Mar 26 2009

The Lloyd Geering Reader

Published by under Talks

SOF TALK MARCH 26 09 – Graham Batts

Most of us have been around the sun 60 -70 times, and we are probably here because we have not yet found a satisfactory answer to the mysteries of life etc.
The fundamental questions remain:

Why is there something rather than nothing?  – Einstein [?]
Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going!  – Gaugain
What’s it all about?  –  Michael Caine
What doth Lord  require of me? – My Father !

Tonight it is my privilege to introduce you to The Lloyd Geering Reader.
– A collection of papers given by professor Lloyd Geering over a period of 50 years.
They have been compiled by Paul Morris and Mike Grimshaw of Victoria and Canterbury Universities.

Most of us here will be very familiar with the life and work of Professor Lloyd Geering.
He is perhaps the most read and admired leaders of the SOF.
As the introduction to this book says:
“Lloyd Geering is perhaps NZs foremost intellectual. He is certainly our most decorated, as one of the 20 living persons who are counted as a Member of the Order of NZ.
He is well-known to 3 generations of New Zealanders as one of our most honoured, yet controversial figures. He has been dubbed a “prophet of modernity”.

Many of us have read all, or some, of his 10 books including his autobiography “Wrestling with God,” which describes his life as an exceptional student in science and mathematics before electing to pursue a degree in theology.
He subsequently became a Presbyterian minister, and went on to become a professor of Old Testament Studies and the Principal of Knox College.
Being an articulate speaker, he offered the Church a new way of interpreting scripture, in the light of modern scholarship. However this attempt resulted in the historic “heresy trials” of 1967.
Though acquitted, he went on to occupy the new Chair of Religious Studies at Victoria University, Wellington. This position enabled him to enunciate a new Christian perspective, but unstifled by the “organised church establishment”
Unlike many of us, he was not raised in a Christian home but consciously “adopted” the church during his student days. He was therefore free of the baggage that many of us carried into adulthood.

It takes two to communicate, and any writer therefore has to be able to engage with the reader. Therefore the reader is part of the equation.
While this book appeals to me immensely, it may not be appreciated by all of us here.
I can only tell you of my experience:

As the son of the manse, and with a heritage of five generations of Baptists, I had accumulated a lot of baggage by an early age.
BUT it was never my faith, – It was my parents’. I simply conformed.
Despite a very happy home and church life over many years, it was difficult for me to find an “Authentic Faith” to commit to without feeling that I had betrayed my Christian heritage.
Over the past years, I have read across a wide spectrum: from Billy Graham et al, to Richard Dawkins! My middle ground ranges between Marcus Borg and Don Cupitt.
The former is safe but vague, the latter is great, but a little academic.
Lloyd Geering is just right, not too hot and not too cold!
[I appreciate that it is important to read widely and outside one’s comfort zone. It is all too easy to read that which reinforces our prejudice.]


The book is a collection of lectures and talks, given in a variety of places, and to different audiences over a period of 50 years.
Most of the material can be found in the other 9 books, but the authors have cleverly taken these writings, and stitched them together to create a “Third Testament”.
Though brief, most of it is the distilled wisdom of the professor. If you highlight the good bits, you will soon find most of the pages coloured!
It is a book to be read, and re-read.
Prof. Geering is a master of the English language, He uses words frugally but precisely in order to ensure that the meaning is clear.
His wide knowledge of History, Philosophy, Theology, Science, and the “human condition” [to quote one of his often used phrases], inspires confidence, in that one can say that at last, “Here is an authority I can trust”.
He makes much of the power and limitation of language, and of its relativity in terms of time and culture.

The following extracts have been taken directly from the book, though not in any particular order.

This first extract is very radical, and overrides anything you will ever hear from the pulpit.

