The following thumbnail reviews are not my own – they are taken off the web with only minor modification, but I believe them to be helpful and they draw attention to a set of books I would like to think might well be on a progressive Christian’s bookshelf. For those impatient to get a quick overview of much of the field see if you can get a hold of the US News and World collectors edition Secrets of Christianity July 13 2010. For more serious scholars try the following:
God’s Troublemakers: How Progressive Women of Faith Are Changing the World
A remarkable new book documents how 11 amazing women are changing the world. This is a book about progressive women who are innovative leaders in the public arena. Christian, Jewish and Muslim, they are spiritual entrepreneurs, who have invented organizations or movements to repair the world. This book claims space for progressive forms of religion in an era dominated by the Religious Right. Their compelling stories make this a page-turner. But more important, you will want to share their hope of transformation and the lessons in leadership they offer for all of us.

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: the Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith

Marcus Borg’s short book on Jesus begins where many college students leave off … with real questions about Jesus that often become the reason for rejecting Christianity entirely. Borg presents a view of Jesus that will appeal to those who want to get beyond the doubt and into a deeper, more thoughtful faith.


The Battle For God
Karen Armstrong’s discussion of fundamentalist movements within Christianity, Judaism and Islam pre-dates the Sept 11 terrorist attacks. But those who seek an understanding of the causes of that tragedy will find much in this book to commend it. One of Armstrong’s most telling points is that Christian fundamentalists have much in common with extremists within both Islam and Judaism. (While you are about it check up on what Karen Armstrong has written on the Charter of Compassion)

The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man
Walter Wink’s ground breaking book on Jesus will punch some large holes in preconceptions held by Christians and non-Christians alike. As Wink points out, Jesus avoided referring to himself as Messiah or Son of God, preferring “the Son of Man,” or “the truly human one.” This book is highly recommended for those interested in a view of Jesus very different from the one codified in centuries of church dogma.

Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence
Mark Juergensmeyer explores the fascinating question: “Why is religion so often associated with violence?” He looks at specific examples, taking the reader very close to the hearts and minds of those religious activists, who have recently resorted to violence as a means of advancing their cause. As this book makes abundantly clear, Osama bin Laden is only one small part of the problem. (I have to admit a personal interest in this topic with my own book Anatomy of Terror by Bill Peddie)

A New Religious America : How a Christian Country Has Now Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation
Diana L. Eck directs the pluralism project at Harvard and has done more than anyone to document the rapidly changing religious landscape in America. In fact, as Diana Eck explains, the religious migrations of the twentieth have changed the character of American culture profoundly, and these changes will become even more pronounced in the future.

A New Christianity for a New World : Why Traditional Faith Is Dying & What Should Take Its Place
John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal Bishop, is in no way retiring. In fact, he has probably sparked more controversy than any other church official within a mainline denomination. Spong’s views on the Bible, human sexuality, and basic Christian beliefs may shock conservative readers. Here he takes on some of the most basic Christian doctrines, and finds them in need of radical revision. (Even if you share my reservations about some of Spong’s work he raises very interesting questions)

The Executed God
Mark Lewis Taylor teaches at Princeton Theological Seminary, perhaps an unlikely place to launch as strong an attack upon the capital punishment system as this. Taylor argues that it is both ironic and hypocritical for Christians to support the very system of punishment that resulted in the death of the Saviour. Further, at a time when the most powerful nations in the so-called Christian West are waging a war against terrorism, the death penalty may, itself be, one of the most egregious examples of state sponsored terrorism in the western world.

God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It
While the religious has hijacked the language of faith to prop up its political agenda, the left hasn’t done much better, largely ignoring faith and continually separating moral discourse and personal ethics from public policy. While the right argues that God’s way is their way, the left pursues an unrealistic separation of religious values from morally grounded political leadership. Jim Wallis is the founder of Sojourners, a nationwide network of progressive Christians working for justice and peace.

Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas
Shortly after Elaine Pagels’ two-and-half-year-old son was diagnosed with a rare lung disease, the Princeton religion professor found herself drawn to the church again for the first time in many years. In Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas Pagels wrestles with her own faith as she struggles to understand when–and why–Christianity became associated almost exclusively with the Trinitarian doctrine of the fourth-century Nicene Creed. In her exploration, she uncovers the richness and diversity of early Christianity. At the centre of her book is an early Christian document, The Gospel of Thomas (rediscovered in Egypt in 1945); it reflects the view that Jesus is not God but, rather, a teacher who seeks to uncover the divine light in all human beings. But its “secret teachings” were driven underground by early church fathers, emerging once again in the work of Pagels and other contemporary scholars. As Pagels argues, the rediscovery of documents like the Gospel of Thomas may transform our understanding not only of early Christianity, but of the Christian faith itself.

Two older books, both easy to read have also help shaped my thinking. Bamber Gasgoigne’s The Christians gives a great and accessible overview of the history of the Christian Church drawing attention to some of the events that shaped the Church traditions and interactions with various societies.

The other one which caused me to rethink many of my preconceptions about the Bible was Jesus the Evidence by Ian Wilson. Again an easy read but one based on lots of interesting research.

3 Responses to Books

  1. John Wolf says:

    You have sone very questionable doctrines and associations Bill.

    • peddiebill says:

      Hi John
      > Thanks for taking the time to visit my site. I appreciate your leaving a comment, but I would have to say I wonder at the wisdom of a “I’m right, you’re wrong” type comment for a site where the aim is simply to get people thinking. You may well be right that I have questionable doctrines and associations but that wont encourage me to change them.
      > If on the other hand you can go back to my essay called “Shaping God” and show me that the errors and contradictions in the Bible that I believe I show to be there are mistaken by pointing me to the opposing evidence, then I will have reason to change.
      > As to being a false teacher. Lacking omniscience and having just completed a career in Science education, I am sure you are right. I am also sure that some of the stuff I have taught in the past was false, but I suggest that was lack of knowledge on my part rather than deliberate falsehood. Einstein showed Isaac Newton was wrong and therefore presumably teaching false stuff, Watson and Crick showed Mendel was wrong about genetics and the geologists have now absolutely demolished any fundamentalist teaching that the world is only six thousand years old. That doesnt mean that Newton, Mendel and John Lightfoot were stupid or to be dismissed as false teachers. What would absolutely surprise me is to find that either you or I was correct in everything we taught. (Of course you may be omniscient and divinely inspired in what you teach, in which case I should have to withdraw the argument). Surely the most helpful thing to do is to point one another to new ideas and be gracious enough to acknowledge when the new ideas add to our understanding and even our faith journey. I possibly dont have your same horror of books that teach stuff that I dont agree with. In fact on my bookshelves I have a number of books that offer different beliefs to the ones to which I suscribe. And yes I can find the errors. However it is a different model of knowledge to the one to which I subscribe which says that only the stuff I already know is acceptable.
      > Regards Bill Peddie

  2. The Gorilla Atheist says:

    Those who do not question are questionable.

Leave a Reply to peddiebill Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.