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ICS publishes a quarterly online journal, En Christo: A Journal for a New Christianity, that includes book reviews and commentary relevant to a re-visioning of what it means to be Christian.

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EN CHRISTO--                  ХР

A Journal for a New Christianity 
Volume 1, Number 1
1st Quarter, 2007
James L. Foster, editor
Download this En Christo (requires Adobe Reader)         

Publishing data: 

En Christo is published by Institutes for the Study of Christian Spirituality (ISCS), 204 Busbee Road, Knoxville, TN 37920.  ISCS is an institute of the Peacebuilding Institute, a voluntary association dedicated to the promotion and practice of Christian spirituality through this and a variety of kindred institutes.  Subscriptions to En Christo are free and are available by email.  Print editions are not available from the publisher.  The material is copyrighted as of the date of publication, and may not be copied for commercial purposes. However, subscribers herewith have permission to make copies for personal or educational use or for sharing free of charge with others, as long as the source of the copies is fully acknowledged to the recipients. 

Submissions to En Christo may be made by email attachment only and will be reviewed by its editor promptly for potential use in the publication. Acceptance of articles submitted is solely the responsibility of the Editor.  Detailed attribution is required for all quoted material. If non-English material is used a competent translation in English must be provided.

Book and Article Reviews must include title, full name of author(s), publisher name and address, and date of publication.  Reviews may be of any length, and must include detailed attribution for any quotes included.

Original articles should be written in English, relevant to the need or process of change in Christianity consistent with the focus of the journal and may be edited for length and grammar.  Acceptance of articles submitted is solely the responsibility of the Editor.  Detailed attribution is required for all quoted material. If non-English material is used a competent translation in English must be provided.

En Christo is published quarterly and is emailed free of charge to any who request it.  If at any time a subscriber wishes to be removed from the email list he or she may unsubscribe by notifying the Editor at the following email address: jimsandyfoster@yahoo.com.

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CONTENTS:

Editor’s Introduction....................................................................................................................... 2

Dialogue:  A Vision for the 21st Century, by John Lackey.................................................... 5

 

Article #1: Love Is a Gift of God, by James L. Foster.............................................................. 7


Article #2: On the Search for Truth, by James L. Foster........................................................ 9

Book Reviews................................................................................................................................. 12

The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment
by Daniel Taylor; Glen Lloyd Foster, reviewer....................................................................... 12

The Road to Daybreak:  A Spiritual Journey by Henri Nouwen;
Mary Jo Bezanson, reviewer...................................................................................................... 13


The Power Delusion by Anthony Campolo
Glen Lloyd Foster, reviewer....................................................................................................... 14 

Appendix:  World Citizenship Creed........................................................................................
16

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Editor’s Introduction:

This is the first edition of En Christo published by the Institute for the Study of Christian Spirituality (ISCS), 204 Busbee Road, Knoxville, TN 37920.   I, James L. (Jim) Foster, am the editor and am also the Founder and President of the Institute.  My intent is to create an ongoing dialogue, with any who are interested, about the changes in Christianity that have become increasingly obvious since we entered the new millennium as well as the changes that still need to happen.  For now I will be using my personal email address, jimsandyfoster@yahoo.com, to facilitate the dialogue, though in the future I may convert to a website and blog format.

Submissions of articles and reviews and reader responses may only be sent by email attachment to jimsandyfoster@yahoo.com.   Since I do not know all of you personally, please include “En Christo” on the subject line, as otherwise I may delete your email without opening it.  By like token, if you wish to be removed from my “En Christo” email list please let me know.   I do not wish to hassle you with unwanted mail.

En Christo is a transliteration of the koine Greek for “In Christ.”  The focus of the journal is the experience of Christian discipleship interpreted in contemporary and non-theistic categories.  The journal is ecumenical, even interfaith, in its outlook and seeks common ground with lovers of God of a variety of faith traditions.

Reviews of the following books are solicited, though other books not on the list will also be given consideration based on their relevance to the focus of En Christo.  All of the books listed are available from Amazon.com in either new or used copies.

