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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Progressive Christianity - Book Review List

 


Understanding Progressive Christianity

Book Reviews

One way to understand a movement is to read what the leaders have written. The progressive Christian movement, like any new movement, can be difficult to describe in detail because there is no one authoritative body or voice. Instead, there are many voices. I hesitate to offer too many descriptive statements because there are surely some who will disagree. Nevertheless, I will list a few trends then list some of the books by writers with progressive perspectives.

Progressive Christians emphasize:

A focus on the life and teachings of Jesus when considering scripture and current problems

An appreciation of what it means to love God and one’s neighbor as one’s self when it comes to ethics and justice for all

A commitment to meeting the immediate needs of people who are abused, neglected and treated unfairly as Jesus did

A commitment to changing aspects of society that oppress people and contribute to poverty and ill treatment

A belief in the importance of living a transformed life now rather than focus on what might happen after this life

An understanding that the Bible includes a variety of literary works (e.g., poems, stories, histories, gospels) by different writers

An interpretation of scripture reliant on an appreciation of metaphors and historical contexts rather than literal or near literal approaches

*****

Book Reviews

I will add to this book list whenever I read and review a related book.

Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy A Journey into a New Christianity Through the Doorway of Matthew's Gospel by J. S. Spong

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven,  Hell, And The Future Of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus J. Borg

Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not literally by Marcus J. Borg

 The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires “Our” Trust More Than “Our” Correct Beliefs by Peter Enns.

Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power by Marcus J. Borg

Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today by J.S. Spong

 

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Speaking Christian - A Book Review

 Speaking Christian:

Why Christian Words Have Lost Their          


 Meaning and Power―

And How They Can Be Restored

  by Marcus J. Borg

Reviewed by

 Geoffrey W. Sutton

 

In Speaking Christian, Marcus Borg offers a new way to experience Christianity free from the strange and often misunderstood phrases that hide the meaning of stories from thousands of years ago. It is the kind of book that can help contemporary Christians appreciate ancient wisdom in a new light. And SpeakingChristian can also help non-Christians understand the differences between Christian spirituality and more recent interpretations of old texts that ignore the metaphors of ancient texts.

Borg expresses concern about the misunderstandings conveyed by Christians who do not understand the historical texts. There are two languages spoken by Christians. One linguistic framework focuses on transforming people for the next world and the other focuses on transforming the world in which we live. Borg describes “heaven-and-hell” Christianity as having four components: the afterlife, sin and forgiveness, Jesus’ dying for sin, and the importance of belief. I think chapter two, “Beyond Literalism” helps understand what he is about. The “heaven-and-hell” linguistic framework rests on a foundation of literalism. In contrast, Borg presents the approach he has presented elsewhere—a historical-metaphorical understanding of biblical language and, by extension, the Christian concepts associated with that language.

In chapter 3, Salvation, Borg begins the process of analyzing the two ways of viewing Christian concepts. This continues through chapter 24 and includes concepts like God, Jesus, Easter, Believing and Faith, Sin, Born Again, and so forth. In his conclusion (chapter 25), Borg asserts that the language of Christianity is important to answering the question, “What is Christianity about?” He cites examples from history to show how Christians have been divided over beliefs. The varieties of these beliefs have created an unnecessary complexity. Instead of a focus on beliefs, Borg advocates a focus on loving God and what God loves. He sees God, as revealed in Jesus, as having a passion for transformed lives and a transformed world.

*****

I recommend Speaking Christian to Christians struggling to understand how literal and near literal interpretations of the Bible make sense in the modern world. Some Christians seem to deny the findings of science and prefer to trust faith leaders when it comes to matters of biology, physics, psychology, and even their health. So, for Christians seeking to understand their faith in a way that does not deny science, Speaking Christian offers a path forward. But even more than that, Speaking Christian can help restore the credibility of Christianity marred by those who use the Bible in divisive ways.

Reference

Borg, M. J. (2014). Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power. New York: HarperCollins.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Unbelievable by Spong - A Review

 

Unbelievable                                 


Why Neither Ancient Creeds

Nor the Reformation

Can Produce a Living Faith Today

By

  John Shelby Spong

Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton



Spong provides examples of Unbelievable doctrines of the church and calls for a second reformation. He presents 12 challenging theses as foundational to building a new understanding of the Bible by relying on a more rational appreciation of the metaphorical and meaningful truths of the scriptures rather than the implausible literal interpretations that obscure a meaningful spiritual life.

