The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Taking Christ out of Christianity

There aren’t many things these days that leave me utterly speechless.

But this item did:

That triumphal barnburner of an Easter hymn, “Jesus Christ Has Risen Today – Hallelujah,” this morning will rock the walls of Toronto’s West Hill United Church as it will in most Christian churches across the country.

But at West Hill on the faith’s holiest day, it will be done with a huge difference. The words “Jesus Christ” will be excised from what the congregation sings and replaced with “Glorious hope.”

Thus, it will be hope that is declared to be resurrected – an expression of renewal of optimism and the human spirit – but not Jesus, contrary to Christianity’s central tenet about the return to life on Easter morning of the crucified divine son of God.


Generally speaking, no divine anybody makes an appearance in West Hill’s Sunday service liturgy.

There is no authoritative Big-Godism, as Rev. Gretta Vosper, West Hill’s minister for the past 10 years, puts it. No petitionary prayers (“Dear God, step into the world and do good things about global warming and the poor”). No miracles-performing magic Jesus given birth by a virgin and coming back to life. No references to salvation, Christianity’s teaching of the final victory over death through belief in Jesus’s death as an atonement for sin and the omnipotent love of God. For that matter, no omnipotent God, or god.

Ms. Vosper has written a book, published this week – With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important than What We Believe – in which she argues that the Christian church, in the form in which it exists today, has outlived its viability and either it sheds its no-longer credible myths, doctrines and dogmas, or it’s toast.


She is considered one of the bright, if unconventional, minds within the United Church, Canada’s largest Protestant Christian denomination. She holds a master of divinity degree from Queen’s University and was ordained in 1992. She founded and chairs the Toronto-based Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity.

Other Christian clergy and theologians have talked about the need to dramatically reform the doctrines of a faith that, with the exception of its vibrancy in the United States, has lost huge numbers of adherents throughout the Western world it once dominated as Christendom. In Canada, where 75 per cent of the population self-identifies as Christian, only about 16 per cent attend weekly services.

Addressing those statistics, what Ms. Vosper proposes is not so much reform as a scorched-earth approach.


A number of leading theologians in Britain – where the decline in adherents is more dramatic than in Canada – are on the same path, people like Richard Holloway, former bishop of Edinburgh and primate of the Scottish Episcopal (Anglican) Church, who has likened the Christian church to a self-service cafeteria stacked with messy trays of leftover food urgently in need of being thrown out.

There’s more at the link, if you’re curious.

Me, I’m still speechless.

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posted March 26, 2008 at 2:52 pm

I just read something by Peter Kreeft on women in the priesthood, which just seems so relevenat here.”We are not good and wise and trustable, but sinful and foolish and in need of correction, so we should expect to be surprised and even offended by God’s revelation; otherwise, we wouldn’t need it.Third, there is the “camel’s nose under the tent” argument. Once you start monkeying with your data, where do you stop? Why stop, ever, at all? If you can subtract the divine masculinity from Scripture when it offends you, why can’t you subtract the divine compassion when that offends you? If you read your Marxism into Scripture today, why not your fascism tomorrow? If you can change God’s masculinity, why not change his morality? Why not his very being? If you can twist the pronoun, why not the noun? If you revise his “I,” why not his “AM”? Priestesses are merely the camel’s nose under the tent. If it is admitted, the rest of the camel will follow, because it is a one-piece camel.”I thank God for the Tradition and Magisterium which the protestants insist are not necessary.

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steve p

posted March 26, 2008 at 3:51 pm

*sigh* It doesn’t sound too different to me from the plethora of “religions” that popped up during the nineteenth century in this country. Someone comes along with her or his new idea of what is right, and promulgates it to a willing audience.What astounds me is that she bothers to be under a Christian umbrella at all, except that in this stage of her development it would seem to fit her purposes.It is sad, to be sure, but ought to galvanize many more of us into sharing the Gospel of Christ, not our personal interpretation on the happy philosophy of Jesus. I’m pretty certain this isn’t what our Lord meant when He prayed for our unity…

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Mary Martha

posted March 26, 2008 at 5:12 pm

I guess what’s surprising to me is that this doesn’t really seem like a big deal.What it sounds like is Unitarian Universalism.

