Reviews

REVIEWS OF Faith without Fear

EDITORIAL REVIEWS

Faith without Fear is the most thoughtful and well informed manifesto I have read from within the Christian community against the global neo-fundamentalist turn which often goes under the mistaken name of evangelicalism. The author diagnoses the roots of the situation fearlessly, and his depiction of the consequences of this movement is arresting. I also deeply appreciate his effort to paint an alternative approach based on both informed intelligence and mainly on love. A highly significant work for global Christianity.

Rev. Dr David P. Gushee, Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics; Director, Center for Theology & Public Life, Mercer University; Vice President, American Academy of Religion

 

This is a powerful and arresting book. It is easy to read, with many poignant human narratives. Keith Mascord shows the dangerous error of adhering blindly to notions of the inerrancy of the Bible, literally understood. Approached in this way, many of its words and stories cannot be reconciled with objective facts, or with contemporary perceptions of universal human dignity for all, including slaves, women and homosexuals. Yet far from destroying the central divine message of Jesus, Mascord demonstrates that the only path to the survival of Christianity in an age of growing atheism is one that accepts the necessity of courage to rethink unscientific, patriarchal and homophobic ways, even at the risk of accelerating the emptying of churches, as congregants yearn for clear, unbending rules. Mascord explains that rationality, truthfulness and the love of God are the ingredients essential to efforts to revive Christianity in countries in steep religious decline, such as Australia. His is a message for all Christians everywhere – but particularly for evangelical Protestants as they approach the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s fateful Reformation.

The Hon Michael Kirby, Sydney Anglican and past Justice of the High Court of Australia

 

Keith Mascord offers us a lucid, carefully crafted, honest and humane approach to some of the many challenges, difficulties and hermeneutical weaknesses associated with conservative strands of Christianity. With wisdom, learning and pastoral sensitivity he maps the contours of a fearless, intelligent and humble faith to sustain the pilgrim for the long haul. A fine and timely book.

Bishop Stephen Pickard, Executive Director, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture

 

A must read for those who struggle with biblical literalism, inerrancy of Scripture, male headship and anti-homosexuality stances within their Christian denomination; and an invaluable resource for those in dialogue with friends or relatives holding such views. After many years teaching within this tradition exemplified by the Sydney Anglicans, but now outside it, Mascord respectfully explains the assumptions, beliefs and concerns, and offers nuanced critiques of how these stances are problematic today. Advocating Jesus’ example of love and compassion over outdated doctrines and biblical interpretation, Mascord encourages both humility to admit uncertainty and courage to challenge what needs to change. This invaluable gift is a number one recommendation from me for 2016.

Dr Val Webb is an Australian theologian and author of eleven books including ‘In Defence of Doubt: an invitation to adventure’ and ‘Testing Tradition and Liberating Theology: finding your own voice.’

 

Keith Mascord grew up a conservative evangelical, believing that the Bible’s every word had to be taken literally. He lost his literalism, but not his faith, and wrote this warm, wise and accessible book for others on a similar path.

Professor Marion Maddox, Macquarie University, Sydney

 

Faith without Fear is a well written, passionately argued, but also at times bewildering book. As a Roman Catholic, it was intriguing to learn about how some of my closest Christian cousins – Anglicans, particularly here in Sydney – read and interpret the Bible. With matters such as same sex marriage, refugees, and women in leadership currently occupying our nation’s attention, all Australians, regardless of their faith, would do well to learn more about what their fellow citizens believe, and why. Faith Without Fear is a very good place to begin.

The Hon. Kristina Keneally, 42nd Premier of New South Wales, M.A. Religious Studies

 

If your faith journey starts in the zone of Reformed Calvinism, as has mine, the path to a confident faith free of addiction to inerrancy, and toward the freedom to live fully in, and to be continuously amazed at, the transformative power of the unconditional love of a God beyond our knowing, takes a path through the issues and questions and challenges raised by this book. The truth that sets us free comes from science, shared experience, and a vital faith in the God to whose love the Bible bears witness. This book takes the reader on such a journey boldly, faithfully, and with the promise of transformation by a gospel set free to do its work.

