The Rebel Christ

By Michael Coren

The Rebel Christ
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“Integrity, wit and passion. A fine advocate for the best of Christian thought and a faith that encompasses the human as well as the divine. ” —Stephen Fry
Christianity is in crisis, and its founder is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. This book presents the real ... Read more


“Integrity, wit and passion. A fine advocate for the best of Christian thought and a faith that encompasses the human as well as the divine. ” —Stephen Fry
Christianity is in crisis, and its founder is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. This book presents the real Jesus: a rebel, a radical, and a revolutionary.

What did Jesus — the original Jesus — say about the pressing issues of his and our day? He didn’t mention homosexuality but did call for the poor and marginalized to be protected and championed; he never spoke of abortion but did criticize the wealthy and complacent; he didn’t side with the rulers and wealthy but did condemn those who judged and exploited others and turned their eyes away from those in need and from the cry for justice. This was Jesus the rebel, Christ the radical, who turned the world upside down and demanded that his followers do the same. Too many of those followers, tragically, seem to have misplaced that vital lesson.

Michael Coren

Michael Coren is the author of seventeen books, four of them bestsellers, published in twelve languages. An award-winning columnist, he is also ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada. He lives in Toronto.



The starting point for this book is a question, based on a claim. Why is it that the purest, most supremely liberating philosophy and theology in all of history is now seen by so many people around the world as an intolerant, legalistic, and even irrelevant religion embraced only by the gullible, the foolish, and the judgmental? If that shocks you, so be it. That’s a good and not a bad thing, and the truth is often shocking. As a Christian, as someone whose faith informs his entire life and meaning, I pose this question with no relish and with a great deal of remorse, but I pose it nevertheless because it’s real and it’s proven, and unless Christians admit the problem and struggle to remedy it, matters will only deteriorate. For Christians and for non-Christians alike, for the sake of public discourse, for the sake of the church, and for the sake of generations to come, we have to set matters right.

An authentic relationship with God is a dialogue, and one that involves questions, arguments, and even doubt. We’re made — and if we’re Christians we believe we’re made by God — to be thinking individuals who want answers, and not robotic creatures who simply obey. A mature belief in Scripture necessitates an understanding that the Bible is not divine dictation but an inspired history of God’s relationship with humanity, which is a wonderful guide to life but doesn’t solve every modern problem and hourly challenge. It can be complex; it’s often nuanced; some would argue, although I disagree, that it’s even contradictory; but at heart it’s about absolute love. And that love culminates in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, who says not a word about, for example, abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, pornography, or the so-called traditional family, but demands justice, forgiveness, equality, care for the poor and for the marginalized and for strangers, and compassion even for enemies; who insists on peace, and on the abandonment of materialism; and who constantly speaks of the blistering risks of wealth and prestige.

He turns the world upside down, he challenges the comfortable and the complacent, sides with the outcast and the prisoner, and has no regard for earthly power and worldly ambition. Love and hope. Christianity isn’t safe and was never supposed to be. Christianity is dangerous. Yet, truth be told, we have often transformed a faith that should revel in saying yes into a religion that cries no. Its founder died so that we would change the world but many of his followers fight to defend the establishment, they try to link Jesus to nationalism and military force, and they dismiss those who campaign for social change as being radical and even godless.

Of course, this is only a culture within Christianity, and not Christianity itself, but ask most people what they think of when they consider the public face of the Christian faith and they speak of American conservative politicians, anti-abortion activists, or campaigners against sex education or equal marriage. Worse than this, many Christians themselves — especially in North America — have retreated into a bunker mentality, seeing persecution around every corner and retreating into literalism and small-mindedness. They have built an alternative culture, not one that’s anchored in the simplicity and altruism of the early church, but that’s hinged on nationalism and insularity.

