Sanguin and Vosper


Thanks to a link in in the "Pluralist Speaks" blog, I discovered an article in the Vancouver Sun by Douglas Todd that describes the differences in thinking between two Canadian progressive Christian pastors: Bruce Sanguin and Gretta Vosper.

I enjoyed Sanguin's book "Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos", which merged science and faith into a progressive ecological spirituality that celebrated the divine process of creativity. As for Vosper, I commented on her form of Christianity in two earlier blog postings (here and here). It seemed to me that essentially she was trying to create a kind of God-less Christianity. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, "Not that there's anything wrong with that." But I felt that it really wasn't necessary to go there. It seemed that she had jumped to a lot of conclusions about what one necessarily means when one uses the word "God", and then she offered a limited conception of what a progressive faith can offer in response.

Douglas Todd agrees that Vosper seems to be uninterested in the work of a lot of alternative or progressive theologians when she makes certain assumptions about the concept of "God" (and he mentions by name several process theologians among those she ignores):

Given all the expansive, multidisciplinary thinking going in progressive Christian circles these days, it's hard to understand why Vosper ignores so much of it.

Vosper doesn't cite any of the cosmology advanced by scientist-theologians, many of whom are Christians, such as Michael Heller, Charles Birch or Ian Barbour. Nor does she engage so-called "open" theologians, such as Canada's Clark Pinnock.

It's also odd she doesn't deal with progressive theologians who base their "constructive post-modern" thought on the work of Harvard philosophers WIlliam James and Alfred North Whitehead. They include feminists such as Catherine Keller and Marjorie Suchoki, as well as evolutionary thinkers such as John Cobb and Jay McDaniels.

Maybe Vosper is just not that interested in metaphysics, or philosophy or constructing an intellectually viable concept of God.

Sanguin apparently has a new book out, which sounds quite interesting. According to the Vancouver Sun article,

Sanguin is among the many progressive Christians who agree with Vosper's critique of authoritarian, dogmatic Christianity, which they argue holds up God as a kind of benign monarch.

But Sanguin worries that the manner in which Vosper sidelines God and demythologizes Jesus Christ reflects a "dismal conversation" of "desperation" he's long heard among some liberal Christians.

As Sanguin puts it, Vosper is suggesting the "only way forward is for congregations to jettison religious language about God and Christ altogether and teach the universal values of love and compassion."

Sanguin, instead, pursues intellectually defensible ways to redeem God and Jesus from the conservative Protestants and Catholics who tend to dominate the news. He does so with creative panache.

How exactly Sanguin wants to redeem "God and Jesus" isn't clear to me without having read his book. I am wary both of too much de-mythologizing and too little. It's a common dilemma that I have faced as I tried to visit several "progressive Christian" congregations that seemed to have done little de-mythologizing and thus ended up being too orthodox for my tastes. It is clear to me, on the other hand, that while Vosper has some legitimate criticisms to offer about traditional theism, I think she comes down on the side of de-mythologizing farther than I am interested in. If I wanted to take God out of the equation (or use the word "God" as a mere symbol of goodness), I can do that without keeping the trappings of religion. Even if I reject certain kinds of traditional theism, I am not against the concept of God per se, nor do I think that the Christian tradition is unilaterally bad; what I embrace is a concept of God that is rationally viable. It is not necessary to throw out the Christian baby with the Christian bathwater.

As Douglas Todd says,

More than a few liberal Christians are suggesting that Vosper makes some valid points and may be justified in self-identifying as a Christian. The Christian tent, they say, is supposed to be wide.

So I don't suspect many liberal Christians would want to place Vosper on trial for heresy. After all, how do you convict someone of having a limited metaphysical imagination?