Books in need of Reviewers:

Amaladoss, Michael.  The Asian Jesus.  (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2006, paperback)

Apel, William and Paul M. Pearson.  Signs of Peace:  The Interfaith Letters of Thomas Merton.  (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2006)

Baigent, Michael.  The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2005, 2007)

Borg, Marcus J.  The God We Never Knew.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2006)  

Borg, Marcus J.  The Heart of Christianity:  Recovering a Life of Faith.  (New York: Harper San Francisco, 2004)

Borg, Marcus J.  Jesus, A New Vision:  Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, New York:  Harper San Francisco, 1991)

Borg, Marcus J.  Jesus:  Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious               Revolutionary.  ((New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2007)

Borg, Marcus J.  Living the Heart of Christianity: A Guide to Putting Your Faith Into Action.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2006)

Borg, Marcus J.  Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus & the Heart of Contemporary Faith.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 1994)

Borg, Marcus J.  Reading the Bible Again for the First Time:  Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2002)

Borg, Marcus J. and N. T Wright.  The Meaning of Jesus.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2002)

Braden, Gregg. The God Code: The Secret of Our Past, the Promise of Our Future.  (Carlsbad, California:  Hay House, Inc., 2004)

Brown, Deborah A., ed.  Christianity in the 21st Century.  (New York:  The Crossroad Publishing Co., 2000)

Brown, Robert McAfee.  Kairos:  Three Prophetic Challenges to the Church.  (Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990)

Delos, Andrew C.  Myths We Live By:  From the Times of Jesus and Paul. (2006)

Dorrien, Gary.  Soul in Society: The Making and Renewal of Social Christianity.                       (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1995)

Ehrman, Bart D.  Lost Christianities:  The Battles for Scripture and Faiths We Never Knew.  (Oxford/New York:  Oxford University Press, 2003)

Ehrman, Bart D.  Lost Scriptures:  Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament.  (Oxford/New York:  Oxford University Press, 2003)

Ehrman, Bart D.  Misquoting Jesus:  The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2005, 2007)

Fox, Matthew.  One River, Many Wells:  Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths.  (New York:  Tarcher/Penguin, 2000)

Funk, Robert W.  Honest to Jesus:  Jesus for a New Millennium.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 1996)

Griffith-Jones, Robin.  The Four Witnesses: The Rebel, The Rabbi, the Chronicler, and the Mystic.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2000)

Hamilton, William.  A Quest for the Post-Historical Jesus.  (New York: Continuum, 1994)

Harpur, Tom.  The Pagan Christ:  Recovering the Lost Light.  (Toronto:  Thomas Allen Publishers, 2004)

Horsley, Richard A.  Jesus and Empire:  The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002)

Jenkins, Philip.  The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity.  (Oxford/New York:  Oxford University Press, 2002)

Krosney, Herbert and Bart D. Ehrman.  The Lost Gospel:  The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot. (Washington, D.C.:  National Geographic, 2006)

McLaren, Brian D.  The Secret Message of Jesus:  Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything.  (Nashville, TN:  W Publishing Group, 2006)

Nelson-Pallmeyer, Jack.  Jesus Against Christianity:  Reclaiming the Missing Jesus.  (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2001)

Nolan, Albert.  Jesus Today:  A Spirituality of Radical Freedom.  ((Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2006)

Pagels, Elaine.  The Gnostic Paul:  Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters.  (Philadelphia, PA: Trinity Press International, 1992, paperback)

Ranke-Heinemann, Uta.  Putting Away Childish Things:  The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Don’t Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 1994)

Riley, Gregory J.  The River of God:  A New History of Christian Origins.  (New York: Harper San Francisco, 2001)

Schonfield, Hugh.  The Essene Odyssey:  The Mystery of the True Teacher & the Essene Impact on the Shaping of Human Destiny  (Rockport, MA: Element, Inc., 1993)

Spong, John Shelby.  Jesus for the Non-Religious.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2007)

Spong, John Shelby.  A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2000)

Spong, John Shelby.  Why Christianity Must Change or Die.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 1999)

Wallis, Jim.  The Soul of Politics:  Beyond “Religious Right” and “Secular Left”.  (Harvest Book, 1995)

Wallis, Jim.  The Soul of Politics:  A Practical and Prophetic Vision for Change.  (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 1994)

Wells, G. A.  The Jesus Myth.   (Chicago:  Open Court, 1999)

White, L. Michael.  From Jesus to Christianity:  How Four Generations of Visionaries    & Storytellers Created the New Testament and Christian Faith.  (New York: Harper San Francisco, 2004)

Wink, Walter.  When the Powers Fall:  Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations.  (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1998)

Wink, Walter.  Jesus and Non-Violence: A Third Way. (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press 2003)

Wright, Tom.  The Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary (Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990) 

As En Christo is not endowed with funds that enable it to pay for submissions (or for editors, for that matter), there is no remuneration offered for submissions of any kind.  Expenses incurred by contributors in the production of their submissions are solely their responsibility, including the purchase of books reviewed.

