English eccentric


God is No Thing: Coherent Christianity, Rupert Shortt, Hurst Publishers.

There is a strain of English Christianity that sees faith as entirely reasonable and sensible, like packing an umbrella when the weather looks inclement. We see it in the theology of Alister McGrath and John Polkinghorne, who make arguments from natural theology, who can explain how belief in God fits in with quantum mechanics and philosophy, who explain God as ground of being, necessary mover of the universe, and so on.

To an extent, Rupert Shortt (a biographer of Rowan Williams) is of this school, arguing for a ‘coherent’ Christianity that can make a certain amount of sense to outsiders. And so this short book is an apologia for Christianity as compatible with modern science, and a summary of how clichéd, superficial and wrong-footed the thrusts of the New Atheists are. He recruits McGrath and sympathetic writers of his ilk, as well as Thomas Aquinas, and gets into the nitty-gritty of theodicy, the historical Jesus, and evolutionary theory and belief-forming, all in a whirlwind tour of 100 pages. Like David Bentley Hart and Terry Eagleton, Shortt has a way with words, perhaps without quite the same withering wit.

At the same time, as writers such as Jacques Ellul point out, Christianity stands radically at odds with secular society, just as an English eccentricity exists alongside English sense. Therefore, Shortt may have an uphill battle convincing nonbelievers. As Saint Paul says, Christianity is ‘foolishness to the Greeks’, so the convincing must occur through lifestyle, not merely argument. This is the clincher that Shortt wisely recognises, giving the book balance, much as Saint Paul both argued philosophically and encouraged life in the Spirit. Shortt notes that we come to faith largely through living it. Christianity makes sense from the inside, through worship, family life, sharing bread and confronting injustice, not just in philosophising about the origins of the universe.

(Originally reviewed for Crosslight magazine.)



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