Faith and Reason’s Ian Harris believes that Christianity is currently going through one of its most creative phases. Not everywhere, not evenly, and with plenty of resistance along the way. But for those with eyes to see, new doors are opening, new insights into The Bible are superseding understandings that once seemed chiselled in stone, new interpretations of the Christian faith tradition are emerging that are fully in sync with our secular world.
These are the areas he has been exploring first through his Honest to God column in Wellington’s Dominion (later the Dominion Post) newspaper, where it ran from 2001 to 2009, and from 2004 in Dunedin’s Otago Daily Times, where it is currently published as part of the paper’s Faith and Reason feature. Unless otherwise stated, the date at the foot of each column identifies it appeared in the Otago Daily Times.
Harris offers the column as “another way of seeing” – not hostile to the core Judaeo-Christian tradition, but ready to explore key concepts in a way that might make sense to secular people in a secular world (he’s one himself).
The column builds on the assumption that religion is a human creation, and that ideas about God are generated within the human imagination, for powerful, profound and honourable reasons.
It treats the Christian tradition as an open-ended process of becoming. The heritage centred on Jesus is basic. The point is not to embrace it uncritically, however, but rather to distinguish its core from the barnacles which over the centuries have inevitably encrusted it. Only if you scrape away the barnacles can you see the core in a new light, and so make a response pertinent to today’s world.
Among the barnacles are old theological formulations that made good sense within the world as it was once understood to be. But our modern understanding of the heavens, planet Earth, life, humanity and destiny is vastly different. In the past 200 years knowledge has exploded – think space and an expanding universe, the relativity of time, space and matter, Earth’s age, nature’s processes, quantum physics, biological evolution, our genetic coding, medical science, psychology, global awareness, ecology and more.
The upshot is that the age-old God questions must now be re-addressed from within modern society’s secular world-view. Faith and Reason builds from the baseline that Christianity today is truest to its heritage when it openly re-examines its origins, takes full account of contemporary knowledge and experience, and then rethinks what faith can mean in the modern world.
Ian Harris’s career straddles the worlds of journalism and the church.
Born in Christchurch, he grew up in a Methodist parsonage, and gained an honours degree in English at Auckland University.
Since then he has headed the English Department at Satya Wacana Christian University in Salatiga, Central Java, Indonesia, edited The New Zealand Methodist, been assistant editor of the Auckland Star, served as Director of Communication for the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand, and was for 12 years editorial writer on the Dominion.
In 1990, he was instrumental in founding the Ephesus Group in Wellington whose purpose is to explore new ways of understanding and expressing Christian faith in the increasingly secular world of New Zealand in the new millennium. In 1993, he became the first chairperson of the New Zealand Sea of Faith Network’s steering committee.
Harris’s prime interest is in re-imagining the Christian way in a secular society, as reflected in his book Creating God, Re-Creating Christ (St Andrew’s Trust for the Study of Religion and Society, 1999), and in his newspaper columns: Honest to God in the Dominion and Dominion Post (2001-09), Honest to God (later renamed Faith and Reason) in the Otago Daily Times (2004 – present), and again Honest to God in the New Zealand Methodist monthly Touchstone (2011 – present).