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When Faith Meets Reason: Religion Scholars Reflect on Their Spiritual Journeys Paperback – October 21, 2008
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I love this book! It would be great value just for the quality and extent of the scholarship that it offers. However the personal testimonies about the respective journeys of faith of these talented writers give the book a perspective and a dimension that would not be found in most scholarly books. . . . A wonderful book for study groups, personal retreats or family discussions over the dinner table. --Fred C. Plumer, President, The Center for Progressive Christianity
In a slender book rich with large and profound ideas, Hedrick collects 13 essays solicited from scholars in religion (including himself) that answer the broad question of how faith is understood when it conflicts with reason, science, or scholarship. Their answers are remarkably varied, painfully honest, and profoundly respectful of Christian tradition and newer truths alike. --Graham Christian - Library Journal
The great thing about this book is that it is not trying to convert you to anything. Here you'll find a group of scholars letting us in on some of their most precious and private convictions. . . . This book could lead to a dangerous epidemic of honesty among religious thinkers: It is saying to us, From where I now stand, this is what I see. What's the view like where you are? --Richard Holloway, Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church retired
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The contributors include Robert Funk, David Galston, Paul Alan Laughlin, Nigel Leaves, Robert M. Price, James M. Robinson, Hal Taussig, and others.
At the beginning of his own essay, Charles Hedrick states, “At some point I came to two conclusions: religious faith cannot demand that I believe something I find to be patently false or only partly true, and faith must begin with the world rather than religious texts, because natural environment and human culture form a more certain basis for theorizing about religion. Religious texts are passed off as having some fort of divine ‘authorship’ or authority, but their real uniqueness lies in their cultural roots and perspectives rather than in any putative divine origin. What follows describes how I am making sense of religious faith today. It is, and always will be, a work in progress.” (Pg. 13)
Hedrick explains, “The real function of the church is community---and that is why I remain a member of a local Baptist church and am involved in its community to the extent that I am permitted and choose to participate… For about a year I was an adult Sunday School teacher, and I still regularly participate in the same men’s Bible class…. I think of this association as the ‘embodiment’ of the resurrected Jesus… When human beings interact in certain kinds of ways, I am willing to say with Matthew that ‘Jesus lives’ in those encounters---not in a mythical sense but rather in the practical day-to-day sense that his ideas and practice continue to survive in the community.” (Pg. 18)
Robert M. Price recalls, “I began to irritate some atheist colleagues because I could not be as virulently anti-religious as they were. You see, I had seen it from both sides, and as a scholar I knew one could not simply write off the whole cultural creation of religion as a baneful decision, not even if one were an atheist. If one considered oneself a humanist, one was obliged to understand human religion as empathetically as possible. So I was a religion-loving atheist, trying to promote keen criticism and respectful coexistence.” (Pg. 43-44)
Mahlon H. Smith notes, “my personal struggle with the images of God I inherited from orthodox Christian tradition was far more existential than the intellectual challenge of trying to reconcile the logical paradoxes of post-biblical Trinitarian creeds with the claims of scripture. My faith was tested and shaken to the core precisely because I firmly believed the biblical claims that the Force ultimately directing human history supports social justice rather than ritual worship.” (Pg. 76)
Theodore J. Weeden Sr. points out, “While God’s active presence in the natural world cannot be empirically verified, it can be inferred from those moments when harmony and goodness in the natural world is manifested through creaturely empathy and altruism. Examples of such behavior in nature are well documented: from mother/infant bonding, to social insects caring for their brood, to dolphins rescuing a dolphin in peril to dogs offering comfort to distressed humans, to buffalo risking their lives to free a calf from a devouring lion---all of which suggest to me God’s direct, compassionate influence.” (Pg. 91-92)
David Galston suggests, “The fallen theologian, I suppose, is a truth teller rather than a story teller mainly because he or she deals exclusively with humanity and explicitly with a human Jesus. However sketchy the recorded memories of Jesus, they still rest on the indisputable fact of his humanity. There was nothing more astounding about him than there can be about anyone else… in the truth (of Jesus) lies the fiction (of God in the world). God is the fiction, not Jesus, and that is a very different point. The truth about the historical Jesus is that he created fiction. The truth-telling of the fallen theologian is that fiction is to be lived.” (Pg. 115)
Susan M. Elliott says, “The original title of this essay was ‘Coming to Jesus.’ I had planned to trace how my work as a scholar brings me from awareness of an infinite God to meet Jesus at the center of my faith. While Jesus was not absent from my religious upbringing, God was always at the center. Jesus helped the covenant community understand God, but our relationship with God with the main thing. As I began to write, however, I was recognizing my process of maturation in the faith as a process of coming to Jesus. Again I was aware of the spiraling movement of faith. The wide and wonderful god of my childhood becomes more and more incarnate for me in the person of Jesus as I study his words and preach his life, death, and resurrection. At times I know myself more deeply alive as one of his followers. In difficult times I have experienced the resurrection life as strength to stand up, strength from a source beyond my own personal resources. For me, coming to Jesus and coming through Jesus is a personal and covenantal choice to live the resurrection life.” (Pg. 145-146)
This book provides a very interesting perspective on some of the scholars associated with the Jesus Seminar.
The problem with this book is that it's written by a bunch of professors, apparently, for other groups of professors. What these guys haven't learned, is that the average reader out there does not have a master's degree in doctrinal thesis or anything else for that matter. Once again, we have a book in which the writers try to impress the reader by showing off how many eight sylable words (not an exaggeration) they can use. Or, how many obscure and absolutely unheard of words can be used in place of more commonly known phrases. I read A LOT! Having said that, within six pages of this book I found no less than seven words I had to look up in a dictionary to find out what they meant!
There are a couple of the writers who do speak plainly, but they are in the minority in this book. Some of the stories are absolutely unreadible because you just can't figure out what the blazes the person is trying to say - it's more like they're explaining quantum physics than anything else.
There needs to be a seriously well done book written on this subject, but regrettably, this isn't it.
Then if that weren't enough, modern science has developed an understanding of energy, matter, the universe and living cells to plainly show that biblical portrayals of a personal God reigning over a three tiered universe simply gets no further than the metaphorical stage. So what's a person to do after investing ones life in the Christian faith and developing a circle of friends centered around a church community? Well, for me it means that it's time to change my concept of God and understanding of who Jesus was to fit the new realities.
Biblical scholars are in a similar position. After a lifetime of academic study they are so far removed from the beliefs of the common church member that they often need to keep their understandings of biblical history to themselves, or lose their jobs -- if their salaries are paid by churches that hold to conservative beliefs.
I was attracted to this book because its contents are written by thirteen different bible scholars who have been invited to describe their personal faith journeys through a life time of academic study. This book contains their essays in which they lay it all on the line, and say what they really believe.