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The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Traditionby Huston Smith
Synopses & Reviews
"I have tried to describe a Christianity which is fully compatible with everything we now know, and to indicate why Christians feel privileged to give their lives to it."
In his most personal and passionate book on the spiritual life, renowned author, scholar, and teacher of world religions Huston Smith turns to his own life-long religion, Christianity. With stories and personal anecdotes, Smith not only presents the basic beliefs and essential teachings of Christianity, but argues why religious belief matters in today's secular world.
Though there is a wide variety of contemporary interpretations of Christianity—some of them conflicting—Smith cuts through these to describe Christianity's "Great Tradition," the common faith of the first millennium of believers, which is the trunk of the tree from which Christianity's many branches, twigs, and leaves have grown. This is not the exclusivist Christianity of strict fundamentalists, nor the liberal, watered-down Christianity practiced by many contemporary churchgoers. In exposing biblical literalism as unworkable as well as enumerating the mistakes of modern secularists, Smith presents the very soul of a real and substantive faith, one still relevant and worth believing in.
Smith rails against the hijacked Christianity of politicians who exploit it for their own needs. He decries the exercise of business that widens the gap between rich and poor, and fears education has lost its sense of direction. For Smith, the media has become a business that sensationalizes news rather than broadening our understanding, and art and music have become commercial and shocking rather than enlightening. Smith reserves his harshest condemnation, however, for secular modernity, which has stemmed from the misreading of science—the mistake of assuming that "absence of evidence" of a scientific nature is "evidence of absence." These mistakes have all but banished faith in transcendence and the Divine from mainstream culture and pushed it to the margins.
Though the situation is grave, these modern misapprehensions can be corrected, says Smith, by reexamining the great tradition of Christianity's first millennium and reaping the lessons it holds for us today. This fresh examination of the Christian worldview, its history, and its major branches provides the deepest, most authentic vision of Christianity—one that is both tolerant and substantial, traditional and relevant.
"An intriguing combination of apologia, early church history and cultural critique, this deeply personal book attempts to convey the foundations of Christian thought in a way that appeals to modern readers seeking authentic faith in a secular culture. The devotional tone is a distinct departure for Smith, a philosopher and prominent scholar of world religions. This may account for the erudite and occasionally rambling quality of the book's first section, where Smith delineates the 'fixed points' of a Christian worldview; he uses science, psychology, the arts, Platonic philosophy and medieval theology to meditate on the nature of reality and the order of the universe. As Smith takes on the 'shaky foundation' of modern culture, one of his central tenets is that modern culture has not been able to 'distinguish absence-of-evidence from evidence-of-absence.' The book's longest section is Smith's summary of the life and significance of Jesus, the history of the early church and various theological matters such as the Trinity and the nature of heaven and hell. While parts are relatively straightforward, Smith's use of anecdotes and willingness to make his own idiosyncratic interpretations of major doctrines of the Christian faith mean that this section cannot be read as a simple digest of previous scholarship. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Huston Smith, dean of world religions, presents the essential teachings of Christianity, and, for the first time, his own profound Christian faith and convictions.
In this elegant and concise treatise, Huston Smith examines and puts forth what being a Christian has meant for him personally, how it has shaped his life and beliefs. In contrast to the misguided course of culturally rigid and intolerant evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity on the one hand, and the non-transcendent liberal Christianity of Marcus Borg, John Shelby Spong, et al. on the other, Smith presents a passionate and convincing argument for a vital alternative that is a deeper, authentic Christian faith that is both tolerant, respectful of people's and religious differences, yet substantial.
In part one, he relates his own story as a child of Christian missionaries in China, and how the beliefs they instilled in him resonated throughout his life. Using those beliefs, he argues that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, must find its way back into modern life for modern life to continue, and that the Christian world can co-exist, and in fact must co-exist with modernity.
Part two is an expanded and deeper version of the chapter on Christianity from The World's Religions.
And finally, in part three, Huston analyses and discusses the three main divisions in Christianity today.
About the Author
Huston Smith is internationally known and revered as the premier teacher of world religions. He is the focus of a five-part PBS television series with Bill Moyers and has taught at Washington University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Syracuse University, and the University of California at Berkeley. The recipient of twelve honorary degrees, Smith's fifteen books include his bestselling The World's Religions, Why Religion Matters, and his autobiography, Tales of Wonder.
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