His presentation appears focused on educated adults who have not lost their interest in Christian spirituality but are not satisfied with current presentations of Christianity found in Protestant or Catholic pulpits. He is particularly concerned with the distortion of faith found in those who present simplistic and literal, or near literal, views of creation, biblical violence, and miracles as well as church traditions of teachings like a trinitarian view of God.

His reformation ideas reflect a summary of what Christian scholars have learned about science and the Bible in the past century as well as experience in trying to communicate a coherent message of Christianity to educated audiences.

Following introductory comments, Spong invites readers to reconsider the character of God with a focus on God as Being. Next, he addresses the difficult teaching about the incarnation and the nature of Jesus as a person and as Christ. He challenges beliefs in original sin, the virgin birth, and many miraculous stories from ancient Israel to the works of Jesus and his followers.

Other teachings re-examined include atonement theology, beliefs about Easter, and the ascension of Christ. Matters of practice include two theses on Ethics and the relevance of the Ten Commandments as well as a new understanding of prayer. He closes with discussions on life after death and universalism.

A sample of quotes from Unbelievable may help readers get a sense of Spong's challenges to traditional Christian doctrines.

About God: "God is. Because God is, I live, I love, I am. Does that mean that God exists? I do not know what that question means. I experience God; I cannot explain God. I trust my experience."

Jesus and the resurrection: "So the first step that those of us who wish to explore the meaning of resurrection must take is to recognize that the founding moment of the Christian story is not about either an empty tomb or the resuscitation of a deceased body. Its original proclamation asserted that in some manner God had raised Jesus into being part of who God is. Jesus was raised by God into God."

The Virgin Birth: “There is no possibility that the virgin birth was ever meant to be literally believed.

On miracles: “We do not have to twist our brains into first-century pretzels in an effort to believe the unbelievable. We can read the miracle stories as the symbols they originally were…”

About the “Fall” of humanity: “If Christianity is to have a future, the paradigm must shift from being saved from our sins to being called into a new wholeness from our sense of incompleteness.”

The resurrection: “Whatever it was that constituted the Easter experience, the obvious fact is that there was enormous power in that moment that cries out for explanation. That power changed lives…”

Thoughts

I'm a psychologist and not a theologian so I do not have the background in theology and biblical studies as seminarians would have. I have seen a lot of young people from conservative backgrounds upset with the way fundamentalists and evangelicals write and speak about their faith in social media posts. Some have come out as having left Christianity and some have moved on to other churches. Whatever form a reformation takes, Christian teachings are surely due for an update in language understood by contemporary young people.

As a clinician, I am reluctant to attack a person's understanding of faith when that understanding provides comfort and support that promotes their wellbeing. However, Spong offers some helpful perspectives for those disenchanted with traditional dogma. For example, those who notice their traditional prayers have not been answered may find his discussion of divine presence encouraging.

I suspect even liberal thinkers will be reluctant to embrace some of his speculations, which are unbelievable in a different way. For example, although he makes a reasonable case for distorted views about God, Spong's philosophical musing about being doesn't offer a persuasive alternative. 


Books by John Shelby Spong 

Reference (I listened to the unabridged audio version and looked at the eBook, which is where I obtained the quotes.)

Spong, J. S. (2018). Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today. New York: HarperCollins.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Vital Friends- A Book Review by Sutton

Vital Friends:                             


 The People You Can't

Afford to Live Without  


By Tom Rath

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton







Events like Covid-19, severe illnesses, and disasters remind us of the importance of friends.

 

Weaving together stories, historical examples, published research, and survey data, Rath makes the case for the importance of close friends (i,e, Vital Friends) to life-satisfaction and productivity. The author organized 14 chapters into four parts. Four appendixes, research notes, suggested reading, and acknowledgments complete this easy-to-read paperback.

 

In the six chapters that comprise part one, we learn Rath's point that our culture may have focused too heavily on personal growth to the exclusion of developing relationships with others. In addition to examples from daily life, Rath invokes the research of Gottman to show the importance of positive interactions to marital and individual well-being.

