HEALING THE DIVIDE:
RECOVERING CHRISTIANITY’S MYSTIC ROOTS
Twenty-first century Christianity is in crisis, careening towards fundamentalism on the one hand and a rootless new age Christianity on the other. Fundamentalists and Evangelicals on the right claim that Jesus is God, ignoring his humanity, while Liberal churches on the left are comfortable with that humanity only, ignoring Christian Mysticism’s core theology of God in human form that makes Christianity unique among the world religions.
These polarizing fundamentalist and new age extremes—one hopelessly narrow, the other unrecognizably Christian—have left hundreds of thousands of Christians without a spiritual home. Amos Smith’s book, Healing the Divide: Recovering Christianity’s Mystic Roots, offers a viable alternative to the extremes, pointing the way to the Jesus Paradox, which uses Christianity’s history to point the way toward a better future.
It is the first book to make The Jesus Paradox as understood by the Desert Fathers and Mothers accessible to general readers in the West, and will appeal to Progressive Christians who liked Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and open-minded Evangelicals who liked Phillip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew.
Healing The Divide is a must read if you find yourself:
- Frustrated by the fundamentalist and new age polarization of Twenty-first Century Christianity
- Bewildered by religious pluralism
- Searching for Christianity’s elusive mystic core
RCMR FUTURE BOOKS
STAY TUNED FOR AMOS’ NEXT BOOK ENTITLED BE STILL: MEDITATIONS ON SILENCE, STILLNESS, AND MYSTICISM IN THE BIBLE, SCHEDULED FOR PUBLICATION IN FEBRUARY OR MARCH OF 2018!
STAY TUNED FOR A BOOK CO-AUTHORED BY RICH LEWIS AND AMOS ENTITLED CENTERING PRAYER JOURNEY: DISCOVERING AND MIRRORING THE DYNAMIC UNION OF THE HISTORIC JESUS AND THE DIVINE CHRIST, SCHEDULED TO COME OUT IN 2019!
BE STILL TEASER REVIEWS
Amos Smith’s unique voice is rooted in his long-term centering prayer practice and his international background. His latest book, Be Still, is a trumpet call to the inner treasures of contemporary Christian mysticism.
-Richard Rohr, author of Falling Upward
Be Still promises to be a refreshing companion to your spiritual journey, helping you deepen your capacity for presence of being, assisting you to live in the here and now, and guiding you along the mystical path with Christ.
–Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul
In a lively, accessible, and masterful style Amos Smith’s latest book, Be Still, unveils the mystical foundations of Christianity and the spiritual wealth found in scripture.
-Kyriacos Markides, author of The Mountain of Silence
Amos’ writing tempers the polarizing madness afflicting Western Christianity today.
-Ken Barnes, UCC Pastor
Amos Smith reminds us that the path of centering prayer and Christian Mysticism is not a race. It’s a marathon. As many scriptures attest, our relationship with God requires patient waiting in stillness and silence, day after day, month after month, year after year. The marvel is that in time God will transform us!
-Rich Lewis, RCMR Leader
Amos Smith’s mystical writing builds bridges between Eastern and Western Christianity.
-Abba Yohannes, Ethiopian Orthodox Monk
HEALING THE DIVIDE REVIEWS FROM BOOK JACKET
In Healing The Divide, Amos Smith’s fresh perspective preserves the integrity of the Christian mystical epicenter from contamination from both The Christian hard right and the sometimes rudderless new age.
-Cynthia Bourgeault, author of The Wisdom Jesus
This is a foundational work written in a style that will be respected by scholars–yet easily accessible to ordinary Christians and would be seekers. The Jesus Paradox revealed in Healing The Divide is needed for the foundational reform and reformulation of the Christian message.
–Richard Rohr, author of Immortal Diamond
Read Healing The Divide, and eat the mystery. It’s a check-up call to your identity and mission.
-Leonard Sweet, author of I Am a Follower
This is the most balanced treatment of Jesus I have ever seen. Maybe this book can alleviate the polarizing madness afflicting Western Christianity today.
-Ken Barnes, UCC Pastor
Amos Smith writes about the incarnation with great enthusiasm. His work is commendable!
