Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Review: Why Christian?

Douglas Hall is Professor Emeritus of Theology at McGill University in Montreal and the author of the trilogy Christian Theology in a North American Context. In Why Christian? he has taken a conversational approach to describing why Christianity offers a viable worldview in the context of a modern pluralist postmodern society.

Each chapter of the book consists of a summary of a “conversation” with an inquiring student who starts off by saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t see why anybody today would be a Christian.” Precisely. This is a question that many are asking. This summary is then followed by an essay that seeks to provide a thoughtful response to the issues raised in the conversation. Despite Hall’s academic qualifications, he has managed to write a genuinely respectful, open, intelligent and simple (not simplistic) book about some of the most significant issues facing Christians in demonstrating the relevance of this worldview. Some of the issues addressed are:

  • why a person believes in a particular religion in the first place – isn’t it just an accident of birth?
  • the particularity of Jesus the Christ – what does it mean when it is claimed that all “salvation” comes through Jesus?
  • the nature of salvation – what does it mean to be saved? and saved from what? for what?
  • spirituality – what does spirituality mean in a highly secularised and pluralised society? And what are Christians talking about when they refer to the Holy Spirit?
  • what difference does believing in Jesus the Christ make to everyday living? How do the core values of Christianity - faith, hope, and love – work themselves out and provide meaning in a world that has seemingly deteriorated and where people are searching for meaning?
  • what about the fact that there are many different religions? what does it mean to be a “church” and/or “denomination” in a pluralistic society? how does Christianity conceive of itself in relation to the “others”?
  • What does Christianity have to say about “hope” and what is its view of “the end”?

Hall’s book is a delight to read – it is a breath of fresh air in the midst of the vocally powerful fundamentalist Christians who arrogantly assert their rightness, exclusiveness, and narrow-mindedness. Douglas Hall actually engages conversationally with his readers in an approach that is appropriate for the world in which we live. One gets a sense of Hall’s willingness to listen, humility in presenting his views, and a genuine engagement with what people are really asking about when it comes to Christianity. He presents a statement of Christianity which is attractive, authentic, and respectful of others.

So who would benefit from reading this book? Anyone who is:

  • a Christian who is having doubts about the relevance of Christianity in the modern world
  • a Christian who can no longer live with narrow-minded, arcane, arrogant, and rigid forms of Christianity
  • a Christian who experiences doubts and wants to be reassured that doubting is actually an essential part of growth and development
  • an atheist who wishes to read a statement of a form of Christianity that is more balanced, open, positive, constructive, and respectful than the one that comes from the fundamentalists
  • anyone considering Christianity as a worldview but has their doubts about what they are getting themselves in for
  • a Christian who wants an intelligent faith that is well-informed, real, and takes account of the fact that we are living in a very different world

There’s just one thing I would have liked to see in the book. Hall never discusses the historical nature of Christianity and the nature of the evidence that is used to support it – much of which is questioned nowadays by non-theist scholars and writers. The only reason given by the author for omitting so many important issues is that space is limited. I think I will chase up his other writings which, he states in this book, fill in the gaps he has left.

As you can probably tell, I highly recommend this book – for anyone interested in Christianity from whatever perspective they come.

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