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The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition [Hardcover]

By Huston Smith (Author)
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Pages   208
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.3" Width: 5.6" Height: 0.9"
Weight:   0.7 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Sep 30, 2005
Publisher   Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN  006079478X  
EAN  9780060794781  

Availability  0 units.

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""I have tried to describe a Christianity which is fully compatible with everything we now know, and to indicate why Christians feel privileged to give their lives to it.""
-Huston Smith

In his most personal and passionate book on the spiritual life, renowned author, scholar, and teacher of world religions Huston Smith turns to his own life-long religion, Christianity. With stories and personal anecdotes, Smith not only presents the basic beliefs and essential teachings of Christianity, but argues why religious belief matters in today's secular world.

Though there is a wide variety of contemporary interpretations of Christianity -- some of them conflicting -- Smith cuts through these to describe Christianity's ""Great Tradition,"" the common faith of the first millennium of believers, which is the trunk of the tree from which Christianity's many branches, twigs, and leaves have grown. This is not the exclusivist Christianity of strict fundamentalists, nor the liberal, watered-down Christianity practiced by many contemporary churchgoers. In exposing biblical literalism as unworkable as well as enumerating the mistakes of modern secularists, Smith presents the very soul of a real and substantive faith, one still relevant and worth believing in.

Smith rails against the hijacked Christianity of politicians who exploit it for their own needs. He decries the exercise of business that widens the gap between rich and poor, and fears education has lost its sense of direction. For Smith, the media has become a business that sensationalizes news rather than broadening our understanding, and art and music have become commercial and shocking rather than enlightening. Smith reserves his harshest condemnation, however, for secular modernity, which has stemmed from the misreading of science -- the mistake of assuming that ""absence of evidence"" of a scientific nature is ""evidence of absence."" These mistakes have all but banished faith in transcendence and the Divine from mainstream culture and pushed it to the margins.

Though the situation is grave, these modern misapprehensions can be corrected, says Smith, by reexamining the great tradition of Christianity's first millennium and reaping the lessons it holds for us today. This fresh examination of the Christian worldview, its history, and its major branches provides the deepest, most authentic vision of Christianity -- one that is both tolerant and substantial, traditional and relevant. "

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More About Huston Smith

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Huston Smith

Through his landmark books and documentary films, Huston Smith has opened the eyes of the world to the invisible geometry that shapes human spirituality. Born in China over 80 years ago to missionary parents, Huston Smith served briefly as a pastor in the mid-west. Since the 1950s, he has held teaching positions on the faculties at MIT, Syracuse, and the University of California- Berkeley. Dr. Smith's books include the classic Religions of Man, Beyond the Post-modern Mind, and Forgotten Truth.He holds seven honorary degrees, in addition to the Ph.D. he earned from the University of Chicago.

Huston Smith currently resides in the state of California. Huston Smith was born in 1945.

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1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Authors, A-Z > ( S ) > Smith, Huston   [21  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Thoughtful overview of Christianity  Nov 14, 2007
I have not finished reading this book but find it a riveting read. In a time of spiritual confusion, Smith has helped me return to my Christian roots, so that after much time outside the church I am now seeking my way back. At a time where religious fundamentalism seems to be on the rise, we need books like this to bring the message that the essence of our faith is essentially love. While we can be intelligent about what we believe, ultimately it is how we love that determines the relevancy of our spirituality.
boring and no point  Jun 29, 2007
If you're looking for a book on conservative values and morals relating to religion and modern society, look the other way. This book is not about that. Theres a lot of dancing around with theology - overall the book is horrible.
The Soul of Christianity  Apr 30, 2007
Huston Smith, son of Methodist missionaries in China, friend of Thomas Merton and Joseph Campbell, teacher and friend of Marcus Borg, wrote this book in 2004, and says it was 'the most exciting year of my writing'.

His parents' first child, whom he never knew, died in his father's arms one Christmas Eve. Other insights into his spiritual formation are interesting: 'One night, [my father] was visiting a village thirty miles away and he went by boat, but the lake froze over in the three days he was there... [so] he walked thirty miles home over ice. So it was that intensity, sincerity, devotion that I assimilated from my parents that was most important.' 'In our missionary home in traditional China, breakfast was followed by morning prayers, which included our servants' family. As we sat in a circle, our mother would lead us in singing a stanza of a hymn, in Chinese, of course. Then adults would take turns reading verses from the Bible... Then we would stand, about face, get down on our knees, and bury our faces in our hands on the seats of our chairs as my father led us in a prayer that closed with all of us saying the Lord's Prayer...'

