Reforming Christianity

by Don Cupitt, Published by Polebridge Press. The following review is by Alan Goss of Napier.

In this book Don Cupitt contends that the christian churches are peacefully melting away and that the era of church (or ecclesiastical christianity) is over. Christendom, the consensus of belief that held Europe together, no longer exists, and christianity is moving out of the church to develop in the larger world outside.

It is the Kingdom religion of Jesus which offers a new way, God being internalized "within you". God, says Cupitt, is so close he disappears.

The book outlines how Jesus promised a new world order called the Kingdom of God. Because of his death the Kingdom was delayed and the church became a holding operation to "keep the troops in order" until he (Jesus) and his Kingdom returned. This never happened and the church, now permanently established, developed a complex disciplinary system of creeds, confessions, and dogmas to maintain discipline. It became oppressive and overblown.

Churchly power reached its zenith during the Middle Ages with religion being mediated to the masses through the powerful apparatus of the clergy. That once powerful institution is now melting down and in Cupitt's view has become redundant. It has done its job to make way for the presence of kingdom religion in a global or secular world.

In contrast to ecclesiastical religion the kingdom religion of Jesus (e.g. Sermon on the Mount) is immediate, it is focussed on the here and now. It is lived rather than believed. It gives people hope, generating dreams of a better way of life (e.g. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech). Its ethics are humanitarian, its message is like Jesus' message this-worldly. Like Jesus, life is lived with urgency, every day could be your last. Kingdom religion is a fulfilment of the christian hope, it is a secular realization of the Kingdom of God. The outlawing of slavery, human rights, the improved status of women, the welfare state, the recognition of racial and sexual minorities are signs that kingdom religion is being absorbed into secular society and largely outside the church. Cupitt maintains that the world is becoming more truly christian than is the church itself. Rather than giving their emotional support to a now redundant institution, christians will celebrate life in small groups and channel their energies into those causes which are working to make a better world. That's a truer face for religion which for most people now means going to church, listening to sermons, living by a strict moral code.

The author acknowledges that the church provides a platform or backdrop for the switch from ecclesiastical to kingdom religion. A major obstacle for testing new initiatives are pessimistic conservatives who see the secular world as a threat and as ungodly and antichristian. The secular world is neutral, and a secularized religious outlook is now evolving to become the successor to a wilting church religion.

Cupitt's book encourages us to rediscover what religion is all about and to learn a different way of thinking. For reasons mainly of power, reform from within the church is unlikely. But that's the purpose of religion, to give us hope!

Alan Goss - Easter Day 2002

This book has also been reviewed by Lloyd Geering