Dialogue is a space given to readers to converse about the issues raised by the various contributors to En Christo.  Readers are encouraged to email their responses other readers and to authors of various articles and reviews.  The editor will include your responses in the next issue.  The responses must be civil in tone and display serious intent to wrestle with the presented issues if they are to be considered for inclusion.  The editor reserves the right to edit accepted responses for length, grammar and civility. 

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Dialogue
A Vision For the 21st Century

(Editor’s note:  As this is the first issue of En Christo, John Lackey, a minister of the United Church of Christ, is here priming the pump for future dialogues.  In the future it is anticipated that reader responses to other readers, to the editor and to content of previous issues of En Christo will constitute the bulk of the dialogue section.) 

My vision for our world in this 21st Century is a biblically sourced vision having to do with economics. Douglas Meeks, in God the Economist,[1] points out that the Greek word from which we derive economy, “oikonomia,”is a compound of  “oikos,” meaning  “household,” and  “nomos,” meaning “law” or “management of the household.” “Economy” means literally  “the management of the household.” The Bible, throughout, is about a God whose purpose is to create a household in which all of God’s creatures can find home and abundant life.  This suggests lines from the World Citizenship Creed:   “I believe in the dignity of all humanity, that each person is a being of supreme worth...I believe in the stewardship of life and resources to the end that all may mutually benefit from the earth’s bounty and that no person may have to go without food or shelter...I believe in the global community, interdependent and mutually responsible for our physical and social environments...a world where justice and compassion rule and where greed and hatred are diminished...”[2]  The chief goal of this 21st century must be to develop the potential implied in these words.

This requires an understanding of today’s system of Global Economics--why it has failed to live up to its heralded promise that, in time, all of earth’s citizens would enjoy a decent standard of living. The basic problem is that global economics is under the control of the developed nations and giant corporations, which exist for profits and not for people. Even so, as Joseph Stiglitz says in Globalization and Its Discontents,[3]  “I believe that globalization--the removal of barriers to free trade and the closer integration of national economies--can be a force for good and that it has the potential to enrich everyone in the world, particularly the poor.” 

This raises some vital questions: 

(1) How did it come about that globalization became a  “domination system,” to use Walter Wink’s term?

(2) What changes are necessary if globalization is to be transformed into a just, humane system that benefits all of the earth’s peoples and nature?

(3) How does “outsourcing” fit into the picture?

(4) How can the greed in human character that drives the profit motive be transformed for the sake of both the victims and the oppressors?

(5) How can peoples of the developed nations begin to recognize how we support the system?

It seems that the needed reforms require that people around the world work together with collective action in shaping international agreements and regulating international corporations.  Global public institutions must be created to help set the rules.  Concerned world citizens need to join and support organizations that are working toward economic and environmental justice.

This kind of vision calls for a global communications system. It seems that such a system is available to us today through the World Wide Web. With global access to the Web:

(1) There could develop a common understanding about how the global economic system works and what is needed to change it.

(2) Workers in a given nation could share information with those in other nations about how the corporation-controlled system is affecting their lives.

(3) Peoples involved in the struggle for justice in their homeland could enjoy encouragement and support from around the world.

(4) Global action could be brought to bear on a local situation of injustice (refusal to pay a living wage, refusal to provide health care, damage to the environment, etc.). Peoples in other nations could write the corporation CEO with appeals for justice. When a corporation knows that the eyes of the world are on it, it may feel inclined to change its ways.

How important to the 21st century is the vision discussed here? William Sloan Coffin, in his Credo,[4] says it well: “the war against terrorism will finally be won by economic justice.   There is nothing meta-physical about terrorism. It springs from specific historical causes--political oppression and economic deprivation.  Until these injustices and our complicity and their furtherance are faced, our escalating counter violence will predictably result in more and more terrorists attacking more and more American institutions at home and abroad…”

What’s at stake in the 21st Century is world peace! This world must become a household in which all of God’s creatures find home and abundant life.

 

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Article #1

LOVE IS A GIFT OF GOD

“For God so loved the cosmos that he gave his only begotten son, in order that whoever believes  into him should not perish but have everlasting life.” [5]

Love is our gift to the world because Love is God’s gift to us.

