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The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition (Plus) [Paperback]

By Huston Smith (Author)
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Item description for The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition (Plus) by Huston Smith...

This dean of world religious education presents the essential teaching of Christianity and--for the first time--his own profound Christian faith and conviction.

Publishers Description

"I have tried to describe a Christianity which is fully compatible with everything we now know, and to indicate why Christians feel privileged to give their lives to it."--Huston Smith

In his most personal and passionate book on the spiritual life, renowned author, scholar, and teacher of world religions Huston Smith turns to his own life-long religion, Christianity. With stories and personal anecdotes, Smith not only presents the basic beliefs and essential teachings of Christianity, but argues why religious belief matters in today's secular world.

Though there is a wide variety of contemporary interpretations of Christianity--some of them conflicting--Smith cuts through these to describe Christianity's "Great Tradition," the common faith of the first millennium of believers, which is the trunk of the tree from which Christianity's many branches, twigs, and leaves have grown. This is not the exclusivist Christianity of strict fundamentalists, nor the liberal, watered-down Christianity practiced by many contemporary churchgoers. In exposing biblical literalism as unworkable as well as enumerating the mistakes of modern secularists, Smith presents the very soul of a real and substantive faith, one still relevant and worth believing in.

Smith rails against the hijacked Christianity of politicians who exploit it for their own needs. He decries the exercise of business that widens the gap between rich and poor, and fears education has lost its sense of direction. For Smith, the media has become a business that sensationalizes news rather than broadening our understanding, and art and music have become commercial and shocking rather than enlightening. Smith reserves his harshest condemnation, however, for secular modernity, which has stemmed from the misreading of science--the mistake of assuming that "absence of evidence" of a scientific nature is "evidence of absence." These mistakes have all but banished faith in transcendence and the Divine from mainstream culture and pushed it to the margins.

Though the situation is grave, these modern misapprehensions can be corrected, says Smith, by reexamining the great tradition of Christianity's first millennium and reaping the lessons it holds for us today. This fresh examination of the Christian worldview, its history, and its major branches provides the deepest, most authentic vision of Christianity--one that is both tolerant and substantial, traditional and relevant.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: HarperOne
Pages   224
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.1" Width: 5.4" Height: 0.6"
Weight:   0.35 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Nov 14, 2014
Publisher   Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN  0060858354  
ISBN13  9780060858353  

Availability  142 units.
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More About Huston Smith

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Huston Smith

Through his landmark books and documentary films, Huston Smith has opened the eyes of the world to the invisible geometry that shapes human spirituality. Born in China over 80 years ago to missionary parents, Huston Smith served briefly as a pastor in the mid-west. Since the 1950s, he has held teaching positions on the faculties at MIT, Syracuse, and the University of California- Berkeley. Dr. Smith's books include the classic Religions of Man, Beyond the Post-modern Mind, and Forgotten Truth.He holds seven honorary degrees, in addition to the Ph.D. he earned from the University of Chicago.

Huston Smith currently resides in the state of California. Huston Smith was born in 1945.

Huston Smith has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Plus
  2. Spiritual Classic (St. Anthony Messenger Press)

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1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Authors, A-Z > ( S ) > Smith, Huston
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living > General
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Apologetics
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > General
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Reviews - What do customers think about The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition (Plus)?

another attempt at the essence of the faith  Jan 18, 2007
Born to Methodist missionary parents in rural China in 1919, Huston Smith has enjoyed a distinguished career as a scholar of world religions at Washington University, MIT, Syracuse, and Berkeley. His book The World's Religions, first published in 1958, has sold over 2 million copies as an introductory university textbook on the subject. Now in his late eighties, Smith describes himself as a "voice in the wilderness" decrying the corrosive forces of "secular modernity" which would marginalize religion. Thus his earlier book Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief (2002). His newest book begins with that prophetic warning but moves forward with a positive exposition of what he calls "The Great Tradition" of Christianity that enjoyed near unanimity among believers for the first millennium of the faith.

