Christ of the Celts

In line with my international emphasis on this snowy weekend (DC area is supposed to get 20-30 inches), I picked up the book Christ of the Celts by J. Philip Newell. It seemed like a good prospect till I read the introduction. The author draws on non-canonical materials like the Acts of John and the Secret Book of John (what do they have to do with Christianity? Well, they don’t follow that later oppressive orthodoxy – those who read the Da Vinci Code know the drill). And, in his summary of the chapter content, he clearly seems to line up as: anti-original sin, anti-penal substitution, anti-individual salvation, anti-creation ex nihilo, and advocate of some sort of (at least) quasi-pantheistic “the entire universe is pervaded with divine life and we are all part of that one reality. I almost stopped there, but since it was an easy read and is fairly highly ranked on Amazon, I thought, I’ll plow through a few chapters anyway, not being sure I’d get anything much of worth.

One illustration in the first chapter at least. From Alexander Scott (19th century), the idea of the golden thread that holds together a royal garment is applied to the image of God, which is a fundamental truth about our human existence. It’s not bad, and the point he is making in the chapter that a stress on human sinfulness without a balancing stress on the image is off-kilter is fine too. But the exposition of the Secret Book of John that occupies the middle of the chapter is not only unhelpful, but seems to misread the material. It’s a gnostic text, so it’s not really about waking ourselves to our deepest reality (or some other 20th century sounding therapeutic reality) – it’s about rejecting the material world. One other interesting note from the chapter. In his discussion of the teaching of Eriugena (9th century), he seems pretty cavalier about whether Eriugena believed in a real Satan (seems to recognize he does, but then ignores and reinterprets his writings in line with the self-actualization line).

Well, too bad. I don’t think I’ll be wasting much time on this one. Too many other good books!


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