The Bible’s meaning for today
Kissing Fish: Christianity for People Who Don’t Like Christianity, by Roger Wolsey (XLibris, 2011) Wolsey is a UMC clergyman who sees a discouraging number of young people shifting away from Christianity. He finds that what has driven many of them off is a version of it that he doesn’t see as genuine Christianity. Wolsey’s book, combining personal memoir with theology and written in a conversational style, presents progressive Christianity as a better choice than fundamentalism or conservative evangelicalism. Extensive samples from the book are available free at www.progressivechristianitybook.com. Read more about it in the May 2013 Connections.
Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World, by John Shelby Spong (HarperOne, 2011) Spong gives an overview of what he sees as the consensus of leading scholars’ findings about how, when, and why each section of the Bible and several of its individual books were written. You can read more about Spong’s book in the Jan 2012 Connections.
The Battle for God, by Karen Armstrong (HarperOne, 2000) Karen Armstrong describes conditions that began in 1492 and led to the appearance of fundamentalism in the world’s three major monotheistic religions, and the development of fundamentalism in the 20th century. Read more in the July 2012 Connections.
Fundamentalism: The Challenge to the Secular World, by Lloyd Geering (St. Andrew’s Trust for the Study of Religion and Society, 2003) In this short, easy-to-read book, Geering describes the origin of Christian fundamentalism and discusses what he sees as its significance for today. The complete book is available free on the Internet. You can read about it in the Aug 2012 Connections.
Fundamentalisms Observed, Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, eds. (Volume I ofThe Fundamentalism Project, University of Chicago Press, 1991). This very thick volume is the first of a multi-volume series. In this volume, fourteen authors describe the origin and characteristics of fundamentalism as it appears in fourteen different world religions, and the editors discuss what they see as general characteristics. The July 2011 and February 2011 Connections include quotes from the chapter about Christianity in North America, by Nancy T. Ammerman, and from the editors’ introduction.
The Evolution of Faith: How God Is Creating a Better Christianity, by Philip Gulley (HarperOne, 2011) Gulley notes the need for Christians to become better informed about the Bible and their faith, and to focus on what apparently had top priority for Jesus. He observes that by using language that most other people don’t know or speak, theologians often create a gap between themselves and others. The gap does harm by increasing the theological ignorance in our society, thus making people “vulnerable to bad theology and unscrupulous purveyors of self-serving religion.” Barbara expresses her mixed views of this book in the January 2012 Connections.
All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, by Robert Jensen (Soft Skull Press, Brooklyn, 2009) Jensen tells about growing up in the church, then avoiding it for years, then joining a congregation and being tried for heresy by his denomination. He urges us all to take responsibility for speaking in the prophetic voice in today’s dead “power-over” culture. More about Jensen’s views and experience is in the August 2012 Connections.
Mature Christianity, by William A. Holmes (Resurgence Publishing Corp., 2010) United Methodist pastor Holmes believes there’s a sense in which what we say about God today needs to be a radical departure from what Christians have previously been in the habit of saying. We need to communicate the Christian faith in ways that will make sense to today’s people. Otherwise, we risk seeming merely laughable to today’s come-of-age world. Read more on page 1 of the September 2010 Connections.
The Case for God, by Karen Armstrong (Knopf, 2009) Armstrong says we’re talking far too much about God these days, and what we say is often facile. This interesting book describes ways in which the fundamentalism of very recent centuries has promoted ways of interpreting the Bible and portraying God that would seem foreign and even idolatrous to earlier adherents of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Read a little more about it in the March 2010 and May 2010 issues of Connections. Much better, read the book. It says a lot that Christians don’t hear in church but need to hear.
Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell, by John Shelby Spong (HarperOne, 2009) I found this latest book by Spong very exciting and liberating. I parted from him to some extent toward the end, but on the whole his observations made a lot of sense to me, and it was refreshing to hear someone come right out and say things that I know many Christians think but never hear admitted in church. You can read a very tiny but powerful quote from this book in the box on p. 4 of the October 2009 Connections, but I hope you’ll read the book.
With or Without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important Than What We Believe, by Gretta Vosper (Harper Perennial, 2008) Vosper is pastor of a United Church in Toronto and is founder and chair of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity. She writes in an easy, conversational style that doesn’t take a Bible scholar or professional theologian to read. She uses some overly long sentences and occasional pronouns that don’t match their antecedents, which bothered me and will bother some other readers, but what she says is important enough to outweigh that. This book will enrage a lot of churchgoers, because Vosper comes right out and says things that a lot of Christians have thought but haven’t dared to say out loud or maybe even admit to themselves. But it will delight the many who have been thinking similar thoughts but mistakenly assuming they were alone. I believe Christians need to consider her views very seriously. You can read about her book in the June 2009 Connections. New paperback copies of With or Without God don’t seem to be available from U.S. booksellers. However, you can order it at www.chapters.indigo.ca/books (1-800-832-7569) or at www.amazon.ca. Used copies may be available at www.amazon.com.
