- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers; First Edition, edition (March 18 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1554682282
- ISBN-13: 978-1554682287
- Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.2 x 23.5 cm
- Shipping Weight: 476 g
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #319,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
With Or Without God Hardcover – Mar 18 2008
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About the Author
GRETTA VOSPER is pastor of West Hill United Church in Toronto and founder of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity, an organization that provides resources and support to those exploring the boundaries of Christian thought both
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The writer, Gretta Vosper, Minister of West Hill United Church in Scarborough, ON, is also the founder and chairperson of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity. She holds a master of divinity degree from Queen’s Theological College and was ordained in 1990.
She is a follower, one might assume, of John Selby Spong, retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, NJ. Spong is in turn an admirer of Vosper and wrote the book’s foreword. She dedicated the book to him.
She writes clearly, approaching the subject from all angles as she explains her “vision of the church’s future that is the best we can do”. She comes from a prominent Kingston, ON family and tells us of the great influence her father, a consulting engineer and her mother, a dedicated United Church woman had on her.
Vosper is seeking to modernize religion and specifically the United Church of Canada, by encouraging men and women of the cloth and laymen and women to reorganize the faith and thinking of their congregations in new ways, not needing belief in a supernatural being, or in the Bible as literal or as the absolute Word of God. Nor would they have to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth, or the bodily ascension to heaven or the resurrection.
She, along with Spong, hope to find an ethics- and community-centered organization to provide local communities in churches. They call them communities of faith, although the traditional faith in God and Jesus need no longer be what ties them together.
The task of these communities would be “to rethink and retool. To honour life’s holy moments, to speak a language open to intellectual exploration, spiritual quest and whatever experiences of the divine. It would have resources to encourage critical thinking, gather people together to engage in conversation about big things we call ‘of the spirit’, such as values, meanings and relationships.”
In other words, this is the total capitulation of believers to the scientists, i.e. to the sceptics.
What she clearly hopes for is a continuation of many of the functions of United Church of Canada congregations and the national organizational structure, as well. Vosper envisages “love” to be the core value of her continuing church. It is Fascinating to me, because it is a most ambiguous word.
Yet, she considers it to be the “radical simplicity that lies at the core of Christianity and many other faiths, carries its own authority and has no need for dogma or god.”
Bibles of various languages use words the dictionary writers identify as equivalent, but they are not. English uses “love” as one of the most important elements of their faith. Others use other words. It will be difficult to make that word the “core” value in churches of other lands. In other words sexual love and brotherly love are different words. In English, of course, love encompasses other affects and the dichotomy of the English does not exist elsewhere.
Of course, she is trying to push the United Church forward in a direction in which it is already leading. With an uncloseted homosexual moderator, the United Church’s definition of “love” is far removed from the traditional ‘anti-sex’ tradition of Christianity. “Love thy neighbor…” has a much wider scope than it used to have.
She is way behind on another troublesome Christian position though, one involving antisemitism, really anti-Jewishness. In spite of Christians’ role in the Inquisition and Holocaust, she does not comment on the United Church’s position of blockading Israeli goods to help the Moslem Palestinians. For the biggest Protestant denomination of a country that sent Jewish refugees back to German gas chambers, it is an issue that should be addressed.
The difference in outlooks between liberal ministers and church members generally has been great and some ministers have tried to make their colleagues preach and teach what they learned in theological college, i.e. to question elements of the faith. One of them was my father-in-law, the late Rev. Dr. J. A. C. Kell, for eight years secretary of the United Church’s Toronto Conference and for one year the president. He was one of the first 13 candidates ordained after the Church was formed in 1925 and, in 1950, he wrote articles declaring his conviction that the Bible should not be read literally. They ran in the United Church Observer under the heading of “The Honest Preacher” and the name Ambrose, one of his middle names.
Not to read the Bible literally is one of the convictions of Spong and also Vosper. As the title reveals, her book argues that a supernatural god, as well as a divine Jesus Christ, are not necessary. They both dispute the traditional view of the Bible being “the absolute word of God of all time (TAWOGFAT)” God’s word and do not believe in the miracles, the timetable of creation, Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib and so on.
