Review by Michael Miller
Gretta Vosper has written a challenging book that goes beyond Borg, Crossan and Spong (whom she cites, with passing references to Dawkins, Grayling and Hitchens). She is pastor of a church in Toronto and founder of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity (and has been attacked by traditionalists, who called for her to be ousted for heresy). Displaying a wealth of learning, she examines the history of belief based on the assumption that the Bible was TAWOGFAT (the authoritative word of God for all time), but argues that, in the light of modern scholarship, it is no longer tenable to believe in a theistic, supernatural, interventionist God with all its judgemental and salvific baggage. ‘God’s existence is only an assumption’, and, unavoidably, God is a human concept even if the concept of a loving, guiding God is, legitimately, a source of comfort to believers in difficult times.
‘Contemporary scholarship strips Jesus of his uniquely divine status and leaves him as only a Middle Eastern peasant with a few charismatic gifts and a great posthumous marketing team’ – I did say the book was challenging! And if we give up the idea of original sin, and the need for repeated sacramental redemption, then we unload our feelings of unworthiness and can turn outwards towards our moral healing role in the world. But in challenging our beliefs and assumptions we also need to critically examine all aspects of our church services, the language, the hymns, the prayers, the ritual - and it is not just a matter of adopting ‘a contemporary presentation’. Gretta gives some modern re-definitions of terms such as Salvation, Lord and Communion, for example, and also appends a toolkit of resources for progressive religious practice. We also have to share our rethinking with those outside the Church, making it clear that we are not promulgating a literalist Bible interpretation of the Easter or Christmas stories or of the miracles.
To summarise in Gretta’s words, ‘in the early church, the values of love, forgiveness, and compassion drove the work and lives of those known as Christians. This is the legacy of the church, and must once again become the agenda by which it chooses to live. Not what we believe.’ Finally, I recommend the quiz on https://humanism.org.uk/humanism/how-humanist-are-you/