Christianity Without God
A Review by Alan Goss
Christianity Without God
Wellington: Bridget Williams Books 2002
USA: Santa Rosa, Calif: Polebridge press
A National Geographic article titled “Putting together the Big Picture” epitomises for this reviewer the substance of this book. The title “Christianity Without God” will undoubtedly alarm many church people, Christianity and God are like Siamese twins, they are intimately connected and feed off each other. Divorce God from Christianity, or worse, proclaim the death of God and Christianity becomes a damp throwaway squib. Before we rush to judgment it is important to underline the author’s main intention, i.e. to show how Christianity can exist without theism. In theism God is taken to be the name of a supernatural personal being believed to have created the world, who exercises control over human affairs and whose revealed will is not to be questioned. It is this theistic God that Christian orthodoxy still strongly affirms and which we can well do without. Indeed ’Christianity without God’ has been around for quite some time, we are gradually loosening ourselves from the restrictive shackles of theism which enslaves its adherents in so many ways, e.g. a crude biblical literalism. As we enter the new global age it is imperative that Christianity, if it is to play a part in shaping human affairs, takes leave of the theistic idea of God. The closing chapter of the book cogently and urgently explains why.
Lloyd Geering, in the first seven chapters of his book, gives us the “Big Picture” contending that Christianity, even in its origins was already moving towards the rejection of theism. Christianity is likened to a river, a flowing cultural stream, which has its source in ancient Israel. After many twists and turns the Christian stream, gathering new and discarding old material on its way, is now fanning out into the global secular world. The secular world is not, as some surmise, the enemy of Christianity but the logical continuation of the Judaeo-Christian stream. Old cosmic superstructures like heaven, purgatory and hell have largely disappeared from sight.
All our ideas of God – there are many – are human constructions. So are all the world’s religions, all doctrines, creeds, languages, cultures and so on. There is a very enlightening chapter on the Trinity. This was a brave though tortuous attempt to bring together people’s experience of grace (Jesus), love (God) and spiritual empowerment (Holy Spirit) which evolved into a new way of understanding God. Theism was transformed into trinitarianism.
Crucial to the argument is the central doctrine of the incarnation. The focus now shifts from heaven to earth, to the importance of being human and for the freedom to think and be responsible for one’s self and for others. A supernatural personal saviour is now no longer necessary. The doctrine of the incarnation was the final nail in the coffin for theism (although the author of Job had “taken on” God centuries before) and led to the evolution of the modern secular world.
The section on the Wisdom writings of the Old Testament shows how that tradition is now coming into its own as scholars tease out the voiceprints of Jesus the man of wisdom par excellence.
From his prison cell in 1945 Dietrich Bonhoeffer reflected that we must learn to live without God. This book, simply written and modest in scope, continues in that tradition. Its “Big Picture” gives us direction and hope for the future.