God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now, by John Dominic Crossan (HarperSanFrancisco, 2007 Crossan, a leading historical-Jesus scholar, discusses what the remains of documents, coins, and buildings tell about the Roman Empire, the matrix in which Christianity originated. Crossan also gives his views on how Jesus, Paul, and the other earliest Christians actively resisted the Empire’s all-pervasive effects, and how today’s Christians need to be resisting empire as it appears in today’s world. Read more in the August 2007, September 2007, and October 2007 Connections.
Christ and Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times, by Joerg Rieger (Fortress, 2007) Rieger, a professor of constructive theology at Perkins School of Theology, describes the influence of the Roman Empire on early Christianity and discusses what this means for Christians today. He also describes how several prominent theologians through the centuries have addressed or failed to address the subject of empire’s influence. The August 2007, September 2007, and October 2007 Connections include quotes from this book.
The Unauthorized Bible: Selected Readings, by Gary Holthaus (BW Press, 2003) This tiny but powerful and beautifully written book is Holthaus’s idea of what selected parts of the Bible might be like if the Bible were written today. The February 2004 Connections describes it. To get a copy of this book, contact Barbara.
Like Catching Water in a Net: Human Attempts to Describe the Divine, by Val Webb (Continuum, 2007) Lay theologian Val Webb observes that deitiesdescribed in prescientific terms no longer engage people in this age. Thus many have left their religious tradition because they found its portrayals of God unbelievable and their church, synagogue, or mosque offered no other ways to talk about the sacred. Webb includes numerous quotes about God, from many centuries and many traditions. Read more about her thought-provoking book in the February 2008 Connections.
The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Birth, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan (HarperOne, 2007) The Bible’s Christmas stories, in Matthew and Luke, are much more than sentimental, Borg and Crossan assure readers. These stories are personal but also political. And like the parables of Jesus, they’re subversive, because they invite hearers to see things differently and live differently. Read more about this challenging book in the December 2008 Connections.
The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God: A Political, Economic, and Religious Statement, by David Ray Griffin, John B. Cobb Jr., Richard A. Falk, and Catherine Keller (Westminster John Knox, 2006) The four authors of the essays that make up this book—three Christians and a Jew—say we live in a time that is without precedent in two respects. First, one empire—ours—is on the verge of becoming truly global, with no borders. Second, it is on a trajectory toward self-annihilation through human-caused climate change. The authors believe this situation is bad for America, Americans, and the world. They therefore oppose it and advocate what they consider a better alternative. You can read some of their views in the September 2007 and October 2007 Connections.
The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love, by John Shelby Spong (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005) Spong discusses the ways in which Bible texts condoning violence and portraying God, human beings, and the universe in outdated and misleading ways have led to abusive treatment of our planet and of each other. Read a brief description on page 4 of the February 2006 Connections, and more in the March 2006 issue.
Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile, by John Shelby Spong (HarperSanFrancisco, 1998) Retired Episcopal Bishop Spong writes about what he sees as the silent majority of people who find it increasingly hard to remain church members and still be thinking people. He believes that if we want the church to survive, we must start presenting authentic Christian belief in terms that make sense to today’s people. Read more in the March 2001 Connections.
The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, by Marcus J. Borg (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003) As in his earlier books, Borg writes here about the earlierway of seeing Christianity and the emerging way. In the May 2004 Connections I discuss what he says about his ability to be nourished by traditional worship, and his feeling that the main purpose of worship is to furnish what Celtic Christianity called “thin places.”
The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium, by Walter Wink (Galilee/Doubleday & Augsburg Fortress, 1998) This book is essentially a condensed and simplified version of Wink’s series of 3 books about what the King James Version of the Bible calls “the principalities and powers.” It’s a powerful book that I wish all churchgoers would read. I mentioned it briefly in the March 2001 Connections, and in the May 2001 issue I summarized Wink’s description of the 5 main worldviews that he finds represented in Western history.
Reading the Bible Again for the First Time (HarperSanFrancisco, 2001, by Marcus J. Borg Like others of Borg’s books, I found this one helpful in seeing how to relate Christian faith to today’s world. See the May 2002 Connections for more.
Falling in Love with Mystery: We Don’t Have To Pretend Anymore (out of print), by Richard F. Elliott, Jr. Elliott, a retired UMC clergyman from South Carolina, writes about the great separation he finds in our culture, between religion and reality. I quote him in the February 2003 and March 2003 Connections. The book is out of print but you can get it, complete and free, from Elliott’s web site.
What You Don’t Have To Believe To Be a Christian (Sunbelt Eakin, 2002), by George M. Ricker Ricker is the retired pastor of University UMC in Austin, Texas. I write about his book in the February 2003 and March 2003 Connections. This book’s short chapters and conversational style make it especially useful for use by lay study groups.
Affirmations of a Dissenter (Abingdon, 2002), by C. Joseph Sprague. Sprague is a retired United Methodist bishop. Read my discussion of his brave book in the April 2003 Connections.
God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It(HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), by Jim Wallis Wallis, the evangelical Christian editor of Sojourners magazine, points out that many of the issues we think of as secular rather than religious are the issues to which Jesus and the Old Testament prophets gave the most attention. He urges Christians to become informed and speak up about these issues in ways that he doesn’t see either of the main U.S. political parties doing effectively. Read more about Wallis’s views in the July 2005 Connections.