-William Meninger, Benedictine Monk and author of Julian of Norwich
This is the clearest and most accessible treatment of Oriental Orthodox Christology I have seen by a Western author.
-Abba Yohannes, Ethiopian Orthodox Monk
This book is written by a Contemplative Mainline Protestant, forwarded by an Evangelical, with an afterword by a Progressive Catholic. And it’s about Oriental Orthodox Mysticism! That’s a new breed of ecumenism!
-Sandra Casey-Martus, Episcopal Priest
HEALING THE DIVIDE REVIEWS FROM AMAZON.COM
Healing The Divide is groundbreaking!
This book is so important for the foundational reform of Christian theology and practice. It reveals the primary image that was made to order to teach Christians non dual consciousness, but an image that we failed to form in our hearts and minds. We never overcame the divide in the Christ, so we did not know how to overcome the divide in ourselves. Amos Smith will show you the path of dynamic union that will move you far beyond mere philosophical belief.
-Richard Rohr, author of The Naked Now
Original and Fresh Perspective
This is an amazing book! In a time when there is so much polarization about Jesus, here comes a book that provides the definitive balancing act, showing Jesus as the ultimate paradox and mystery.
-Ari Salomon, web designer
The Jesus Paradox
Amos Smith has combined his pastoral love of people with his scholarly wisdom…
While appreciating the ancient mystics and their contribution to Christian thought, Amos also challenges us as Americans to find and follow the true Christ. This is a book worth reading more than once.
-Dave Akers, United Church of Christ Pastor
Christianity’s Ancient/Future Middle Ground
Healing the Divide is the first book to make Jesus’ paradoxical essence, as understood by the Desert Fathers (and Mothers), accessible to general readers. Although largely unknown to the West, the early Christian mystics gave a coherent tapestry of teachings on the Jesus paradox. Highly recommended!
-David Sanford, media specialist, author, and speaker
Wow! Very powerful book! Opened me up to a new way of thinking about my faith. I will now re-read it, including the appendixes. This book has opened up a new world for me to enter and explore for the rest of my earthly life. This non dual path will make me more whole. I will share with others.
The mind we need!
This was a great insight into the mind we really need to heal the church for the good of the world.
Reclaiming Christian Faith
This is an excellent book for Christians who want to better understand and more deeply appropriate the most basic and profound mysteries of the faith. In theology school, I studied the early councils of the church and the Nicean creed but I could not appreciate the profound struggles of the founders, until I read this book. Perhaps the book will affect you as it did me. It deepened my appreciation of the faith and helped me find new poetry to express my life experience.
-Maurice L. Monette
I found this book to be thorough and well written. It’s content brings the depth of Alexandrian theology into contact with western Christendom. In doing so, it attempts to bridge the gap and Heal the current Divide.
From A Lay Person’s Perspective
So far I’m halfway through it and finding it fascinating. This book is not a quick read; you need to read a chapter and then stop and think about it. Sometimes I’ll question something and go back and read it again, and then I truly understand it. Whether you’re clergy or a lay person, if you want a deeper understanding of Christianity I highly recommend this book.
-Judith Boncaro, church member
Great insight into the Paradox Principle
I found “Healing the Divide” to be an insightful and educational commentary on the divide between two Christian perspectives: the fundamentalists and liberals.
What resonated for me was his extensive discussion of the role of paradox regarding the nature of the Divine. (I was 2/3 of the way through the book thinking the title was “Healing the Divine.) Amos specifically focusses on the paradox within Christian theology of Jesus being both human and divine, even labeling it “The Jesus Paradox.”
Amos Smith provided a much-appreciated context of this paradox by describing the linguistic roots of early Christian thought found in the Greek concept of Miaphsite: “one dynamic united nature.”
Amos’ use of paradox connects with me because when writing “Exploring the Gap between Science and Religion” I found myself exploring paradox to be a useful in understanding the universe around us. I label it as the “Paradox Principle of Reality.”
On page 17, Amos provides a quote from author Thomas Keating that concisely expresses the connection between “Healing the Divide” and “Exploring the Gap between Science and Religion.” It is this:
The great truths can only be expressed in paradox.