Professor, the Reverend Gary D Bouma AM; Monash University and St Johns Anglican Church, East Malvern

 

This well written book may provoke disquiet and make the theologically acute reader question her assumptions and long-held theological convictions. But if, like me, you are enthralled by gospel engagement with our mostly secularised world, then Faith without Fear is sure to stimulate you to re-think some of the most important and pressing questions facing today’s faith communities.

Dr Lindsay Stoddart, former Archdeacon of Wollongong, Anglican Diocese of Sydney, former Dean of Hobart, Anglican Diocese of Tasmania

 

A lot of people are disillusioned by the obvious moral failings of today’s church and are frustrated with the lack of intellectual integrity evidenced by its leadership. Keith Mascord shares fully in that frustration and disillusionment, and is willing to discuss these matters openly. Those who are looking for simple answers to the church’s problems won’t find them in this book, but they will find someone there who is willing to struggle with them in attempting to find an honest way forward.

Father Dave Smith, minister of Holy Trinity Anglican Dulwich Hill

 

Keith Mascord has written a truly unique book. He has tackled the bogey of biblical literalism as one who was once in its thrall. He knows its power, and the ways in which it is exercised in this country and beyond. From his own experience, he is able to demolish it, with insider knowledge and insight, yet always with the deepest respect and courtesy for its contemporary protagonists. Faith Without Fear is a ‘must read’ for all Australian Anglicans.

Dr Muriel Porter OAM, author and Anglican laywoman

 

 

LONGER REVIEWS

Proclaiming the Gospel without fear or exclusion

Since Justin Martyr and Tertullian busied themselves with their various apologies for the faith in the second century, the Christian Church has always sought to ensure that its proclamation of the Gospel is communicated in culturally-appropriate ways that enable wider society to ‘hear’ that Gospel in its own language. Even the great architect of dogmatic theology in the twentieth century, Karl Barth, recognised that the faithful communication of the Word of God is and must be inherently contextual. It is with this commitment in mind that Keith Mascord has written his most recent book, Faith Without Fear. Drawing on his years of experience as a philosopher-priest, chaplain and parole officer, Mascord prizes open some of the most treasured, and yet at the same time contested, assumptions of conservative Christianity that, in his view, fatally restrict the Church from prosecuting precisely that task of faithful, contextually-appropriate communication of God’s Gospel.

Chief amongst the assumptions he wishes to challenge, and therefore the ‘riskiest choice’ with which he thinks contemporary Christianity has to wrestle, is the contentious issue of LGBTI inclusion within the Church. Contrary to current political debates within this country, Mascord’s goal is not simply or explicitly to persuade his readers in favour of same-sex marriage. Rather, he has a broader aim in mind, namely the abandonment of all biblical, theological and pseudo-scientific justifications for excluding members of the LGBTI communities from full Church participation. He acknowledges that opening up such issues presents a front-on challenge to Christians throughout the world. However, he also notes that his book is not the instigator of this challenge – the challenge is already here, already ‘creating shock waves’, and therefore one which we cannot avoid, no matter how frightening it may be to confront it (p.x).

Of course, this is not the only issue Mascord deals with – also in play are questions around male headship and the historicity of Adam. But it would be true to say that exclusionary discrimination based on non-binary sexual identity is, in his view, by far the most pressing challenge with which the contemporary Church must deal.

The way into this challenge is, for Mascord, to unpick the conservative assumptions of biblical hermeneutics, on which exclusion and gender-based discrimination have typically been based. The first three chapters are thus devoted to showing why literal inerrantists – those who believe in the literal truth of the Scriptures and in their incapacity for error – are ultimately hamstrung by those assumptions, and eventually backed into the cul-de-sac of contradiction. If one takes seriously the fruit of modern scientific research, contends Mascord, it becomes impossible to accept that ‘the Bible’ is as flawlessly constructed as it has been presented and is still too often taught. It is not that Mascord necessarily wants this to be the case; indeed, he was raised to accept those very assumptions, and did so. Rather, it is simply that he does not see any way in which inerrant literalism can be credibly retained in the face of critical scientific scholarship. In defence of his own view he cites Augustine and Calvin, and even Rome (Dei Verbum, 1965), to illustrate the ecumenical pedigree of a less rigid framework of biblical interpretation (pp.11, 14, 34).