 

Bear with me while I tell you of a dream through which God’s gift of Love was made more real to me than it had ever been before.  I was in a huge auditorium-like courtroom.  I was on trial.  The charge: unfaithfulness to God.  Everyone I had ever met was present and filled the auditorium.  The charge was presented, I pled guilty, and sentence was passed—death and hell.  Though it was a dream, I felt deeply the trauma of that moment, knowing as I did that the sentence was right and just.  But then I flashed back in the dream to a point just before the sentencing.  In this flashback, Jesus entered the courtroom from a back entrance.  The court proceedings stopped.  The courtroom fell silent as Jesus walked slowly down the long aisle and over to where I was seated.  He said nothing but motioned for me to stand.  When I did so, he took my seat.  The court proceedings resumed and Jesus took my sentence.

I was appalled and overwhelmed and incredulous and grateful.  I awoke crying, having learned experientially something of the cost of God’s Love.  Never since have I been able to contemplate casually the cross of Jesus.  Never since have I been tempted to denigrate the Love of God, for I know the dream portrayed the reality.  What I experienced there was a vision of what has really transpired—and that billions of times over.

Dorothy Day asks, “What is God but love?  What is religion without love?  We read of the saints dying for love and wonder what it means…. Our Lord did that, but most people no longer believe in Him.”[6] Aren’t we a crazy people?  We say we are dying for love, we sing odes to it, we saturate our language with it, and bombard ourselves with televised and printed images of it, but when we are presented with the real thing, we neither recognize nor accept it.

Love is a free gift.  Agape love is a free gift of God.  Perhaps it is the very fact that it is free that makes it difficult to accept.  In our Western society at least, we have our minds set against anything labeled “free.”  Such a label often means that (1), the gift offered isn’t worth much and (2), there’s a catch to it.

What about the gift of agape?  What is it worth?  The value of a gift may be measured either by its cost to the one who gives it or by its worth to the one receiving it.  In the case of God’s gift of agape, I think it can fairly be said that it cost him a great deal.  God laid the life of his “only begotten son” on the line in giving his Love.  If our freedom to accept or reject his Love means anything at all, then his gift was at the risk that nobody might accept it, that all of us might choose to go our own way.  There was the risk that all the pain and trauma of the cross might have been for naught.  But that risk, that insecurity, that possibility of indescribable heartbreak was, for God, part of the cost of loving.

Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s gift of his own life for us.  It was a gift so reckless and given with such abandonment of self as to exceed the limits of human credibility.  But it happened.  History attests to it and both our faith and life experiences affirm it.  From the standpoint of the one giving it, it was a gift of unsurpassed worth, costing Life itself.

What if all had rejected God’s gift of Love? Would there have been resurrection?  For all his riches, God had nothing greater to give.  Having given his Love, was there anything left that could have been as effective in wooing us to him?  If Love had not worked, nothing else would have.  Perhaps all, all, would have been lost—which leads us to the second question.

Is there a catch to God’s gift of Love?  Is it a gift with strings attached?  After all, what is it that Love wants to effect?  What is the goal of Divine Love?  Love has been defined, as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” 3  Love may also be defined as the pull towards unity of that which should never have been separated, as the urge towards the healing of relationships that are broken, thus a move to wholeness.  Yes, if spiritual growth, unity, restoration and wholeness constitute a “catch,” then there is definitely a catch to agape Love.  God is out to kill us with Love.  He is out to kill that man or woman who is living the illusion of separateness, transforming us into that image of himself in which he first created us.  He is out to kill the illusion and confront us with our essential unity with each other, with our shared identity, and with our birthright of oneness with himself.

The pull towards unity, towards oneness, is the pull on the created towards the Creator.  The Hebrew prophet spoke for God, “You shall seek me and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).  In loving us, it is God’s purpose to bring us back to himself, to reestablish the union which once was and, in so doing, to restore us to our true selves.  Yes, there is a “catch” indeed.  In responding to God’s gift of his Love we are freed from the bondage of our illusion of separateness and we come into the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God.  In responding to his gift, we reestablish our “luminous and noble” place in God’s family.

There is imagery in Francis Thompson’s poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” where God is portrayed as the relentless pursuer, we the pursued.  God pursues us until, at last, there is no escape.  But we try to flee, even though we should know that the quest for independence is futile.  “This is eternal life,” Jesus prayed, “that they should know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)  God so loves that he gives—even to the point of pursuing us to do it.

Love is a gift of God.  It is the free and sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ.  It is a gift of union, of wholeness and of life—and that eternal.  It is also a gift which, when openly received, transforms us and infuses us with the same capacity and compulsion to be channels of agape for others.  It is only natural that when we come into union with the giver of Divine Love, into a real oneness, we will participate in the giving.  In receiving Love, we become Love.  Love becomes our nature.  And in so becoming Love we learn first hand a little of what it cost God.  We, too, experience the pain and trauma of being misunderstood and rejected.  But worse still, we see those we love still trapped in their illusion, still trying to go it alone when all the freedom of life in God, life in its unimaginable fullness, is theirs for the asking.  We learn what God has always known—that we must love and accept all persons just as they are and love them for who, in God, they can become.