Huston Smith has generally succeeded in his aim of writing a book about Christianity 'that carries the assent of all Christians', a book which is not combative, respecting various interpretations of Christianity without arguing with them. My view would be that only a liberal thinker like Huston Smith could do this. How liberal is he? Study this: 'I'm a universalist. I refuse to prioritize any one of the eight great religious traditions over the others.'

He ranges over the whole spectrum of Christianity (though hardly mentions Pentecostalism, if at all), citing liberal authors (eg. Marcus Borg) and conservative ones (like N T Wright and John Polkinghorne). He is critical of conservative Christians for their literalism and dogmatism and tendency to slip into 'disastrous political agendas' which are 'untrue to Jesus'. But Liberal churches 'are digging their own graves, for without a robust, emphatically theistic world-view to work within, they have nothing to offer their members except rallying cries to be good. We have it from Peter Berger that "if anything characterizes modernity it is the loss of the sense of transcendence".'

Huston Smith has more of a gift of wisdom/knowledge of comparative religions than accuracy. It wasn't Timothy who said 'Without doubt the mystery of our religion is great' (p. 32) but the writer of 1 Timothy (maybe Paul). It wasn't Jesus who talked about 'rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep' (p. 63), it was Paul in Romans 12:15 - unless Smith has some evidence that Paul quotes Jesus at this point, evidence no one else has! For mispellings of Annie Dillard ('Anne Dillard' p. 125 etc.) we can forgive an old man - but not his editor/s. And his use of the Authorized Version of the Bible here and there (some quotes with sexist language) is unusual for a Christian scholar.

A couple of statements are in the category 'But that I can't believe', like

* 'If Jesus had not been followed by Paul, the Sermon on the Mount would have evaporated in a generation or two' (p. 89).

* 'The Christian worldview compressed into a sentence: the world is perfect, and the human opportunity is to see that and conform to that fact' (p. 33).

However, all that said, I marked the following for more reflection:

* God is *defined* by Jesus, but he is not *confined* to Jesus

* The Infinite is that out of which you cannot fall

* If it is not paradoxical, it isn't true (Shunryu Suzuki)

* A NT scholar went to heaven and asked Paul if he wrote the Letter to the Ephesians. Paul thought for a moment, stroked his beard, and said 'Yes, I think I did' which is as much as to say 'Who cares?'

* The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is its faithful servant

* 'I pray God [the God above all distinctions] that he may quit me of [the personal] God' (Meister Eckhart)

* [The people who first heard Jesus' teaching] were astonished, and with reason. If we are not, it is because we have heard Jesus's teachings so often that their edges have been worn smooth, dulling their glaring subversiveness

* 'O God whose boundless love and joy / are present everywhere, / He cannot come to visit you / unless you are not there' (17th century German mystical poet Angelus Silesius)

* Hell is popularly depicted as a fiery furnace whose flames do not consume bodies but torture them forever. But this is only a metaphor; it cannot be literally true, for resurrected bodies are incorporeal and do not have flesh that could be burned. (Remember that resurrection is not resuscitation). The theological definition of hell is total aloneness... Will anyone burn in hell forever? The answer is no, for nothing can deprive us of the imago Dei that is the foundation of our humanity

* 'There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess/ I knew no one worth my envying him' (Czeslaw Milosz)

* Though divine in origin, the Church is made up of humans, of sinners, and so in an act unique for any institution, at the end of the second millennium the Pope publicly apologized and did penance in the name of the Church for the sins of individual Christians throughout the ages

* 'The Protestant Principle', stated philosophically, warns against absolutizing the relative. Stated theologically, it warns against idolatry. (But the chief Protestant idolatry has been bibliolatry)

* Protestant diversity is not as great as its hundreds of denominations (most of them more adequately termed sects) suggest... Actually, 85% of all Protestants belong to 12 denominations.

It's a challenging book.

Rowland Croucher
another attempt at the essence of the faith  Jan 18, 2007
Born to Methodist missionary parents in rural China in 1919, Huston Smith has enjoyed a distinguished career as a scholar of world religions at Washington University, MIT, Syracuse, and Berkeley. His book The World's Religions, first published in 1958, has sold over 2 million copies as an introductory university textbook on the subject. Now in his late eighties, Smith describes himself as a "voice in the wilderness" decrying the corrosive forces of "secular modernity" which would marginalize religion. Thus his earlier book Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief (2002). His newest book begins with that prophetic warning but moves forward with a positive exposition of what he calls "The Great Tradition" of Christianity that enjoyed near unanimity among believers for the first millennium of the faith.