 

The three chapters of part two focus on the importance of friendships at work. In contrast to companies that discourage friendships on the job, Rath points to research demonstrating the value of friendships to employees and ultimately to productivity. Among other findings, those having a best friend at work "are significantly more likely to engage customers, get more done in less time, and have a safe workplace with fewer accidents… (p. 53)." 


If one friend is good, how many friends are enough? Rath reports that a "three-friend threshold" maximizes life satisfaction.

 

Readers will find practical applications in part three. Chapter 11 describes eight vital roles that friends can play in a relationship. The reader's task is to use the examples and descriptions to identify these varied roles and find ways to enhance the strengths that others bring to the relationship. Finally, part four consists of a potpourri of suggestions to develop friendships at work including ideas on arranging the environment to encourage discourse and a reminder that people need to be appreciated in order to be engaged at work.

 

Readers who want practical suggestions will find more information in the Q and A motif of Appendix A and the case study in Appendix B, Those looking for research support will find useful information in the technical report in Appendix C, The research team of Harter and Hodges provides respondent data along with various analyses of their 65-item friend assessment form, including internal consistency values (coefficient alpha .79 to .92) and the results of a factor analysis used to support the eight vital roles described in chapter 11. Appendix D contains data on Gallup Polls about friendships and related values. In addition to endnotes and recommended readings, readers will find a code permitting them to take the friend assessment online.

 

Overall, I find Vital Friends well-suited to the educated reader who holds a leadership role in

any organization, I am impressed by Rath's ability to take a research study, combine it with related research, and write a book based on what a psychology journal might call Research into Practice.

 

Researchers may wish to examine the supporting evidence and conduct follow-up research. Clinicians may find the book useful for clients who need to develop and enhance healthy interpersonal relationships. Finally, I think the book would be useful to those adding executive coaching to a counseling or consulting practice.


Disclosure: I received my copy at a Gallup meeting in Omaha.


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Notorious RBG - A Review

 

Notorious RBG     

By

Irin Carmon &

Shana Knizhnik

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton

 

Notorious RBG caught my eye when looking for a book to listen to on our recent trip. Of course, her death had a lot to do with making Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life salient. The subtitle, The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, makes it clear this is a biography.

My wife and I liked the book because it gave us insight into this woman’s strength and determination, capacity for love, and her brilliant mind. The authors help us understand how her character and experience enabled her to fight sexism and cancer on a grand scale. Her lifelong love for her husband stands out in a time when so many relationships end badly. We also begin to understand how she could write powerful arguments yet be friends with those having a different worldview like conservative justice, Antonin Scalia. 

RBG was a woman who could argue fiercely for her perspective on justice yet keep focus on people who are ultimately impacted by legal decisions—especially those who have been marginalized by society.

As a man, I can better understand the obstacles that kept so many capable women out of leadership positions. Thankfully, RBG broke through the barriers and lived long enough to leave a lasting legacy promoting the equality of all people.

As a psychologist, I appreciate her actions promoting equality and social justice because societies lacking such a focus add incremental burdens that limit the opportunities for all people to enjoy life and pursue happiness. Even worse, oppressive regimes destroy mental health and sap the vitality from people who can foster greatness in a nation or organization.

RIP Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Notorious RBG on Google Play

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Friday, September 4, 2020

Therapy After Terror - A Book Review

THERAPY AFTER TERROR:      

 9/11, PSYCHOTHERAPISTS,   
AND MENTAL HEALTH


By
   Karen M. Seeley (2008)

Reviewed by

  September K. Trent
      and
  Geoffrey W. Sutton

“Everybody’s trauma was so raw. It didn’t matter who you were talking to
—relief worker, direct victim, other therapists
—you were all the same body in some ways”
 (p. 152). 


Seeley peppers her analysis of the effects of 9/11 on psychotherapists and the field of mental health with excerpts from pungent and thoughtful interviews. We glimpse the chaos through the eyes of psychotherapists who lived the trauma in their personal and professional lives. On the morning of September 11, 2001, New York therapists are running to the Red Cross shelters to donate their time, psychologists are treating patients who are eyewitnesses to the worst enemy attack on the American homeland, and counselors, themselves victims who lost everything, are trying to counsel others through trauma-colored lenses. Seeley examines the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in light of the severe impact of the terrorist attacks and the difficulties mental health professionals had when attempting to formulate a diagnosis. The author, Karen M. Seeley, MSW, Ph.D., is a clinical social worker and cultural psychologist in the Anthropology Department at Columbia University. In addition to her academic qualifications, she provides a highly readable and thoughtful analysis of psychotherapy in the context of terror.

