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Creating God, Re-Creating Christ by Ian Harris (1999)
|In his book "Creating God" (1994), Ian Harris suggested that it was not necessary to believe in a supernatural order for the word "God" to have meaning in a world vastly changed by two centuries of secularisation. That raises a series of follow-on questions.
In these lectures, Ian Harris suggests that it is possible to reconceive the Christ of faith is a way which is true to Christian experience, yet which is also culturally appropriate to the world as we know it on the eve of the third millennium.
Part 1: Creating God
This chapter tackles the central question head on. It argues that in the modern world people must consciously create God; outlines four aids to creating God; highlights the significance of Jesus in the task; and affirms the God experience that can follow.
2. Our secular world
After briefly clarifying the meaning of "secular", "secularisation" and "secularism", this chapter sets the context for religion today by outlining 12 major elements that characterise the secular culture.
3. The religious life
This brings the God dimension of Chapter 1 and the secular dimension of Chapter 2 together and asks: Is a religious life possible any more? The focus here is on individual experience, and the chapter proceeds by way of a series of questions and answers, of a kind which will occur to people brought up in traditional ways of thinking about God, worship, prayerr, mystery and faith.
4. Yes, but...
Further objections to this approach and comments on them.
5. A church for tomorrow
This picks up the social or community aspect of religious experience. In doing so, it distinguishes between the core faith tradition of Christianity and the lesser traditions that have accumulated around it, and encourages secular men and women to claim the freedom of the 1st century church to start again from scratch. Moving beyond mere theory, it sketches the experience of two New Zealand groups which are doing just that.
6. Making the secular culture work for religion
This explores how the strands of experience that make up the secular culture can enhance faith and the expression of faith.
Part 2: Re-imagining the Christ
1. Jesus in the Jewish world
This sketches the way Jewish Christians came to understand Jesus in terms of their history and religious traditions, with special regard to Jesus as the new Moses, Jesus as the new Adam, and the Jewish understanding of sacrifice.
2. Jesus in the Greek world
This shows how a quite different understanding of Jesus emerged in the world of Greek culture, philosophy and religions, culminating in the definitions of the creeds.
3. From Jesus to Christ
This focuses on the process of transition from Jesus the man to the Christ of faith in the first centuries of the Christian era. It argues that a similar process is necessary in today's secular culture, where the supernatural assumptions no longer apply.
4. Imagining the Christ today
This chapter asks how the Christ myth can be given new meaning in the secular world of the West. It concludes that Christian faith could have a vital future - but only if there is a new resurrection.
5. Sin and salvation
This applies a new perspective to the old conundrums of sin and evil, gives two ancient myths a contemporary twist, and concludes with the centrality of relationships both for sin and for wholeness (or salvation).
The origin and import of selected words in our religious vocabulary.
"What does an authentic experience of God comprise?" someone asked me once.
The question intrigued me. It is as penetrating as it is ageless. Scholars have sought answers to it for centuries. Centuries on, their successors will be working on it still. It is also a pressing question for countless lay men and women who are not scholars.
So I set out, both as one who values the Judaeo-Christian tradition and as a journalist, to answer it in terms of the secular culture which has become dominant in the West during the past century. I found myself focusing on the erosion of belief structures that has been going on for the past 200 years and asking: If people suspect that an objective God-out-there may not exist after all, as seems to be happening more and more, what follows? An honest atheism? A drifting agnosticism? Or are there new ways in which we can think about God that may make sense to secular people in a secular society?
My probings over more than 30 years lead me to think there are. After becoming more and more uncomfortable about using the word God and all that flowed from it, I now find I can do so again without feeling awkward, compromised or embarrassed.
In embarking on this exploration, I wanted therefore first to see what happens when we hold together the secular culture which western societies live and breathe, and the Christian faith tradition which has been the prime inspiration and guide of those societies for as many centuries as the West was Christian. Valuing each of them, I wanted to rub them together till currents of energy began to flow between them, potentially to the enrichment of both.
Secondly, I wanted to bring into focus what I sense to be a widespread unease among liberal-minded people in the churches or just beyond them, about whether the Christian religion still has anything intellectually coherent and constructive to offer in the world which secularisation has so changed. If that can be articulated, it could become the starting point for a new faith exploration.
Beyond that, I wanted to see it anything could be said that might help make the religious dimension credible again to at least some of the many people who, for good reason, have come to doubt it. The approach taken in this book suggests there can be, as long as we are prepared to understand the core Christian tradition as an experience and a process rather than a set of beliefs, and to bring to the religious quest all the integrity of our experience of life and all the richness of our collective imagination and creative energy—which is what I assume is meant by the life of the spirit.
Finally, I wanted to see what the implications of all this might be for a contemporary understanding of Jesus, and how it might help to reconceive the Christ of faith in a way culturally appropriate to the western world at the beginning of a new millennium, just as the Jewish and Greek Christians did in the context of their cultures in the first four centuries of the Christian era.
I believe there is much to encourage men and women of faith who are prepared to launch out in this way. This is not a time to cling doggedly to the rocks of past experience as if there was no safety beyond them, but to launch out in faith and see where the rapids may lead.
I hope this exploration will help point new directions for men and women who are uneasy about aspects of Christian belief and church life, but who have not given up on the search for a faith that takes seriously both the core of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and the secular world in which they live.