New books - 2017
I have a new book coming out from SPCK later this year (2017). It is called, Love is His Meaning (Amazon), and it is a short book about interpreting the teachings of Jesus. Taking the Gospel texts seriously, and trying to interpret them consistently, I argue that it is a misunderstanding to take them literally. On the contrary, his sayings most often use the following figures of speech: hyperbole, symbol, metaphor, icon, prolepsis, epitome, paradox, parable and sublation.
I explain what these mean, and show how a non-literal interpretation of Jesus’ sayings gives insight into important spiritual truths about the universal and unlimited love of God, which both his life and his recorded sayings express. I think it is of decisive importance to see clearly and unequivocally that this is the teaching of Jesus. To quote the final paragraph of the book:
‘Jesus’ parables, hyperboles and symbols may sometimes seem difficult and obscure, but if it is asked what is finally meant by Jesus’ life and words, there is one brief and simple reply. It is the insistent demand, the upholding presence, and the unfailing promise of love. Love is his meaning’.
There is yet another new book due out this year, The Christian Idea of God: a Philosophical Foundation for Faith (Cambridge University Press).
This is a full-scale academic work, and it is really the culmination of my own philosophical and theological thinking over more than 50 years of teaching. Beginning from the fundamental philosophical questions, ‘What do we know?’ and ‘What is the basic nature of reality?’ I develop my own philosophy of Personal Idealism – the idea that mind is the basic reality, and that the universe is the progressive unfolding of the nature and purpose of mind. I enquire into the nature of this cosmic mind, and show how it provides a substantive explanation of the existence of the universe. Then I explore some moral and practical implications of this view, and how it suggests a specific moral purpose for sentient lives. Theologically, I claim that this view has a natural affinity with some mainstream forms of Christian faith, and is indeed a strong philosophical foundation for such forms.
I am sorry to say that there is yet another, but mercifully much shorter, book due out in the Spring of 2018 from SPCK, entitled, The Mystery of Christ. This is a series of meditations and prayers on the mystery of Christ as the eternal Word of God, as revealed in the Gospel images of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. The meditations are on the images of Christ in the Gospels (such as ‘Son of Man’ or ‘Lamb of God’), and what they have to say about how the nature of the Eternal Word is expressed in the human person of Jesus, and how we might respond to that in our own prayers and lives. It is primarily a book of devotion, but theological reflection is not absent, and indeed part of my aim is to put traditional teachings firmly in the light of modern scientific and social thinking.
THE NATURE OF RELIGION
The Case for Religion (Oneworld 2004)
This presents a case both for the continued use of the concept of ‘religion’, and for a non-naturalistic account of religion. It considers the views of Freud, Durkheim, Frazer, Tylor and Jung, attempts a systematic philosophical categorisation of the major global religious traditions, and surveys the historical change of religious traditions from local through canonical and critical phases to the present global interaction of traditions
Images of Eternity (Darton, Longman, Todd, 1987); re-issued as Concepts of God (Oneworld, 1993)
Ideas of God (or the Ultimate) in five main religious traditions – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, analyzed in the works of Aquinas, Maimonides, Al Gazzali, Sankara, Ramanuja, Buddhaghosa and the Lotus Sutra. It claims to uncover a ‘common core’ of religious belief, expressed in different symbolic ways, philosophical backgrounds, and cultural histories.
Is Religion Dangerous? (Lion, 2007; new edition with additional chapter on evolutionary psychology, 2010)
There have been a number of books recently that claim that religion is the major causes of violence; that religious beliefs are irrational; that religious teachings are immoral; and that religions do more harm than good. By examining sociological surveys and historical evidence, I show that these claims are false, and show that religion is, in general, the heart of an often heartless world.
Is Religion Irrational (Lion Hudson, 2011)
Many recent popular writers have argued that religious belief is irrational. This is an attempt to suggest that some forms of belief in God are not only reasonable but plausible. In it, I suggest that there is a coherent idea of God, tackle the immense problem of evil, ask whether it is reasonable to think that the Universe is intelligently designed, examine what is meant by ‘reason’ and its relation to ‘faith’, ask how God might act in the universe, and ask what sort of future religion might have. The book arises from some of the talks I give to sixth-formers in British schools, and would, I hope, be useful for those preparing for A-level ‘Philosophy and Ethics’ papers.