In the first and second chapters, the events of 9/11 are retold in the context of therapists’ views of the event and their attempts to donate their skills. Project Liberty, a government funded mental health project, was formed immediately following 9/11 to help its victims deal with their unsteady mental health. Seeley uses personal recounts by psychotherapists as they tried to volunteer their services for Project Liberty and the Red Cross. Many psychotherapists experienced confusion, which they attributed to problems of organization and education about handling a mental health crisis. Most of the professionals did not feel helpful because they were sent to places where no victims arrived. Only later did they learn that no victims arrived because so few survived the twin towers attack.

As readers, we gain insights from Seeley and the psychotherapists that are notably different perspectives on the effects of the terrorist attacks. Because the American mass media
focused on the visual assault and the horrific destruction, an in-depth exploration of the psychological sequellae has been missing. Seeley illustrates how the emotional aftermath silently but powerfully impacted a wide swath of people in New York City. In particular, the psychotherapists’ stories are heart wrenching. Their narratives take the reader to ground zero, facilities where families are struggling to find lost loved ones, and the private offices of psychologists. Through Seeley’s reconstructed timeline of the events and the ineffective efforts to cope with the trauma by some of New York’s most experienced therapists, chapters one and two capture the reader’s desire to learn the lessons from these untold stories of 9/11.

A few days after 9/11, the Red Cross and Project Liberty identified the problems and places where psychotherapists were needed. Chapters three and four explore a range of psychotherapists’ experiences in different facilities. Both the Red Cross and Project Liberty sent psychotherapists to ground zero to talk with fire fighters, police, and construction workers who were searching for survivors. Other professionals were sent to Family Assistance Centers or Service Centers that were set up by the government to help families find and identify lost loved ones and to obtain monetary support from the government. All of the psychotherapists spoke about the extreme difficulty they experienced in trying to help so many victims and their families. The workers at ground zero did not want to talk about anything; they wanted to keep working because they might find one of their fallen colleagues. For the families of those who were in the twin towers, it was difficult to accept a loss that included no remnants of their dead family members. A poignant example of emotional pain is one psychotherapist’s report of a family receiving a container representing the ashes of their loved one from one of Rudy Giuliani’s aides. Seeley offers great insight into the emotional vulnerability of many different kinds of victims—both clients and psychotherapists. As clinicians we appreciate the
analysis but, as ordinary readers, we are captivated by the stories and yearn to know what happened to these people.

Chapters five and six discuss the toll that helping trauma survivors takes on psychotherapists and the problematic diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. All of the psychotherapists
experienced the same emotions that their clients experienced. Many of the psychotherapists lived through the same traumatic events as did their clients. Understandably, psychotherapists found it difficult to hide their own emotions and experiences during psychotherapy so that their
clients could fully disclose their feelings and focus on their recovery. How appropriate is it
for psychotherapists to treat clients while struggling to manage the same symptoms? Many New York therapists did just that. They felt that they had to help the victims; the victims’ mental health was more important than their own. With every new client and every recounting, the psychotherapists were retraumatized. Should psychotherapists endanger themselves under extreme circumstances?

Related to the problem of psychotherapists’ perspective on the trauma, is the difficulty they experienced in diagnosing their clients. Many diagnosed their clients with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) without considering the time the client had experienced the symptoms or the related diagnosis of Acute Stress Disorder. Many psychotherapists felt that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) was not useful in the diagnosis of victims from 9/11 because there was no appropriate diagnosis. Complicating the psychotherapists’ dilemma were signs listing PTSD symptoms posted throughout New York City. Although PTSD came closest to the expressed symptoms, other nuances could not be accounted for such as the variations in intensity of responses experienced by those walking among human debris versus those experiencing and re-experiencing the visual violence on television and realizing their husband or wife was in that conflagration. She closes chapter six with a thoughtful discussion of emotional contagion as so many trauma victims in close proximity shared their stories and symptoms. Disturbingly, some of these were also psychotherapists, who may have increased rather than alleviated the trauma.

