Reconnect Your Spirit without Disconnecting Your Mind
Alan Jones is the Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, a location that he describes as "one of the last places for people moving west before they fall into the ocean... a city of religious and cultural freedomgay, asian and secular... a safe haven for people fleeing or recovering from repressive forms of upbringing or religion." (p.49).
That description also encapsulates the entire book, one of the most fascinating and challenging explorations of the meaning of faith in a postmodern context that I've yet encountered. The situation in which Alan Jones finds himself is reminiscent of the apostle Paul's visit to Athens described in the book of Acts: representing an unknown God in an amoral but spiritually aware society. Perhaps postmodernism is not as new as its proponents would have us believe? The question "What is truth?" is certainly not a new one, dogmas and doctrines have always been subject to change in the light of experience: the emergence of Christianity from Judaism bears powerful testimony to that.
This brings us to the crux of the book: not so much about us reimagining Christianity as allowing Christianity to reimagine us. It's an exploration of a faith that won't be nailed down but that has been nailed up. It's a journey with broken signposts, vandalised by the very people who should have been repairing them, a conversation with someone who turns the questions around and turns your worldview upsidedown. In the author's own words, "for me being a Christian is a romance, a pilgrimage into the unknown, a process of continual conversion" (p.xiv), a journey in which believing is a moving target and its test is always love (p.xvii).
Love, then, is what this book is about: love for those alienated by their experience of church and their encounters with Christians whose lives don't measure up to their message, who preach love and acceptance but offer only condemnation and rejection. Thus Gandhi: "I love your Christ, but I hate your Christians. They are so unlike him." (quoted p.81).
Alan Jones' call is for a Christianity that is more open to questions and ambiguity, more fluid, more flexible less eager to condemn error or exclude the erratic. It's a call that many within established Christian traditions will not feel comfortable with, that some will be angered by; but it's a call that will resonate with many outside. It's those latter to whom the call is addressed, but both need to hear it: the prodigal son and his older brother come to mind (Luke 15).
If you're a Christian and you don't mind pushing the boundaries to see how far your faith can stretch, then this is a book for you. If, on the other hand, you like your faith neatly laid out and clearly defined, if you prefer to steer clear of too many challenges, then it's one you'll want to avoid.
If you're not a Christian, if all you can see is a church full of hypocrites, if you've been driven away by intolerance, then this is your invitation to take another look at this faith that, no matter how it's been abused or misrepresented, still refuses to die. Over to you!
Phil Groom, March 2005
Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.Order from www.christianbookshops.org
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