Scholar focusing on God’s human qualities wins Grawemeyer religion prize

The Rev. Dr. Charles Halton, the author of ‘A Human-Shaped God,’ wins the award sponsored by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville

by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Charles Halton

LOUISVILLE — God gets angry. God gets jealous. God hates, regrets and learns.

Theologians often dismiss those depictions of God in the Bible because they seem to clash with God’s image as an all-loving being, but an Episcopal priest with a different view has received the 2024 Grawemeyer Award in Religion for helping explain the paradox.

The Rev. Dr. Charles Halton, associate rector of Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington, Kentucky, won the prize for ideas set forth in his book “A Human-Shaped God: Theology of an Embodied God,” published in 2021 by Westminster John Knox Press. He argues that embracing God as a deity with human qualities can bring us closer to God and inspire us to become better people.

“We are, like God, to move from a place of exclusion and anger-fueled violence to a life of inclusion, radical forgiveness and compassion,” Halton said. “This is the path God is on. If we are not on it too, we are not imitating God.”

As an example, Halton cites the Old Testament story of how God floods Earth, destroying everything except Noah’s Ark. Later, God feels regret and creates a rainbow in the sky.

“Many Bible accounts are springboards for theological imagination that help us see God in constructive ways,” he said. “As humans, we too lash out in anger, but we also learn to forgive.”

“Westminster John Knox Press is extremely honored to have published this work,” said David Dobson, President and Publisher of WJK Press. “Dr. Halton’s book promises to give people new ways to think about God. We are excited for him and look forward to working with him in the future.”

“When I finished reading the manuscript, I knew that Halton’s work was a badly needed corrective in how we conceive and imagine God and how we do theology,” said Dan Braden, WKJ’s Acquisitions Editor. “His work in this book is erudite, precise, convincing, practical, important and relevant; it is very satisfying to know that he has been recognized with this distinguished reward, and it’s absolutely wonderful that, as a consequence, a wider audience will read ‘A Human-Shaped God.’ I’m convinced that readers of this book will come away with an understanding of why it won the Grawemeyer.”

Halton explores “an underappreciated view of God that exists in the Bible but is absent from most Eurocentric theology,” said Dr. Tyler Mayfield of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, who directs the religion award. “His approach is original, thought-provoking and offers new opportunities for understanding the biblical God.”

Halton taught Old Testament and Semitic languages at seminary and college levels for nearly a decade. He holds a doctorate from Cincinnati’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Bible and ancient Near East studies and is an external affiliate at the Centre for the Study of Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, London.

The University of Louisville and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly give the religion prize.

Recipients of next year’s Grawemeyer Awards were named this week pending formal approval by trustees at both institutions. The $100,000 prizes also honor seminal ideas in music, world order, psychology and education. Winners will visit Louisville in the spring to accept their awards and give free talks on their winning ideas.

Westminster John Knox Press contributed to this report.

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