Spirituality or Religion?

Spirituality or Religion?

Do we have to choose?


CATEGORIZED IN


Here is a book that will stretch our minds and imaginations and also move our hearts so that we might better serve God and the world. Most Revd Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales Spirituality and religion have fallen out with each other long enough! Spirituality or Religion? shows not only that they need to make up, but why and how. As religion has become progressively self absorbed and spirituality increasingly other worldly, they have failed a generation searching for a vision of a better way. From Buchenwald to Darfur, from inner city violence to the threat of environmental catastrophe the problems facing human kind are undoubtedly immense. With Jesus of Nazareth and his extraordinary band of messengers for guides, and enlisting Celtic myth, the poetry of the ages, the insights of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and the other great religions, the story that unfolds in Spirituality or Religion? is a defiantly positive and liberating one. It’s less a matter of choice, more of seeing why and how those searching for God need both. Gethin Abraham-Williams is a Baptist minister now working as a freelance ecumenical consultant. Awarded the Cross of St Augustine by the Archbishop of Canterbury 2006 for making an enormous contribution to ecumenical relations

REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS

It not only has good things to say, but it is brilliantly written. In reality I have picked up some of its themes and incorporated them into a sermon, and the sermon went over very, very well! ~ Dr Tony Campolo, Professor, Eastern Seminary, Pennsylvania

Featured in the To Change or Not To Change edition of the BBC Radio programme, Something Understood. 'In his book Spirtituality or Religion? Do we have to choose? Gethin Abraham-Williams suggests that we should be prepared to change, and not to throw out our core values: 'a century and a half ago, change was being associated with decay, and a hymn by the Anglican clergymsan Henry Francis Lyte: "Abide with me", popular for Royal weddings, will still be sung today despite its ominous reflection: "change and decay in all around I see". But, Abraham-Williams argues, it's a false comparison, because change as often as not brings life, hope, surprise.' ~ Mark Tully, Something Understood BBC Radio 4

'Our highlighted book (the preface for which is published on the Ekklesia website [in Culture and Review])' reconnects rhetoric with reality in 'relation to religion and spirituality. For years academics and faith leaders have been talking about how these two coincide and diverge. Now some secularists are picking up on the issue. But trying to make pro- or anti-religion capital out of changing beliefs and practices mischaracterises the complexity, problems and opportunities involved. Thankfully, Gethin Abraham-Williams takes us much further.' ~ EKKLESIA, Editorial (28 Nov 2008)

'I did enjoy the book, and I'm sure it's one I'll return to' (by e-mail). How can we convey the riches of Christian devotion to a culture that has largely lost interest? It is a key challenge for today's spiritual writer. Gethin Abraham-Williams writes as a liberal Welsh Baptist (a combination of words that marks him out as a rare breed as surely as "Gloucester Old Spot"). His starting point is the widespread assumption in our culture that "religion" is repressive, violent, and intolerant, while "spirituality" is nurturing, peaceful, and open-minded. He wisely retorts that these terms as popularly used are simplistic and unhelpful. Spirituality needs the discipline and tradition of religion from spiralling off into subjectivity; religion needs spirituality to give it heart... ~ Mike Starkey, Church Times

Exposition and narrative are packed and multi-layered. A fresh and original treatment, highly stimulating and thought-provoking. It speaks clearly of the author's profound searching and understanding, and of his 'catholicity' and openness. ~ Donald Knighton, Methodist District Chairman (retired)