In Part One Smith presents an innovative interpretation of what he considers the fifteen "fixed points" of a distinctly Christian worldview. In fact, I found this part of the book to be mis-titled. What Smith outlines here is not distinctly or particularly "Christian," but rather a general "theism." Toward the last part of this section he admits as much, saying that the first part of the book "outlines the universal grammar of religion to which (in their various idioms) all religions conform" (my emphasis). Still, his staunch defense of a robust theism is welcome. Part Two is called "The Christian Story" and expands material from his book The World's Religions. Contrary to those who would be skeptical about ancient Christianity, here Smith insists that he intends to be entirely non-innovative and instead to rehearse, restore and revive what most all Christians of the first millennium believed. This is by far the longest section of the book, and concludes with his analysis of the seven "foundational points" in Christian theology--the incarnation, the atonement, the trinity, life everlasting, the resurrection of the body, hell, and the virgin birth. In the final Part Three he compares and contrasts the three main branches of Christianity--Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism.

What Smith offers here is similar to the book The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith (2003) by the New Testament scholar Marcus Borg. Smith seems more eager to defend the objective content of the faith, compared to Borg who emphasizes subjective faith, and at times he is as critical of liberals as he is of conservatives. Both books attempt a fresh and winsome overview of the "essence" of Christianity from the perspective of a liberal Christian fighting the forces of reductionistic secularity in major university settings (Smith describes our universities as the "churches" of materialist secularism). I would take personal exception to some of his liberal conclusions, but overall found myself very grateful for his forceful and public defense of the faith. Written at a simple level for the ordinary lay person, this would be a fine book to recommend to non-believers who would never listen to more conservative voices but might listen to an "insider" of their guild. Smith writes with equal parts passion and conviction as an unapologetic witness to the Good News of Jesus.
Argues, presents, and details the essence of Christianity in "contemporary idiom"  Dec 14, 2006


Professor Smith presents an expository introduction to Christianity from a philosophical, biblical, and historical perspective. The writing style is highly suitable for any one who is agnostic, atheist, and also anyone who can ruminate through well-thought out philosophical, logical, theological, and historical evidence. The catch-phrase of this book is "absence-of-evidence does not constitute evidence-of-absence." In other words, "the fact that science cannot get its hands on anything except nature is no proof that nature is all that exists." Also, Dr. Smith argues for a restorating of the "Great Tradition," meaning the Christianity of the universal Christian church of the 1st millenium. Good stuff to ruminate on.


In his own words, professor Smith is a Universalist (he sees common things in all religions - a field he spent his life studying and examining up close) and thus he "refuse to prioritize any one of the eight great religious traditions over the others." Nevertheless, his parent's sincerity, depth, and sincerity as Methodist missionaries in China has been influential in his view that religion matters. In fact he believes that secular modernists, agnostics, and atheist are "living in a truncated world" because of their denial of the trasncendent world. The author initially meant to name the title of his book "The Heart of Christianity" until he found out that Marcus Borg had taken the title already. Smith feels tha Borg gave "too much to secular modernity." This paperback edition contains an insightful interview into the thinking of Dr. Smith.


The 165 page book is basically three entities that flow in a sequential logic: "The Christian Worldview," "The Christian Story," and "The Three Main Branches of Christianity Today."

PART I. "The Christian Worldview" is a well developed and very PHILOSOPHICAL ARGUMENT for anyone who doubts that "beyong the edge of today's universe lies the infinite unknown we will step into tomorrow."

PART II. "The Christian Story" is a well writen and very BIBLICAL PRESENTATION of what makes Christianity stand out.

PART III. "The Three Branches of Christianity Today" is a well researched and very HISTORICAL concised COMMENTARY on Orthodoxy, Roman-Catholicism, and Protestantism. While none of the three branches will feel mis-represented, one may be left with questions wanting to know more. To keep the book under a limited number of pages, Smith discusses two important aspects of each branch. The most important topics for Catholics, Smith explains, are the Church as teaching authority, and the Church as sacramental agent. For the Orthodox, the corporate view of the Church and the mystical emphasis are distinctive. Protestantism stresses justification by faith and what he calls "the Protestant principle."


As an evangelical Protestant, I was surprised by the novel way that Huston Smith presents the heart and soul of mere Christianity. It is very eloquent, very well thought-out, erudite, and so very non-evangelical. His arguments are not forceful, not in-your-face, and not polemical. For anyone outside the faith, this will be a good first step to knowing the Christ in Christ-ianity. For anyone inside the family of faith, this will be a challenging yet rewarding read. Enjoy!
The Great Tradition is Faith Itself  Jul 6, 2006
The Soul of Christianity, Restoring the Great Tradition is renowned author, scholar, and teacher of world religions Huston Smith's distillation of the Christian message as the source of Truth from which all meaning in life is derived.

He begins the argument by describing the relationship between science and faith and presents a fact that should be obvious but is not: the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.