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posted March 26, 2008 at 6:41 pm is an intense documentary on the mysteries of Jesus’ Bloodline. Those of you who are into ‘The Da Vinci code’ or ‘holy blood holy grail’ will be amazed by this real-life adventure with actual holy relics found.. I was amazed.

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posted March 26, 2008 at 9:24 pm

I find its easier to water down God in everyday life and get so far away from the original message of Jesus. That before you know it the moral stance that you would have been taken before is just luke warm. It’s a very small step to get to that point in ones faith. And it makes me sad for those people who have fallen under the spell.

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posted March 26, 2008 at 9:57 pm

I see this mostly as “Christ without the Cross”, which of course, is NOT Christianty, but “feel good” pseduo whatever you want to call it; Chrisitany if it makes you “feel” better. Many of the mega churches in this country aren’t much different, and they are packing them in. Nothing has much changed in 2000 years; few are willing to stand with the cross. As most reading know, we must pray, especially for the lukewarm. It really is scary to know that so many are being led astray, from pseudo pastors to celebrities teaching the new age. I have to admit Dcn. Greg, I though Christ wihtout a cross was horrific, but “Christianity” without Christ; God helps us all!

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Anthony Kennedy

posted March 28, 2008 at 2:33 am

Dcn. Greg, I want to be completely honest: this post didn’t just leave me speechless, it made me physically nauseous. I suppose I shouldn’t expect much better from the likes of “relevancy”-minded Christians, but a part of me wants to believe that there are still a great number of Christians who burn passionately with the love of God and that fodder like this just wouldn’t matter.I will continue to pray for the state of not just the Catholic Church, but for all of Christianity. If we remain lukewarm, God will surely spit us out.

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posted March 28, 2008 at 3:15 pm

I think Ms. Vosper is right – today’s ‘liberal’ Christianity is an oxymoron. The thoughts of Ms. Vosper, John Spong, and their like far more consistent than those middle-of-the-road liberals who seem to want to pick and choose when to discredit the writings of the apostles.

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posted April 5, 2008 at 4:02 pm

I found your blog while looking for an excerpt of this article as it is now a pay to see… but here is my post on the topic from my blog:We shouldn’t be so surprised by this reaction, much the same thing happened during the French Revolution when the pushers of reason and humanism tried to rid themselves of Christendom. We are seeing a shift of what they would call a ‘passe religion’ and put hope in humanism and human reason–the ability to better ourselves and find unity in the human race… not what they see as a passe mystical faith [god].During the later years of the French Revolution something happened which often seems shocking to contemporary Westerners accustomed to living in a religiously free society: elements of the new French government embarked on an explicit and aggressive campaign to completely eradicate Christianity within the borders of France. One great act in the direction was “[o]n November 19, 1793, France’s greatest church, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, witnessed an unprecedented spectacle. For over six hundred years… it had served as a symbol for the Christian identity of the nation. But now in the enthusiasm of revolution the cathedral had been renamed the Temple of reason.”[1]This became a milestone in the attempts of riding itself completely of any religious influence. Mark Noll explains in his book ‘Turning Points’ that, “leaders of the Revolution attempted to throw off what they felt to be the heavy, dead hand of the church.”[2] This movement was so set in there ways that they went as far as renaming 1,400 streets in Paris to eliminate references to saints; as well as monarchs; priests, bishops, and anyone associated with the Roman Catholic Church were forced to leave their posts and all efforts were made to abolish any connection France had with the passé Roman Catholic Church.[3] Secular Humanism has always attempted to push for a world that sought for hope in humanity apart from any external force or deity. It is just crazy how we see a ring leader come out from Christendom itself.[1]Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2005), 246.[2]Ibid.[3]Ibid. Portions of this blog were from a Paper I wrote on the effect the Church played in the bringing about of the French Revolution and the demise of Christendom. If you would like to read the whole paper let me know (not my best work, but still an interesting read).Peace and Grace in abundance…

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posted April 5, 2008 at 4:06 pm

I hope it is not an offence for me to post on your blog… Your content is stimulating and I would hope it would be okay to continue to read and post if that would be alright?A Brother in Christ

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