When we give the Love that God has given us, we allow ourselves to be drawn closer to those we are given to love.  “…this aspect of love says, ‘I love you as you can be, beyond who and what you are now, in your boundless possibilities.  I dream of you, for you, and with you toward a limitless future of love’.  In Gabriel Marcel’s phrase…’I hope in you for us.’”[7]

The gift of God’s Love is given to others through us.  We, too, are Divine Lovers.  The gift we have been given is ours to give.  “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.”  (Luke 12:48)

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Article #2 

ON THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH

By James L. Foster 

            It is recorded by the author of the Gospel of John, that Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”  It appears that Jesus either chose not to respond to the question or that the question was rhetorical in the first place.  In either case the question was not answered.  Jesus, it must be noted, did prompt the question by saying, “To this end I was born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” 

            Was this a real conversation or were Pilate and Jesus just talking past each other?  Or was it the writer of the Gospel who was obsessed with getting across the idea some 70 years after the death of Jesus that somehow truth and Jesus were to be equated.  He ascribes the word “truth” (Greek, άληθεια or alēthěia) to Jesus 26 times in his writing, compared with one time recorded by the writer of the Gospel of Matthew, 3 times by the writer of the Gospel of Mark and twice recorded by the writer of the Gospel of Luke. It is the author of John who has Jesus saying, this time in response to a question put to him by his disciple, Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No man comes to the Father except by me.”

            It is quite possible of course that John got it right, and that Matthew, Mark and Luke, perhaps because they attached less importance to matters of truth, did not see Jesus’ assertions about truth important enough to include in their accounts.  The fact that particularly Matthew and Luke had little compunction about bending the “Jesus story” to their own purposes only lends credibility to the suspicion that they did not highly regard “truth.”

But in the Gospel of John, truth is a prominent concept, and my inclination is therefore not to ask Pilate’s question, but rather to ask “why is truth important?”  This is, after all, at the root of much of the biblical scholarship of the last 100 years and especially that of the last two decades.  There has been a prodigious effort to nail down the “truth” in Scripture simply because it was deemed important to do so.

            However, it has not been an easy task to separate the truth about Jesus from the mythology that developed around him following his martyrdom.  One only has to look at all the books written as part of this quest over the past 20 years, to realize that the separation of truth from fiction in the Gospel accounts has become a monumental industry.  It has also been a perilous journey, because through the centuries there has been an enormous effort on the part of some to protect their investment in the fictions about Jesus.  Many of these people, unskilled and uninterested in the ways of scholarly research, are inclined to believe tradition, taking that to be the final and authoritative word of truth.  There are others, who do have the requisite skills, who nevertheless decline to break with the dogmas that quite literally have become their bread and butter.  When it comes to religion, with its volatile mix of emotion, devotion and unquestioning obedience to the proclaimed “truth,” any deviation is easily written off as an attack on the religion, as out and out heresy, or worse, apostasy.  It is a dangerous waters upon which responsible scholars sail, and not a few have been destroyed in their sailing of them.

            But there is strength in numbers and in recent years the number of capable, earnest, Christian scholars, who have gone public in their search for the truth about Jesus, has grown impressively.  Their searchings have been meticulous and widespread, including the disciplines of not only biblical theology, but also history, archeology, linguistics, and science.  Together these scholars, most of them deeply committed Christians, have made significant strides in uncovering truth.  Sometimes, that which they uncover destroys coveted doctrines and concepts that have been cherished as foundational to the religious structures that have been erected over two millennia.  When this happens, those who are not able to adjust to the newly revealed truth find themselves floundering in a sea of confusion and often striking out at those who try to pull them to safety on firmer ground.  In the process it is sometimes the rescuers who are drowned.

            So why does it matter?  Why is the truth so important?  Why do people risk their livelihoods, their reputations and life-long associations to pursue it?  I would suggest that they do it because they are people of integrity who cannot tolerate the thought of basing their lives on error.  Error is, after all, the alternative to truth, and where there is credible evidence that error has been parading as truth, the choice is to base their lives on a lie or to base their lives on the best evidence they have of the truth.  A person of integrity chooses the latter.