Smith says this is the essential truth that has triggered the second great revolution in the human spirit because it is bringing God back into the picture.

The first revolution--in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries--replaced God with a scientistic view, which is to say our human ability to reason. In the first revolution, humanity was high on the Scientific Method and came to believe all truths could be discovered and mapped through experimentation.

Built on the real world of the five senses, Science kicked Mystery to the curb.

With scientific advances came a new set of values. The values of the early church--the Great Tradition--got lost under Sunday sales flyers. In came secular materialism and the lust for money. The Gold Standard replaced the Golden Rule.

Secular materialism now shapes all our institutions--science, technology, business, education, religion, media, art, government. And the rich got richer....

Despite the great portfolios, the impeccable report cards, the trophy houses, and the like that put a big distance between the winners and the losers, a problem remains that unites all of us: the "longing for release from mundane existence with its confining walls of finitude and mortality."

Smith says "the Good News of authentic religion--in this book, Christianity--is that the longing can be fulfilled."
As the argument of The Soul unfolds, Smith describes a conversation between science and the Christian world view in which science comes to realize its own false premises and limitations. Understanding science in the context of the Great Tradition of Christianity--the beliefs established in the first millennium, when the church was united--brings us back to Mystery.

As scientists come to realize that they can't explain everything, that one inquiry into the nature of the universe leads to more questions and more answers, they realize the questions are infinite and that the fundamental feature of the universe is not matter but information. Basically, scientists don't know why things happened. The why is what gets them.

It gets them because it takes them out of the physical world. Somehow--why?--the whole is invariably greater than the sum of its parts. The scientistic view of the world as we know it as growing more complex from the bottom up--simple little things evolve into complex big things--whereas the Christian world view asserts that the Infinite becomes the many. The parts of the whole are virtues, Smith says, "for they retain in lesser degree the signature of the One's perfection.

"The foundational virtue os exisetence, for to be more than figments of the imagination, virtue must exist....The west's ternary is the good, the true, and the beautiful, and these beginnings open out into creativity, compassion, and love until we arrive at Islam's Ninety-nine Beautiful Names of God, which include the Holy, the Forgiver, the Gentle, the Inocmparable, the Glorious, and their likes. Above these lies the hundredth name, which--symbolically absent from the Islamic rosary--is unutterable."

Once the prodigal son called Science is coming home to find his place in the Father's world, the family can sit down to dinner and say grace.

Here's where the Christian world enters Smith's discussion. If Judaism is the Jews' story of their attempt to come to terms with the unseen order of the world, then Jesus can be seen as coming to mediate the world of the Spirit with the sensual world. The essence of God is love, Jesus reminded us.

"Jesus tried to convey God's absolute love for every single human being and for everything God has created," Smith says, pointing out: "If the infinity of God's love pierces to the core of a being, only one response is possible--unobstructed gratitude for the wonders of God's grace."

If love is the essence of God, then "at no point could God have been truly god without being involved in relationship. That requirement was met 'before the foundation of the world' was laid, Paul told the Ephesians," Smith says.

In a nutshell, then, science is making a perfect circle that brings itself--and us--back to God as Infinite, God as Creator, God as Love. If we accept this, then we can find meaning in life by living in the Spirit rather than in the Shopping Mall.

But how? By "participating in God's infinite love for the world. If we visualize that love as a ray of light descending from heaven, faith is moving into that light and letting it transform us to become a part of it."

Human allegiance belongs to God. Smith explains this further:

"We can draw here on the analogy of the child in his or her home. After the child's physical needs have been met, or rather while they are being met, the child needs above all to feel the enveloping love and acceptance of its parents. Paul, Luther, and Protestants in general say something comparable for human beings throughout their lifespans. Since from first to last human beings are vulnerable before the powers that confront them, their lifelong need is to know that their basic environment, the ground of being from which they have derived and to which they will return, is for them rather than against them. If they can come to know this to the extent of really feeling it, they are released from the basic anxiety that causes them to try to elbow their way to security. This is why, just as the loved child is the cooperative child, the man or woman in whom God's love has awakened the answering response of faith is the one who can truly love other people. The key is inward. Given faith in God's goodness, everything of importance follows. In its absence, nothing can take its place."