This is all nostalgia rather than the Jesus movement, and as much as change can be frightening to all of us, the Son of God told us that fear and anxiety are unfounded. If we worry about the evolving world, we’re just not listening to the words of Christ that we claim to revere. It’s as though the cosmetics of the Gospels, the veneer of the message, have become more important than its core and its central meaning. Jesus spoke less about the end times than the time to end injustice, less about whom we should love than about how we should love everyone. If we miss that, we’re missing the whole thing. The great C. S. Lewis, one of the finest communicators of the faith in modern times, once wrote that “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important. ” Let Christians not be moderate in their vocation as radicals of invincible and, yes, revolutionary love.

I know of what I speak, because this is in many ways a book that has grown from personal experience. Until 2013 I was regarded as a champion of orthodox Roman Catholicism, and as such an opponent of reproductive rights for women, equal marriage, and many other issues around which I now have an extremely different and certainly more qualified opinion. In Canada, I hosted a nightly television show for sixteen years, had a radio show for even longer, and was published in numerous major secular newspapers, as well as several Catholic ones. My book Why Catholics Are Right sold almost fifty thousand copies and was on various bestseller lists for eleven weeks. I spoke to large crowds all over North America and in the U. K. I certainly wasn’t on the hard right: I supported civil unions and legal protection for LGBTQ2 people, I opposed the Iraq war and the death penalty, I supported the welfare state and the forgiving of Third World debt. But it was these areas of liberalism, these informed subtleties, that made my overall Christian conservatism so persuasive. The fanatics could rant and be ignored; a relatively intelligent and seemingly reasonable commentator far less so. Because of that, and to my shame, I caused much more harm.

That’s a little surprising, in that I come from a British, secular, half-Jewish family. It was while I was working on a biography of G. K. Chesterton, a flawed but brilliant British, Catholic author and journalist who died in 1936, that I became interested in Roman Catholicism, particularly of the more traditional kind, and in 1984 was baptized and confirmed. I found a home among conservatives, and intellectual, emotional, and spiritual love-bombing and praise are difficult to resist. But I have nothing and nobody to blame other than myself. I threw myself into a contrarian defence of Catholic reaction, and to my shame I was rather good at it.

But then in came God, who can be extremely annoying in that way! Genuine faith is sandpaper of the soul. It hurts, it stings, but in the final analysis it should lead to a more perfect believer. I suppose that the divine carpenter began work on me, because around eight years ago I went through something like a spiritual breakdown. I cried, I couldn’t sleep, I questioned everything I had done. I’d always believed in God, always embraced the Christian message, but now it seemed that I’d got it all wrong. I was no fool, I knew biblical languages, I read voraciously, I had life experience, but it was as if I’d walked though my life with some sort of comforting theological myopia.

To make matters yet more painful and confusing, in 2013, Uganda’s biting homophobia smashed into me. I met some of its victims, wrote about the shame of Christian groups from the United States encouraging and funding some of this, and I spoke out in public on my various media platforms. As a consequence, I was bombarded with abuse and threats. This was nothing, of course, compared to the experience of countless men and women who for so many years have faced such contempt and persecution merely for their sexuality, for being who they are, and as how God made them. And that contempt and persecution continues to this day, especially outside of North America and Western Europe. In some places, God knows how, it’s even getting worse. I realized that opposition to equal marriage was based less on defence of traditional marriage than on a visceral dislike, even a manic hatred, of LGBTQ2 people. So, I met with gay Christian groups, who were disarmingly forgiving and loving, I spent as much time as I could with people I had long opposed, I read, I prayed, I wept, I apologized. I changed. That change in this area led, inevitably and exponentially, to change in other areas as well — once the doors of faith are opened, all sorts of things will come tumbling through. Thank the Lord.

In April 2014, I decided to come clean, or at least have a good wash, in my syndicated weekly newspaper column. “In the past six months I have been parachuted into clouds of new realization and empathy regarding gay issues, largely and ironically because of the angry and hateful responses of some people to my defence of persecuted gay men and women in Africa and Russia,” I wrote. “This wasn’t reasonable opposition but a tainted monomania with no understanding of humanity and an obsession with sex rather than love. … I have evolved on this single subject because I can no longer hide behind comfortable banalities, have realized that love triumphs judgment,” and I had realized that a new conversation has to take place, and that the word of God couldn’t be, mustn’t be, distorted in a way that hurt so, so many people and also their friends and families.