            Given the propensity of many of us to wear blinders, preferring not to know things that may dislodge us from our uninformed comfort, it is not surprising that we resist ideas that are not normally in our field of vision.  That is why we need capable investigators in many arenas to alert us to new perceptions of truth.  It is no secret that the Christian Church through the centuries has been wrong on many occasions and in many ways—the crusades, the inquisition, indulgences, the earth as the center of the universe, the world as flat, papal infallibility (including our present Pope’s suppression of Nag Hammadi scrolls for 40 years), and in later years slavery, shunning, segregation, participation in wars and genocide, and character assassination, consumerism, and neglect of the poor – to name a few.  Injustice has been our credo, and greed our perversion.  Is it any wonder that we shrink from the truth – the truth about ourselves, about Jesus, and about God?

            Jesus also said, “the truth will make you free.”  I know very few genuinely free Christians.  We are enslaved by our mixed allegiance to the fearsome God of the Old Testament and the God revealed by Jesus in the New.  We are enslaved by our dogmas.  We fear real freedom and we are terrified by love, so we opt to put constraints around both.  But when we do we are not even following the Jesus that we do know, much less the Jesus that modern scholarship is revealing.

            The real Jesus has not really been hidden.  A few have always known him for who he really is.  Not God incarnate, but the Son of Man (read that human); not a theologically contrived redeemer acting in behalf of a God who could and does redeem his creation in a myriad of ways; and not a judge but a role model who has come to show us that we, like him, are also children of God.  That is what it means to be created in God’s image.  That is what it means to be human.  Human beings, divine beings – they are the same thing.  The people we call mystics have known this for centuries.  And now, the Jesus we are discovering anew is calling us to the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of the Creator God.  That is Truth.

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 Book Reviews:

The following books were chosen from among reviews written some years ago for print edition of En Christo because each one, in its own way, points to the kind of change required of Christianity, if it is to be the dynamic and relevant faith espoused by its founder.

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The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment by Daniel Taylor (Waco, Texas:  Word Books, 1987).

Some Reflections on Reflectivity

            The reflective Christian in a world of secular doubt:  Will his or her reflection lead to passivity or to commitment, to paralysis or to action?  Daniel Taylor, writing as a reflective Christian from his base as an English professor at Bethel College in Minnesota is writing reflectively for reflectives.  He is one who has clearly opted for commitment and action.  By putting his reflections down in black and white, he has frozen them as it were at a point in their evolution.  It was a very non-reflective thing to do, and Taylor has become an illustration of his own thesis.

            “The Reflective person,” Taylor says, “is first and foremost a question asker…To be reflective is to be sensitive to and fascinated by the complexity of things.”  And of people.  And of God.  “Reflectiveness,” he continues, “is a character trait deeply rooted in what one essentially is. 

            Taylor sees the end of reflectiveness in an “either/or” sense:  “Being a reflective is both a blessing and a curse, a potential for strength and for weakness.  It can lead equally well toward truth or error.”

            But there is yet another way open to the reflective that Taylor does not discuss.  That is to accept certain conclusions while retaining doubt as to how such conclusions can be reached.  For example, it is possible to have faith in God—perhaps just a gut-feeling faith—and yet to admit to several different ways of reaching God, and for that matter, to question them all.  So is it also possible for a Christian reflective to accept that a Hindu, like Gandhi, was no less a servant of God than Mother Theresa, a Christian?

            Taylor, quite rightly, says “Everyone needs relief from the potentially endless cycle of assertion, analysis, counter assertion, qualification, redefinition, exceptions, extenuating complications, hidden presuppositions, emotional colorings, summation ad infinitum.  He sees the needed relief coming in commitment and action, supported by her or his own and the church’s memory, by the community in which the reflective lives, and by plain perseverance.  I would suggest that relief is also available through faith and that there is nothing wrong with a faith that admits doubt.  Furthermore, the reflective Christian can legitimately say, “I don’t know altogether why, but I accept that it must be so.”  As the biblical writer concluded in I John 4:12, “no one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his law is made complete in us.” (NIV)

            If, as Taylor says, action is the remedy for reflective paralysis, the New Testament is the handbook for action, the what-to-do, and the how-to-do-it manual.  It is also conclusive evidence that Jesus was a reflective.  He found value in the questing use of the mind.  He doubted a lot of things.  He doubted that upon his return he would find faith in the world.  He doubted key elements of Old Testament law and its interpretation.  And he was sympathetic with Thomas, a doubter.  Finally, as Taylor notes, he doubted that God the Father, his Father, was still with him.  Yet Jesus was a reflective who found surcease in commitment, and in commitment, action.  Jesus did and as Taylor so admirably points out in the last chapters of his book, so can we do.  – Glen Lloyd Foster, reviewer.

