Humbler Faith, Greater God by Samuel Wells

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UPDATE Christianity is a project likely to elicit a range of responses. Impossible: it is, some say. Essential: it can no longer be what it was, say the others. This latter response will most often be influenced by worldviews, both secular and religious, that have challenged the credibility of Christianity on grounds traceable to the Enlightenment and assumptions of modernity.

While recent books have made a compelling case for Christianity today, Samuel Wells succeeds here in making that case in light of, rather than in spite of, its cultural denigrators. His approach is original, accessible and convincing.

The result is a timely distillation of his published work during a varied ministry culminating in his current post of St Martin-in-the-Fields, central London.

Each of the ten topics has a separate chapter following a set pattern: traditional Christian history; What’s wrong with that; the secular humanist rival; the faults of the rival; Wells’ “History to Live” and how it differs from mainstream and rival alternatives. It’s a methodology as old as Aquinas, but in Wells’ hands it feels as fresh as new paint.

The topics he chooses to address are those that have most frequently surfaced in his conversations with scholars and skeptics who disagree or feel uncomfortable with Christianity in the moral, cultural and intellectual climate of today.

His strategy involves options to be weighed and decided when, as is the case with the existence of God, “there is an approximately even balance of probabilities”. The crucial question he poses to these interlocutors is existential. God is the eternal essence, embodied in existence and constituted by relationship both in the Godhead as Trinity, and in the initiatives of creation, incarnation and Christian community. Thus, among the choices offered, you choose “in which story you prefer to live”.

This sets the tone for all that follows, as, with disarming honesty and fairness, he weighs traditional and rival approaches to his ten topics before challenging readers with a choice between one or another of these stories. and his own “constructive vision for a renewed Christianity”. faith” in creative tension with both, but transcending them.

The first three topics are those he sees as the greatest challenges to Christian belief and practice: that everything is made up; that his God is a failure; and that the Bible is unreliable, inaccurate and sometimes immoral.

The next four concern criticism of the Church for its record on poverty, sexuality, oppression and conflict, before two devoted to what he calls the “old chestnuts”: Christianity as one religion among so many others, and the relationship between religion and science.

Finally, a chapter prioritizing faith as trust rather than mere assent to a list of beliefs, with erosion of trust rather than decline of belief seen as what “sums up the challenge facing the Church today”.

The breadth and depth of his learning is evident, but slightly worn, while his biblical exegesis is full of original insight: for example, his appeal to the story of David and Goliath as a guide on how the institutional church made a mistake; and an analysis of the irony at the heart of Thomas’ struggles with doubt and faith. As he says of himself, “I am a preacher before I am a writer”.

Wells is most impassioned when challenging a significant current within Christianity that focuses on what Jesus has done and can do for us, such as providing a ladder in eternity “to walk out of life alive”, rather than Jesus as the personification of God. with us — essence as existence in relation.

He acknowledges that ultimately “many questions, reproaches and sorrows remain unanswered”, but the creative, constructive and emollient methodology is an effective antidote to the strident antidote that characterizes so much discourse on religion today. .

A final succinct summary of his constructive conclusions, presented as a contemporary creed, could be interpreted as a capitulation to propositional assent, when it is his interactive method that sets him apart. It could also alienate those to whom this creed, in form and content, seems oddly orthodox!

But such mistrust would be misplaced. Wells presents his case with typical honesty, empathy and integrity, which those who engage with skeptics, skeptics, researchers and cynics can only admire and seek to emulate.

Those who award prizes for progress in religion will find this book impossible to ignore.


The Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee is a former Bishop of Lincoln.


Humbler Faith, Greater God
Samuel Wells
Canterbury Press €14.99
(978-1-78622-418-7)
Bookstore of the times of the church 13,99 €

Read an excerpt here


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