Saturday, June 03, 2006

Short Review of "The Soul of Christianity" by Huston Smith (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005).

Huston Smith's worldview should be obvious to those who have read his previous books, or to those who read this one critically. It is perennialism, not Christianity. Perennialists, such as Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell, and Ken Wilber, hold that all religions share a common mystical and esoteric core: all is one and all is divine. The exoteric trappings of religion--such as their official creeds and Scriptures--may seem to affirm otherwise, but never mind. (That two evangelical authors endorsed this book shows that they either did not understand his perspective or did not find not find his perspective a significant enough departure from orthodoxy to withhold their endorsement.)

Thus, while using words common to Christian faith and appealing to various Bible texts, Smith redefines the meaning of every theological term he uses and imposes an essentially pantheistic and monistic worldview upon the Bible, adjusting it to his perennialist and Procrustean bed for appropriate mutilations.

Smith's very definition of Christianity (p. 33) lacks any reference to Jesus Christ, the incarnate founder of it. This is because Smith's philosophical categories trump the teachings of Jesus and his apostles.

If one is impressed with Smith's rendering of Christianity or if one wants a truer description of it, it is advisable to read the Bible itself as well as to consider books more faithful to what the Bible's basic message, such as John Stott's Basic Christianity and Walter Martin's Essential Christianity. To understand the tactics that Smith and others use in misinterpreting the Bible, see James W. Sire, Scripture Twisting.

I will have a longer review published in The Christian Research Journal in the near future.


nedric said...

Hi -

It is too bad when people make a text say whatever they want it to say.

Would "Mere Christianity" (C.S. Lewis) also be an okay place to start to get the basic message of the Bible? But when I ask that, I can't help wondering: Whose Bible?

Douglas Groothuis said...

"Mere Christianity" has a pretty solid argument for God's existence in Book I, and, of course, Lewis is a masterful writer. My concern is that he doesn't treat the Cross of Christ adequately. That is, he doesn't explain vicarious, propitiary atonement: Christ took the penalty for our sins. His treatment of Christian marriage is also weak. The Stott and Martin books contain much more Scripture and don't share in these weaknesses.

Ed Darrell said...

Smith has a well-honed ability to look at religion from a cooler stance than most believers, to look at the actions of people in the faith and the beliefs of those people as they articulate them and make careful and accurate descriptions. Smith takes the more scientific stance that one need not "believe" a statement, or in this case a religion, in order to understand it and describe it.

If you're going to describe Smith's faith, wouldn't it be fair to allow him to describe yours? It's curious to me that you spend time on the blog with a poison-the-well argument categorizing Smith's beliefs somewhat at odds with how he has described them himself. Is this necessary to critique his arguments, or descriptions?

Douglas Groothuis said...


There is no "poisening the well." Smith is a perennialist and has been for over fifty years. Moreover, he does not try to take a "scientific" view, but show the limits of science with respect to "faith." He thinks they address two rather separate realms, which is not my view.

This is the same man who advocates hallucinogenic drugs for enlightenment and who has actually practiced other religions to see what they were like. He does not speak from within the orthodox Christian position, whatever other credentials he may have.