— Thomas Keating.
-Lee Wimberly, author of Exploring the Gap between Science and Religion
The Most Balanced Treatment of Jesus I Have Seen
This beautiful book brings tremendous balance, wisdom, love and authenticity to the painfully polarized discourse on Jesus. It brings tremendous heart and insight into a truly healing way forward transcending this destructive polarization. A way forward that seems more deeply and closely connected to the true heart of Jesus’ fundamental teachings, message and example. The Jesus Paradox, as presented in the book, builds a bridge between the ancient mystics and postmodern Christians.
An extraordinary discovery and groundbreaking gift to Western readers!
I loved this book for its vision and passion and found the negative review I saw totally off base. Amos Smith is clearly writing from the point of view of a pastor and deeply reflective student of Jesus and ancient mystic Christianity, rather than an academic scholar removed from the subject. The author speaks with deep passion about his discovery in the writings of the ancient Christian mystics of a unique spiritual truth with the power to transcend our limited conceptual dualistic tendencies to require Jesus to be either Divine or human in conformity with the limits of our intellectual mind’s capacity to hold something that is profoundly beyond conception. How could the Divine mystery of the “at once God and human” nature of Jesus not challenge and fundamentally rock our limited concepts? The critical reviewer resorts to name calling in a manner that makes me wonder if perhaps it is this fundamental challenge to our dualistic conceptual frameworks that is making him bristle. It is easy to label as “slick” a well-articulated point of view that we simply disagree with.
The negative review labels The Jesus Paradox a “21st Century Gnosticism”. The Jesus Paradox is the author’s reference to “Miaphysite”, the root mystical theology of the Oriental Orthodox tradition from Ethiopia, Egypt, Armenia, etc. So then what of the millions of members of the Oriental Orthodox tradition, are they “21st century Gnostics”? There are plenty of great books such as “The Roots of Christian Mysticism” by Oliver Clement about the Christian mystics of the Patristic era. A close analysis of these writings was clearly not the main point of this book. The author’s groundbreaking main point in this book, is clearly to recover the root mystical theology of Miaphysite: the Jesus Paradox, the transcendent wisdom of ancient Christian mysticism. Making the mystical theology of The Jesus Paradox accessible to Western readers is an extraordinary gift!
I hope that Amos Smith does a Ted Talk on The Jesus Paradox, for this is an idea that truly matters!
Discover the Power of the Paradox of Jesus
Several months ago, in one of those occasions of serendipity, I made Amos Smith’s acquaintance via social media (first LinkedIn, then Facebook). We discovered, almost by accident, that we shared a common interest in power of the Paradox of Jesus, as articulated by Christ followers in the early Church, to heal the divide between various versions of conservative and liberal Christianity. While I plumbed the depths of the early Pauline and Nazarene Jesus movements, Amos mined the riches of the Alexandrian mystics.
Smith has the heart of a pastor, the mind of a mystic, and the passion of an evangelist and it shows in his writing. He writes in a jargon-less style that is at the same time understandable to average lay person and satisfying for the deepest diving theologian. He exposes both the dualistic thinking of modern day fundamentalism and the wishy-washy, all-religions-are-the-same thinking of New Age spirituality and shows how it may be possible to find a common place to stand by understanding and appreciating the paradox inherent in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Healing the Divide is not a “quick read.” You need to need to allow time to contemplate the questions and issues Smith raises. It would be quite a productive study for books study and discussion group, with reflection question built into the text. Either way, it’s one of those books that the more time you spend with it, the more depths it will reveal..
I strongly recommend it!
Ken Howard is the author another book about paradox: “Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them.”
A Balanced Force Amidst Chaos
I have spent most of my adult life wrestling with different belief systems, trying them on for size to see which one resonated with me. From attending fundamentalist mega churches, to local, progressive ones, nothing has really sat well with me. The fundamentalist chuches had lots of enthusiasm and conviction, but were steadfast in their rejection of obvious contradictions. The progressive churches lacked the enthusiasm, and it was unclear even what they based their beliefs on as scripture was often marginalized, and Jesus hardly mentioned. They seemed more concerned with social issues then changing hearts.