That provoked an outpouring of hostility. There were thousands of emails; letters (some containing bodily waste); death threats; attacks on my family; calls for my wife to leave me; accusations that I was a child abuser, a thief, and a fraud, and that I was doing it all for the money. The latter was particularly odd, in that my professional career largely evaporated in the space of two or three weeks: five regular newspaper columns, fourteen speeches, a book contract, two radio shows, and a television hosting position, all cancelled. There is none so angry as a homophobe scorned. I should have been more intimidated, because this was income, persona, and community all lost within days. But the contrary was true. I felt a sense of empowerment and invigoration. There were volumes of support as well, some of which I will never forget. But doubters too, and fair enough. Apologies aren’t sufficient. If we’re sorry, we need to show that we’re sincere, offer contrition, do penance, and try to compensate for harm done and to repair damage caused. We have to take complete ownership of the sin, and work day and night to put it right.

The point I’m trying to make is that I have been there, been on the conservative side, am familiar with the language and the arguments used, and know that these positions are not reliably scriptural or convincingly Christian. I don’t want to chastise or condemn — although something deeply critical is inescapable — but I do want to show that there is a radically different path. I’ve been trying to do that, to reveal and to walk that path, for eight years now, and finally comes this book. Which is not, I must emphasize, a call to support or join any political party or organization. I’m not a party-political person, and my commitment is exclusively to Jesus Christ and to his teachings. That those teachings lead — in my opinion — to a belief system based around peace, justice, equality, forgiveness, inclusion, humanity, care for the marginalized, poor, and weak, a rejection of materialism, and a commitment to a fundamentally new and different society is the central theme of this text.

So, this book is a partly personal and partly objective and analytical account of the Christian message, and what it says to us today. I make no apologies for the former, because there are more than enough impersonal accounts of Christianity on the market, and also because faith and religion are indeed acutely personal and, in some ways, subjective by their very nature. It must also be emphasized that this book isn’t an economic treatise or a sociological study, primarily because the Gospels are built not on economics, sociology, or politics but on romance, on a love affair, and a relationship. Our romance, our love affair, our relationship with Jesus. We love Christ and in turn, as Christians, the first and most central command is to love others. And if that love is to be more than mere emotion and feelings it must involve a profound care for the economic well-being, the physical and mental health, the physical safety, and the dignity and freedom of our fellow creatures. That doesn’t mean that we suddenly abandon spiritual concerns — far from it — but it does mean that to separate the care for the soul from the care for the person is not a full Christian response to the Gospels.


Integrity, wit and passion. A fine advocate for the best of Christian thought and a faith that encompasses the human as well as the divine.

Christianity today often comes in two forms: ignorance on fire or intelligence on ice. Michael Coren offers a different route. His theology enters the mind via the heart. His belief is in a God who loves us as we are but who doesn't want us to stay like that. Faith is the 'sandpaper of the soul', amending the human self in order to edit the world into somewhere more just and livable. If religion for you is just the bland leading the bland, then stop. Pick this book up and give it a go. It just might be that you too will become, in the spirit of Christ, a rebel with a cause.

In an era when hysteria and hate-filled anger are seeking a new respectability in public discourse, Michael Coren is a welcome voice of sanity, reminding us that God is worshipped as a God of love.

Coren’s blunt writing style may stretch the ideas of his conservative readers while bolstering those of his more progressive audience; the personal anecdotes sprinkled throughout the text complement his conclusions. For thoughtful theologians and laypeople alike.

Michael Coren’s new book The Rebel Christ is an inspired pleasure to read. It’s clear and well-paced arguments reveal a refreshingly fierce optimism, and an indignation that springs from Coren’s passion for Christianity’s potential.

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