It is my belief that there is no ultimate meaning or purpose permeating the universe, amazing and mysterious though it is. The universe is as it is! If we want to find any meaning within the short time any of us are here, we have to create that meaning for ourselves.
And we create the meaning of our lives by the way we live.
For me “God” is a useful symbol, inherited from the past, to refer to that meaning, to those values I find to be supreme and to those goals I feel myself called to aspire. So when I say “I believe in God, I mean something like this “God” is the
symbol which holds together in a unity all my bits of knowledge about the world and all the virtues I have come to value such as love, justice, compassion. The more I respond positively to all this and learn to trust my fellow humans and the world at large, the more I find human existence to be of great worth and meaningful.
Surprisingly, I find much of the language of the bible and the Christian tradition is still very helpful to me.
For God, as I understand the word, is to be found in people, in human relationships, in my own thinking, as well as in the mystery of all living creatures and in the stars and distant nebulae. So when I say I believe in God, I mean a whole bundle of things, including such things as: I trust my fellow humans. I trust the world. I say Yes! to life. I look forward to each new day in hope and faith.

This next extract comes from a chapter entitled:
The words have been taken as printed, but from an edited text.

Faith and belief, though interrelated, must be clearly distinguished from each other.
Beliefs are mental constructs and because of the finiteness of our human understanding they should never be held as final or absolute. They are always relative to the time and cultural circumstances in which they arise.
Beliefs come and go.

Faith in contrast, is something much broader.
A person’s beliefs may change out of all recognition during his or her lifetime and yet he or she may remain all through it a person of faith. Faith is the response of the whole person – mind, heart and will – to the challenges of life.

Faith makes life worthwhile. It is faith which makes a person whole. – But faith in what?

In genuine belief, one does not have to be persuaded against one’s better judgement. In any particular context a person’s beliefs are such that, if they are honest, they have no choice to believe differently.

One must be continually examining one’s beliefs and allowing them to change, if one is to grow in faith and understanding.

To speak of God, in my view, is not to refer to a supernatural personal being who holds the universe in control and to whom one may pray in order to have one’s wishes [however laudable] come true.

As I see it to speak of God is to use symbolic language, hallowed by long tradition, in order to refer to the mystery of the universe, to the origin of life, to the source of truth and to the meaning of human existence.

When I say ‘I believe in God’, I mean that I can trust the world into which I have been born, in spite of all the threats and disappointments, in spite of the evil and tragedy so often found within it. With these words I mean that I believe there is a purpose permeating the world and that I reject the alternative possibility, namely, that the world is a meaningless chaos and life is a horrible mistake. If I give thanks to god, it means that I am expressing gratitude for life itself. If I worship god, it means that I stand in awe of the eternal mystery of the world and of life. [98]

As I see it, the former dichotomy of reality into two worlds – physical and spiritual, temporal and eternal, seen and unseen,- has long been losing its credibility over the last two to three hundred years and is now being replaced by the much vaster and even more complex view of the universe as one. It is a physical universe: all spiritual reality [such as we experience in the human condition] is based in the physical and cannot exist in complete independence of it. This means that among my many beliefs there is none which refers to any hoped-for life after death. On the contrary, I believe that each human being, like every other form of  life known to us, is mortal and their existence as a conscious living organism is bounded by the limits  of conception and death. [95]

This last extract from the last chapter, is very sobering, and a call to arms.
For me, it makes traditional church worship Sunday by Sunday irrelevant!


The ultimate reality is that we humans find ourselves as the highest form of life in our little bit of the cosmos. We are alone in a vast cosmos. The future of this planet is in our hands. We are faced with immense problems. We have built weapons of unbelievable destruction. Our chief problems have been created by humans and can only be solved by humans. It is much harder to have faith in our fellow-humans than it is to have faith in the gods and other absolutes of the pre-modern world. Yet it is just such a demanding act of faith which this radically new age requires of us.[333]


  • For me, this book has the ring of truth, and is one with which I can identify.
  • I think I now have all the “theology” I need!—— Thank God!
  • I will continue to try to practise the teachings of Jesus in life, Volunteer organisations, and through Rotary. I have not rejected my heritage, only the dogma.
  • I will try and be a little less introspective and get on with living!  “The meaning of life” is illustrated in the March 23 ODT supplement!

Thank you.

Any questions or comments??

Here is one from me.

Given that our Ecclesiastical Professionals ALL endorse this book, Why do they persist with Theism as we have known it?

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