Thursday, January 7, 2010

Adventures In The Spirit: Ch.8-16 (final summary/review)

After reading Philip Clayton's most recent book, "Transforming Christian Theology", I turned to this one, his previous book that he says represents perhaps the last of his books aimed at the academy. Right up front, I want to make clear that I am a Religious Studies undergraduate major, who is particularly engaged in Christian theology and history - NOT the natural sciences in any significant academic way. I have taken basic Biology and basic Physics, and this book goes FAR beyond what I learned from those introductory courses. I am grateful for my inquisitive mind though, because if it weren't for my extracurricular readings in the religion/science debate, as well as in Continental/post-modern philosophy, I would have given up on this extremely dense book within the first few chapters. Clayton is clearly a brilliant mind, and this is another thing that kept me reading. Anybody who reads the book need not have a full understanding of either religion, theology, science, or philosophy, but an understanding/expertise in one or more is definitely needed to grasp what is going here.

Even when I felt overwhelmed by the heavy ideas of this book, I was propelled forward by the challenge, by the questions, and by the momentum Clayton infuses this book with. I kept thinking, "This is a really important book by a really important theologian. Just keep reading." By the last half of the book, I realized my intuition was correct and the pieces started coming together. This book is absolutely stellar for those willing to take the plunge, posing profound challenges to the reductionistic neo-Darwinism of Dawkins, but also to rigid Christian traditionalism entrenched in outworn theologies. By the end of the book, emergent complexity makes a lot of sense about the world as we know it today. Clayton urges the Christian church to step out of their protective walls and REALLY engage the scientific community. Clayton shows that to take science seriously does not eliminate the possibility of Christianity, but breathes new life into it. This new, integrative Christianity that Clayton is a proponent of takes scripture, tradition, reason, and experience seriously (of course, progressively)....and in the process a faith that is rooted in the past emerges with new and profound insights from its interaction with the sciences. Be prepared to have your orthodox creeds challenged, but relativists should also brace themselves. Clayton isn't out to offer easy answers, but neither is he out to discuss a squishy relativistic faith. A fairly comprehensive systematic theology of God, Jesus, the Trinity, the cross, scripture, and divine action is put forth by the end of the book that I will be wrestling with for some time. Open panentheism, the core theological idea explored in the book upon which everything else hinges, emerges from the most recent developments with science and philosophy, and Clayton makes a pretty convincing case that it can exist within the Christian tradition in a unique and powerful way. Sacrifices are made, true, but he is convinced it is better than the alternative. He may, in fact, be right.

I will be revisiting this book many times in the near future. I have so much to consider as I continue to reflect on a more vibrant and relevant form of the Christian faith for a post-modern, globalized world. Academics should definitely read this book, as well as motivated students of philosophy and religion, such as myself. I look forward to a future book by Clayton that would explore these same ideas in a more accessible fashion similar to the most recent "Transforming Christian Theology". These ideas need to get into the hands of the pastor and layperson too. They are indeed transformative.

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