Don Cupitt’s Ethical Jesus and a Secular Transcendence

A Review of Cupitt’s Jesus and Philosophy


  • John Hey University of Derby



emotivist ethics, secular transcendence, moral realism, secular humanism, primacy of believing


In his latest book, Jesus and Philosophy, Don Cupitt looks for a “reform and renewal of Christianity.” He envisages this transformation by means of a recognition of the emotive foundation of ethics, a recognition which ousts a traditional moral realism. Examination of the teaching of Jesus reveals that he also evoked the emotive humanitarian nature of ethics over against a rigid divine law. Ethics, like Christianity, should be understood horizontally, rather than vertically. On this basis Jesus looked for a new world-order, based on an extravagant love. There is much to be said for Cupitt’s demythologising of a metaphysical religion, particularly in the light of the recent scientific appreciation and development of Darwin’s work. There is merit also in Cupitt’s stress on the prophetic message, present in the teaching of Jesus, that knowledge of God is synonymous with love of the neighbour. However, his central thesis is damaged by a confusing epistemology, which fails to explain how an ethic of extravagant love can be derived merely from feeling, and by an uprooting of Jesus from his place in first-century Judaism and locating him in a post Enlightenment sceptical modernity. Cupitt’s secular transcendence offers us the vision of a “secular Jesus” promoting a “quite new moral world.” However this important idea is undermined by a lack of clarity concerning the ethical transcendence, and an autonomous ethic which is compromised by reliance upon an eccentric interpretation of Jesus.

Author Biography

John Hey, University of Derby

Formerly Head of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Derby


Barrett, C.K. 1962. From First Adam to Last. London: Adam and Charles Black.

Cupitt, D. 1985. Christ and the Hiddenness of God. London: SCM.

———. 1980. Taking Leave of God. London: SCM.

———. 2000. Philosophy’s Own Religion. London: SCM.

———. 1995. Solar Ethics. London: SCM.

———. 2009. Jesus and Philosophy. London: SCM.

Dawkins, R. 2006. The God Delusion. London: Bantam.

Dennett, D. 2006. Breaking the Spell. New York: Viking Penguin.

Hick, J.(ed.). 1977. The Myth of God Incarnate. London: SCM.

Robinson , J.A.T. 1963. Honest to God. London: SCM.

Wilson, E.O. 1998. Consilience. London: Little, Brown and Co.



How to Cite

Hey, J. (2011). Don Cupitt’s Ethical Jesus and a Secular Transcendence: A Review of Cupitt’s Jesus and Philosophy. Implicit Religion, 14(2), 215–222.



Review Article