It ought to be said that none of Mascord’s theological proposals are particularly novel. Indeed, there are times when one feels as though one is reading an argument from 20 years ago. Are literalism and inerrancy still so dominating that they need this sort of systematic dismantling? Nor, indeed, are the less-than-thinly veiled critiques of Sydney Anglicanism especially new – though it is, perhaps, less often that one reads them from someone who used to teach in Sydney’s Moore Theological College. But that, I think, is the point. The book is not in fact about hermeneutics or exegesis, or even about the politics of survival within a fractured Anglican Communion. On the contrary, those issues are raised simply as entry-points into the far more pressing concerns of inclusion and equity.

Mascord can, I think, be rightly taken to task for portraying the contemporary Australian Church as though it bifurcates neatly into fearful conservatism on the one hand, and bold progressivism on the other. The situation is much more nuanced than he allows. There are plenty of faithful Christians who cannot be characterised as literalists or inerrantists, but for whom the moral and theological arguments for the normalcy of same-sex attraction, or the legitimacy of a gender spectrum that would include trans-, bi- and intersex people, is still too uncomfortable to embrace. Such people are neither necessarily fearful nor uncritical, but simply arrive at different theological, and therefore moral, conclusions than Mascord does. Similarly, pastoral observation – out of which Mascord builds poignant and often moving stories of exclusion and despair – is not necessarily the best foundation on which to build theological conviction; Calvin did that with his doctrine of predestination, to somewhat damaging effect!

Nonetheless, the great virtue of Mascord’s book is that he does take seriously the pressing pastoral need to move beyond the polarising effect of exclusionary exegesis. Serious biblical scholars will probably feel as though the nuances of modern critical research are not as well represented as they could be; moral theologians will likely object that most of the more traditionally sophisticated ethical objections to same-sex relationships have been simply ignored. But this is not a book for the academy. It is a book for parishes, preachers and people who have felt alienated by the exegetical politics of segregation that have been justified by hermeneutical methods that are, themselves, increasingly hard to sustain. For all that it skates over much that deserves more profound discussion, Mascord’s book does what I think he intends: it provides a ray of hope to those whose own, or whose families’, lives and faith have been shattered by an inflexible and unforgiving hermeneutic. And it gives reason to hope that culturally-appropriate faith can indeed be lived, and taught, without fear.

Dr Mark Lindsay is the Joan F W Munro Professor of Historical Theology, University of Divinity, Melbourne

This review was published in the July 2016 edition of The Melbourne Anglican

 

 

Eremos Review

I highly recommend Faith without Fear, perhaps the sequel to Keith’s earlier book, A Restless Faith: Leaving Fundamentalism in a Quest for God, reviewed in an earlier Eremos Magazine. In his foreword to this recent book, Rev’d Dr Bill Lawton says that sometimes the book troubled him. He goes on to say that “This is a dialogue in which there are no clear winners and losers. Keith simply asks you to question your own priorities, prejudices and certainties” (pii). I can only say that, again and again, I felt deeply relieved.  I also think that the issues that Keith deals with in the first half of the book are probably those which many readers of the book will have dealt with in some way in recent years. Chapter headings suggest the issues: The Lure of Literalism; The Error of Inerrancy; The Puzzle of Pseudepigraphy (writing under an assumed name) … The Courage to be Honest. Keith’s own journey through Anglicanism in Sydney will be of particular interest to many on a similar journey.

Keith precedes his introductory chapter with two letters. They are from the mother and father of a son who is gay and they are written in the early stages of their son’s coming out. The mother is more accepting than the father at first, but they are referred to a number of times in relevant sections throughout the book. The careful way in which Keith recounts their story enables us to see how and why there is gradual change in the father’s attitude to the whole question of homosexual orientation and same sex marriage. I think it would be worth reading the book just for this unfolding.

