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Featured Book: For Christ’s Sake

Eighteen years before Tom Harpur authored the most controversial thing he ever wrote, the bestselling Canadian nonfiction book of 2004, The Pagan Christ, he penned For Christ’s Sake. It was plenty contentious: The Anglican called it “radical,” for it “strips away the mythology about Jesus”; The United Church Observer acknowledged its “often courageous writing,” as it “calls into question status-quo religion.” 
 
But, oh, some lay readers loved it: Phil Reda enthused, “My faith has been kicked into overdrive after reading this book….”; and Frank King raved, “What a revelation! With compassion and intelligence, Harpur shows…why Christ is not, and never was God in the flesh.”
 
He once allowed that he was, as a Globe obit reported, “unsettled by his own changes in thinking,” but found, as he put it in The Pagan Christ, “a richer, more spiritual faith than I ever knew before.” 
 
Harpur, who died three years ago, was an Anglican priest, and a New Testament professor at University of Toronto. But it was for his books and his newspaper writings that he gained international fame: with the Toronto Star for almost 40 years, he wrote over 1,000 columns, and served as religion editor for a dozen years.  
 
For Christ’s Sake
By Tom Harpur
Oxford University Press, 1986
 
The previous Featured Book, Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis, is now available in the Library.

Featured Book: Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith

Don’t judge a book by its cover…or its title! Velvet Elvis is Rob Bell’s first book, and, with its publication 15 years ago, his leave-taking from conservative Christianity began. Once “the brightest star in the evangelical cosmos,” he, in this book, “actually ends up throwing the entire Christian gospel up for grabs,” according to Baptist Church minister Greg Gilbert, who adds: he is “in many ways taking the Christian world by storm.”
 
In 2017, CNN called him out, given his association with emerging church theology: “Outlaw pastor Rob Bell shakes up the Bible Belt.” And Time referred to him as “the hipper-than-thou pastor.” Once minister of a megachurch in Michigan, he, considered “a brilliant communicator,” came to be judged “the 10th most influential Christian in America.”
 
To say that reviewers of this book disagree is understatement: “It is a sharp departure from any form of orthodox Christianity,” the website presbyformed declares; “…this is a faithful creative Christianity,” Publishers Weekly counters, “and Gen-Xers especially will find Bell a welcome guide to the Christian faith.” In it, he searches for “a more forgiving church,” The New Yorker explains; he challenges “Christian belief in hell and the cross,” Christianity Today has it.
 
Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith
By Rob Bell
Zondervan, 2005
[The previous Featured Book, In Defence of Doubt: An Invitation to Adventure, by Val Webb, is now available in the Library.] 

Featured Book: In Defence of Doubt: An Invitation to Adventure

“After a lifetime of being a God-obsessed Christian struggling with my doubts about some of the ‘truths’ with which I was raised, it was time to put on paper something that was composting within me,” Val Webb wrote for Insights, the Uniting Church of Australia’s magazine. Her doubts, she argued, were “signs of health, divine catalysts urging me to more mature thinking…[not] shameful secrets to hide…while squeezing my feet into someone else’s certainty.”

And so she wrote, in 1995, her welcomed In Defence of Doubt. “I was swamped with responses,” she told journeyonline.com.au, “because people were waiting for something that gave them permission to doubt.” As she declares in the book, “Doubt is the grace that allows us to escape from prisons of inadequate belief systems.” Australia’s Revive Magazine points out in its review of the book’s second edition, “Without doubt and questioning, we would have no new knowledge or human progress. And yet so many in the church seem to fear it.”

Born in Brisbane, Webb, trained as a scientist. In mid-life, she completed a PhD in theology in Minnesota—she’d married a Mayo Clinic surgeon—and went on to teach in universities in America and Australia.

In Defence of Doubt: An Invitation to Adventure, 2nd edition
By Val Webb
Mosaic Press, 2012

[The previous Featured Book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, by don Miguel Ruiz, is now available in the Library.]

Featured Book: The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

“As children, we didn’t have the opportunity to choose our beliefs,” but, through “human domestication,” they came to rule our minds, to be “our truth.” Even as adults, “…we need a great deal of courage to challenge our own beliefs. Because even if we know we didn’t choose all these beliefs, it is also true that we,” growing up, accepted them.

Mexico’s don Miguel Ruiz, a spiritual teacher, has authored seven so-called Toltec wisdom books, which have sold millions of copies and been translated into 46 languages; the best known, first published in 1997, is The Four Agreements, quoted above. Of it, blogger Raam Dev writes, “It is not a religious book that you follow…to enlightenment, but rather something to stimulate and kickstart your own journey to self-discovery.” Not religious, but Publishers Weekly insists the four agreements “make up a larger picture of unconditional human faith.”

These agreements are compacts one makes with oneself. They provide an avenue away from society’s dictates: think this, believe that, act just so. “…this scenario keeps people in line,” a separate study guide points out, “[but] it also zaps them of their freedom to choose and think…and strips them of their identity.”

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
By don Miguel Ruiz
Amber-Allen Publishing, 1997

[The previous Featured Book, Delwin Brown’s What Does a Progressive Christian Believe?, is now available in the Library.]

Featured Book: What Does a Progressive Christian Believe?

“By it’s very nature, progressive Christianity resists having a systematic theology,” progressivechristianity.org regular Jim Burklo allows, “but Del Brown has written the nearest thing to it.” Two years after Seabury Books released What Does a Progressive Christian Believe?, and a year after Brown’s death, progressivechristianity.org in 2010 posted a piece that the author had penned in which he explained why he’d written the book:

“There will not be an effective progressive Christianity until there is…a compelling progressive Christianity theology. …its absence, I am sure, will guarantee our continued impotence….” He reckoned, “Progressive ideas may be intrinsically credible, but they are actually believed only when they are effectively stated and lived, and embedded in alliances of people who act together with informed intentionality.” In the book itself, he argues that “a theology that can endure must be…deliberate…in its intellectual awareness and articulation.”

Dean and vice-president for academic affairs at California’s Pacific School of Religion until his retirement in 2006, Brown, a United Methodist Church lay theologian, “helped shape an innovative new curriculum for the school’s master of divinity program, and a strategic plan that placed progressive Christianity leadership development at its centre,” the San Francisco Chronicle’s obituary states.

What Does a Progressive Christian Believe? A Guide for the Searching, the Open, and the Curious
By Delwin Brown
Seabury Books, 2008