Vosper and others follow in the footsteps of Copernicus and Galileo, who disputed the geocentric view of the world and got into trouble with the churches, Roman Catholic and Protestant. Science and philosophy which had been making advances before, picked up the pace after the 16th century and have now progressed so quickly that the fundamentalist reading of the Bible has become a bad joke. Vosper, by the way, points out that there is no physical room (above or below) for God, for the devil or for an afterlife.
And she realizes that the Church is no longer respectably defending the biblical stories, and mentions the biblical scholarship that has pointed out so many inconsistencies among the writers.
But where to go and why? Science gives no ethical guidance and provides little emotional comfort to those fearing the future. Those who accept death as the end without an afterlife and accept, as my father used to tell me , that “there is no justice” in the world, must find happiness and solace elsewhere than in old “superstitions”.
For some 200 pages Vosper explains many faults in the biblical stories, both in the Old and New Testaments. It is basically written for conservative laymen and for liberal ones, as well as for ministers who have not yet had the courage to reject the teachings of the church and preaching in most churches. She says, “Humanity is self-centred, never completely secure in this life” and then gives a fascinating history of how the concepts of God and heaven may have developed, with the Church and priests becoming their proprietors and agents. Of course, there is no sense explaining why God or even a god is needed or why Jesus must be regarded as God’s son, etc. In the rest of the book, though, she is guiding ministers and lay leaders in modifying ritual, hymns, sacraments to make them acceptable in her “new” church, whose congregation is liberal as is their pastor.
I question some of the language she retains in her remaining language. She takes the word ‘God’ out of all hymns, for example, while keeping the rhythm as much as possible. Some other expressions, however, remain. She calls these congregations “communities of faith” and of course they are communities of faithlessness.
Vosper is a feminist and resents the Bible’s exclusive use of the male gender for God. She also has a long-standing resentment of church insistence on maleness for priests and ministers. When she refers to a third-person l (like God) she consistently uses the female gender. She explains why, in some contexts, she calls god “it.”
She is also politically very correct in wanting to devote the efforts of her new churches to protecting the environment, including her belief in global warming. She wants the new churches to dedicate themselves to such functions and to make their members advocates for ethics.
She seems to hope, though, that Christians will maintain their behavior vis-à-vis the Church and their local churches and use them to maintain their identities. She does not deal in depth with the new kid on the block, the Internet, and with the Internet relationships between long ago friends and family becoming more important again. A job move to another community, for example, need not be the end of a close friendship. And distant family members regain their importance. All this is at the expense of friends in church.
The book is excellently written. Even as an old Canadian Press editor I found hardly a mistake. And her scholarship is outstanding, making reference to all the liberal theologians of consequence, and writers of other modern books treating religion liberally.
She has tackled a very difficult subject with scholarship, dedication and realism about the challenges her supporters will face. It is an honest book which believes the Christian message of spirituality is true and universal, underneath all its worldly problems. Above all, she wants the Church to regain its integrity. She thinks those, like her, who have been trained in United Church of Canada theological colleges, are well positioned to lead the discussion. Since 1936, the UCC has admitted women as clergy and she says the women are the ones who have been urging reform ever since. As chairperson of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity, a ‘clone’ of Bishop Spong’s Centre for Progressive Christianity in the United States, she is urging supporters to get together and work for change before chaos descends.
Vosper's criticisms of Christian theology and the church are pretty reasonable and standard stuff. She has not got much mnore to say that does John Spong who provides a complimentary forward to the book.
Where I thought she might add value was in those chapters that dealt with "reconstructing Christianity." as she entitled one of her chapters. Disappointingly, that is where she goes off the rails. Vosper is a left-winger (nothing wrong with that!) and sees the new church, the church gutted of its theology, as a "progressive" influence. She would have it meet in something like small groups to discuss great questions of the day. In effect, in my opinion, the church would become the New Democratic Party at prayer. Progressive disucssion groups will NOT substitute for worship. Ms. Vosper, in thinking otherwise, is simply fooling herself. She has become as naiive as she thinks traditional believers to be.
What others find bracing and helpful about Ms Vosper's analysis, I feel, is not the content, for there is nothing new here. Rather it is perhaps the appeal of having a christian minister say such things as she does.
Give this one a pass.
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