The book contains some outstanding quotations with footnote details of interest to readers. For example, he uses Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion to quote from Einstein:

To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious, 252.

This book will be particularly helpful to those who have moved through the issues discussed in the first half of the book and who would like to see what their journey could be like if they accept the modern research about issues such as homosexual orientation and gay marriage and wish to still have an authentic faith. Keith says:

The greatest fear harboured by many Christians is that if they start to tinker with their theology, even a little, the whole super-structure of their faith will come crashing down, 237.

This book gives very clear guidelines for moving into a well thought-out faith position, not afraid to ask questions, probably to lack certainty (perhaps acknowledging that the questions are often more important than the answers), but maintaining a robust faith which acts with integrity in facing dilemmas in areas such as climate change, Biblical interpretation and sexual orientation. The second half of the book will be extremely helpful to those who have moved away from earlier more fundamentalist attitudes.

In summary, I could use Keith’s own words from p. 252:

The fully human Jesus comes to us fully clothed  in the thoroughly human Scriptures…We sense that in Jesus, in some profound sense, a sublime beauty from behind everything has materialised to draw us beyond our lesser selves towards a way of being which will have us sharing in that beauty, as we find our true selves in God.

This book will be one to which readers might return again and again to find encouragement to continue on their journey of theological discovery and robustness.

Rev. Dr Sue Emeleus has been assistant minister of two Sydney Anglican churches. A science teacher for thirty years, she became Anglican Chaplain to the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, was an Eremos Council member, and has been convenor and secretary of the Women’s Interfaith Network.

 

 

 

KEITH’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND

This paper began as a review of a book by Sydney priest and former Moore College lecturer, Dr Keith Mascord. I know Keith and admire him for the way in which he has followed with integrity a progress out of fundamentalism, the ideology of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and the security that they both offered into what must now seem to him to be a wilderness.  Unable to obtain a parish in Sydney, although he might well do so in any other Australian diocese, he has written a second book about his journey. The first, A Restless Faith, was essentially biographical. His second volume discusses in more detail the theological, philosophical and scientific issues in beliefs and doctrines arising from the proposition that the Bible is inerrant in everything that it says. It is deeply researched and exceedingly generous to those who have cast him into the outer darkness; far more generous than they have been to him. It is a model that the customary vicious debates in the Sydney diocese could well follow.

I trust that he will, equally generously, forgive the apparently facetious title that I have given both to the review and to this article. I have never been an evangelical conservative in the Sydney style. My initial Methodism was at the more liberal end of that denomination. My theological education was informed by Karl Barth, Paul Tillich and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I have never been a Calvinist, having been brought up in the traditional Arminianism of Methodism.  I can say that I have never had a serious theological discussion in which any of the following matters were proposed: that the Bible is inerrant in everything it says; that the world is only about 6,000 years old; that Adam and Eve were real historical persons; that Noah’s flood took place over the whole world. I am quite comfortable with the idea that these Biblical stories are myths in the larger meanings of that term and that our hermeneutical task is to discover their meaning for us today.

As I have said from the pulpit in St James’, these are true stories that never happened.  Although in the form of narratives, they are actually descriptions of the human condition. They are acutely observant of our pretentions and failings. To treat them otherwise is to distract ourselves from their deep meanings and to lessen the possibility that they might be heeded.

It may come as a shock to the readers of Keith’s book to discover that these matters are seriously discussed in the Sydney diocese of today. As I read into the book it seemed to me that I was possibly a visitor from Mars discovering a strange world based in assumptions that I could not even begin to understand. It is little wonder that a very large proportion of our compatriots dismiss Christianity as completely implausible. And so they should, if that is who and what we are. We may even wonder why Keith bothers to engage with these debates.  More to the point, why should we bother to read about them?

