Bishop Michael Ingham’s new book, Mansions of the Spirit, The Gospel in a Multi-Faith World, has prompted several letters and phone calls to the Anglican Church’s hierarchy, many of them protesting both the book’s perceived content and the bishop’s right to write it.
Ingham The book, which challenges the Christian notion that God’s grace is exclusively reserved for Christians, carries endorsements from notable theologians and religious figures, including the Dalai Lama, Hans Kang and a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Robert Runcie.
In a recent interview, Bishop Ingham of New Westminster diocese, said he isn’t surprised the book has generated some negative comments. But he is encouraged that, so far, positive comments far outweigh the negative. Sales have been brisk. The book quickly sold out its first printing run of 3,500 copies and is being reprinted.
Although critics in North America might think Mansions of the Spirit is radical theology, it is tame by British standards. “They are much further along in interfaith issues there,” he said.
The bishop said he had been “speaking to large audiences across Canada who have been very receptive to the idea of developing a new relationship with the world’s religions,” adding that many Christians have told him they support the idea of religious inclusiveness.
The book has also touched people who are not part of the Christian church.
“In some cases, I’ve spoken with people who said the Christian community’s attitude of exclusivity has kept them away, but now they are taking a new look at the faith,” said Bishop Ingham.
His most personally touching response came from a woman of Chinese heritage who attended a Baptist church. Her parents were Buddhists.
“She told me that when her parents died, her church told her they would go to hell because they had not accepted Jesus Christ,” said the bishop. “She said reading the book has helped her family to heal.”
Of the negative comments he has received, most have come from those who have not read the book.
“It’s not true that I’m denying Jesus, as some of the letters have suggested,” said Bishop Ingham. “The great majority of letters I’ve received in the negative are defending exclusivity. It’s as if we have learned nothing from Auschwitz.”
There have been two or three “thoughtful” responses, he said. These people have supported the direction of the book – the idea that reaching out to other religions will foster peace in the world – they just don’t believe religious pluralism is the way to do it.
The primate’s office at the national church office received approximately eight letters about the book toward the end of 1997. These were evenly split between dissenters and those pleased with it, said Rev. Gordon Light, principal secretary to the primate.
Some of the letters, he said, arrived before the book was released and were based on news reports about it.