Mahatma Gandhi was once asked what was the greatest obstacle to the extension of Christianity. He answered: "Christianity."

Christianity faces the prospect of its own death through the death of its inadequately conceived Easter God. Christianity, as practised in New Zealand, is not credible and is dying.

If Christianity faces up to this full reality, it will survive to be a useful religious community. If it fails to shoulder the full weight of its own cross, it will not discover whether its Christian faith is really true.

Something like this is what Jesus, the Messiah of Christianity, went through when he stepped up to be crucified. His own disciples began to shrink from him. His own religion and government executed him. Even his own God forsook him. And if the followers of Jesus think they can rediscover their faith without going through something like the same death as their Messiah they haven't really appreciated what their own "Master and Lord" told them loud and clear.


Jesus told his followers they would not reach the real place of truth and love and grace without "taking up their own cross". Christianity was not slow to turn this inconvenient truth on its head. Contradicting the plain speech of their leader, devotees were going to swing into heaven on somebody else's cross — that of their own Messiah. Jesus' arduous long way around became for Christians their comfortable shortcut. Jesus was more about life than religion.

Religion as a systemic attempt to embrace the totality of life is vain. The sense of the largeness of life that Jesus possessed eclipses that of the religious butchers in the Temple slaughter-house. These kinds of priests slaughtered that kind of Jesus.

The difficulty with Anglican priest Michael Hewat's Christianity (Herald, April 15) is that it treats magnificent literary metaphors as temple dogmas set in concrete.

His royalist Prince Jesus comes down (and returns to) the Throne and Palace of his father. Some great biblical passages and hymns, magnificent literature in their own context but now clung to with wooden literalness, have become part of the obstacle hindering our own larger society from seeing in Christianity any evidence of Jesus.

Hewat's Christianity is pretty much that of the conventional church even today. How are these sorts of differences between dogged conservatism and daring exploration to be worked through? Far more important, how is there to arise from within this conflicted Christianity a form of profoundly honest personal and communal life which is itself such clear evidence of the real historical Jesus that New Zealanders of all stripes (and none) may be able to see it readily?

George Armstrong is an Anglican priest.