Magazines 2022 Jul - Aug The Rebel Christ

The Rebel Christ

29 June 2022 By John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

An extended Reading the Bestsellers review of a 2021 book by Michael Coren

Note: Our print issue contains a shorter version of this review. Faith Today welcomes your thoughts on any of our reviews. We also welcome suggestions of other Canadian Christian books to review: Contact us.

Book by Michael Coren. Dundurn, 2021. 160 pages. $20 (e-book $10, audio $16

Michael Coren has annoyed me for a long time, and now I had his little book in my hands.

Raised a secular Englishman, Michael Coren once converted to evangelicalism, then to conservative Roman Catholicism, and is now a progressive Anglican. What has stayed the same is that Michael Coren is always luminously right and his opponents are always contemptibly wrong. As his new book asserts, they trade in “comfortable banalities” that “are not reliably scriptural or convincingly Christian.”

Talk media notoriously trades in oversimplification, polarization and combat, and Coren has amassed an impressive list of awards to certify his ability to rile up audiences. But is this the sort of person – whose only religious credentials are ordination in the widely inclusive Anglican Church of Canada following a first degree in divinity from the most liberal college (Trinity) in the Toronto School of Theology – anyone should heed when it comes to the Christian religion?

Well, maybe.

Rebel-Christ-by-Michael-CorenMany people will not come within a stone’s throw of Christianity because of their antagonism toward Christian antagonism. Christian ferocity over homosexuality, women’s reproductive freedom, dying with dignity and other sensitive issues has disgusted many of our neighbours toward Christians in general and Evangelicals in particular. Only someone who quickly sets out progressive credentials has a hope of being heard by such people, and Coren eagerly sets out his.

Indeed, Coren himself has borne the brunt of Catholic and evangelical rage, he says, as his conversion to progressive Christianity resulted in the loss of journalistic work accompanied by a chorus of conservative catcalls. Michael Coren therefore knows, because he feels, the revulsion of so many Canadians to a conservative Christianity that hurls metaphorical and even literal firebombs at its enemies. He wants to offer those disaffected readers a Jesus emancipated from flag and fury, a Jesus who contends for justice, generosity, hospitality, forgiveness, forbearance and other good things so quickly lost in the fog of the culture wars.

This is the Jesus, Coren says, of the Gospels – the Jesus who never spoke of abortion or homosexuality or any of the other hot-button issues of the Christian right, but who insisted on care for one’s neighbour.

I can’t help but point out that Jesus didn’t talk about these matters because no one in his audience was wondering about them. Not incidentally, the consensus of his day would line up against Coren’s progressive views.

Coren likewise simply waves away the vast Christian literature against the legitimacy of abortion, the normality of homosexuality, liberal access to assisted dying, and the other issues he champions. Thus to airily dismiss contrary arguments is not only bad journalism, it is to bear false witness against Coren’s Christian neighbours who disagree with him – as I do.

Coren maintains he is orthodox with no intention of denying the divinity of Jesus and His resurrection. He just wants to focus his audience’s attention on a Jesus who aligns with some of the best impulses of our culture, not the worst.

Fair enough. But Coren’s book, aside from a good chapter chock-full of Scripture on Jesus and the poor, doesn’t talk very much about Jesus. Like the pundit he has always been, he argues at length for his own views, only occasionally genuflecting toward Jesus.

I come away from the book badly torn. Michael Coren does not preach Christ very much or very well. (Why would Jewish and Roman authorities bother to crucify such a low-octane messiah?)

But perhaps I can be glad if Christ is preached in some other way, so long as he is preached (Philippians 1:18). And Christ is preached herein.

Coren tells of finishing a meal in a Toronto restaurant and emerging to encounter a sad street person. When Coren is begged for help, he asks the man to accompany him to a nearby store, and in it he buys food while his companion shyly waits by the till.

The confused storekeeper looks back and forth between them, and when Coren approaches to pay, she can’t help but ask, “Are you together?”

“Yes, we are together,” Coren replies.

Does the Lord Jesus then not smile?

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