In Part One Smith presents an innovative interpretation of what he considers the fifteen "fixed points" of a distinctly Christian worldview. In fact, I found this part of the book to be mis-titled. What Smith outlines here is not distinctly or particularly "Christian," but rather a general "theism." Toward the last part of this section he admits as much, saying that the first part of the book "outlines the universal grammar of religion to which (in their various idioms) all religions conform" (my emphasis). Still, his staunch defense of a robust theism is welcome. Part Two is called "The Christian Story" and expands material from his book The World's Religions. Contrary to those who would be skeptical about ancient Christianity, here Smith insists that he intends to be entirely non-innovative and instead to rehearse, restore and revive what most all Christians of the first millennium believed. This is by far the longest section of the book, and concludes with his analysis of the seven "foundational points" in Christian theology--the incarnation, the atonement, the trinity, life everlasting, the resurrection of the body, hell, and the virgin birth. In the final Part Three he compares and contrasts the three main branches of Christianity--Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism.

What Smith offers here is similar to the book The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith (2003) by the New Testament scholar Marcus Borg. Smith seems more eager to defend the objective content of the faith, compared to Borg who emphasizes subjective faith, and at times he is as critical of liberals as he is of conservatives. Both books attempt a fresh and winsome overview of the "essence" of Christianity from the perspective of a liberal Christian fighting the forces of reductionistic secularity in major university settings (Smith describes our universities as the "churches" of materialist secularism). I would take personal exception to some of his liberal conclusions, but overall found myself very grateful for his forceful and public defense of the faith. Written at a simple level for the ordinary lay person, this would be a fine book to recommend to non-believers who would never listen to more conservative voices but might listen to an "insider" of their guild. Smith writes with equal parts passion and conviction as an unapologetic witness to the Good News of Jesus.
Argues, presents, and details the essence of Christianity in "contemporary idiom"  Dec 14, 2006


Professor Smith presents an expository introduction to Christianity from a philosophical, biblical, and historical perspective. The writing style is highly suitable for any one who is agnostic, atheist, and also anyone who can ruminate through well-thought out philosophical, logical, theological, and historical evidence. The catch-phrase of this book is "absence-of-evidence does not constitute evidence-of-absence." In other words, "the fact that science cannot get its hands on anything except nature is no proof that nature is all that exists." Also, Dr. Smith argues for a restorating of the "Great Tradition," meaning the Christianity of the universal Christian church of the 1st millenium. Good stuff to ruminate on.


In his own words, professor Smith is a Universalist (he sees common things in all religions - a field he spent his life studying and examining up close) and thus he "refuse to prioritize any one of the eight great religious traditions over the others." Nevertheless, his parent's sincerity, depth, and sincerity as Methodist missionaries in China has been influential in his view that religion matters. In fact he believes that secular modernists, agnostics, and atheist are "living in a truncated world" because of their denial of the trasncendent world. The author initially meant to name the title of his book "The Heart of Christianity" until he found out that Marcus Borg had taken the title already. Smith feels tha Borg gave "too much to secular modernity." This paperback edition contains an insightful interview into the thinking of Dr. Smith.


The 165 page book is basically three entities that flow in a sequential logic: "The Christian Worldview," "The Christian Story," and "The Three Main Branches of Christianity Today."

PART I. "The Christian Worldview" is a well developed and very PHILOSOPHICAL ARGUMENT for anyone who doubts that "beyong the edge of today's universe lies the infinite unknown we will step into tomorrow."

PART II. "The Christian Story" is a well writen and very BIBLICAL PRESENTATION of what makes Christianity stand out.

PART III. "The Three Branches of Christianity Today" is a well researched and very HISTORICAL concised COMMENTARY on Orthodoxy, Roman-Catholicism, and Protestantism. While none of the three branches will feel mis-represented, one may be left with questions wanting to know more. To keep the book under a limited number of pages, Smith discusses two important aspects of each branch. The most important topics for Catholics, Smith explains, are the Church as teaching authority, and the Church as sacramental agent. For the Orthodox, the corporate view of the Church and the mystical emphasis are distinctive. Protestantism stresses justification by faith and what he calls "the Protestant principle."


As an evangelical Protestant, I was surprised by the novel way that Huston Smith presents the heart and soul of mere Christianity. It is very eloquent, very well thought-out, erudite, and so very non-evangelical. His arguments are not forceful, not in-your-face, and not polemical. For anyone outside the faith, this will be a good first step to knowing the Christ in Christ-ianity. For anyone inside the family of faith, this will be a challenging yet rewarding read. Enjoy!

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