Book review: The Two Faces of Christianity

by Richard Markham Oxtoby


Great book, with a needed perspective! If you think you’ve seen Christianity from every angle, try this one. I encourage you to look at it anew from the perspective of a psychologist.

Oxtoby is a Christian. He holds a deep appreciation for the Christian church and believes it has the potential to make a very significant contribution to bringing about the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth. Nevertheless, his beliefs aren’t orthodox. His views will necessarily differ from traditional Christian views because his life’s training opens up truths that cannot jibe with conservative doctrine. He notes that there is a high atheism rate among psychologists, probably because of certain viewpoints perceived by many to be a necessary part of Christianity.

A notable example is the belief that we are all miserable sinners, rotten at the core, and need to be ‘saved’ from the sin into which we were born. Such a perspective is repugnant to those who have studied psychology enough to know of its damaging results. But we needn’t jettison our admiration for Jesus or our sense of God as a spiritual being, immanent in nature, because of a few doctrines gone wrong.

Oxtoby notes that there are two basic religions under one label: [1] An authoritarian religion in which God is seen as an adversary of humankind, over whose eternal destiny he has complete control, and [2] A humanistic religion in which God is a source of positive energy in intimate cooperation with humankind.

Believers in an authoritarian God are deeply focused on our wrongdoing. Guilt is good, for we are flawed beings who need to grovel for forgiveness. Rigid doctrine is necessary, with a proper power organization to enforce the rules. Humanitarian Christianity, on the other hand, affirms the goodness of God’s creation, finds beauty in human diversity, and encourages unconditional love. It takes as a fundamental given that we are fundamentally good. Though Oxtoby holds an appreciation for St. Paul, he compares Paul’s preaching to that of Jesus in order to highlight the difference between authoritarian and humanitarian religion. (Remember, Oxtoby is a psychologist. He is quite capable of loving Paul in both his strengths and weaknesses, recognizing him as a human being with psychological problems and inadequacies like the rest of us!)

I really liked this one.

Christian Alternative Books, © 2014, 392 pages

ISBN: 978-1-78279-104-1

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