Different Way, A
We can only approach the divine from the human because that is all we know.
There is an urgent need for more debate and discussion in our churches because the integrity and credibility of our faith is at risk. Our integrity is at risk because it is not clear that we understand what it is that we profess. Our credibility is at risk because we seem unable to communicate it. We need to engage more actively at the intellectual level and to be willing to examine the fundamentals of our faith more critically. And such discussion must start with a human rather than a divine perspective. It is as human beings that we are embodied as persons, it is as human beings that we engage with the world around us, and it is as human beings that we form relationships with the rest of the created order. And it is as a human being that that which we understand as God was embodied in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, thereby placing humanity at the pinnacle of creation and giving humanity the responsibility for the stewardship of the created order.
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There is an urgent need for more debate and discussion in our churches because the integrity and credibility of our faith is at risk [ ... ] We need to engage more actively at the intellectual level and to be willing to examine the fundamentals of our faith more critically. And such discussion must start with a human rather than a divine perspective. So states the back cover of this book, and the first few chapters make the case clearly and strongly. Churches often claim that certainty is a virtue and doubt is a sin. Instead, we need more debate. Too many church leaders stifle it. Few churches are intellectually stimulating. In approaching the divine, the starting-point must be the human because this is what we are. After these introductory chapters, the bulk of the book consists of short chapters on a variety of virtues, beginning with the seven traditional Christian ones and then adding others such as goodness, truth, beauty and mystery. Payne writes with an easy touch. There is no theological jargon. There are lots of fascinating short stories, and biblical stories woven in with them. The language is gender-exclusive. It is a book for Christians seeking to get away from negative and other- worldly versions of Christianity and instead integrate their faith with a positive approach to life. Given how successfully hard line dogmatists have dominated the airwaves in recent decades, we need more such books offering open and creative approaches to faith. Weaknesses? Most of the chapters describe their respective virtue attractively but, given the promise in the subtitle, say little or nothing about approaching the divine through it. A short section about God offers a good, though brief, account of what we can and cannot know of God, and the problem of holding together both transcendence and immanence (pp. 39-40). This is then followed by a brief resume of the theologies of John Robinson, Paul Tillich, Don Cupitt and Jack Spong, leaving the impression that they were all saying much the same thing. The common theme, we are told, is 'that we need to see God as a subjective not an objective reality' (p. 46). Yet Payne soon bounces back from the subjectivism, telling us, for example, that 'God does not invest in man for himself but to enable him to extend that investment to others. And so man is not only not man without God, but is not man without man' (p. 73). Readers of Modern Believing looking for a human approach to the divine may be disappointed. The book works better as a work of popular ethics for Christians who do not want to get into theological detail but who want an encouraging, non-dogmatic and readable account of what it means to live a Christian life. At a time when so many church leaders are agonising over declining numbers and wondering how to persuade more people to attend church services, here is someone who gets straight to the point and offers a more positive account of Christian living. ~ Jonathan Clatworthy, Modern Believing: The Journal of Theological Liberalism Volume 58 Issue 2 2017
By referencing many of his favourite progressive Christianity authors, Payne adds a freshness to the topics covered in this book. Although for many progressive Christian readers there will be little new in seeing spirituality as a human construct and quality, what Payne offers is an engaging, interesting and informative analytical yet accessible mix of art; Christian theologies; classical and ancient Greek philosophers; contemporary politics and social commentary; economics; ethics; history; humanism; mysticism; psychology; story; theatre - all rooted in the routine of daily lives, of life in action. There are particularly insightful comments upon aspects of both the Hebrew and Christian Testaments, particularly in the discussions concerning the place of beauty; courage; creativity; faith; goodness; hope; humanity; integrity; justice; loving unconditionally and wastefully; mystery; myth; personal and corporate transformation as 'resurrection now'; wisdom - all set within society focussed upon an expression of that which we call 'God' for the common good. A number of challenging sections deal with the issues of cultural, economic and verbal injustice; of good and evil; of racism's exclusion, discrimination and mistreatment of those who are different-and all within the context of worship and the role of the Church. For example, Payne writes, "There is more than a tendency in our [Christian] tradition to separate the worship of God from the welfare of people. In our liturgy we add the needs of the world as an after thought.. .. It is as if we can somehow engage with God without engaging with others at the same time. Is this really what we believe?" 'A Different Way: A human approach to the divine' is extremely readable and offers much to those who are engaging with and exploring personal and corporate faith more critically. It signposts a universal spirituality for the future, particularly for those who base their personal life upon the example of Jesus of Nazareth and the Christian Testament stories about him. There is an excellent and comprehensive Reference and Bibliography section of some 150 books. Even though there is a weakness in that inclusive language has not been used, I unreservedly recommend this book. The last word goes to Payne, "The idea that life is a pilgrimage towards wholeness in God expresses a truth about this book." ~ Rev. John Churcher, Progressive Christianity Network
...very readable and it will have a place on my book shelf - it will be recommended often! ~ Rev. John Churcher