If it were necessary to establish the currency of such arguments, we need go no further than the sermon preached by Archbishop Glenn Davies in St Andrews Cathedral on Easter Day this year. The Sydney Morning Herald on 27 March 2016, reported on his sermon as follows:

‘Death is our enemy. Death is not natural to this world… death is an intruder into our world and it is not the way God made the world when everything was good,’ he said.

Dr Davies said death was the result of sin, and that Adam and Eve only faced the possibility of death once they sinned.

 

Taking this report at face value suggests that our Archbishop was proposing that Adam and Eve were real historical figures; that the Garden of Eden was a real place; that the Biblical record of the Fall is factually correct and that Adam and Eve would otherwise have lived forever. It is not clear whether they would have had equally immortal children, raising the question of the population of the world.

I was somewhat surprised to read the report and considered that he might have been speaking in a figurative way, representing the meaning of the text, not asserting its historicity.  So I listened to the whole sermon on the Cathedral website.  It seemed to me that my original impression was correct. Archbishop Davies appeared to treat the Creation story in the same way as he treated the Resurrection, as a matter of fact.

The text has considerable problems, including suggestions that there might have been original persons other than Adam and Eve. They include the record that God marked Cain, the murderer of his brother Abel, in such a way as to prevent others from killing him.  Cain then went away and took a wife. The questions are where the persons who might have killed Cain came from and who bore the woman he married. It is also the case that chapters 4 and 5 of Genesis contain different genealogies of Adam’s descendants. There is no evidence to support the historicity of these records apart from accepting the inerrancy of the biblical text.

Nevertheless, the problem here is not the text but the persistence of literalist views of a claimed inerrant source. Neither is this only an internal matter about which Christians might have different opinions. This is a matter that affects how Christians relate to the world in which they live. As Christians, we are the beneficiaries of scientific advances that have changed the ways in which we all live, not always for the better, but frequently so.  We cannot have it both ways. We cannot accept the benefits of science and reject its conclusions when they do not suit us. To do this risks justified ridicule. We quickly become irrelevant. This is a shame because we have much to say to the world in ways that do not depend on rejecting science.

So, I think that there are several reasons why Keith Mascord’s book is important for us “non-believers.” The first is that the type of Christianity described by Keith has captured the public definition of our faith. In particular, the political group, Australian Christian Lobby, purports to represent us when negotiating with parliamentarians. They appear to have considerable influence.  They certainly do not represent me, nor, I suspect, do they represent the majority of Christians in Australia. I find it difficult to confess to being a Christian without qualifying my statement with a “but not like them.” We need to know who they are who have usurped our faith. The more so, since the positions that they advocate will, in the long run, serve to lock us out of the public space altogether.

Second, we live in the ecclesiastical world that Keith describes. We may not see it in our diocesan visitors, but it is out there. There are signs that some parts of that world are cracking up and we need to understand both what that world is and why it sits on the edge of a precipice.

Third, and most importantly, we need to read the second half of Keith’s book. In the second half, it is as though Keith has emerged from Wonderland and has started to live in the real world. He has some important things to say to all Christians who seek to live faithfully and intelligently in the 21st century.

The ideology operating in large parts of the Sydney diocese, while it may sound extreme, serves, as Keith demonstrates, to shore up their position on more contemporary social issues, in particular, the place of women and opposition to the acceptance of the LGBTI community in, for example, access to legal marriage. Biblical inerrancy is supported, not because it can be substantiated, but because of what will be admitted if it is abandoned. Thus inerrancy is a tool for social conservatism. We emerge from Wonderland at this point also, because with this social conservatism comes actual hurt and harm to both women and gays. One of Keith’s motivations in writing this book is to seek in some way to stem these adverse consequences.

Moreover, the Sydney diocese has acted opportunistically in forming an international alliance with African and Asian parts of the Anglican Communion in pursuit of its conservative agenda.  I say opportunistically, because Sydney lives in a modern or post-modern culture and acts that way in most things. Those with whom it is allied are more traditional in their cultures. The two groups are fighting different battles.

