Chapter summaries and more excerpts:
Chapter 1: Seeking a Direction
Looks at why there is a widespread and growing interest in the spiritual in the world today, and poses one of the main questions the rest of the book attempts to answer: why, in this situation, people are not flocking to Christianity in their millions to find that "peace of God which passeth all understanding," but are going to Eastern religions or New Age organizations instead. It also sets the agenda for the book: that it will take a radical look at Christian beliefs, but will use the Bible as a touchstone in the process. Finally, it explains why the first half of the book is devoted to the history of Christianity: because it is much easier to understand the problems of the modern church if the roots of those problems in history are understood.
Chapter 2: Ancient Israel - the Seeds of Christianity
Examines the formative influences on Christianity - the society Jesus was born into. Shows that the Bible cannot always be taken literally as an historical source. Looks at the highs and lows of a warm and sincere people - the Jews - from the high-mindedness of the prophets to their flirtation with Caananite practices such as child sacrifice.
Chapter 3: The Pharisees, the Essenes and Jesus
Shows that although Jesus was probably closely associated with the Essenes, and the Christian church may well have evolved from the Essene community, his beliefs were actually more closely aligned with those of the Pharisees, despite his frequent criticism of them. Much of this chapter is based on the Dead Sea Scrolls, which reveals the Essenes were more narrow-minded and bigotted than many had supposed them to be. It also lines the gospel nativity stories up against history, and draws a conclusion from the inevitable results about the nature and purpose of the Bible.
Chapter 4: The Mystery-Shrouded Life of Jesus
Where did Jesus spend the 18 "lost" years between the ages of 12 and 30, when not a single mention of him occurs in the Gospels? This chapter looks at some intriguing theories which challenge the exclusive attitude many Christians still hold. Did Jesus visit India during these years? And did Jesus survive the crucifixion, return to India, and live there till he was over 100 years old? There is quite a bit of documentary evidence for the first of these two contentions, and even a small amount of evidence from ancient documents for the second. For instance, in his celebrated book Against Heresies, which was crucial in establishing church orthodoxy against the perceived threat of the Gnostics, the second century Church Father Inenaeus wrote that Jesus lived to be an old man, and remained in "Asia" with his disciple John, and others, up to the times of the Emperor Trajan, before finally dying. Trajan's reign began in 98 A.D., at which time Jesus would have been just over 100 years old. The actual page reference to this in the standard modern translation of Against Heresies is given in the Chapter Notes to this chapter in the the book.
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Chapter 5: Jesus' Teachings - Living in the Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus was an incarnation of the universal Christ, so belongs to all people. Jesus' teachings about how to live in the kingdom of heaven, so often ignored by Christians, are presented along with a discussion of the religious reforms he advocated in his time, but which still have not been fully taken up by most churches.
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Chapter 6: The Example of the Early Church
Christianity made a good start with the first generation cooperative community described in the book of Acts. Paul made a poor start persecuting Christians before being converted and becoming Christianity's greatest advocate. Many modern liberals dislike Paul and think just about all that is wrong with Christianity is attributable to him. Seen in the context of his time, though, and bearing in mind the purposes of his letters, nearly all of what he says supports Jesus' teachings. Fundamentalist Christians have often quoted Paul out of context to suit their own ends, and this has given him a bad name he doesn't deserve. An example of this is Paul's apparent support for the concept of predestination, which evaporates when what he says is taken in context. The persecution and institutionalization of the early church, and the church father Origen's belief in reincarnation, are also covered in this chapter.
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Chapter 7: The Church Becomes Mistress of the State
Shows how a string of Roman emperors used religions to help bind their empires together, and how the most power hungry of them all, Constantine, transformed Christianity into an instrument of conquest and control for his own ends. Constantine is fondly seen as the first Christian emperor by many church historians; the truth is both less edifying and more fascinating. This chapter shows how Constantine used the Council of Nicea to distance Christianity from the teachings of Jesus, and to help mould the church into the heirarchy of power it became in medieval times.
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Chapter 8: Doctrinal Bickering -- Preparing the way for Islam
Shows how the early church's ecumenical councils were used to stifle dissent and establish orthodoxy. The story of Justinian and Theodora aptly illustrates the power politics the church was now engaged in. The most astounding consequence of the intolerance and stupidity of the Greek church of this time was its intolerance and treachery toward Arab Christianity. This paved the way for the foundation of the new religion of Islam, which soon became Christianity's greatest enemy.
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Chapter 9: Power Games of the Western Church
With the onset of the dark ages, the power base of Christianity shifted westward from Constantinople to Rome. Augustine's brilliance provided a basis for the Roman Catholic Church's control of society. This led in time to the horror of the Inquisition. During medieval times and the Reformation over a million supposed heretics and witches were tortured then burned at the stake by both catholic and protestant churches. That the beliefs and aspirations of these Reformation churches bears such a close resemblence to modern fundamentalism, is a matter for concern for us in our times.
