The River Of Life: Where Liberal and Conservative Christianity Meet: Lee Harmon
Lee Harmon defines himself as an Agnostic, confessing that he believes in God but in his own words “doesn’t know squat about him.” He also states that he is not an agnostic in general just toward the Christian depiction of God, or any other personal god, feeling that inadequate evidence exists for one caricature to rise above the rest. He continues in his introduction to state that he a Christian in search of God. “Christian, because Jesus is my inspiration and Christianity is my heritage.” Within this book he begins with his definition of a Liberal Christian, which is what he states he is and where his beliefs lie. This review will focus on what this reviewer learned from reading this book about liberal and conservative Christianity, the many definitions of Hell, the Historical Jesus, The Second Coming and finally, Faith in God. I will not state whether I agree or disagree with the information that was researched and presented. Instead, I will discuss what I learned and what I came away with after reading this book.
Liberal Christianity, I did some research of my own, is known as liberal theology, is an “umbrella term covering, diverse philosophically and biblically informed religious movements and ideals within Christianity from the late 18th century onward. Christian right or religious right is the term used in the U.S. to describe right-wing Christian political factions that are characterized by their strong support of socially conservative policies.” Liberal Christians the author adds do not expect scripture to be everywhere inerrant or even everywhere godly. He also states a certain amount of left-wing politics arises naturally from studying and appreciating the Jesus of history.
The author continues with a story about a tree and a tree branch and relates it to both liberal and conservative philosophies. His purpose in writing this book was to hopefully uncover the roots and in so doing explain Jesus and the New Testament from a liberal perspective and then hopefully be able to at least appreciate the differences between both liberal and conservative. Hoping one day that both would join hands in a common purpose, if not common beliefs. He begins with Heaven and Hell. The author goes into how he hopes to uncover the real gist of the gospel and the core message that Jesus taught. He explains the Messiah; Christians believed the Messiah came in the first century. He explains that Heaven and Hell are both confusing. Within the first part of the chapter he focuses on Heaven and dispels Hell. Relating scriptures from both Matthew and Revelation he expands. What I found interesting and learned were the many words that are used to define Hell. Sheol is the Hebrew word used in the Old Testament to refer to the mystery of what happens to you when you leave this world or die. I also learned that Sheol was said to be seen as a holding place where souls “awaited resurrection.” The author states that it should not have been translated as hell. Hades: thought of as the Greek version of the Hebrew word Sheol. Sheol by the time the New Testament was written had changed into Hades. The explanation continues on pages 8 and 9 where I learned about a parable in the Bible of a rich man and Lazarus. Next Tartarus the Greek word but once in the Bible it refers to: “the abode of fallen angels who await their final judgment.” Gehenna: The word Jesus used to describe the punishment of the ungodly. The author adds research and scriptures from Matthew, Peter and a book by Craig Blomberg titled: The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. There is a discussion of eternal life and life after death and different viewpoints and the chapter ends with Jesus’ definition: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The next chapter focuses on the Second Coming and how both the liberal and conservatives view this. Added he states whether we should wait for Christ’s second coming and then adds in information about that miraculous morning of Jesus resurrection. As a liberal Christian the author relates that John’s Gospel told the resurrection story that resonates mostly with him as I learn. The author then expands by stating that in John’s story, Jesus rises to the heaven immediately after his resurrection, in spirit not in body. But, Mary Magdalene sees Jesus as he begins to rise, and in mid-rise outside the tomb he speaks to her: “I am ascending to my father and your Father and to my God and your God.” The remainder of the chapter will focus other views related to the resurrection.
Lee Harmon continues throughout this book to present his ideas, thoughts and visions about liberal Christianity allowing the reader to discern from himself the many diversified points of views, issues in order to understand and interpret his definition of The River of Life as he explains it through the eyes and mind of a liberal/agnostic Christian.
In Chapter 3 the author discusses the afterlife and the definition of the word Gospel meaning Good News. He explains Luke’s Gospel in detail and how Jesus lived in a different time than we do. He explained the barter system, taxes and paying homage to Caesar and adds in the meaning of sayings that many of us have heard so many times but might have misinterpreted their meanings: Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven as explained on page 38 and Give us this day our daily bread page 38 and 39. One that I found really quite through provoking: And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. How many can follow that or will do that? With this chapter he explains this on pages 40- 47. Chapter Four he explains the Historical Jesus and chapter five where I learned about Doing Our Part. “The kingdom Jesus envisioned is very earthy and shared by people in this world making life better for people in this world. On page 59 the author lists 12 people that Jesus associated with like slaves, tax collectors and the poor. A simple parable that I found enlightening on page 62 explains how Jesus taught by example that we should share our table with others. It asks the question that many might formulate in their minds too: Should we share our table with others and should everyone be able to eat together as equals? He wanted everyone to know and remember that they should share with others and everyone should partake the same meal together. Wouldn’t that be nice. What a beautiful sight that would be. The rest of the chapter quotes from Matthew, Corinthians, Acts and many other sources. Ending the chapter by reverting to why he wrote the book as he relates where Liberal Christians most appreciate a hands on approach of our brethren in conservative churches. Soup kitchens, shelters, medical missions, relief organizations and charitable aid societies, would make for a better world. What would happen if a common thread or denominator were found between both Liberal and Conservatives allowing them to join hands and move forward continuing the work he states that Jesus began. Chapter 6 deals with Miracles and Jesus as a healer and chapter 7 Faith in God which I will expand on. Faith plays an important role in healing the world and there are many definitions that he author relates in this chapter.
Faith is defined by Marcus Borg Faith is often identified with believing a synonym for religion like What Faith are You? What religion do you belong to? It’s explained further within the chapter titled Faith in God. Karen Armstrong defines says: Faith is not about belief but about practice. The Dalai Lama says that three are different types of faith: 1. Faith in the form of admiration toward a particular person or a particular state of being. 2: Aspiring Faith. 3: faith of conviction. I learned that a practicing Christian by reading the Gospel and reflecting on the life of Jesus, can have a strong devotion to admiration for Jesus, which is the first Faith; Admiration and devotion. Susan Stover says Clear Faith is a perspective as way of seeing and being that makes sense of the Bible as human-authored, views Jesus as an amazing human being. The chapter continues as the author introduces himself as a Christian who stands in awe of the life and teachings of Jesus who lived 2000 years ago. There is so much that I learned reading this book it would take another 1000 words or more to relate everything and that would take away readers finding out more about The River of Life yourselves.
The last chapter is titled: The River of Life, which teaches readers about the dreams of your future and the visions of the rivers, told in the bible. Just how we see or determine a dream that is prophetic is hard and we can only confirm or affirm such a dream after it as occurred. He discusses Ezekiel’s vision, and how God picked him up and carried him to a high mountain where he could see what appeared to be a great walled city. There are many who are still searching. Lee Harmon states that this is his religion and Jesus’ dream is this dream and it is happening. Will Liberal and Conservatives ever find a happy medium? That still remains to be seen. The River of Life is well researched, well documented and definitely very informative, enlightening and one book that I am honored to have been asked to read and review.
Fran Lewis: These are my honest thoughts