Why Harpur Must Be Read

1. Tom Harpur is a highly read and respected Canadian scholar, columnist and author.
2. He is passionate about important issues. Here is an admirable statement:
“Faithful readers of my previous books, and of my columns over the years, will know that I have been steadily and inexorably pushed by the Spirit toward an independent realization of many of the truths expressed much more boldly and fully in this volume” (p. 177). Anyone so devoted to world peace, unity, and the pursuit of truth like this should be recognized.

3. Jesus said, “Come to terms quickly with your accuser” (Matthew 5:25). Harpur presents very serious and valid criticisms of the Church and Christianity. The Church is guilty of horrible atrocities such as the Inquisition, genocide, and abuses. To this day the Church oppresses, manipulates, and abuses people. I believe these accusations must be acknowledged. For a more extended critique of the church, you must read Sam Harris , The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.
4. He has unique and penetrating insight into the Church, which I love and am passionate about. He ministered to local congregations for years, and that is a valuable asset. When he writes, (quoting Gibbon), “The practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitudes that, if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing vision”, that is a pastorally sensitive insight. Throughout his book he tries to ease his traditionally biased readers into some of the radical statements he’s about to make, like a good pastor would. I would love to sit down with him in such a setting as this over a bottle of fine red wine and discuss the welfare of the Church in Canada and the world (He is a wine-expert of sorts. See his book, The Spirituality of Wine). His dog is welcomed to!
5. He has, in one volume, The Pagan Christ, condensed an important philosophy that I think must be understood so that it can be discussed intelligently. I believe Harpur represents one of the oldest opponents of Christianity: Gnosticism. I realize he claims that his form of Gnosticism is ancient with pagan roots, and that the official Christian Church rejected early Gnosticism, to its eternal detriment. I personally believe it was rejected for good reason (I’ll have to elaborate later in a fuller essay). But the fact that this philosophy continues to present itself to the Church from the earliest days until now, even emerging from within the Church (as Harpur is himself a testimony to), demands that it be heard, understood, and debated.

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  • jake

    I am looking forward to your reasons why you think gnosis should be rejected. I am of the opposite view and believe it needs to be resurrected.

    Gnosis was initially not an opponent of christianity as you suggest. It is in fact the source of it. You need to read the laughing Jesus, which offers an excellent and readable summary of this history.

  • Fred

    How can you conclude that Christianity arose out of Gnosticism when all Gnostic documents post-date the earliest Christian documents (even those that appear to be refuting a kind of pre- or proto-Gnosticism)?

  • Jeff Roach

    Very good points, David. What more can be asked than careful consideration of a thoughtful and intelligent person’s point of view?

  • silverfoot

    David: your blog is fascinating – and so are your readers. i’m a sucker for philosophical discussions on the nature of religion and spirituality, particularly when they are as reasonable and well-mannered as the discussions here are. i’d be interested to hear what you have to say about gnosticism, too…

    Fred: documents are only one type of historical source, and not always the best ones. the primacy given to the written word is predominantly a western european/north american phenomenon – and one that really only took hold after the invention of printing presses and moveable type. Jesus himself taught using an oral tradition (parables). it’s not uncommon that much information actually gets lost once people start committing it to paper – particularly when you factor in the clerical errors that occur when handwritten manuscripts are hand-copied to create others. that is, after all, how we got the ‘word’ Jehova…

  • Wendy

    Why I won’t be reading Tom Harpur…

    1. So what that he is a highly read scholar, columnist & author…so is Benny Hinn but both are only elevated in position because they have a following of believers. Each has a mandate they are trying to live out and it is their vision, each having goals they are trying to reach…but in both cases I consider them detrimental to what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

    2. I don’t doubt that he is a nice man…but to say that the spirit led him to this new understanding…what is he saying…that God has given him the inside scoop and we minions just need to hop on board to his understanding and all will be well in the church…

    There are more people who believe in peace, unity and the pursuit of truth and slog daily to make a difference in this crazy world, without recognition or praise…writing a book doesn’t make him credible or noble..it is merely his podium.

