Review: Cosmos Reborn by John Crowder

imgresOne of the things that really annoys me in this world is evangelicals who pretend to be edgy and progressive. You know what I’m talking about. They use provocative titles for their chapters to make it SEEM like they’re going against the flow of mainstream evangelicalism, but when you read the chapter, you find that it’s actually just standard evangelical doctrine reworded to sound cutting-edge. I like to think of them “Evangelicals with Progressive Window Dressing.” It’s a marketing gimmick, of course, but damn if it isn’t annoying.

I can’t tell exactly if John Crowder is that kind of person, though.  To be honest, trying to nail his MO down is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.

On one page, he’s articulating something positively beautiful regarding the synthesis and duality of theology and contemplation, even showing how the study of theology is worshipful in and of itself (’bout time someone did).

On the next…he sounds like the pastor of my old church, the one that told me I was going to Hell if I didn’t pray a certain way.

I don’t know what the hell is going on sometimes, and other times its clear as day what he’s trying to say.

Cosmos Reborn is John Crowder’s attempt to distance himself from the things in evangelical theology that paint God as angry with mankind (penal-substitution theory, original sin, Hell, etc.) while still sounding like an evangelical.  His bottom line is that God is actually loving and in a good mood, based on the example of Christ and the Gospels, but that things like sin and Hell are still real.  Our problem is that we’re misappropriating fault for such things, placing blame on God, rather than taking the time to realize our own condition, and he utilizes a blend of mysticism and theology to make his case.

First, a comment on style: he’s VERY mystical, but at the same time…loving.  I don’t know what other adjective to use there; he just has an almost soothing voice, like he’s saying to you, “It’s all OK; God really DOES love you.”  It’s off-putting, almost creepy at points, but not so much that you want to throw the book across the room in disgust.

OK, this is a lot harder than I thought. Let me try to work this out.

High points:

  • Crowder’s knowledge of theology and mysticism is downright encyclopedic, rendered to an understandable level for the layperson to read. He quotes Barth liberally (leading me to place him in the neo-Orthodoxy camp), and salt and peppers the rest with LOADS of mystics, men and women alike.  He also relies a lot on CS Lewis for his chapter on Hell.   Long story short: this guy has done his homework, and is not afraid to draw from sources in ALL camps. Also…
  • I really, REALLY liked his chapter on Hell.  Hell is a doctrine I’ve been wrestling with for about two years or so; I still think it’s there, but I’m unsure as to its inhabitants.  While I was once dead certain of the condemnation and eternal torment of the unsaved, I began to lose confidence in such thinking when the inhabitants of Hell really just looked an awful lot like anyone the congregation of my home church didn’t like.   Rest assured, this loss of confidence is partnered with in-depth study, prayer, and consideration, as is John Crowder’s. Crowder makes no claim to be a universalist, but does claim to hope for such a thing, even going so far as to bring up evidence of postmortem salvation in the NT.
  • Loved this line right here: “I am well beyond caring what the EFCA thinks about me.”  That kind of line shows a man who’s done giving a rip and truly wants to wrestle with questions.  That kind of attitude demands respect from me, and I freely give it.

But…

OK…I think I know what it is now.

I don’t think that Crowder fits the caricature of some evangelicals that I painted above.  Perhaps it is better to say that he’s a tease, flirting heavily with progressive thought while still being faithful to his first love, charismatic evangelicalism.  Crowder presents himself well as both contemplative and theologian in this work, and I am grateful for that.  I think my apprehension comes, however, in sitting a little further to the left than he would like me to sit.  Crowder’s OK with utilizing evangelical and fundamentalist language to talk about his ideas.  Heck, his book even looks like it was published by a printer similar to Jerry Falwell’s press.  It still FEELS conservative and evangelical.  I used a lot of the tools he does to get to this wilderness I sit in today: Christian mysticism, NT Wright, even a little Barth…but he’s not in the same place as me after going through a lot of the same stuff.  I think that’s what’s bugging me, and that’s not fair to John, especially because he’s making room under the Jesus tent for a guy like me:

Although this may get me into trouble, I must say I no longer vilify Christian Universalists as the demonic heretics the way I did in years past.  There are things we can learn from every theological stream, even though every theological stream may have some errors.

John, if you’re reading this, thank you for that.  You’re more right leaning than I am, but if I had a book out, I’d bet you’d read it and hear me out fairly no matter what my ideas were.  You might be a rare bird among evangelicals, but I hope your song is heard loud and clear.  I didn’t like everything in your book; I’m not approaching my faith the same way you are.  You’re looking more to mend your evangelicalism, I think; I’m taking more of a wrecking ball to mine, but John, I’m going to recommend this book.  It’s a good one, and I like what you’re doing.

Keep it up, man!

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