Review: Introducing Christianity: Exploring the Bible, Faith, and Life

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Product Description

This introductory-level book on Christianity looks clearly at what the church believed and taught throughout its history. Hard questions about the Bible, theology, and the Christian life are dealt with from the perspective of faith. As author, veteran scholar, and pastor James Howell puts it, “Great hope rests in thinking through these questions, and this book wrestles with them.” Howell knows the questions people ask and is adept at answering them. In doing so, he explores what it means to live as a Christian, as part of the church community, and also what it means to live with the hope Christian faith provides, even for those who “previously believed there was no hope.” Includes study questions for discussion.

About the Author

James C. Howell is Pastor of the Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is the author of a number of books, including The Beatitudes for Today and The Will of God, both from Westminster John Knox Press.

This might not be the book for fundamentalists, but it is a book for those who are seeking an introduction into mainstream Christianity. His style, like so many others today, is conversational, and while his tone is not confrontational, their are times that the material which he presents is.

In the first part, he examines, as any introduction should, the written word of God. He takes a decidedly moderate view, in that inspiration is the guiding force in assembling the documents, and while everything might not measure up to authenticity, it does not take away from its perfection. He doesn’t go into the historical criticism, and to his credit, refuses any attempt to extract any sort of historical Jesus from the Gospels, instead taking them, while noting heavy editing, that they provide eye witness accounts of the Risen Savior. In doing all of this, in drawing together the harshness of the Old Testament with the writings of Paul, he relies heavily on the word ‘messy’ to describe the Bible. He does not shy away from including contemporary, or ancient, writers and speakers and even bringing himself into the picture from time to time to illustrate his points.

In the second part, Howell examines Christianity, beginning with the Saints of the distant past and of recent memory. He is not shy about stating the evils done in the name of the religion, and pulls no punches with the modern take of placing the lives of saints in rosy pictures far removed from our reality. Moving into doctrinal development, he examines very few doctrines, touching on Christology and Grace Alone the most – even these leave a lot to be desired. He glances over the most important developments around Nicaea, the workings of and around the Council, and completely ignores the whole of the East and it’s doctrines (John Cassian). In examining theology, he only provides surface topics, such as sin. He acknowledges the fact of sin, and shows that we are called from it, but never gives the examples of sin. His Theology subsection is his weakest point.

In the final part, the author discusses the Christian Life, however, it is rarely more than a gloss or a good sermon. While his first subsection deals with ethics, it is hardly more than a summary of mainstream Christianity’s struggles with sin and social issues in the modern world with a subtle chastening over those who assume that the bible has decided moral issues. His examination of the Church as the body of Christ, however, leaves little to be desired, building upon an already solid foundation of community from part 2. His final subsection, however, is perhaps the most controversial as he deals even handily, even with hope, of a universal salvation. Further, in the end, he refuses to accept the exclusivity of Christ.

While his mainstream vision of Christianity may be distracting to many, he does have his good points. He is consistent throughout that Christianity has a lot to offer the world, holding to much of the conservative theology. He doesn’t shy away from the rough points of Christian history, but does tend to shy away form nailing down examples of morality, sin, ethics, and final judgment – except for issues of social justice. He provides a wide range of voices from across Christianity history – but any reader can see his deep admiration for those have given so much for the faith (Francis Assisi, Mother Theresa, John Wesley, and Martin Luther). His style is easy to read, and his presentation concise. It is the perfect introduction to modern, mainstream, Western Christianity.

I would like to thank WJK for this review copy.

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