This book wrestles creatively with the question in its title, and in the end answers it by saying that spirituality must have roots if it is not to unravel into meaningless nonsense or worse. If people in search of spirituality have turned to crystals, to tai chi and tarot, it is because religion has failed them by keeping hidden the mysterious and the meditative. The author, a Baptist minister now working as a freelance ecumenical consultant, says that religion helps us to face reality, but adds that spirituality is not an optional extra to religion. Religion teaches people about God, spirituality enables them to meet with God. The middle section of the book covers three areas that Abraham-Williams think religion particularly needs to address. It must rise, he says, to the ecological challenge, and recover 'earthiness'. It must face its own helplessness in the face of systemic evil. It must repent its failure to sell racial equality to the nations. And the answer to all of these is a rediscovered spirituality. There is much good sense in the book. If God is, then whoever and wherever God is must be unimaginable. But we can imagine enough to realise that God is both inconceivable but also knowable. At the same time, it is unexpectedly orthodox. The closing chapter, on life after death, says: Will we recognise and be recognised? Of course, but better. And who will share this perfection with us? Whoever we want, who once existed and now live in eternity. How many of us would say that with such certainty? ~ Hilary Wakeman, Editor, the Open Christianity Newsletter, Ireland

"Spirituality or Religion", covers ground which has been raising various questions in my own mind over the last few years. It does seem as though a "reconciliation" is long overdue. The skillful weaving of scriptural teaching and Celtic myth, together with truths drawn from so many other sources, is still boggling my mind after several re-readings! This is a book that demonstrates how much truth is to be found in myth, fable and parable. ~ Robert Irwin, Poet Parson, Author of Some Unmeasured Ways and Many Ways

This is a challenging and provocative book, beneath the warm tone and ready accessibility. At times I felt that we'd be on opposite sides of an argument, but the more attentively I read, the more it seemed that our meaning and intention are actually very close, it's language that gets in the way. As one who struggles with religion in its institutional manifestation I was particularly struck, and challenged, by the chapter on the relationship between believing and belonging. Ultimately, he argues, belonging encircles believing, because believing is not about holding to a set of propositions, but about trust in God, a God for whom belonging was and always will be unconditional and unlimited. I will carry that challenge with me. ~ Eley McAinsh, Living Spirituality Network and producer, Something Understood on BBC Radio 4

What I particularly liked about Spirituality or Religion? was the positive note which you struck about both spirituality and religion, although you carefully avoided defining either of them. I would go along with your view that they need each other, and I found the idea that religion provides 'the memory that spirituality needs if it is to know its antecedents and why it is the way it is' (page 30) particularly helpful. You also use this idea of religion as memory on page 24 - where you say that 'if spirituality is to flourish it will need the memory, the discernment and the social critique of religion'. To me, this is perhaps the key idea that I will take away from reading your book. I spent the last eight years of my Social Work life working with people who had suffered brain injuries, many of whom had major problems with memory. So I have seen at hand just how disabling it has been to individuals when their memories have become severely impaired. They find themselves living so much more in the present, not only unable to recall much of the past, but also unable to plan for the future. So this idea resonates strongly with me, and I will want to use it myself as a way of thinking about the relationship between these two key aspects of our lives. ~ Ken Harris, Local Faith and Global Issues Facilitator, Milton Keynes

An impressive and very readable treatment (of spirituality and religion), and I very much warmed to your repeated insistence that each needs the other and without the other, each is diminished and impoverished. You have presented us with a valuable essay which is enlivened by memorable illustrations from your own experience. Bless you for that. ~ Revd Canon W David Jones, Onetime Director, Board of Mission, Church in Wales

Original, stimulating and provocative. An excellent piece of work, although perhaps you might employ a better proof reader for the second edition! ~ John Garland

What is certain is that the reader will be challenged, moved and inspired by this thoughtful book. ~ Christine Simons, The Newspaper (Hereford Diocese)

This book wrestles creatively with the question in its title, and in the end answers it by saying that spirituality must have roots if it is not to ‘unravel into meaningless nonsense or worse.’ There is much good sense in the book. ~ HW, Open Christianity newsletter

Gethin Abraham Williams’ writings always have the capacity to surprise because his insights are always new and fresh on topics which one thought everything possible had already been said. His observations are never trite; he uses no clichés but touches on the things that really matter when one is trying to be a disciple of Jesus. Here is a book that will stretch our minds and imaginations and also move our hearts so that we might better serve God and the world. ~ Most Revd Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales

‘I have known the author for nearly 40 years and our strong friendship is rooted in the mutual fascination of our spiritual diversity. Gethin is often more generous in judging sensitive issues; he adventurously opens doors of thinking which I am content to leave closed; we are both bridge builders, but he is a visionary for new possibilities when I don’t see the purpose. So my warm commendation of this book is rather like my friendship with Gethin. It is a generous and adventurous book, destined to carve highways in the desert for travellers seeking uncertain routes to a certain land. The desert trails for travellers at the back of this book are a rich resource-as is the life of the author.’ ~ Revd Dr David Coffey OBE, President Baptist World Alliance

Gethin Abraham-Williams’ treatment of the relationship of spirituality and religion is both provocative and inspiring. With fresh insights and profoundly moving examples, he argues that spirituality can be a redeeming response to religion’s rigidity and conventionalism. My overwhelming reaction was a desire for further unpacking (maybe a sequel). He gifts the reader with his rich weaving of Scripture, Celtic lore, literary gems, and issues of urgent concern, all serving his belief that religion and spirituality mutually influence and challenge one another. I recommend this thought-provoking work to anyone who is a disciple and a seeker. ~ Sister Joan Puls OSF, American Fransiscan & Author

‘This wise, generous and humane book takes the reader on a thoughtful journey into the relationship between religion and spirituality. Ranging across the world’s religions, delighting in literature, and open always to the provocation of the Spirit, Gethin Abraham-Williams’ study cannot fail to enrich and enlarge our understanding of the ways of God with human beings. All who are interested in contemporary spirituality and religion will benefit from it.’ ~ Revd Dr David Cornick, General Secretary, Churches Together in England and a Fellow of Robinson College, Cambridge

Gethin Abraham-Williams has made a very helpful contribution to the current debate on religion and spirituality. Rather than see them as simple and unreconcilable opposites, he argues that spirituality is the inner substance to religion, and religion is spirituality's outer and organised expression. The book is packed with insights that will encourage those tempted to give up on religion and do their own thing, or those who struggle to connect their own spiritual search with the lives of religious communities. Abraham-Williams is a very fine wordsmith and the book is well and engagingly written, with references to major world religions and the Welsh Mabinigion stories, alongside Christian theology and an excellent range of personal and historical anecdotes from the Christian tradition. I warmly recommend it. ~ Revd Dr Robert Ellis, Principal, Regent's Park College, Oxford University

Do we have to choose between religion and spirituality, asks Gethin Abraham-Williams, in this thoughtful, wide-ranging and generous exploration. No, he argues emphatically, to choose would be disastrous for we need both: compassionate religion, realistic spirituality. Compassion and realism are the hallmarks of this book. Abraham-Williams is sympathetic to those who struggle with religion and who find respite, hope and energy in the new spirituality. He recognises the great strengths of spirituality, and its potential to help us address some of the most pressing issues of the day. But he is also an eloquent apologist for religion, wearing his considerable experience and learning lightly, and calling vividly on anecdote, story and poetry to make his case. This is a challenging and provocative book, beneath the warm tone and ready accessibility. At times I felt that we’d be on opposite sides of an argument, but the only real argument would be the unsolvable one about which comes first: religion or spirituality. The more attentively I read, the more it seemed that our meaning and intention are actually very close, it is language that gets in the way. As one who struggles with religion in its institutional manifestation I was particularly struck, and challenged, by the chapter on the relationship between believing and belonging. Ultimately, he argues, belonging encircles believing, because believing is not about holding to a set of propositions, but about trust in God, a God for whom belonging was and always will be unconditional and unlimited. I will carry that challenge with me. ~ Eley McAinsh, Director, The Living Spirituality Network, and Producer, Something Understood BBC Radio 4

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gethin Abraham-Williams
Gethin Abraham-Williams GETHIN ABRAHAM-WILLIAMS, an Oxford University Theology graduate, was a Baptist minister, a University tutor in the Bible in the Contemporary...
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