    3. Yes, the church has and continues to do many awful thing in the name of Jesus…however, so do most faiths…none are perfect because man has gotten in the way…

    It is also true that the church does many good and wonderful things…many want to do what is right…I believe in the church and would rather gain insight into the church from individuals whose foundation is based on believing in the intrinsic goodness on which we operate.

    It seems the drum beat is all about how bad the church is…how we need to listen to our accusers…could we not present the accusations and discuss them one by one…rather than alluding to them and things done so far in the past that to correct them is almost impossible.

    4. Harpur’s position to me is no more unique or penetrating than anyone elses other than he got to write a book with all his views in one place.

    With this blog you are actually hearing what many people really think or believe…I have found that to be very stimulating and encouraging whether they attend church or not…many haven’t been asked for their opinion before and this blog allows for that to happen.

    Do you know what I also get from number four…a very condescending attitude that all the people who attend church are stupid and that Harpur type intellects are going to lead us to a spiritual truth that will be otherwise hidden from us.

    Also, when I read statements such as this….((Throughout his book he tries to ease his traditionally biased readers into some of the radical statements he’s about to make, like a good pastor would.)) I have to ask…what radical statements might you be trying to ease us biased readers/congregation towards understanding??

    5. Well, on this one I can’t comment as I know very little on this subject. But, I look forward to reading your essay.

  • Wendy: Thanks so much for your passionate response. You’ve obviously put much thought and care into it. Because of that, and out of respect, may I respond to your response?:
    1. I do believe that when someone in our country is recognized for scholarly achievement and says something that many people are influenced by, he should be “read”, not necessarily agreed with. I believe I should try to understand Benny Hinn too, because many people are influenced by him and his theology. Obviously you’ve come to your conclusion that they are detrimental by seriously examining what they say.
    2. I admire his passion about what he writes, and he is undoubtedly concerned with peace, etc., and has a platform from which to affect change. It’s kind of like Bono… you may hate his music and abhor his style, but the fact that he can affect change with his position is something that should be acknowledged, don’t you think?
    3. I do not think the church will change by focusing on our “intrinsic goodness”, but by seriously examining itself under the penetrating light of truth. Any individual would do the same. So must the institution we call church. I believe there are good things about the church too. So does Harpur. So do you. But the bad needs to be addressed also. And maybe more forcefully because we are so resistant. That’s all.
    4. As a pastor, I appreciate his sensitivity. That’s all I mean. I’ve read some authors who obviously have a hate on for the church and would rather see her destroyed, along with her members’ faith. Harpur isn’t of this camp, I don’t think. And yes, I’ll admit, my job isn’t to affirm everything you already believe, but together to allow the Spirit to lead us into all truth. My method of dialogue during my sermons should testify on my behalf that I don’t think I have all the answers and that we should discover truth together, as difficult as that may be.
    5. Me neither. And I look forward to writing it.

  • Wendy

    Dave, your explanation on number one I can understand…except that I still don’t agree that Harpur is the man to shed light on our church problems. Your review of his book sounds like an endorsement that from him we will gain insight. That maybe true, but there are many other authors who can do that and more…

    As far as Bono goes…he is who is he…he not only talks the talk he walks the walk…Harpur…he uses fuzzy logic and anger when challenged on his research.

    Yes, lets look at the church, but not at the expense of all else. If we turn the mirror towards one part of the body only, we only see that part…there are other beautiful pieces that are not being seen, neglected.

    If we lose sight of Jesus in the search for the perfect church then all we have is an institution. To me, and my experience is limited, the church is something static and changing…reflective of the people within and out…and as long as we stay fixed on the cross we will proceed.

    I also agree that the church won’t change through intrinsic goodness…in fact, it really is a battle we wage to save the church from all the outside forces coming against it. We have to fight to save the church but we have to select our weapons carefully.

    I guess reading number 4 it reminds me that with the overuse of the statement “I heard my spirit speak”, “God spoke to me today”, “I had a word”…reminds me to check all things from the spirit with the Bible.

    I will also add that I would rather see rebuttals to Harpur rather than what seems to be an endorsement as to why he should be read.