In the last chapters, Seeley summarizes what psychotherapists learned about trauma and how to treat it. Numerous classes and programs are not educating the psychological community because many of the psychotherapists felt incompetent. Many of the psychotherapists questioned the relevance of traditional psychotherapy. They felt that the therapy sessions and all the theories of psychology that they had been taught were not working. The question of theory has stimulated research about the psychological impact of 9/11 and effective treatments for victims of extreme trauma. Seeley identifies spirituality as one dimension that can be helpful to those experiencing trauma. Many psychotherapists found it exceedingly difficult to work with clients who had no spirituality. Psychotherapists will find that these last chapters are very informative because Seeley identifies specific problems and difficulties experienced by victims of terrorist attacks.

The foregoing review is from a review published by Trent and Sutton.

*****
I (Sutton) am adding a note for readers unfamiliar with academic discussions of spirituality and psychotherapy to note  that in recent decades a considerable amount of research has been done to discover the role of spirituality in helping people cope with stress, including trauma. 

Cite This Review

Trent, S. K. & Sutton, G.W. (2020, September 4). Therapy after terror: 9/11, psychotherapists, and mental health. Sutton Reviews https://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2020/09/therapy-after-terror-book-review-by.html

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Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy- A Book Review by Sutton

AMISH GRACE:           

HOW FORGIVENESS
TRANSCENDED
TRAGEDY

By
   Donald Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, 
   & David L. Weaver-Zercher

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton



The horrific slaughter of Amish children attending school in the Old Order Amish community
of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, garnered international attention in October, 2006. When
the Amish responded with forgiveness and reconciliation, people were doubly shocked. Christian teaching and psychological research on forgiveness can appear as sterile narratives until tragedies upend everyday life. The authors of Amish Grace offer informed readers the kind of details and analyses that allow Christian clinicians and researchers to consider how Christian virtues and psychological research on forgiveness and reconciliation may be integrated.

The authors explore the virtues of grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation as they review the
Amish response to the tragic school shooting of October 2, 2006 in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, USA. Following an account of the shooting and the sequellae, the authors devote five of their 13 chapters to aspects of Amish forgiveness. Readers will find useful resources in the endnotes and Appendix. Each of the authors has published on Amish culture. Donald Kraybill is a distinguished professor and senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. Steven Nolt is a professor of history
at Goshen College, and David Weaver-Zercher is an associate professor at Messiah College.


In Part One, the authors revisit the school shooting narrative with an emphasis on the
responses of the Amish toward their community victims as well as the family of the shooter
who committed suicide. In addition to explaining how the varied responses fit within Amish
traditions, the authors explored the reactions of various North American pundits who both
praised and criticized the Amish response. A quote from a father whose daughter died revealed his perspective on the Amish worldview: “Our forgiveness in not in our words, it’s in our actions; it’s not what we said, but what we did. That was our forgiveness (p. 52).”
Although forgiveness is part of the broad Christian tradition, the authors explored the
Amish distinctiveness in Part Two. They noted the long-term cultural habit patterns that stem
from a literal interpretation of Matthew 6:14-15. That is, “The Amish believe if they don’t forgive, they won’t be forgiven” (p. 95). The personal ramifications can be seen in another quote: “By not forgiving, it will be more harmful to ourselves than to the one that did the evil deed” (p. 95). Given the force of their interpretation of Scripture, the power of tradition, and the pressure of conformity among a small interdependent community, it seems untenable that
anything other than a forgiveness response would have occurred.


In Part Three, the authors compare Amish forgiveness to the models presented in the scholarly works of Robert D. Enright and Everett L. Worthington, Jr. (See for example Enright, 2001; Worthington, 2006). The authors appear well aware of leading psychological definitions of what forgiveness is not as well as the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. Next, the authors employ these psychological conceptualizations to answer some critiques of the Amish response. For example, one critical theme was the speed of the Amish response coupled with the lack of evidence for strong negative emotions. In contrast, the authors cited interview evidence that the Amish did feel intense emotions including anger as predicted by psychological models. Later, the authors show how Worthington’s distinction between decisional and emotional forgiveness can account for the quick and seemingly restrained public forgiveness response of the Amish whilst feeling strong negative emotions that persisted much beyond the time of the overt media coverage of the expressed forgiveness. One may of course wonder about applying the concept of decisional forgiveness when members of a community act in unison to follow a cultural pattern. 

