Beyond the content of the book, which I'll get to momentarily, I'm still amazed, as I said in my previous post, at some of the thinking from 50, 60, even 100 years ago. Truly some of these people were well ahead of their time.
With the benefit of time and all the thinking that has occurred since these words were first written, it's possible to take some of the work of these outliers, the radical heretics of their day, and find that their thinking is a match for a missing piece of a puzzle that we have been working on.
A case in point:
"I have not attempted in this book to propound a new model of the Church or of anything else. My aim has been much more modest. I have tried simply to be honest, and to be open to certain 'obstinate questionings' which speak to me of the need for what I called earlier a reluctant revolution."
With the benefit of hindsight and fifty years of additional thought from other fine theologians and philosophers, Robinson's "reluctant revolution" (emphasis mine) looks more like the ongoing evolution of our faith that I am fascinating with.
I love following these threads back through time to see what we can find. Reading John Shelby Spong's recent work led me to John Robinson. Robinson, in turn, quotes frequently from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul Tillich, Rudolph Bultmann, and others. There are jewels of thought, perhaps rejected in their day, sitting quietly, waiting to be picked up, dusted off, and reactivated in our own thinking.
Will some of it challenge us, frighten us, even offend us? Of course! This is not for the faint of heart. But if we are to continue to develop, both personally and communally, we must overcome our fears and allow our image of ultimate reality to evolve.
I think this extended quote from the closing pages of the book reveal what Bishop Robinson was thinking about and attempting to do as he penned these words back in 1963. (While his thinking was years ahead of his time, the good Bishop was in other ways a product of his era. Perhaps we need to extend some grace for his sexist language. The italics are Robinson's, the bold passages are my own emphases. The hyperlinks are obviously my addition as well.)
"What looks like being required of us, reluctant as we may be for the effort involved, is a radically new mould, or meta-morphosis, of Christian belief and practice. Such a recasting will, I am convinced, leave the fundamental truth of the Gospel unaffected. But it means that we have to be prepared for everything to go into the melting--even our most cherished religious categories and moral absolutes. And the first thing we must be ready to let go is our image of God himself.
The need for this is again perhaps best brought out by looking at the other great debate in which Paul was engaged--not, this time, with the Jews to whom the Gospel was a stumbling-block, but with the Greeks to whom it was folly. The classic description of this debate is to be found in his encounter with the intelligentsia of his day on the Areopagus at Athens.
Here, so far from the accepted mould of religious truth proving an insuperable barrier, there was apparently no point of contact at all. His gospel seemed utterly incomprehensible. 'What is this new teaching?' they asked in ridicule and contempt. The same question, though with a different slant, had been asked by the crowds of Jesus when he began his public ministry: 'What is this new teaching?'. And so it has always been. Paul was dismissed as a setter forth of strange gods, Socrates was condemned as an 'atheist'. Every new religious truth comes as the destroyer of some other god, as attack upon that which men hold most sacred.
It is easy for us to persuade ourselves that this is a process which lies now in the past, that Christianity has supplanted the idols of heathenism and that we now know the one true God. But in fact the debate staged on the Areopagus is a debate that is never closed. It has constantly to be reopened, as one idol is knocked down, only to be replaced by another. For the Christian gospel is in perpetual conflict with the images of God set up in the minds of men, even of Christian men, as they seek in each generation to encompass his meaning. These images fulfill an essential purpose, to focus the unknowable, to enclose the inexhaustible, so that ordinary men and women can get their minds round God and have something on which to fix their imagination and prayers. But as soon as they become a substitute for God, as soon as they become God, so that what is not embodied in the image is excluded or denied, then we have a new idolatry and once more the word of judgement has to fall."
As I have said before, if our image of God does not grow, we will outgrow our image of God.
* When I decided to get a copy of the book I wanted to read an original. I'm not sure why. Perhaps I wanted to try to experience the book as if it was 1963. I don't know. So, I ordered a used original edition through the good people at Abebooks.com. It turns out that through the years my copy had been read and highlighted by at least two other people. Most of my reading these days is electronic for practical reasons, but when I do read a paper & glue edition I'm a prolific highlighter. Being able to see what had impacted the earlier readers added greatly to the experience.