This book speaks directly to that divide. If we could take the convictions and enthusiasm of the fundamentalists, and merge it with the experience driven progressives we would have a transformation powerhouse. Action and faith go hand in hand.
Amos is the balance. A silent, meditating shadow underneath the arc of bombs being thrown from both sides. He sits silently in prayer, as each side grows weary, they take notice of this peaceful figure. They become curious about the man who seems to have such peace amidst such chaos.
Each of us can become this silent, peaceful figure in the world. A quiet force that others turn to.
A great resource for starting conversations
I am a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, have read through Amos Smith’s wonderful book, and cannot recommend it enough for anyone seeking a language and set of concepts for having conversation about Jesus’ place in a Christian community that includes conservative and progressive Christians (as my parish does, and as we enter that conversation).
His premise is that there is indeed common ground these two seemingly incompatible groups can find, and it is not in pat answers nor ambivalence but found in the paradox that God has shown in Jesus Christ. The book offers wonderful sections on paradox, mysticism (that remains for many Christians to claim), social justice and becoming whole. There is a useful collection of appendices as well, and all of this will be a reference for me going forward.
An essential book for the evolution of Christian consciousness and the healing of our world
Healing The Divide is an essential book for the evolution of Christian consciousness and the healing of our world. With respectable scholarship and approachable prose, Amos Smith inspires the reader to not only be informed about Christianity’s mystical roots but committed to bridging the gap between the dual and non-dual aspects of our faith. Healing the Divide will give you new respect for the Alexandrian Mystics (Alexandrian Fathers and most of the Desert Mothers and Fathers between 312–454 CE), their adherence to Miaphysite theology (The Jesus Paradox) and the need for Western Christianity to recover our understanding of this part of our faith tradition. Grappling with Miaphysite theology promises hope for Christianity’s endurance and relevancy for the evolution of consciousness and the healing of our world.
#NewMonasticism #CenteringPrayer #ChristianMysticism #JesusParadox #NonViolence
-Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul
HEALING THE DIVIDE INTERNATIONAL REVIEWS
BOOK REVIEW FROM AMAZON UNITED KINGDOM
A wake-up call to look again at the Incarnation
The first thing to understand about this book from the start is that it is not a scholarly examination of the texts written by the Alexandrian mystics, though it will make you want to go to those texts, or return to them if you are already familiar with them; but there are a number of fairly in-depth appendices and an extensive glossary which fill out a lot of the history and terminology. Rather, it is a wake-up call to Christians of all stripes to look again at the Person of Christ, to reject our dualistic understandings of the Incarnation, and to return to the way major Christian thinkers in the first centuries of the Church saw Jesus, and to find there a vision which is capable of uniting different denominations, recognizing, maintaining and creating real continuity between ancient, modern and post-modern Christianity. It is something like a spiritual handbook to accompany you as you read the Alexandrian mystics for yourself, and touches on many different issues, theological and practical. There are questions at the end of each chapter for those who want to really study, but it can also be dipped into more informally, once you’ve got the basic argument.
Smith I think correctly diagnoses what’s wrong with so much that passes for Christianity today, and nobody gets a free pass, yet he is never cynical and always hopeful that real transformation is possible; indeed, that is what this book is for. For myself, I am someone by nature liberal (perhaps a stereotypical member of the Church of England!), but have become unsatisfied with my approach to Jesus, which has largely consisted of trying to fit Him into structures created by what I take to be the best available historical reading of who He was – itself an endless scholarly minefield where no final agreement is ever going to be likely. I’ve come to see this view as a fatally flawed and narrow approach, and Smith’s book has helped me to see what an impoverished Christ I have been making do with. The unified, mystical understanding of Christ as elucidated by Cyril, Athanasius and the other Alexandrian mystics is infinitely richer than this wishy-washy liberal Jesus, the fluffy New Age sage, or the rather fearsome creation of the fundamentalists, all of which Smith rejects, or at least relativizes. The Jesus Paradox (as Smith calls it, the technical term is miaphysite) also has the benefit of being undeniably far more ancient than any of these, and has been carried through the whole of Christian history in the theology of the Oriental Orthodox Church. One quote which for me cuts through so much ponderous theological musing I’ve trawled through over the years in an attempt to get to grips with the words in the creeds, and which illustrates neatly the difference this mystic understanding of Christ makes, was this from Cyril of Alexandria:”How is the Son equal to God?” “Like sight is equal to the eyes”.