Amish Grace is a well-written perceptive analysis of the Amish perspective on forgiveness and
reconciliation. In addition to the insights into Amish forgiveness, the authors offer an analysis
of psychological models of forgiveness and provide a basis for discussions of the integration of faith and psychology. Readers may wish to consider that, in the Amish view, forgiveness is an expression of community and is tightly wedded, if not blurred, with notions of reconciliation. In my view, the authors did not quite capture this forgiveness- reconciliation nuance, which is similar to the overlapping forgiveness-reconciliation conceptualization Volf described in Giving and Forgiving (2005; Sutton, 2009). For anyone interested in exploring forgiveness and reconciliation contextualized by violence, Amish Grace is a must read.

BUY THE BOOK: AMISH GRACE

Sutton, G. W. (2011) [Review of the book Amish grace: how forgiveness transcended tragedy by D. Kraybill, S. M. Nolt, & D. L. Weaver-Zercher]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 30, 258-259.  Academia Link    Research Gate Link 



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The Next Christians - A Book Review by Sutton

THE NEXT CHRISTIANS:       

THE GOOD NEWS
ABOUT THE END OF 
CHRISTIAN AMERICA

By
   Gabe Lyons  2010

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton


How do young Americans perceive Christians?

Lyons reports the results of a study he commissioned to "understand the perceptions that sixteen-to twenty-nine-year-olds have about Christians (p. 3)" In the eleven chapters, Lyons explores these findings in the context of anecdotes and other research to suggest changes that appear to occur among Americans who self-identify as Christians. The book is a highly readable report of survey findings likely of interest to anyone following trends in American culture and religion. This book extends Lyon's previous interests reflected in unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why itMatters, which he coauthored with David Kinnaman.

I would characterize Lyon's approach as Purpose Driven Research. In the first part of  the book he outlines his case for the problems with contemporary American Christianity. He draws on survey data, quotations from various Christian leaders, and stories to  support his view that American Christianity is in decline. Examples include the removal  of symbols from public places like the Ten Commandments, the popularity of  Christopher Hitchens's atheist polemic, god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons  Everything, and the decline in church attendance (31%) among Protestant teens.

He opines that Christians have largely participated in the culture in one of five ways: Separatists live in a Christian bubble ('insiders'), cultural warriors fight against the loss of Christian dominance in society, and there are cadres who proselytize (evangelizers). Some have tried to fit in with others in the culture (blenders) and other Christians have focused on good deeds, (philanthropists). 

His focus (Part II) is on the Next Christians identified as restorers. Lyons describes their six characteristics in separate chapters. I will report the key qualities so you can have a sense of his thinking about Christians who are engaged in restoring society. First, they are provoked but not offended. They are keenly aware of people with serious needs such as addiction and other lifestyles often characterized as sinful. Rather than being offended by the behavior patterns, they participate in rehabilitation efforts. 

Second, they are creators and not critics. Instead of condemning various cultural expressions (e.g., film, music), next Christians are actively involved in creating culture that reflects God in beauty and craftsmanship. 

Third, they are called rather than employed. Next Christians reject traditional distinctions
between professional ministers and other vocations. For the next Christians, all vocations represent ministry. 

Fourth, they are grounded and not distracted. Recognizing the temptations and distractions in life, next Christians rely on the known spiritual disciplines such as immersion in scripture and prayer, taking a Sabbath rest, and fasting as replacements for the common distractions of contemporary culture such as high levels of television watching, increased productivity, and consuming food and other goods. 

Fifth, they are in community rather than alone. They are people who open their homes to neighbors and get involved in helping others with various activities ranging from moving to childcare.

Sixth, they are countercultural rather than relevant. One way to capture Lyon's concept of relevant methods of engaging culture is to consider examples of churches that employ large screens, contemporary music, video games, and other social fads to relate to youth. Countercultural approaches seek to restore individual lives, broken relationships, and damaged communities regardless of the factors linked to the decay or the destruction. 

Lyons closes with thoughts about a new era. He offers an optimistic take on a better America led by Christians who have been transformed by the gospel and possess the six qualities of restorers. As he describes this new approach, he presents contrasts such as shifts from judgment to grace and hypocrisy to authenticity, which seems to reflect his way of thinking about culture in terms of bifurcated constructs.

