A Spirited Book Club discussion of Douglas John Hall’s classic, What Christianity Is Not: An Exercise in ‘Negative’ Theology.
What really is Christianity? If all the religious packaging in which it is wrapped were removed, what would remain? These were Bonhoeffer’s questions, and they must be ours today–even more urgently! For in many quarters Christianity is being so narrowly identified with some of its parts, cultural associations, and past ambitions that like all militant religion, it represents a threat to the planetary future. We may no longer speak clearly of the essence of Christianity, as von Harnack and other nineteenth-century thinkers did; but perhaps we may still have a sufficiently shared sense of the kerygmatic core of this faith to be able, in the face of these misrepresentations of it, to say what Christianity is not.
Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary writes,”Those who know the work of Hall will know what to expect in this book: wisdom that comes from long years of faithful discernment, pathos about foolish fickleness in the name of the gospel, and buoyancy because he trusts the God of the gospel. Readers who do not know his work may take this book as an access point. In his critique of idolatrous misconstruals of the faith, Hall is himself a forceful antidote to the dysfunction of our society and to the dismay of the church.”
Reviews for What Christianity Is Not
“In what he calls his last book, Douglas John Hall reviews what he has seen happening for the past 50 years in Christian theology. As always, his appraisal is direct and to the point. This book is accessible to a wide audience, with special attention to a younger crowd who may have only passing knowledge of Christianity. I would highly recommend it to young and old alike.” —Philip Wangberg
“As one of this generation’s most profound theological thinkers, Douglas John Hall reveals his magisterial grasp of the depth and complexity of the Christian tradition. His elegance [is] matched only by profound understanding of human longing in his presentation of the God of steadfast and loving kindness. He is a master craftsman whose building blocks are the broad themes of systematic theology, which he brings together with his legendary stylish and grace-filled writing.” —Patricia G. Kirkpatrick, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible, McGill University
“Douglas John Hall is an incisive, wise interpreter of the religious landscape. It’s unusual to describe a phenomenon by talking mainly about what it isn’t. Do not be deceived. Hall interlaces his critique with clear indications as to what Christianity, when seen in its authenticity, actually is. This is a valuable contribution to the conversation about where Christianity needs to be going now that Constantinianism is in full retreat.” —Dean J.
FIRST BOOK CLUB MEETING for April 8: Read Chapters 1-3
FIRST BOOK CLUB MEETING for April 22: Read Chapters 4 – 6
- What would you want your faith legacy to be?
- What is Christian nationalism?
- What is American Christianity?
- Where do your faith and culture merge? Where do they clash?
- How is Christianity not a religion?
- How does multi-culturalism impact your view of Christianity?
- What is your experience with non-American Christianity?
- How is Christianity not a religion of the book?
- What is the Bible’s place in your faith?
- “The Bible is understood as means, not as end.”
- What does the phrase “Word of God” mean to you?
- Christianity is not doctrine.
- Can doctrine change?
- What is the difference between ‘doctrine’, ‘religion’, and ‘faith’?
- Christianity is not morality.
- Is “Christian ethic” an oxymoron?
- Why do we often reduce faith to morality?
- Is most preaching proclamation or moral exhortation?
- Are morals culturally conditioned?
- What’s the difference between gospel and law?
- Christianity is not the church.
- What role does the church play in your life? What role should it play?
- What do you think of the saying, “outside of the church there is no salvation”?
- Can one be Christian and still embrace other faiths?
- Is there such a thing as ‘anonymous Christianity’?
- What would ‘religionless Christianity’ look like?
- What are the challenges for Christianity beyond Christendom?
- Christianity is not the truth.
- What does it mean that truth is relational?
- Why would the Christ image want you to trample on it?
Book discussion facilitated by Rev. “Bro. Jim” Hanson, faith mentor at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Carefree, Arizona.
Douglas John Hall CM is an emeritus professor of theology at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and a minister of the United Church of Canada. Prior to joining the McGill Faculty of Religious Studies in 1975 he was MacDougald Professor of Systematic Theology at St Andrew’s College in the University of Saskatchewan (1965–1975), Principal of St Paul’s College in the University of Waterloo (1962–1965), and minister of St Andrew’s Church in Blind River, Ontario (1960–1962).
The author of 25 published works, including a three-volume systematic theology, and numerous articles, Hall lectured widely in the United States and Canada during the period 1974–2010.
Influenced by his teachers Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, John Coleman Bennett, and others,, Hall desired to understand and further the biblical and mainstream Reformation Protestant traditions of critical and constructive theology. He argues that over the past two centuries the Christian religion has been experiencing a momentous and (for most) disconcerting transition (“metamorphosis”): after fifteen centuries of legal and cultural “Establishment” in the West, Christianity is being challenged by the evolution of planetary history to assume a more modest, dialogical and humanly responsible position in the new global society.