How Three Deaths and a Paper Trail Led Me to “Healing the Divide”
The title of Amos Smith’s book “Healing the Divide” was what struck me initially. We all need healing, don’t we? The Church (the universal Church) is full of hurting people who need healing … Certainly, the factions and the divisions that have grown within God’s family desperately need something, Someone (?) to heal the divide. Jesus himself said that he had come to heal, that he had come for the sick not the well.
My Christian journey has been a walk of healing. Indeed of resurrection; each step along the way, another “Baptism”: of death, of submerging beneath the waters and then a raising up into new life.
First, at the death of my parent’s marriage, when I took on the Faith of a 10 year old, at my local traditional, high Anglican Church, in love with the Anglican Nuns who taught me and took me for my confirmation – a simple trusting childlike faith in the God of the Trinity. But within a few years I had drifted away.
Then a real and shocking death brought me back at the age of 31, when my middle brother, the only practicing Christian in the family, was murdered by a young drifter in a random act of violence. My mother, youngest brother and I, took on his Faith, led by the young curate of our Evangelical, Charismatic Church, and for 25 years our Faith was fanned by this “Way” – sure, strong, and unquestioning. This Way and no other. The other ways were heretical. But this “container” was almost certainly necessary, needed – then …
Then the next death… just as shocking, but the result was very different. My youngest brother, a wise, gentle man of God, but who did question and unfortunately also suffered from depression, walked out one freezing January day, and made the terrifying and un-reversible decision to jump, from the devastating heights of Beachy Head, into the English Channel below.
Since then I have been questioning, searching, reading. God has been sending me on a paper trail of excellent reads and this book’s title and content spoke into my heart.
Jesus Paradox, a phrase coined by Amos Smith. It is his explanation of the term Miaphysite – the Dynamic Union of Creator God and his human son: Fully God and fully human. “Both and” … losing the dualistic certainty of “either or” – as brought to us by the Monastic authority of the desert fathers and mothers of the first few centuries AD, before the Divide.
We are introduced to the Alexandrian mystics who spent their time alone, in silence, listening to God. They understood and recognized His mystery: which showed us that we do not have all the answers and that it is perfectly alright to question and that the Jesus of the Bible is continually a “Paradox” in tension at all times. Jesus taught in parables (full of paradox), he avoided answering questions directly instead replying with another question or one of his famous parables, engaging us, getting us to question and to recognize that there are no simplistic answers, sometimes we need to go through a process before we can understand, or even realize that the answer is simply “no answer”, “Mystery” and be content to leave it there.
Healing the Divide, doesn’t present us with answers but throws up lots of healthy questioning. It releases us from the need to have all the answers, it is food for thought and deserves to be read and re-read. I feel I have just touched the surface and I am sure will enjoy delving back in between its covers over the years. It has also re-ignited my desire to develop my relationship with God, and certainly to “go up onto the mountaintops” – “out into the deserts” “to shut my door” to the outside world and get to know Him (our wonderful, unknowable, mysterious, paradoxical God) better. Until such time when “I know as I am fully known”. Once we all recognize this and lose the dualistic desire for everything to be “either or”, when we recognize that the far more inclusive “both and” is perfectly acceptable then surely we can begin the process of “Healing the Divide” – Enjoy!
BOOK REVIEW FROM AMAZON CANADA
Finding A Common Ground for Healing the Divide Between Christians
It seems to me that the current majority of baptized Christians around the world have a minimalistic notion about the history and the historical roots of the teachings of the universal church. These are the Christians who are so by chance or birth, and they are content to believe whatever they inherit from their ancestors, or simply remain “neutral.” The minority of Christians (I would guess no more than 25% of all those who are baptized), who do care for Christian history and its universal teachings, however, are divided between the left and right wings—including liberal or conservative lines of thinking–or consider themselves either progressive or traditional. Generally speaking, the Christians who are intentional and vocal about their faith are considered either fundamentalist/dualist in their approach, or consider themselves humanist or new age-y. What both of these groups tend to eliminate from their spirituality is what we would call the paradox of the mystery, the mystery of faith as well as the mystery of life.
