Saturday, September 23, 2006

Huston Smith and "Restoring the Great Tradition" of Christianity


Huston Smith, author of The World's Religions, has published a new book, The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition. Smith says this book is in reaction to a book by one of his former students, Marcus Borg. Smith says he told Borg that he thought too much had been surrendered "to secular modernity." Borg, of course, disagreed, and so Smith decided to refute Borg's book, The Heart of Christiainity with his own book.

Smith's arguments are too complex to paraphrase here, but when he speaks of Christianity's "Great Tradition," he means the church's the first 1,000 years. In those centuries, Christianity was essentially one voice, before the Eastern church broke away from the Roman church, and of course centuries before the Protestant Reformation. "This tradition is the trunk of the Christian tree, of which all our [present-day] churches are branches" (186), he says. He would like to see this Great Tradition preserved and strengthened.

Smith identifies certain ideas that are central to "classical Christianity," viz. the Trinity, the Incarnation, and Atonement.

The first part of his book attacks the modernist view, also called materialism. If 21st century science tells us anything, it is that the universe of matter and energy is not "all there is." One of the underlying ideas of Christianity (and of the other major world religions, Smith says) is that the visible universe is suspended in the web of a larger multi-verse. We are surrounded by transcendence.

It's an interesting book, well worth reading.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

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