The book Next Christians deserves a place in many libraries. The book is suitable for group discussions and is supported with video and other resources. Several issues are relevant to undergraduate studies, especially in the behavioral science courses at a Christian College. 

Although at times, he seems to be influenced by a confirmatory bias, his perspectives are worthy of consideration and will resonate with many Evangelical Christian readers. Clinicians and pastors may find the descriptions useful frameworks to appreciate clients who feel frustrated by the gap between traditional and contemporary expressions of Christianity.

Cite This Review

Sutton, G.W. (2020, March 22). The next Christians. Sutton Reviews. https://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2020/09/the-next-christians-book-review-by.html


Reference

Sutton, G. W. (2012). [Review of the book The next Christians: The good news about the end of Christian America by G. Lyons]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 31, 176-177.   Academia Link    ResearchGate Link

 Related Reviews

unChristian

Pagan Christianity

And a book mentioned by Lyons--  

   god is Not Great


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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

God and Sex by M. Coogan A Review

 God and Sex

What the Bible Really Says  


By

   Michael Coogan  2010

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton




Coogan sets the stage for a biblical view of sex by citing the popularity of the Bible in US society--over 90% of us have "The Book." He challenges readers who believe the Bible is simply "God's Word" rather than a collection of works by multiple authors to consider some obvious inconsistencies easily recognized by anyone who has taken the time to read the text. Coogan want readers to see the unfolding of the biblical message in ways that allows a nuanced approach to modern life. Thus, he will write about women as equals, sexual prohibitions, and the stories of rape.

Chapter 1

We begin with an invitation to see the biblical past as life in a foreign country with a different language, culture and values. He quickly shows readers love and sex through the eyes of the Song of Solomon. Then opens readers' eyes to biblical sex by lifting the veil of euphemisms. Soon, sex is everywhere. And we begin to hear women's voices.

Chapter 2

It is still common in Christianity to find only male leaders in Christian churches and organizations. Coogan provides several examples of the subordinate role of women in the Bible. He even shows us what a woman was worth by age. The highest value was 30 shekels of silver compared to 50 for men in the age group 20 to 60. This is based on the redemption vows. There's more here. We learn about widows, virgins, and the roles of women in public and the home.

Chapter 3

In this chapter, Coogan looks at marriage and divorce. Abortion and polygamy fit here. There are no comments on abortion and birth control in a culture where children are valuable assets. Infant mortality is a horrific 50% based on some estimates. Coogan explains the familiar pro-choice argument about ending pregnancies and shows the problem with the poets recognition of life in the womb. Following comments on polygamy, Coogan looks at the restrictions on divorce explained in the context of Jewish culture and law.

Chapter 4

Here we learn about forbidden relationships like adultery, incest, and rape. An important reminder to moderns is an understanding of women as a man's property. Incest is of course part of the list of forbidden relationships. The value of a virgin daughter to her father is a noteworthy point of ancient culture. Next Coogan offers his take on same-sex sexuality. He offers the cultural context for the disapproval and challenges modern moralists to consider their views about same sex-sex prohibitions in view of culture and their inconsistent stance on other moral matters.

Chapter 5

This essay is about rape and prostitution. The familiar Bible stories are revisited. We learn the oft told stories of righteous prostitutes like Tamar and Rahab, but we also see how they were marginalized.

Chapter 6

Coogan introduces ideas about God and his wives and the problem of polytheism in ancient Israel. We know Israel was warned by the biblical writers of metaphorical adultery in their pursuit of other Gods. Coogan reminds readers that ancient cultures told stories about gods having relations with humans. And he finds evidence for these beliefs in the Scriptures.

**********

I quoted Coogan's work in A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures to help readers appreciate various interpretations of scriptures dealing with contemporary issues like sexual abuse, abortion, and the role of women.

Coogan's work overlaps with other similar books aimed at helping Christians be careful with their moral proclamations. Frankly, I doubt many Christians will take the time to peruse alternative interpretations of their firm beliefs about biblical marriage and sex as presented by their clergy and in books by evangelicals. Nevertheless, Coogan's work is well documented and offers a cautionary message to modern zealots even as it helps readers appreciate an ancient culture so distant in time from our own.

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The Moral Teaching of Paul by Furnish

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