So far, I have not met anyone who would have addressed this fundamental issue as clearly, as strategically, and as intentionally as Amos Smith did in his book. With a thorough theoretical analysis, coupled with practical steps, Smith gives us a chance to reconcile the right wing of Christianity with the left one. In addition, he gives food for thought for both conservatives and liberals, and encourages both traditionalist and progressive sides of Christianity to seek a common ground by way of revisiting 4th century Christian mystics in order to learn to reintegrate the mystery and paradox of the Incarnation–which used to be at the heart of Christian teaching and living in the first centuries–into our 21st century way of thinking, feeling, believing and spiritual living.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Christian history, seeking to learn the relevance of ancient Christian teachings to our current world. I would also recommend this book to all those who feel unsatisfied with a reductionist view of Christianity, which yields to politically correct humanism – thus restricting Christianity to a social project, as it were – or limiting the Christian faith to a kind of exclusive fundamentalism, which divides the world into “us” and “them” categories.
“Healing the Divide” does exactly what the title indicates, where Smith produces a unique and concrete text that attempts to heal the deep divide found amongst Christians, he succeeds through a careful blend of theoretical as well as a practical way to bridge the huge gap between the two extremes of Christianity in our 21st century by going back to 4th century mystics and theologians from Alexandria in order to shed a clear light on the incarnational nature of Christianity which intended to reconcile the unity of the Divine and human dimensions in the person of Jesus Christ not by eliminating the mystery, but rather by enhancing it and making it relevant and approachable for every generation to come.
This book is eloquent and clear in its writing, perfect for individual reflection as well as for book clubs, as each chapter ends with inspiring and often challenging questions.
-Rev. Sandor Borbely
BOOK REVIEW FROM AMAZON AUSTRALIA
I have been amazed that so much “fell into place” as I read
I had long been aware of a growing sense that something was missing from the familiar gospel that I had been taught….even to the point of feeling a sense of being “short changed”. I knew in my heart that the Gospel is bigger and better.
To the author, Amos Smith, thanks for inviting me as one of your readers to learn from the Alexandrian mystics and deepen my journey with God. It’s like a wonderful vista has been opened to me.
God bless the vital work you are doing.
To potential fellow readers, checking out the reviews, as I always do myself, I warmly recommend this book. No book is perfect, but there are those that fill spaces, and broaden living knowledge in vital areas. I consider this book to be one of these.
HEALING THE DIVIDE OTHER REVIEWS
BOOK REVIEW FROM BARNES & NOBLE
This is an excellent book.
In Healing The Divide Amos Smith integrates spirituality and theology. This integration is common in the East, but rare among Western Christians. Healing the Divide is a rare tightrope walk between the polarizations and extremes that plague Western Christianity today. Smith is scholarly, but has a fresh, clear, and accessible writing style. I would recommend this book for book studies. Smith’s approach is broad enough to engage all the various angles and perspectives on Jesus in a study group.
Healing The Divide makes an excellent “Who is Jesus?” book study. It was broad enough to engage the whole spectrum of angles on Jesus present at the study!
-Barbara Holmes, church member
There are so many suggestions in publication re. a direction for Postmodern Christianity, most of them contradicting one another. All feel like a stab in the dark. Amos Smith convincingly argues that there IS a way forward for Postmodern faith and that way is rooted in Christian Mysticism—in the theology of The Jesus Paradox. The Jesus Paradox that Smith celebrates in his book is Christian Mysticism’s theological core and the way forward for Postmodern Christianity.
I am glad that Amos Smith’s five roots of Christian Mysticism include New Monasticism and Nonviolence. Smith’s organization, RCMR, is a Postmodern synthesis of the most primary threads of Christian Mysticism through the ages.