TOPICS IN PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION ( GOD AND THE SOUL)
‘The Evidence for God’ (Darton, Longman, and Todd)
In 2014 I published ‘The Evidence for God’ , which is sub-titled ‘the case for the existence of the spiritual dimension’. I try to show how art and morality can be helpfully regarded as creative responses to objectively existing values of beauty and goodness, which demand human attention and appropriate action. So this universe is one where objective values and purposes exist, the human purpose being to realise those values in a creative way.
Then I argue for the plausibility of Idealism in modern philosophy and in science. Idealism is controversial, as all philosophical views are, but it provides evidence for the view that the material world cannot exist as we apprehend it apart from observing and interpreting minds. This suggests that mind, consciousness, and intelligence is more basic than matter, and suggests the hypothesis that the material world is the expression of one supreme mind.
I also argue for the important difference of personal knowledge (in introspection, in friendship, and in historical judgments) from scientific knowledge. Our knowledge of persons, in ourselves and in others, is an important sort of knowledge that sees depths of transcendence in and through sense-perceptions, and that is essentially involves personal engagement and evaluative judgment.
Thus the argument is that experiences of transcendent value are common and well known to most people. The concept of ‘God’ is the idea of a mind-like reality of supreme value which integrates these different sorts of transcendent experience into a coherent, comprehensive, and morally fruitful whole. That is the evidence for God, and though it will be contested by alternative philosophical views, it is nevertheless both strong and abundant.
The Battle for the Soul (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), re-issued as Defending the Soul (Oxford: Oneworld Press, 1992), and as
In Defence of the Soul (Oneworld, 1998)
Defends the idea of the soul against criticisms from Freud, materialism, etc.
More than Matter (Lion Hudson, 2010)
A defence of Idealist philosophy, with a friendly attack on one of my old philosophy teachers, Gilbert Ryle, and, at least by implication, his Cambridge counterpart Ludwig Wittgenstein. Includes also critiques of philosophical materialism, phenomenalism, and common sense.
The God Conclusion (DLT, 2009); in the USA God and the Philosophers (Fortress Press)
A survey of what the major European philosophers have said about God, defending some currently unfashionable positions like Cartesian dualism, Aquinas’ ‘Five Ways’, Platonism, and Berkeley’s Idealism.
Why There Almost Certainly Is a God (Lion, 2008)
A response to Richard Dawkins, showing how his largely unstated philosophical views distort his atheistic arguments, and how those views are countered by many philosophical positions.
The Concept of God (Basil Blackwell, 1974)
An early book, heavily influenced by Wiitgenstein, which gives a philosophical analysis of the concept of God.
Rational Theology and the Creativity of God (Basil Blackwell,1984)
The tradition of ‘rational theology’ sees God as a timeless, changeless, impassible being, unaffected by the world. Some more recent view see God as temporal, changing, fully responsive to events in the world, and essentially and spontaneously creative. I expound and defend this more ‘open and relational’ view of God.
God: a Guide for the Perplexed (Oneworld, 2002)
This is a less heavily philosophical treatment of the idea of God, tracing the historical development of the idea from early Greek and Hebrew sources, through medieval Platonism to more rationalistic views, then the rise of more Romantic ideas after the Enlightenment, and finally the apophatic and non-realist interpretations of recent times. The style is often humorous, sometimes poetic. It is a book for the general reader which aims, not to resolve perplexity, but to deepen it and make it easier to live with – indeed, to see it as essential to the human condition.
ON THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
In 2015 Cambridge University Press will publish ‘Christ and the Cosmos: a Reformulation of Trinitarian doctrine’. This rather ambitious title defends the general views of Barth and Rahner that God is supremely one, existing in three modes of deeply integrated being, and not some sort of society with three different centres of consciousness (the ‘social Trinity’). It does so by detailed analysis and criticism of a number of modern theologians, including John Zizioulas, Richard Swinburne, Jurgen Moltmann, Karl Barth, Karl Rahner, and David Brown, and provides a final formulation of the Trinity in terms suggested by John Macquarrie – as primordial, expressive, and unitive Being. The book also calls for a liberation of Trinitarian imagery from very anthropomorphic images, into a form which will enable the Trinitarian God to be seen as the foundation of a truly cosmic creation.