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Chapter 10: The Church is Brought under Control
Emperor Frederick II, in the thirteenth century, first suggested to the princes of Europe that they strip the church of its assets and power. Not until the Reformation, though, was the church sufficiently weakened by corruption to open it up to such an attack. After this the Enlightenment and the separation of church and state followed in most countries. Fundamentalists and conservative Catholics never accepted this change, and still hanker after the heady medieval days when the church lorded it over society. They are living in the past, though, in an era of human history which has ended. Most modern people want their personal freedoms preserved, and object to fundamentalists' bullying attempts to control them.
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Chapter 11: Confidence in the Bible
In order to understand the Bible, it helps to see the Old Testament as a history of the evolution of the Jewish conception of God, from the God of Moses who, though often protective, was also often vengeful and capricious, through to the God of Justice of the Prophets, and finally to the God of love Jesus knew and taught about. God didn't change, but the Jew's perception of God did. A number fascinating Biblical interpretations are discussed in this chapter. I believe that the most important criterion for Biblical interpretion is that if a Bible passage is being correctly interpreted, it should not contradict the its immediate context or what is said elsewhere in the Bible about the same topic. This criterion brings into serious question many traditional Christian interpretations of the Bible, and paves the way for a much more loving interpretation.
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Chapter 12: Free Will or Fundamentalism
Free will is God's greatest gift to humankind - without it life would be meaningless. Yet fundamentalists are always trying to restrict people's ability to make their own choices, by pressing for laws to make it illegal not to conform with their narrow views on morality. How can so-called Christians interfere with our freedom in this way when Jesus said, "Do not Judge, and you will not be Judged," and Paul said, "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?" Do they follow the teachings of Jesus and Paul or don't they?
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Chapter 13: Money Changers in the Temple
Fundamentalists often debase themselves and their churchs in the persuit of money and power. This is not a corruption of an otherwise spiritual way of doing things in these churches. Money mindedness and worldliness is built into the very structure of fundamentalism, and has been since the time of the witch trials, which were great money makers.
Chapter 14: Playing God - Science, Progress and Fundamentalism
Since God is defined as the creator of the universe and of life, when scientists create new things from the building blocks of matter, and especially new life forms from old, it does seem like they are "playing God." But is there anything wrong with this? We were made in God's image, but this doesn't mean we actually look like God; it means we have some of God's qualities and abilities, including the free will to choose what we want to do, and the ability and desire to create new things and new ways of living. Since God made us like Himself in these ways, is it any wonder we "play God" by creating things? To create is to use the talents God gave us; it is both inevitable and laudable that human beings should "play God" in this way.
Chapter 15: Defaming the Name of God -- Eternal Hell
The concept of everlasting punishment in hell is a fabrication of the medieval church, designed to control people through fear, and has no sound basis in the Bible. Jesus does appear to talk about everlasting punshment, but this is only due to the deceitful way certain words have been translated. When you go back to the Greek the New Testament was written in, the sadistic concept of everlasting punishment disappears altogether. And is this surprising? Could an all-loving God really send us to eternal punishment, just for not seeing things His way for a few short years? This chapter goes through all the references to "hell," "everlasting punishment," and the "lake of fire," in the Bible, and shows that, once a few translations are corrected, there is no Biblical basis for believing in everlasting punishment.
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Chapter 16: Answering the Dilemmas - Reincarnation and Salvation
This chapter goes through the considerable amount of evidence in the Bible for the concept of reincarnation, and shows how it gives us great scope for living in a more satisfying and productive way. Up until the sixth century reincarnation was accepted by Christianity - for instance, the church father Origen clearly believed in it. Why did the church abandon this belief?
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Chapter 17: A New Age of Miracles - The Power of Love
Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." We are living in a new age of miracles, when the power of love to manifest miracles is being increasingly recognized. This chapter, amongst other things, looks at how Jesus' miracles symbolized and underscored his teachings, and how we can all, as Jesus said, be miracle workers. One of the ways we can work miracles is to replace fear with love in our lives. Another is to see that the material nature of things isn't as real as we think - that it is the spirit of things which really counts.
Chapter 18: One Shepherd, one Flock - Approaching Other Religions
When the cultural differences are accounted for, and the the worldly additions of the years stripped away, each of the major world religions has the same spiritual truths at its core. Discovering what Christianity has in common with other religions helps us see all people, everywhere as our brothers and sisters - fellow children of the one God. This journey of discovery is a powerful way to break down the barriers of hate, and bring peace to the world.
Chapter 19: The End of Worldliness, and the Return of Jesus to our Hearts
An analysis of what Jesus says about his return clearly shows he was talking about coming back inwardly, in our hearts and minds, rather than in a physical way. The Book of Revelation, too, can be interpreted as an allegory of the spiritual life, rather than as a prophecy of doom for the world - an end to worldliness in each spiritual seeker, rather than the end of the physical world. Looked at in this way, this otherwise puzzling book makes much better sense, and becomes relevant to all spiritual seekers in all times.
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Chapter 20: Meditation - Coming to Personally Know God
God is not a far-off, impersonal creator of the universe. He can be known, and He wants to know us. Many churches are "God fan clubs" which talk a lot about God, but are not good at actually introducing people to Him. Through meditation you can come to know God personally. This chapter looks at the Biblical basis, and tradition within Christianity, for meditation, and teaches a powerful meditation technique all can safely use.
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From: In Search of the Loving God by Mark Mason
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