Review: The New Civic Religion – A Christian Study Guide to Humanism

The New Civic Religion

Patrick Sookhdeo Isaac Publishing 2016 192 pp  Book review in the Church of England Newspaper 11 August

The recent upsurge in religiously inspired violence in western countries raises the question of the resources western culture might draw on not only to resist but to overcome the spread of jihadist propaganda among their young people.

Mainstream culture in the west as expressed in media, politics, education, science and art assumes that individual choice, rational thought and material prosperity are the defining characteristics of public life and private aspiration. The Christian religion insofar as it is tolerated is allowed only at the margins as a personal interest.

The response of Churches and Christians can be to keep their heads down and seek whatever space they are assigned without interference. They can compromise with the prevailing assumptions of mainstream culture by being so ‘loving’ that they fail to witness to the truth. Alternatively they can challenge the surrounding culture on the basis of a robust Christian identity derived from the Bible and the example of the early Church, which focuses on creeds, community and commandments.

In The New Civic Religion, Patrick Sookhdeo takes an unusual starting point for a straightforward primer of Christian faith and practice for the early 21st century. He analyses the reality, roots and direction of the secular humanism that so many, including Christians, take for granted as the prevailing reality in everyday life.

He asks to what extent the witness of the Churches and Christians are in fact compromised, though presented attractively as the need for the church to be credible and relevant to today’s society.

He unmasks the reality of humanist views of public and private life and sets out clearly basic Christian beliefs and the evidence for accepting the authority and teaching of the Bible about them.

The book also serves as a study guide with half a dozen questions of both understanding and application related to each chapter. As such it would prove most useful for an introduction to Christian discipleship for new Christians or enquirers.

At a time when some suggest that the Church concentrate mainly or even exclusively on evangelism and church planting since the public square, media, politics, education and science have travelled so far from Christian values that the Church should not expend its limited resources on trying to engage with them, Dr Sookhdeo puts forward a well and clearly argued case for Christian engagement in every area of life as Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord of all.

Chris Sugden

 

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