God Revised: How Religion Must Evolve in a Scientific Age by Galen Guengerich is a pastor’s attempt at reconciling what the Bible teaches with a millennia of church history while trying to further reconcile faith with modern science. The author comes from a conservative Christian background, a former Mormon who, during college, pulled away from the faith of his family and evolved spiritually to where he is today: a pastor at a liberal church in Manhattan. He shares his story to provide a context and support for his argument that it does not make sense for Christians to continue to believe in the inerrant word of God as supposedly revealed in the Bible or a supernatural God who is all loving, all knowing, all powerful and, yet, allows children to die of famine, or to be sexually molested, etc.
The challenge for me, in writing this review, is to balance my appreciation of what the author has written while disagreeing with his points. If his purpose were to persuade someone such as myself that changing how we define God is the answer to reconciling religion and science, he failed. I simply was not convinced. However, when I think about it from a more Christian perspective, perhaps a conservative Christian who is becoming disenchanted but still seeking answers in the same faith, then this book may provide some guidance, some direction, without necessarily risking providing any solid answers.
This is an excellent decision on Guengerich’s part. In giving the reader room to make conclusions unique to the individual, he builds on all that he contends about America and western philosophy, with numerous references to pop culture, literature, which weave together with quotes from the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. The author writes, “The reason religion is necessary, after all, isn’t so we can find salvation for the next life, but rather so we can find meaning and purpose in this one” (17). For him, religion is necessary but what the individual believes is open to debate, interpretation, and highly flexible. And so he asks:
The question is why: what’s the problem that belief in God and the practice of religion will solve that cannot be solved any other way? Do we as human beings have a problem? Do we need saving? If so, from what? What is the problem to which a political, or social, or psychological solution is insufficient, one that only belief in God and the practice of religion can resolve? (92)
For him, the answer is obvious. There are problems that do not require God but, without religion, life is not full, or as rich, as it ought to be. Religion gives life meaning, relevance, significance. He comes from a position that is rooted in a lifetime of faith. He can only say that the transcendent moment is a spiritual encounter because he has never experienced such a thing outside of any belief system, conservative or otherwise.
And this is where the book completely fails for me personally. Again, I have to say I fully enjoyed the book and would even recommend it. In fact, I know someone to whom I am going to give it now that I have finished it. But there is an assumption of what is necessary that ultimately leaves the author’s arguments trapped into petition principia, begging the question rather than truly answering the issue at hand. In suggesting that religion has failed in defining God adequately, if the patriarchal system established by the church is likewise inadequate, is religion necessary? For Guengerich assumes yes but he never ultimately proves it in this book. For those who want to believe but need some new direction, this book will suffice. For those considering letting go of Christianity altogether because they cannot reconcile contemporary knowledge with ancient wisdom, this book may or may not keep a sheep from straying too far away. For those who are questioning the very reason for religion altogether, the end result is simply weak, not strong enough to convince this reader religion is necessary, Christian or otherwise.