The book is also a sort of concluding overview of my own theological thought, providing a conception of God as a mind-like reality of supreme value, which creates universes in order to make possible the distinctive values that can only be realised by emergent and developing life-forms, and which intends to unite those life-forms to itself in a finally realised communion of love. For such a view, Jesus expresses and embodies the human form of this divine principle, which cosmically exists as the ‘divine Word’, the archetype of all perfected finite forms of personal being. Jesus has been fully assumed into the divine life, where humanity is perhaps only one finite form of his eternal and unimaginably glorious reality. So the Father, Son, and Spirit are earthly forms of eternal principles, while we can vaguely grasp the Trinitarian being of God in a more cosmic context as the originative, self-unfolding, and all-uniting ground of all beings.
A Vision to Pursue (London: SCM Press, 1991)
An attempt to state, in a popular way, a post-critical and liberal view of Christian faith. It is, I suppose, my most ‘radical’ book, largely because it is based on lectures given to religious studies students at King’s College, London, who usually had no religious faith at all.
God, Faith and the New Millennium (Oneworld, 1998) Christian beliefs in the context of the modern scientific world view.
Christianity: a Guide for the Perplexed (SPCK, 2007)
A short personal statement of the main beliefs of Christianity, in the light of scientific and critical thought. I try to cover the main Christian beliefs, what major theologians have said about them, and how the beliefs can be interpreted in the scientifically informed world of today.
Christianity: a Beginners’ Guide (2008), formerly titled Christianity: a Short Introduction (Oneworld, 2000). Fifteen key Christian doctrines, with three differing interpretations, each held by some mainstream Christian church. I try to present the interpretations fairly, and I do not say which I favour (not always the same one, but you might be able to guess!). The book could be a first year college or year 13 (sixth form) text for an introductory course on Christianity.
Re-Thinking Christianity (Oneworld 2007)
The book is concerned with the question of the identity of the Christian tradition. It takes six historical case-studies – the New Testament renunciation of Torah; the Hellenistic formulation of doctrines in the first Ecumenical Councils; medieval developments in doctrines of Hell, Purgatory and Atonement; the Reformation emphasis on faith; German liberal Protestantism; and Liberation theology. By analysing these cases, the argument is propounded that Christian faith essentially invites continual reformulation in new cultural circumstances. It makes positive recommendations about the forms Christian belief could make in a scientific, culturally diverse and pluralistic age.
RELIGION AND SCIENCE
Pascal’s Fire: Scientific Faith and Religious Understanding (Oneworld June 2006).
A contribution to the historical and ideological relationships between science and religion since the Enlightenment. It considers the views of Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Heisenberg and many of their successors on the relation of religion and science, defends the non-reducibility of humane studies to purely scientific explanations of human beliefs, and addresses the question of whether the ‘God of Abraham’ is different from ‘the God of the scientists’ (Pascal’s Memorial, from which the book title is derived)
Divine Action (Collins, 1990, re-issued by Templeton Foundation Press, 2008)) Can we give any account of how God acts in the world? Seen by many as the chief problem of the philosophy of theism, the book attempts some sort of answer.
The Big Questions in Science and Religion (Templeton Foundation Press, 2008)
Addresses ten major questions in the field in a non-dogmatic way, but one that is sympathetic to many religious beliefs. A special feature of the book is the way it considers a number of religious traditions, and how they are affected by scientific discoveries.
God, Chance, Necessity (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1996).
A response to Jacques Monod’s ‘Chance and Necessity’, showing how religion can be positively enhanced by modern scientific thought.
ON THE BIBLE AND ITS INTERPRETATION
What the Bible Really Teaches (SPCK 2004) Sub-titled ‘A challenge to fundamentalists’, it shows how some fundamentalist readings which claim to be ‘Bible-based’ in fact omit many texts and give biased interpretations of other texts. Focusing especially on the ideas of salvation, the sacrifice of Jesus, the resurrection, the coming of Christ in glory, and the after-life, it shows how the Bible suggests very different beliefs than those offered by fundamentalist readings.
The Word of God? The Bible after modern scholarship (SPCK, 2010) How we can take the Bible as the Word of God after Biblical criticism has done its worst (or best, depending on your point of view).
The Philosopher and the Gospels (Lion, 2011).
