For my first foray into the Patheos Book Club I chose to take a peek at R. Kirby Godsey’s book Is God a Christian?. With words and emotions of the the 9/11 10 year remembrance in the air, I thought this would be a great book to help me think about some of the harder questions confronting religion today.
I was not disappointed.
You can hear directly from the author and get the study guide on the Is God a Christian? Book Club Page, so I’ll just ad a few thoughts in case you are wavering about whether this would be a good book for you or your community to read.
Lets first start with the “spoiler” . . . Godsey does not believe God is a Christian. Not a real shock for those who know this well-respected educator and theologian, but it does give a little context for who I think this book is targeting. This book is not really for those who believe that God is a Christian or who might be offended by the very question. So, if you were thinking you might give this to your Christian Fundamentalist neighbor hoping for some kind of transformation, I am not sure this is the one. This is a book more for those who have an inkling that the the God that he or she has has known for their entire lives has shifted and may have grown beyond what was previously understood as truth. As I read there were many times where I said to myself, “Yes, that’s what I have been musing about” or on occasion a relieved exhale came escaped my mouth or he puts into words that which has been tugging at my my soul about God and the nature of faith in the world.
Broken into three parts: “Breaking Down Barriers,” “Touching the Face of God” and “Building Bridges” Godsey begins by successfully and candidly naming some of the issues surrounding issues of faith today when viewed through the lens of Christianity.
The world no longer trusts Christians to be Christians. The world has watched us confuse our Christian rhetoric with the preservation of our Western culture and the sanctification of capitalist greed. At the other times it appears that we have allowed the Christian religion to become captive to a horde of Bible-worshipping, chorus-singing, homophobic, fundamentalist bullies who have alliterated answers for all of life’s deepest ills. In both cases good religion is being hijacked by ego centric arrogance. - page 15
Yeah, no punches pulled and you get why this might not be the best book to give to someone who might be part of groups that he targets with his litany of condemnations. He goes on to lay a good landscape about the nature of faith in the world today and in particular the perils of exclusivity and fundamentalism in the church. In another one of those, “words for those who have inklings about faith” he takes on the John 14 scripture passage, “I am the way the truth and light. No one comes to the Father except by me.” argument for exclusion by saying,
It is indeed the case that, for an individual for whom Jesus Christ is the light of the world, Jesus is the pathway through which God’s presence and nature have been brought down to earth. It is simply unnecessary and it is clearing saying more than we know to claim that the light by which another lives and calls a different name is a different light and an inauthentic word from God. - page 27
The second section, “Touching the Face of God,” might have been the most educational for me as he takes a quick survey of God through the lens of different faith traditions including many often ignored expressions of faith: Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism and Confucianism. All the while he presses on the idea that if we can see how others see and experience the divine we might all understand and experience faith in new ways.
The call of faith – the Christian faith, the Muslim faith, the Jewish faith, the call of the Buddhist way – does not come to people who do not believe in God. The call of faith comes inevitably to people who believe in many gods. The landscape of faith is not that we believe to little. We believe too much. We are vulnerable to the call of the moment. Being without a center, we are left to worship many gods, to join every parade, to follow every new banner. - page 53
Section three, “Building Bridges” is the call to action section. After laying out a case that understanding and inclusion can heal the brokenness caused by exclusion, fear and ignorance, he calls us to build bridges of bold humility and common conversations.
Insecurity in our own beliefs is the chief culprit that causes us to feel the need to overturn the validity of another person’s affirmation in order to be sure of our own. While we speak from where we stand, we should leave every person free to do the same. We are neither wise enough nor good enough to judge the faith of another. – page 147
This section ends by challenging us to reject a culture of and addiction to violence and closes with a call to find common ground on seven key issues of faith. You will have to check out the seven commonalities that Godsey believes will create fertile soil for meaningful conversations, but out of the entire book, his most powerful statement to the world today comes in his section on violence when he says,
War is never holy. Surely, there are moments in our tragic and broken human history when war has been and will be inevitable. But let us not deceive ourselves into believing that war, people killing other people, even when it seems that it is the best that we can do, is a good or righteous act. War and killing always echo our broken condition, our failures to achieve God’s purposes in creation . . . War is too easily regarded as the cure to the world’s ills. At its very best war contains and limits the ravages of evil, but it cannot bring redemption. Redemption can only be found in the hard work of picking up the broken pieces, embracing the defeated, caring for the enemy and acting sacrificially to build a better order in the world. - pages 159-160
This would be a great book for a book group, adult study and or college discussion group. I would rank it right up there with Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith when it comes to accessible and liberating books on faith in the world today. Well worth a read.