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Book about God is for grownups


By Michael Morwood
Crossroads, 141 pages, $14.95


This is the book I have been waiting for. Unfortunately, Michael Morwood had to resign from the priesthood in order to write it.

Morwood envisions this book continuing the conversation begun in his earlier book, Tomorrow’s Catholic. For that book, which was eventually banned in his native Australia, Morwood was taken to task by Australian bishops. Now, however, no longer subject to their authority, he pursues the questions that many mature, intelligent Catholic Christians have about the faith that was taught to us as children and is today perpetuated for us as though we were still children.

I belong to a book group made up of eight reflective women who seek out the most advanced authors to stimulate our thinking and initiate our discussion on issues of theology, spirituality and the church in today’s world. Among the writers we have read and enjoyed are Marcus Borg, John Spong, Elizabeth Johnson and Joan Chittister, all deeply committed Christians and all prophets in their own right. Michael Morwood joins that list as Is Jesus God? is our next “book-of-the-month.”

What we want out of our reading and out of our group is what educated, discerning, faith-seekers deserve, a way to reconcile “basic Christian theological questions with contemporary knowledge and information.” According to Morwood, Is Jesus God? is an “exercise in adult faith formation and, as such, aims to engage adults in the process of wrestling with why they believe what they believe.”

The faith taught to us as children, Morwood calls “conventional faith,” that stage of faith development in which we learn the basis of a belief. Morwood decries the sad feature of contemporary institutionalized religion that restrains adults at the conventional state rather than allowing, much less encouraging, them to seek a more meaningful faith.

Human knowledge of how the universe developed and how the earth was formed has influenced us now to the extent that the older stories of creation, of the fall and need for redemption, no longer suffice as an explanation of our relationship with God and the role of Jesus in that relationship. With our understanding of the new cosmology comes the realization, says Morwood, “that God’s creative spirit has always been present and active at all times and in all places in this vast universe; present and active during the billions of years of life on this planet before human life emerged; present and active in all places, in all cultures, in all people.”

Yet, it remains true that a certain people at a certain point in history experienced in a man named Jesus a perfect expression of a God-presence so intense that their challenge is still our challenge: how to make the “experience of God revealed in Jesus more relevant to our world today.”

In 10 well-developed chapters, Morwood explores the impact that our advanced understanding of cosmology has on the traditional tenets of the Christian faith and how, within that new frame of reference, Jesus becomes not less but more relevant to our world, our culture and our lives. Some of Morwood’s discussion topics:

  • Revelation, he maintains, has unfolded throughout the entirety of human existence and is not confined to one religious culture or time.
  • The teachings of Jesus transcend one religion or cultural mindset to bring about a heightened awareness of God in our midst.
  • Jesus’ resurrection, rather than a resuscitation event, might be better understood as an entering into the mystery of life beyond human existence that belongs to all who die with an orientation to love in their hearts.

In answer to the question “Is Jesus God?” Morwood hearkens back to the question he was asked while his book Tomorrow’s Catholic was under interdict. One bishop asked him if he believed that “Jesus was God in a way we are not.” This, in fact, brings me to my only quibble with the book. I would say that Is Jesus God? is an overly sensational title because, in truth, that is not what this book is really about. But in one particular chapter, Morwood articulates as clearly as he can that despite what church authorities would have us believe there is an intrinsic link between worldview and belief.

“The issue is,” he asserts, “if the Christian church wants to keep on teaching that Jesus is true God and true man and in this sense, ‘God in a way we are not,’ then let the church demonstrate this without reference to a worldview which relies on dualistic thinking and a literal understanding of the Genesis story of creation and Adam’s fall ... All we are asking is that the church articulate its beliefs in a contemporary framework and in ways that help adults moving from a conventional stage of faith to a deeper faith.”

Here, and throughout the book, he is begging, challenging, even daring the teaching authority of the church to correct its narrow vision and acknowledge the legitimacy of the questions. As for the magisterium’s concern that church teaching should avoid “confusing” or “disturbing” the “simple faithful,” I can only state that the “simple faithful” I meet with once a month are disturbed not by the likes of Morwood’s seminal question or Spong’s Why Christianity Must Change or Die, but by the intransigence of the church, what Morwood calls a head-in-the-sand insistence that faith be no more than an intellectual assent to doctrine.

No, the “simple faithful” I hang out with are all, all still fully committed, church-going, church-serving Catholics who love the church but increasingly resist its preachments and heavy-handed dictatorialism. Everyone I know who has read this book appreciates its premise and applauds its author.

Judith Bromberg is a regular reviewer for NCR.

National Catholic Reporter, August 10, 2001