A philosophical study of the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, suggesting that it falls under four main rather forbiddingly titled heads: conditional universalism ( God wants everyone to be saved, and makes that possible), spiritual eschatology (talk of the ‘end of the age’ used symbolic imagery to speak of the relation between time and eternity), responsive-participatory virtue ethics (Jesus does notgenerally lay down new moral rules, but presents demanding ideals for true human flourishing), and unitive idealism (Jesus, in his own person, expresses the unity of humanity and divinity, which is God’s wish for the final destiny of all people). The text is less forbidding than these headings, and seeks to be more widely accessible. From past experience, I do not expect many people (if anyone) to agree with all of it. My hope is that it will stimulate readers to form their own conclusions by providing an honestly held but (so I am told) slightly unusual perspective to react to.
COMPARATIVE AND SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY
Comparative Theology, in 5 volumes:
Religion and Revelation (Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1994)
Religion and Creation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996)
Religion and Human Nature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)
Religion and Community (Oxford; Clarendon Press, 2000)
Religion and Human Fulfilment (SCM Press, 2008)
This, I suppose, is my major academic contribution to the study of religions and to theology. These volumes compare and contrast and doctrines of Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity on each topic. The aim is to present the doctrines accurately, but to let them interact and influence each other. The books are written from within a Christian tradition, and a Christian systematic theology is developed throughout the series. But this is a theology radically influenced by a global religious perspective. The intended result is both a Christian systematic theology in a global context, and an attempt to show how the world’s major religious traditions can interact positively and fruitfully in the modern world.
ETHICS AND RELIGION
The Divine Image (SPCK, 1976)
The Rule of Love (Darton, Longman, Todd, 1989)
These are more popular books, briefly expounding the basis of Christian ethics, and analyzing the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5 – 7), respectively.
Ethics and Christianity (The Muirhead Library of Philosophy: Allen and Unwin, 1970)
Kant’s View of Ethics (Basil Blackwell, 1972)
These are academic books the first of which tries to outline the basic structure of a Christian meta-ethics or philosophy of ethics, and the second gives a fairly complete account and critical analysis of the development of Kant’s view on ethics, based (almost uniquely) on all his extant works. It reveals parts of Kant’s thought that will be surprising to many readers.
God, Autonomy, and Morality (Oneworld Publications, 2013). This is a philosophical work defending a theistic basis for ethics, and examining the work of some recent moral philosophers – Philippa Foot, Iris Murdoch, John McDowell, and others- and analysing the concept of the autonomy of ethics.
This is a defence of the view that the strongest basis for ethical commitment is the existence of a God, who is best defined as a reality of supreme objective value. The book is a study of the concept of the autonomy of morals, and argues that there are many senses of autonomy, and all acceptable senses are compatible with having a God-based morality. Though it is often said that Christians accept a ‘Divine command’ morality, this is not historically true. A more frequent Christian position has been that basic moral truths are necessarily true, that God knows them to be necessarily true, and that God wants humans to obey those truths. This is not just because God commands them, but because they are conducive to human good and to fulfilling the purpose of human fulfilment, and because love for God, who is supremely good, will lead to trying to do what God wants.
I defend the objectivity of morals – the view that there are objective moral values. The most adequate way to conceive of them, I argue, is that they are ideals of human flourishing, future possibilities, in the mind of God. God seeks to influence, but not compel us, to respond to them, and God will ensure that these ideals are finally realised in the lives of all those who respond to divine influence. This gives a strong divine basis for morality, and is compatible with human freedom and creative ways of realising the divine ideals.
The Turn of the Tide (BBC, 1986)
The book of a BBC series alleging (too soon!) that the ‘sea of faith’ was returning up Dover Beach.
The Promise (SPCK, 1980; revised edition, 2010)
A literary re-telling of the Bible story from Genesis to Deuteronomy, bringing out some major theological points.
The Christian Way (SPCK, 1976)
The Living God (SPCK, 1984)
Books written primarily for a Church congregation (in fact, Lent courses given at Hampstead Parish Church), outlining forms of Christian belief and practice for the modern world.
Holding Fast to God (SPCK, 1982)
A rather polemical book analyzing and criticizing Don Cupitt’s theological and philosophical ‘anti-realist’ work, especially his ‘Taking Leave of God’. Don and I ran joint seminars at Cambridge, which were very friendly, but where no holds were barred!
Fifty Key Words in Philosophy (Lutterworth Press, 1968) My very first published book. Of little interest now, but a list of the meanings of philosophical terms like ‘phenomenalism’, ‘metaphysics’, etc.