the community and helps it to claim its identity." And
the Eucharist is where this identity becomes most apparent and real to
the church. The Eucharist, Cavanaugh believes, is "that performance
which makes the body of Christ visible in the present."
For me, Torture and Eucharist was hard reading but was
definitely worth the effort. The difficulty came partly from its
academic style and partly from Cavanaugh's Roman Catholic perspective.
As a Protestant I kept having to work at relating his understanding of
the Eucharist to mine. Also I found his continual references to popes
and their encyclicals and other official statements tedious. But as a
result of reading Torture and Eucharist I'm reevaluating my
understanding of the Eucharist and much more about what being the body
of Christ in today's world would mean if all Christians took it
seriously. Torture and Eucharist is a book I can't stop thinking