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The Road to Daybreak:  A Spiritual Journey by Henri Nouwen  (New York: Doubleday, 1988)

            One always thinks that a book by Nouwen will be worth reading and that expectation was certainly fulfilled.  But one expectation not fulfilled was that of hearing a story of L’Arche and day-to-day life in that community of handicapped people and their assistants.  Although that community is the setting and background for most of the book and some details are given, the focus is on Nouwen himself.

            As with several of his other works, this one is written in diary style from his personal journal so the reader is given a glimpse of the author’s inner life.  The original 700 pages of manuscript were edited considerably to shape the book and give it direction.  Even so, we are presented with a painfully honest picture of the author during a time of transition in his life when he felt that following Jesus required a change in his life but he wasn’t sure what change or if he wanted it.

            Because of the diary style the thoughts and ideas in the individual entries can often stand alone and do not necessarily flow in a logical progression.  The thread running through the book, which ties it together, is Nowen’s desire to be shown his place of mission.  He attempts to answer the question, “How does one follow Jesus unreservedly?”  The journal entries are always interesting, thought provoking and even moving.  Nowen’s struggles with relationships, friendships, rejection, fear and hurts are very human and any reader will be able to relate to them.

            The material about the call to a new vocation or lifestyle is more difficult to follow.  True to life there is no clear trail, no large signposts.  Nouwen tells us his thoughts and feelings, but their development and the emerging conviction that this new way was God’s leading remain somewhat obscure.  This certainly is not a “how to” book for finding one’s mission or discovering the Lord’s will for one’s life.  More authentically it is a description of one man’s search and the answer he discovered.

There is an aspect of Nouwen’s thought that is very difficult and painful.  He perceives his being led away from those areas where he has great abilities, where he has been successful, where he is inclined to feel pride of accomplishment.  So much must be left behind.  The Lord appears to be separating him from the two areas on which Nouwen seemed to build his sense of self:  the accomplishments and the acclaim of teaching, lecturing, etc.; and the nurture and support of close relationships and friendships.

            The Epilogue of the book, in which he looks back over his first year at Daybreak, is one of the saddest writings I have read.  “Sometimes it felt as though the spiritual house I had built up over the years was now proving to be made of cardboard and ready to go up in flames.”  He experienced a radical confrontation in his new environment and struggled with the question “’Is Jesus truly enough for you, or do you keep looking for others to give you your sense of worth?’”  He feels his life at Daybreak is an invitation to loneliness.  “It is a loneliness that asks of me to throw myself completely into the arms of God whose presence can no longer be felt and to risk every part of my being to nothingness.”

            This is not what he expected after having struggled for a year (as recorded in this journal) deciding to enter Daybreak House.   Most of us expect that if we discern the Lord’s will and follow it life will somehow become smoother and more pleasant.  Nouwen writes, “It is a dark agony.  It is following Jesus to a completely unknown place.  It is being emptied out on the cross and having to wait for new life in naked faith.”

            As a reader I ask, “Does God really require and ask that much of us?”  I weep when I read the answer Nouwen discovered for it rings true with what others who also followed unreservedly have written.  Nouwen concludes with some hope, “I am just starting to see the light of a new day and I still do not know if I will have the courage to walk the long road ahead of me.”  But he strongly affirms that Jesus has led and sustained him on this long and arduous journey and is guiding him toward the day. – Mary Jo Bezanson, reviewer


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 The Power Delusion by Anthony Campolo (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books Division of S P Publications, Inc., 1983)

            Power is the enemy of love and this little book is finally a profound book about love.  It is also a handbook about ways to eschew power and to replace power with love.  Power and love are facets of humankind’s free choice and they are mutually exclusive:  “…the coercive nature of power gives expression to its potential for evil.  Coercion is the crux of why power is irreconcilable with Christianity.”

            If God chose to retain power, he would be a coercive God.  But God is a loving God, so people are free and uncoerced in their relationships to God and to each other.  Campolo suggests that persuasion is a loving alternative to coercion, and often it is.  But he fails to note that persuasion may also be an exercise of power, and not always to a good end.

            Through several chapters Campolo anecdotally examines those who would exercise power and explores the love-centered alternatives to power in each case.  He looks at exploitive husbands and at wives who would use power in their marriages; at children who take power and are victims of it; at clergy who try to retain power in their churches and at members who would deprive them of it; and at the alternatives to the political uses of power.