Jesus told us to come to him as little children. Leave your nets and follow me. Let the dead bury their dead. Love God, "who transcends all the limitations and distortions of finite existence," with all your heart and mind and soul. Then you'll know why you get up in the morning.
Christianity on the Procrustean Bed  Jun 4, 2006
Huston Smith's worldview should be obvious to those who have read his previous books, or to those who read this one critically. It is perennialism, not Christianity. Perennialists, such as Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell, and Ken Wilber, hold that all religions share a common mystical and esoteric core: all is one and all is divine. The exoteric trappings of religion--such as their official creeds and Scriptures--may seem to affirm otherwise, but never mind. (Sadly, the two evangelical authors who endorsed this book either did not understand Smith's perspective or wrongly thought it not significant enough to withhold their endorsement.)

Thus, while using words common to Christian faith and appealing to various Bible texts, Smith redefines the meaning of every theological term he uses and imposes an essentially pantheistic and monistic worldview upon the Bible, adjusting it to his perennialist and Procrustean bed for appropriate mutilations.

Smith's very definition of Christianity (p. 33) lacks any reference to Jesus Christ, the incarnate founder of it. This is because Smith's philosophical categories trump the teachings of Jesus and his apostles.

If one is impressed with Smith's rendering of Christianity or if one wants a truer description of it, it is advisable to read the Bible itself as well as to consider books more faithful to what the Bible's basic message, such as John Stott's "Basic Christianity" and Walter Martin's "Essential Christianity." To understand the tactics that Smith and others use in misinterpreting the Bible, see James Sire, "Scripture Twisting."

I will have a longer review of "The Soul of Christiantiy" published in "The Christian Research Journal" in the near future.
Twilight Apologia  Feb 2, 2006
All of Huston Smith's life, God or the cosmos, if you will, tried to speak to him as to all of us. It seems he rejected much of the "music of the spheres" as they did not sound like the stories taught to him by his parents as a child in rural China.

Thus, much of the middle portions of his life were devoted to learning about other religions and teaching others what he had learned. He in fact became renown as a scholar of other religions. This was easy enough to do as so few scholars had any similar interests in world religions. It also avoided addressing the subtle background "music of the spheres" which modernity has labeled as "science." This music intruded often and has usually received a brittle response from Dr. Smith. How could one know it was not the voice of God?

This book impresses as a summation of the prodigal scholar who has come home to reclaim his religious inheritance. Here is his testimony. There is an air of dogmatism in some passages. The reader must judge where enthusiasm ends and rigidity begins.

While he was away learning about other religions, scholars of his own faith have revealed, in the last 75 years, a vastly different picture of Christianity from that comprehensible in rural China. For example, before the author holds forth on Original Sin again he might read the brilliant treatise on the matter by Dr. Tatha Wiley. There is no evidence at all of Smith's awareness of this current field of knowledge.

This may surprise those who think of Smith as a broad scholar of religion with penetrating insights into human aspirations and conditions. But the author is clearly no Joseph Campbell whose friendship he claims.

Some of the recent scholarship of Smith's faith encourages more humility and less certitude as real study often does. Portions of this book ring of rigid faith and less of scholarship. To speak of "absence-of-evidence" in the final pages of this book is befitting. It is also terribly sad. So much seems to have been missed. Where does the absence lie?

The real "absence" is the realization on the author's part that he could have answered the question: "why dost thou kicketh against the pricks" in another fashion. He could have responded with, yea, verily the deity before which I would bow is able to design a cosmos with all these elements, the modern, the secular and above all, the music of the spheres as heard in the songs of science! But to lovingly embrace science would have been a heresy unto death. Maybe all of creation can never really be understood nor embraced by most of us.

What we have is vintage "Smith-ing," hammering the modern, science and the secular on the anvil of traditional dogma. Of course, no one can fault a man, even an imminent scholar, for writing of his faith. To be sure, this book attempts to capture the "soul" of a single religion.

Zeal would demand the author's religion be described as the most preeminent in the world as is attempted here. However, insight over a lifetime of long study might lean more to "there are many paths" of truth. This we do not find here. The final sorting out of which religion is truly the "Great Tradition" is yet to come. Then, maybe, all the evidence will be in.

The author begins by speaking of two revolutions. One being the past "disastrous" move of the Western world to modernity which pushed the human spirit to "the margins." The other revolution is the current correction bringing "God back into the picture."

No honor is due to fundamentalist diatribes or anything close to them. However, it should be at least acknowledged that the reader of "The Soul of Christianity" may be witnessing the twilight of one man's attempt to return religion from the modern era to a world of the prescientific past!


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