-Kenneth McIntosh, author of Water from an Ancient Well
I have practiced Centering Prayer for six years. I never found a root theological basis for my Centering Prayer practice until I encountered The Jesus Paradox taught by Amos Smith in Healing The Divide.
Amos Smith’s organization, RCMR, have given me other central points of emphasis, such as New Monasticism and Nonviolence, which have helped me to integrate my Centering Prayer practice and understand it within a broader holistic framework. I now understand my calling and life choices within the context of New Monasticism. And I now understand my Nonviolence activism within the context of my Centering Prayer practice.
–Janis Stephens, church member
BOOK REVIEW FROM ICRUCIFIED BOOK REVIEWS (icrucified.com)
Healing The Divide is thought provoking and belief challenging.
I was interested in this book the moment I heard its title. I have been attracted to ancient Christianity since I was introduced to the writings of the ancient fathers nearly a decade ago. I am particularly drawn to the writings of the desert fathers and the Christian mystics, so I was excited to get my hands on Healing the Divide. I think most people when beginning a book of this nature might have certain expectations, and I did too… this is why I think the disclaimers presented by Amos are a necessary precursor to my own review.
From the author:
“This book is intended for the Christian reader in general, the Mystic Christian in particular, and for seekers interested in Mystic Christianity and its role in the twenty-first Century.
Most of what I’ve written isn’t original research. It’s an original distillation and contemporary synthesis. This book is sometimes edgy. The edge is intended to clarify the truth of the mystics, not to clobber people. This book isn’t a specific history. For readers interested in a more specific history, refer to the bibliography and appendices. This book is a treatise that looks deeply into the life-giving roots of Christian tradition… We can’t plunge into this stuff without dropping into the depths of our own souls. The book will become more understandable and satisfying as you go along. And when you’re done you’ll see each section has its place and that together they form an organic whole.” (From the preface; p. xviii)
I like this disclaimer; it sets the table for conversation with ground rules. This book is not an apologetic or a history textbook… it’s a conversation, an opinion, and invitation for inner examination–it’s a request to set aside biases, hobby horses, and sacred cows. It’s an opportunity look behind the curtain and behold the mystery of the Divine.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I must admit that I found it a “stormy” read. There were lightning strikes of brilliance and there were terrifying rumbles of thunder; there were times when the ideas “rained” so heavily I could not see in front of me and there were times when the torrents slowed, clouds cleared, and the way was as clear as could be. It was not always easy to navigate through this read, but I am glad I persevered. There were several areas my own beliefs were tested and other areas I found disagreed completely with my understanding of Scripture, but there were also a number of ideas presented to me that have opened my thinking to new possibilities. Who knows what God will teach through Healing the Divide?
One of the things I liked the most was the openness of Amos Smith’s writing; he was not the least bit timid about putting his passion front and center in this story. This is a very vulnerable writing style and almost demands a defensive posture, but Amos writes with a gentle confidence as he allows his reader as much space as they need to agree, disagree, or reflect indefinitely on the ideas he presents. This is a refreshing attitude. Another feature I appreciated was the extensive helps that he includes in the appendices of the book. Amos has included a detailed glossary, a lengthy bibliography, and several sections to help the reader with the term “miaphysite” (the Jesus Paradox), which is the primary plot line for this book.
One of the areas that I found most challenging was the use of terms. For instance, the term “miaphysite” is a curious oddity in the realms of normal theological discussions. While Amos attempts to make the conversation friendlier by using the term “Jesus Paradox” interchangeably with miaphysite, it still seemed cumbersome and confusing to me. I don’t know if I have an answer or even a suggestion to make the conversation more amenable, but these terms seemed awkward to me.
I think this is an important book. Don’t let my statement confuse you, it is not an easy book, but it is very important…especially for Protestant Evangelicals of which I am one. There are many theological terms the average Christian will not be familiar with and there is a substantial amount of early church history many people probably never knew existed, but these details should not be a deterrent. Healing the Divide is full of exquisite conversation starters and I believe it can certainly be the beginning for many people-Believers to recovering Christianity’s ancient and mystic roots. I will heartily recommend it to my friends, but I think it might best be read in groups or at least with a partner.
-Jeffrey Borden, Pastor and book reviewer