            Unfortunately, Campolo equivocates when he comes to questions of governmental power and the participation of Christians in it.  He sees political as proper in the restraint of evil, while recognizing the corrupting tendency of power.  He concludes that civil disobedience is a proper response to abusive political power only if the disobedient Christian is willing to take the legal consequences of his or her disobedience.

            Campolo is also somewhat equivocal about unilaterally forsaking nuclear disarmament even at the risk of exposure to military adventurism saying, “…those advocates of love and peace claim we are not supposed to ask whether the principles of Jesus are practical or will work; our obligation is to live them out – the only response to power is love.”

            In a late chapter, Campolo discusses the “sin of the powerless.”  “Resentment,” he says,  “is often the sin of those who feel powerless to change circumstances that leave them feeling trapped and cheated.”  It is the sin, he says, that afflicts the exploited, such as women and blacks, and those who feel abandoned or ignored by God.  He sees confession and forgiveness as the keys to exorcising resentment.  But one feels that this is an oversimplification of both the problem and the solution.  Resentment of the power trip is the reason that many blacks regard Christianity as strictly a white man’s trip.  It is such resentment that lost to Christianity the likes of Mahatma Gandhi.  Campolo asks with regard to Gandhi, “Can it be that a Hindu understood the teachings of Jesus on love and power better than the theologians and preachers of the church of Christ?”  Well, yes.

            Campolo’s last chapter is worth the book.  Called “Living Without Power;  The Triumph of Love,” it is an unequivocal statement:  “The Christian alternative to power is love….Without love, people always die.”  Love is a two-way street, “unless we show our need for others, we cannot be loved by them.”  But he notes, “It is not only more blessed to give than to receive — it is easier too.”

            The theme in the closing pages is a powerful testament that the living Christ is mystically present in every person that we meet.  “I believe that every person is an agent through whom Jesus wants to express his love to me….I believe he is trying to love me through that person, even as he expects me to love him in that person….Sin takes place when the person refuses to allow the love of God to flow through his life into mine.”

            One of Campolo’s final anecdotes is a personal one of a failure in love.  He had realized only belatedly that the distraught mother holding a starving baby, left futilely appealing for his help on a remote Haitian airstrip, had been a special opportunity missed.  “It wasn’t long,” Campolo wrote, “before I realized who I had left behind.  It wasn’t just a dying Haitian child.  I knew I had left Jesus.”  What a searing, life-changing realization!  Such a scene should haunt us all.  One time or another, each in his or her own way, have we not all stood face to face with Jesus?  And left him? – Glen Lloyd Foster, reviewer  

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Appendix:

WORLD CITIZENSHIP CREED

As a citizen of the world...

I BELIEVE in the dignity of all humanity, that each person is a being of supreme worth.

I BELIEVE in the wholeness of the human race, undivided by economic, cultural, racial, sexual or national differences.

I BELIEVE in the stewardship of life and resources to the end that all may mutually benefit from the earth's bounty and that no person may have to go without food or shelter.

I BELIEVE in the primacy of human relationships as a person committed and responsible to other persons, regardless of their economic status, race, creed or nationality.

I BELIEVE in the global community, interdependent and mutually responsible for our physical and social environments.

I BELIEVE that we are One World and affirm that I am a citizen of this world. My allegiance to it and its people, my brothers and sisters, is primary over all other political entities.

I AM, therefore, committed to the promotion and care of the whole of humanity without partiality or prejudice and with such resources as I have at my command, both within and without.

I HEREWITH AFFIRM that I wish, as much as I possibly can, to base my actions on my beliefs and thus contribute to a world where justice and compassion rule and where greed and hatred are diminished.


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[1]  Douglas Meeks, God the Economist: The Doctrine of God and Political Economy (Searching for a New Framework), (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989).

[2]  The World Citizenship Creed is appended at the end of this issue.

[3] Joseph E. Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents, (W. W. Norton & Co., 2003).

[4] William Sloan Coffin and James Carroll, Credo, (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2004).

[5] Author’s translation of John 3:16.  The use of “into” to translate the Greek eis is consistent with the usual translation of that preposition.  It also adds significantly to the meaning of the text.

  [6] Robert Ellsberg, ed., By Little and By Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day (New York: Alfred A. Knopft, 1983), p. 226.

[7] W. Harold Grant, Magdala Thompson, and Thomas E. Clarke, From Image to Likeness: A Jungian Path in the Gospel Journey (New York; Ramsey, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1983), p. 192.

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