    I realize that on this blog, many cheer you on for reading and endorsing these books which to me are more confusing than helpful. I have no problem reading a book if it is to debate its merit. Are you suggesting we read it so that we can build a better defense to why we believe in Jesus and the church? So that we can in some way minister to doubters on their level?
    Are you suggesting we read it to reach the believers who have left the church? Help me understand who should read this book?

    I realize I am some what blind in trying to defend my reasons against Harpur. Where you and I sit are probably miles apart based on our unique experiences on church and faith. In fact, I wish I didn’t care…ignorance is bliss, but reading about Harpur brings out my fighting spirit though I feel quite inadequate in my defense.

  • Whether we agree with Harpur or not, I think it is of utmost importance to understand what he is saying. At least I think it is for me. Why? Because he represents a growing and influential school of thought that I would sum up as “gnosticism” (click here to read history and definition) that the church has been dealing with ever since her infancy. I’m not supporting or endorsing what he is saying at all. Not at this point. I am endorsing the fact that because he is influential, he must be understood! And in the end, even if we are miles apart theologically, I hope I still consider him a brother.

  • Wendy

    Dave, I want to add one final word on my position on Harpur and it is from a site I spend a lot of time reading, learning and it has been a blessing for my spiritual walk.

    It is from Victor Shepherd who teaches at Tyndale and has lots of credentials attached to his name. I am cutting from an article that touches on Harpur that I found relevent to my position.


    ” In January 1969 when I was a seminary student, Tom Harpur was my instructor in Pauline literature at the University of Toronto . Harpur was considered a luminary in both the academic and the ecclesiastical firmaments. He had been a Rhodes Scholar in Classics. Upon returning from Oxford University he had served as a parish minister in Scarborough for seven years before his appointment to Wycliffe College , U. of T. Thereafter he was regarded as the brightest light in the Anglican evangelical orbit. He had a Christian radio program on Thursday evenings. He announced the gospel (and it was the gospel) everywhere. He had plans for evangelising the campus. He was friend to beleaguered Christian students on campus. He was also the most competent New Testament instructor I ever had.
    Anyone who reads his material now, his newspaper columns and his books, is immediately aware that he repudiates everything I’ve mentioned. Not only does he repudiate it; he distances himself from it as thoroughly as he can. Everything he previously upheld he now disdains. He doesn’t believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God Incarnate; doesn’t believe in the atonement or the resurrection or the cruciality of faith; doesn’t believe that the church is the body of Christ. Years ago he resigned his credentials as Anglican clergyman.

    What happened? I am not going to spell out every detail of what happened. Instead let us all be warned: regardless of what befalls us in life we must continue to ask for and submit to a second touch from our Lord. Second? More than a second; a twenty-second, a 222nd. And we must keep our eyes fixed intently upon

    him. For if we do anything else, if we do anything less, we shall find not only have our neighbours become wooden for us (trees walking;) so has our Lord himself.

    As often as I recall the help I received in my study of the apostle Paul, from the most able New Testament instructor I ever had, I become somewhat frightened; frightened enough to seek yet another touch, frightened enough to look yet more intently. For nothing could be worse than viewing as trees those whom God has created in his own image and likeness; nothing could be worse, that is, unless it was to view God’s own Son as no better either.”

  • Wendy: I appreciate that extensive quote very much. It is always interesting to get a personal inside slant on things. But I still feel I’ve been misunderstood, as frequently seems the case. This seems to be what happens: 1. I read someone who is influential and therefore important.
    2. I suggest that it is therefore necessary that this person is understood.
    3. People automatically leap to the conclusion that I endorse what that person is saying.

    The leap from #2 to #3 is unfair and false. As I’ve said, I may not agree with Harpur and may agree with your Victor Shepherd quote. This still doesn’t mean Harpur isn’t important, should be ignored, and isn’t a brother.

  • Wendy

    I think from my lengthy responses (and I am sorry for that)…I did my best to understand why you would pick Harpur as a critic of the church …I have leapt to no conclusions at any time…I just struggled to understand. You never answered my questions adequately as to who should read this book and under what premise (#7)…

    But, when you suggest a book and put so much effort into defending why it should be read…then yes, that sounds like an endorsement. Does it mean I think you agree with everything the man writes…absolutely not…