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Intelligible Religion by Philip H. Phenix


Philip H. Phenix was educated at Princeton University, Union Theological Seminary, and Columbia University. He was formerly Dean of Carleton College, and was professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Published by Harper & Brother, New York. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


Chapter 1: Religion and Reason
If religion is significant when it deals with the whole range of man’s experience (which it is the business of reason to coordinate) and when it is concerned with the widest meanings, connections, and implications (all of which are the province of reason), and if religion is good when it promotes community (which is the function of reason in the life of the mind), it follows that reason must be a powerful ally of significant and good religion.

Chapter 2: How to Make Religion Intelligible
How do you obtain intelligible religious outlook in these times? The procedure is to begin by finding certain universal, ultimate experiences which can be intelligibly described, which shed light upon traditional religious ideas and which may contain valuable further implications.

Chapter 3: Change
A world where change occurs must be a surprising world and one where both history and possibility are regarded as real and important. This means that the world will be seen as possessing a depth and a richness beyond the mere appearance of successive states and configurations of things. The awareness of change provides the ground for one of the fundamental forms of religious experience. Some basic religious concepts grow out of an interpretation of this experience.

Chapter 4: Dependence
Religion grows out of a consciousness of dependence. This is expressed in thankfulness which begets generosity, confidence, and humility.

Chapter 5: Order
The world is ordered in many ways: by a temporal order, by causal connection, as located, in terms of quantity, with various qualities, the possibility of classification, by the relatedness of things. Order my also be described in terms of community, of law, and moral order. Still other aspects of order are in "The Word of God," including "The God of Love." Illumination, meaning, insight, and confidence are also instruments of order.

Chapter 6: Value
Value is the ground of loyalty. It also gives zest and interest to life. It destroys boredom. It leads to sensitivity rather than callousness, to responsibility rather than neglect, to decisiveness in place of faltering. It is the source of energy for creative living rather than static existence. Out of the experience of value spring not only the positive responses of faithfulness and love but also the sense of tragedy.

Chapter 7: Imperfection
The idea of progress comes out of the sense of imperfection, as does the idea of God as transcendent. Thus a sense of divine purpose along with a religious experience growing out of hope is generated.

Chapter 7: Imperfection
The idea of progress comes out of the sense of imperfection, as does the idea of God as transcendent. Thus a sense of divine purpose along with a religious experience growing out of hope is generated.

Chapter 8: God
The world as it meets one in religious experience is a person-producing and person-enhancing world. Any encounter of this kind is a personal encounter. Therefore God is personal. Impersonal encounters are experiences of the relatively static, the unrelated, the random, the irrelevant and the conservative. Other concepts are also discussed: The meaning of the Word "God, Monotheism, "God" defined, God’s existence, Polytheism, Arguments for existence of God, Omnipotence, Omniscience, Immanence and Transcendence, Creation, and God as personal.

Chapter 9: Good and Evil
Community is the ultimate standard by which good is measured, Therefore the basic sin is destruction of community. Love is the fundamental law of life and hate and estrangement are the fundamentals of sin.

Chapter 10: The World Beyond
All experience necessarily takes place within the time sequence. It is not possible to speak meaningfully about anything which is outside time. Religion, if it is anything at all, to the average person is a set of beliefs about the "supernatural", "the eternal", "the future life", "heaven and hell", "immortality", "resurrection", or the "Day of Judgment". It is important to indicate an approach to the interpretation of these ideas in the light of an analysis of religious experience.

Chapter 11: The Christian Message
The Christian message may be briefly summarized in the single assertion "Jesus is the Messiah." It would seem right to regard as truly "saved" anyone who has been given the grace of a high and noble purpose which draws him out of preoccupation with self into a full creative life which serves the development of community. Without underestimating the relevance of the positive Christian message, it is still important to recognize and gratefully to benefit from the other saving influences at work in human life.

Chapter 12: Church, Bible, Prophecy, and Miracle
The church is an organism brought into being by the unique series of events associated with the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Divine inspiration can be intelligibly interpreted to mean that the Scriptures are very particularly transparent to and vehicles of the basic experiences called religious. The prophet is an interpreter because he is able to see the religious dimension in what appear to others as ordinary events. Miracle stories are faith-symbols, fundamentally ways of expressing the conviction that the nature of things is not just what it appears to be, but that there are resident in the world hidden depths and heights of possibility, for which from time to time there is at least some evidence.

Chapter 13: Prayer and Sacrament
Prayer is a process in which the one who prays is constantly related in a profound way to his whole objective world (with both material and mental aspects) and is thereby creatively transformed into a mature person. In worship, the symbols too easily become ends in themselves. As such they are crystallized in the dogmatic finality of an Absolute Church. They are properly only means to an end -- the recognition of the whole world as a "sacramental universe".

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