Book Review: A body without breath: How right and left have both stifled moral reason within the Christian Faith
by Carole McDonnell
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A Body without Breath: How Right and Left have both stifled moral
reason within the Christian Faith
John R. Harris
2707 Patriot Avenue
Tyler, Texas 75701
There is more than enough in John R. Harrisí book, A body without breath, to offend everyone. That either makes him a troublemaker or a prophet. Itís up to the reader to decide. No one gets away unscathed. Conservatives are challenged for mixing up the idea of Godís kingdom with the worship of the United States. But liberals are also challenged for perverting the idea of forgiveness and charity and for contributing to moral chaos. Fundamentalists are challenged for being too literal-minded, for distorting grace and for being too dependent on the Bible. He says, for instance, that knowledge of goodness cannot rest solely on the Bible. My response as a Christian would be: ďitís not knowledge of goodness that weíre after. Itís actual salvation.Ē Doesn't the Holy Spirit teach us about our inner workings? And doesn't the book of Job tell us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom? But perhaps, he is right in some ways. People really cannot understand their own psychological, racial, sexual or social evil if they don't read other books that enlighten them. The author is a finger-pointer. He sounds a trifle angry at times. And he seems very proud of his education. But for all this A body without breath is a great book.
Certain things needed to be said. The American Christianís reaction to people such as David Koresh or incidents such as the various sex scandals among televangelists and the Catholic clergy were guided more by social attitudes and team-playing than by their own honest thinking. So much of this book is about honesty, discernment, introspection and self-searching. The sort of thing the prophets of old were really good at. Yet, the older prophets made themselves clear. This book, as I have said, is hard-going for folks not used to philosophical and academic writing.
After all, how many average everyday Christians read Reinhold Niebuhr, Kant or Barth? The book is not the fun conversational high-school reading-level one generally finds in Christian
bookstores. On the one hand, the difficulty of the prose is the readerís fault. We Christians are quite used to easy emotional reading. Perhaps we should read Christian authors like
Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, and other authors from the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century instead of only modern Christian writers. But on the other hand, the author should take some of the blame. The book is very philosophical and academic. That is perhaps excusable. But he constantly mentions
Christian academic theologians and philosophers that are unknown to the average person and to me. The book often seems like a private letter written for a small audience who are all aware of
each other. So the average Christian feels left out of the circle. For instance, I did not know who Thomas Molnar was before I read this book. But, like other Christians, I would have known who Wilkerson, Spurgeon, and Lewis were. Letís face it: Christian writers are famous. Christian academics and philosophers work in a vacuum.
Deep in my heart, I am grateful for this book. I have never fitted perfectly into any political or religious category. I can never vote for politicians who are for the death-penalty (usually conservatives) because I find the death-penalty racist. But on the other hand, I can not vote for liberals because I am against abortions. As for religious groups: I dislike most positive-talk televangelists because they seem to shy away from the pain of the cross. And yet I do believe that God is to be trusted to do great miracles. The book speaks to people caught in between groups they don't fit perfectly well in. I doubt I would come to some of the conclusions Harris comes to. But he does make Christianity more complicated than the way it is usually persented. The Christian life, friends, is hard. I highly recommend this book for Christian scholars and theology departments. Or for the average Christian who is prepared to slog through a book that is worth the slogging. Although the book has its flaws and Christians of all denominations and political groups will not agree with everything he says. there is something to be said about a call to discernment. The Bible does tell us to study to show ourselves approved. And it also adds that without knowledge even zeal is not good. I am glad the book exists. At least someone has said so many things that needed saying. But I also think that, as in science, much of the book is based on human reasoning, which is leaden at times having all that heavy knowledge that reigns the mind in a trifle too much.
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