Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Honest To God

Honest to God Honest to God by John A.T. Robinson

J. A. T. Robison's 1963 best seller is a real gem. The finest book about rethinking God and the Christian faith I've ever had the privilege to read.

Robinson's points are very simple: we must abandon the frankly unbelievable concept of a God "Out there," a supernatural person who is nothing more than a version of us writ large. Such a God is clearly no more than a psychological projection on our part. But this does NOT mean that we must abandon God.

Robinson asks us to conceive of God as “the ground of being”. God, for Robinson, is reality at its ultimate depth. The infinite power that brings all into being, and holds together all things. I have posted on this view of God before and need not say more about it here. Robinson's finest point, however, is how we experience the divine. The reality of God, Robinson claims, is experienced primarily when we love and are loved. In Robinson's own words;

"To assert that 'God is love’ is to believe that in love one comes into touch with the most fundamental reality in the universe, that Being itself ultimately has this character." (53).

None of this is original to Robinson. The idea that God is not an "old man in the sky," but the infinite reality present everywhere has been voiced by many theologians and philosophers. But Robinson clarifies and explains the concept with a force that these others do not.

Also interesting is Robinson's account of Jesus. Because he rejects all supernaturalism (he rejects naturalism as well), he cannot think of Jesus as essentially God in human form. The traditional idea of Jesus as a divine being with divine powers will not work for Robinson:

"the traditional supranaturalistic [point of view:]... suggests that Jesus was really God almighty walking about on earth, dressed up as a man.... He looked like a man, he talked like a man, he felt like a man, but underneath he was God." (66).

On this view Jesus becomes, Robinson tells us, a prince disguised as a beggar; the view must be rejected. Robinson's alternative is to remind us that love is the key to the divine ground of being, and that Jesus was the "man for others" who lived that love. In his embracing the outcasts, condemning the power structures that oppress and exploit, healing the sick, and declaring that all people should love and forgive each other as equal children of God, Jesus shows us the divine. Jesus is, for Robinson, the decisive revelation of God in a human life. And this means that existentially an encounter with Jesus is an encounter with God.

Jesus, for Robinson is not different than us in kind, but only in degree. Jesus is fully human, totally one of us, yet he shows us God like no one else. This view has become increasingly popular among mainline clergy since 1963. Essentially it sees Jesus as a paradigm for us, a man so in touch with the divine ground and depth of his being that he makes that ground and depth accessible to others.

Robinson also has fascinating chapters on prayer and on ethics, and a marvelous account of "worldly holiness" as opposed to "leaving the world." If you managed to get ahold of the 40th anniversary edition, the two essays about the book in the appendix are fine reads as well.

A great book, and I recommend it to anyone searching and questioning their spiritual life.

View all my reviews.

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