Reforming Christianity

By Don Cupitt, Published by Polebridge Press, 2001
Reviewed by Lloyd Geering

When the term “Reformation” was used in the 16th century it referred to the reformation of the Church. Even then, Protestant and Catholic had no quarrel with one another concerning roughly 70% of Christian doctrine; and since that time the gap between them has been closing.

But a new and much more serious gap has been opening up, this time between the traditional forms of Christian belief and the secular world in which it lives. What is called for now, claims Don Cupitt, is the reformation of Christianity itself, if it is to continue to be a living religion.

The church is in no mood for reform. Don notes that, even after two centuries of intensive study of the New Testament, Christian preachers still go on declaring that Jesus said ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’, and scholarship has made little difference.

It is probably too late for the church to carry through the reform of Christianity for ‘the churches and religion have become disconnected from one another’.

The reform will have to come from the post-Christian world outside church officialdom. For even though it is post-Christian, it nevertheless is the bearer of Christianity, having emerged out of it.

Don discusses the need to reform Christianity rather than present us with a new set of Christian doctrines to replace the old ones. The time for authoritative dogma is over.

He draws a contrast between ‘Church Christianity’ and the recovery of the ‘kingdom religion’ of the original Jewish teacher. The latter, says Cupitt, is far more interesting than ‘the deferred salvation that grew up around the God incarnate of church religion’.

He sees globalized Western culture as a partial fulfilment of the ‘kingdom religion’. Even though secular, it is much closer to what Jesus taught than is ‘Church Christianity’. But the church simply sees the secular world as a humanist rebellion against God and the repudiation of Christianity. In one sense, then, the reforming of Christianity has been going on for some time - up to 300 years - but it is making its appearance outside of the church and we have not been recognizing it for what it is.

“To reform Christianity, we must quietly detach ourselves from ‘church’ ways of thinking and living and instead develop and propagate the new ‘kingdom’ ways of thinking…we will have to let the church go, because we are certainly not going to replace it with anything like it. In the Kingdom there is of course no distinct religious society making exalted claims on its own behalf”.

But if Christianity is thus radically reformed, will it still be Christianity? Perhaps not. Does that really matter? Labels play a useful but only secondary role, even though even Cupitt wants to ‘cling on for a while yet to the old brand name’.

This book is much easier to read than some of Cupitt’s earlier and more philosophical ones. It provides plenty of material for people in the Sea of Faith Network to chew over and digest.

Lloyd Geering