What does Keith propose as the alternative?  Here are the chapter headings that he uses:

  • The courage to be honest
  • The exhilarating risk of inquisitiveness
  • The inescapable need for appropriation (to incorporate contemporary knowledge into our faith)
  • The reliable guidance of love
  • The resilience of hope

These are virtues that we need whether or not we are engaging in a struggle with outdated theologies. It goes without saying that Keith has researched his arguments meticulously and presented them dispassionately. That is who he is. We may not have Keith’s scholarship, I know that I don’t, but I envy his persistence, honesty and faith.

Michael Horsburgh, AM, Honorary Associate Professor,

Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney

The review appeared in the June/July 2016 edition of the St James Anglican Church, King Street’s Parish Connections magazine

 

 

You can tell a book by its cover

Keith Mascord’s first book, A Restless Faith, had the plotline of Keith’s life: a continuous glide from Canadian prairie fundamentalism, through the heart of Sydney Anglican evangelicalism to a more liberal Christianity neatly captured in an image of a river winding to the sea.

And along comes Faith Without Fear, adorned by an image of a vulnerable country church building under a very stormy sky, but with a rainbow and illuminated by a shaft of light.

Mascord invites us to join him in making risky choices – which are seen to be safe ones – of supporting equality for women and inclusion of the LGBTI community in the church.

When chatting to Mascord, there is a note of surprise in his voice, that you have not floated down the river, whether from fundamentalism or evangelicalism to join him in the new world. He is confident that a lot of us will.

Fundamentalism, of the six-day creation variety, did not last for Keith who was brought up in it, and a move to the cool intellectual but still conservative style of Christianity found in the Sydney brand of Anglicanism nurtured his faith at university, and as a young country minister. Later, Mascord was a lecturer at the very citadel of conservative Anglicanism, Moore Theological College in Sydney.

A Trojan horse has never been required to plant a liberal thinker inside Moore College: it has always supplied its own rebels. It is large enough for that. Keith is unusual in that it is rarer for a lecturer to turn critic.

Mascord has a view of courage: that it is found in those who question authority, those who smash, or try to smash boundaries. For Mascord, being honest, looking at the evidence, will bring people to a position rather like his own.

He has some sad stories of people who became casualties in church culture wars.

Yet in any large network of churches there will be preferred ways of thinking or acting. To be different enough that you will not get preferment (a chance at a job) is particularly hard on students at a Bible college, and it is one reason that this maverick writer is pleased not to be a minister. Less centralised versions of Christianity – like the more entrepreneurial church planting groups – can provide more space for some. There is room for many thousands of churches in Australia; the supply of pagans is increasing.

What is missing in Faith Without Fear is an account of those who have been casualties of the left rather than the right. More liberal churches can be tough on people too. Possibly the strongest section of the book are the parts which cause us to wonder if we are not too tough on each other. There is authoritarianism to be found (on occasion) in all varieties of Christianity.

To be fair, Mascord acknowledges the right of an institution to police its boundaries. But the “fear” he describes always comes from upstream, from the right. He does not acknowledge the courage of a Nehemiah who defends a wall.

Some readers will find the treatment of the science of homosexuality as a challenging part of this book.

If one was unkind, one could say that the chapter on the science of homosexuality is presented as absolute truth and ask, “Has Mascord found his new fundamentalism?” This reader is less convinced than Mascord that the science is settled. Neuroscience is a developing field and a degree of caution is required. Mascord is up-to-date (as far as I can tell). Several studies previously cited to show neurological differences between gay and straight people have been revised,yet other studies stand at least for now.

Mascord leaves out the studies that have been revised, and concentrates on those that prove his point. But neuroscience is a field where hypotheses may extend beyond the actual evidence. Sample sizes in the critical studies cited by Mascord on homosexuality (and also transgender) are small. Biology might be destiny, but right now we are not sure.

John Sandeman, Editor of Eternity, a publication of the Bible Society, 10 March 2016

 

 

REVIEWS OF A Restless Faith

CLICK HERE for reviews of A Restless Faith