Gretta Vosper's Without or Without God: Orange or Green?

I recently started reading With or Without God, a new book by Gretta Vosper. Normally I don't blog about books while I'm reading them, but this one is particularly relevant to progressive Christianity, which is what this blog was meant to be about (and sometimes actually is). I knew I was going to have to blog about it when I found myself doing something I never do to my books -- I pulled out a pencil and started writing comments in the margins. (I have this weird, almost religious reverence towards books, which is why most of the books on my shelves look like they've never been read, much less written-in.)

Vosper is the pastor of the West Hill United Church, here in Toronto. She is also the founder and chair of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity. She is, apparently, somewhat controversial even within her own denomination, the already-quite-progressive United Church of Canada.

I was hesitant to pick this one up, for two reasons. First, I read an article in Maclean's a few weeks ago (I think I blogged about it, actually), and I wasn't overly impressed with what Vosper had to say. Second, the book is dedicated to, and features a foreward written by, John Shelby Spong. I don't have anything against Spong as a person -- I met him a few years ago, and he's a real gentleman, and a good speaker -- but I find his vision for the Christian religion to be a little thin. I suspected Vosper might be offering more of the same (and, though I'm not quite finished the book, that is still my impression).

Today I read an interesting article by Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun, that was published on Saturday. It compares Vosper's book with Emerging Church: A Model for Change and a Map for Renewal, a new book by Bruce Sanguin, who, like Vosper, is a pastor in the United Church of Canada.

I haven't read anything by Sanguin before, but in his latest book he apparently makes reference to Spiral Dynamics, and specifically the work of Don Beck. My knowledge of Spiral Dynamics is limited to what I've read about it in works by Ken Wilber. I actually thought about it as I was reading Vosper's book, because it seems to me that she is writing from a strictly "green" perspective. (By Douglas Todd's reckoning, it's more likely the "orange" level, which is the stage before green.)

Todd says he prefers Sanguin's "option of exploring different ways of understanding God, not defaulting to only ethics," as Vosper apparently proposes. He writes, "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." I've been wondering much the same thing.

I should have some time to finish her book in the next couple of days, so hopefully I'll be able to write something about it soon.

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Blogger Mystical Seeker said...

I haven't read her book, but I've read both the McLeans article and Todd's column, and I am inclined to agree with Todd that Vosper suffers from a failure of imagination. There are lots of interesting theologies out there, including (for example) process theology (which Todd alludes to when he mentions Whitehead and Suchoki), but Vosper seems to think that if you use the word "God" you must necessarily only refer to God as conceived by conservative or orthodox Christian scholars. That is clearly not the case.

12:40 a.m.  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

I agree. I'm just about finished Vosper's book (which has a lot of good things to say, even if her overall thesis is coming from an insufficiently enlightened perspective). I'll post a detailed review shortly.

12:55 a.m.  

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