Monday, January 11, 2010

The Future of Faith - Harvey Cox

Cox, Harvey. The Future of Faith. HarperCollins e-books, 2009.

I recently read this book and recommend it to others of the Christian faith. I am not going to review the book; however, I would like to give my reactions to it.

I like many things about this book. I think it has an ecumenical spirit. The author is open and accepting to many different Christian traditions and other world faiths. Except for his general dislike of “fundamentalism” (meant in a very broad sense), he speaks positively about Christianity in its many forms.

The author also makes a very important point about Christianity when he makes a distinction between “faith” and “belief”. At its heart, Christianity is about a “faith in” God, rather than “beliefs about” God. However, I think that the author makes too much of a separation between these two aspects of Christianity and then uses this differentiation to artificially divide the history of Christianity into the “Age of the Spirit”, the “Age of Belief”, and then what he sees as a return to a new “Age of the Spirit”. Certainly it has been a problem for Christianity when there has been an over emphasis on believing certain ideas rather than placing our trust in God as a way of life. However, it is difficult for me to see how we can have faith without some ideas that can be used to communicate our faith. What do you think?

Another good feature of this book is its presentation of the diversity of Christian beliefs, even in the earliest of Christianity. If you have the view that Christianity started with the “one true faith” that was orthodox and any deviation from those origins is heresy, then you are not going to like this book. This book is easy enough to read without academic technicalities so that any Christian can get a more historically accurate view of early Christianity. Keep an open mind.

There is another lesson from history in this book. The influence of the Roman Empire and its politics along with the attendant issues of power, prestige and money upon Christianity is described very well in this book. Read this part of the book carefully. There are good lessons here.

There are two features of this book that I see as weaknesses. The author seems to have a na├»ve view of the surge in Christianity in Asia, Africa, and the Global South. He nearly equates this growth of Christianity with the earliest stages of Christianity and describes it as a return to an “Age of the Spirit”. I do not think that today’s Christianity in these areas of the world is devoid of “beliefs” any more than I think that early Christianity was. Maybe the beliefs are more simply formulated, less systematic, more diverse, and held less contentiously. But, maybe the worldview of the Christian Scriptures are more congruent with the less critical and less scientifically aware views held by many people in these parts of the world. Maybe the faith is too new in these areas to have begun contemplation on the reasons for and explanations of faith. What do you think?

The second weakness revolves around his stark contrasts between faith and beliefs. He clearly criticizes “fundamentalism” is all of its manifestations in all world religions, mainly because of its emphasis upon “correct beliefs”. While it seems Christianity may always have diverse and even contradictory beliefs, I do not think it can do without beliefs. The worldview of the biblical writers is so different from the present age’s scientific worldview that Christianity is in decline in Europe and even America, as the author seems to acknowledge. The book seems to have no word of hope for Western Civilization except for “give up your beliefs” and just “have faith”. For me this is way too simplistic. Christianity will continue to lose credibility in the West as long as it fails to deal theologically with our scientific worldview. Do I propose a new orthodoxy? No! Do I propose a final solution? No. Do I propose one set of answers all need to believe? No! What I propose is that Christianity needs explanations and reasons that are clear, straightforward, and credible to the world view of the West. What do you think?

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