Ron Miller is the chair of the Religion Department at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois, where he has taught for 30 years. He is also cofounder of Common Ground, an adult education group that has been engaged in interfaith religious study and dialogue since 1975. Miller is the author of Wisdom of the Carpenter. In this rousing paperback, he uses Stevan Davies' The Gospel of Thomas: Annotated and Explained as a starting point for those who want to practice the wisdom of Jesus and step into the Kingdom of God here on earth. The 114 sayings of the man from Nazareth in this controversial text push us beyond conventional religion. As Miller puts it: "There's a great deal in the Gospel of Thomas's message that is disturbing. The fact that we need to save ourselves. The fact that Jesus does not want our worship but our work. The fact that, ultimately, everything is God."
Miller is convinced that what this gospel is calling for is spiritual practice. For centuries, Christians have put too much emphasis upon grace and left the whole process of sanctification in the background: "We must labor to find life. We must be adults. We must take responsibility for our spiritual growth. Our salvation is not going to happen without us. For far too long, Christians have been obsessed with this notion that 'all is grace' and 'all is faith' and there's no room for works. This is one of the most damaging pieces of nonsense ever foisted on spiritual seekers. Ignatius of Loyola admonished his companions to pray as if everything depended on God but to work as if everything depended on them. In this spiritual life there is far too much laziness passing itself off as trust in God." The Gospel of Thomas also makes it clear that too much has been invested in the forms and formulas of religion and not enough emphasis given to ethics or the working out of faith in everyday life. Miller calls this "spiritual infantilism," which strikes us as an apt characterization of the way far too many Christians have gotten caught up in worshipping Jesus rather than incarnating him in their own lives.
The direction Miller is advocating is captured in his chapter titles: Becoming a Spiritual Adult, Sorting Out the Old and the New, Being a Healing Presence, Daring to Be a City on a Hill, Spirituality Is Not Skygazing, and others. Miller opens up the aphorisms in Thomas and spells out just what it means to practice peace, hospitality, love, compassion and openness. In the front of the book, the author offers what he calls "The Faith of a Thomas Believer." It is a fine summary of the contents of this paperback:
I believe in one God, a divine mystery
beyond all definition and rational understanding,
the heart of all that has ever existed,
that exists now, or that ever will exist.
I believe in Jesus, messenger of God's Word,
bringer of God's healing, heart of God's compassion,
bright star in the firmament of God's
prophets, mystics, and saints.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the life of God that is our innermost life,
the breath of God moving in our being,
the depth of God living in each of us.
I believe that I am called to be Jesus's twin,
allowing myself to be a vehicle of God's love,
a source of God's wisdom and truth,
and an instrument of God's peace in the world.
I believe that God's reign is here and now,
stretched out all around us for those
with eyes to see it, hearts to receive it,
and hands to make it happen,
I believe in the community of God seekers
in all the religions, as well as outside of them,
the great prophets, mystics, and saints,
and those just beginning their spiritual journey.
I believe in a future on this earth when all
will be God-centered and God-conscious,
when we will learn to live in love and peace,
in the fellowship of brothers and sisters.
I believe that in death, life is changed,
not taken away, and that we will go
from step to step in God's life, God's love.
and God's glory for all eternity. Amen. "