Tuesday, September 25, 2012
You do not find many great-reads in the faith market. Spufford manages it with delightful prose and clever plotting. As you read on, drawn into his emotional world as a believer, you genuinely want to know how and why it works for him. It is not apologetic. He explains on the jacket that this is firstly because others have done that but, secondly, because he's not sorry.
I encountered this book by reading an extract in The Guardian Review. It is unusual to find a book defending Christian faith covered there in such detail.
The first forty pages were so good I had already begun notes for a review and decided to buy multi-copies for Christmas presents. It is the first book I can say I will be genuinely unashamed to put into the hands of my well-read family members who don't share my faith. And to my Christian friends, parishioners and colleagues. This is pretty much how it feels to be the Christian me.
Last night at a meeting a group of us were asked to say what we thought our identity was. When nobody answered this question we were told it was not meant to be rhetorical and I was picked on to answer. I said I got my identity from being a humanoid life-form on the third planet from the Sun. The 'correct' answer was that we get our identity from being in Christ. Well no. Churches Together in Nailsea and District Annual Meetings are not the place for a row but no, no and no. The trouble with us Christians is that we describe our identity so much in terms of our separateness we forget our shared humanity. Placing our identity there saves us from racism, sexism and faithism. I am a human who has found out some truths about living my life which may help other fellow humans. That is all.
This book, although Spufford would never put it as clumsily as I just did, shares my outlook.
I was dreading finding something in it with which I disagreed. It came eventually. I would seek to be more positive about ancient biblical texts than to say some of them are 'wrong.' I would ask, what were these people trying to say that made them say that then? And how does it relate to us now? Not wrong; just outdated and needing interpretation. I want to be a Christian like Spufford is and I want to hold that the sixty-six books of the canon are special, inspired and, somehow, alive with the spirit of their inspirer.
Chapter two is the best piece of writing about sin I have ever read. Spufford prefers to call it the HPtFtU - the Human Potential to Foul things Up and no, that word isn't 'foul' in the book so if you can't read Anglo-Saxon without writing a letter of complaint to the Daily Mail, don't. It explains why 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.'
It is the first unputdownable Christian book I have read since Brain McLaren's 'A New Kind of Christian' series. I reached for it whenever I was free.
The chapter on Jesus (Yeshua) is a beautiful story told by amalgamating later Christian theology with the events of the gospels. It comes close to John Crace's Quarantine, Philip Pulman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ and Norman Mailer's The Gospel According to the Son in imagining what it might have been like to be Jesus. I might read the chapter one day instead of a couple of sermons. Easter? Hmm.
Occasional works of literature hold keys to that other-worldliness which is sometimes near at hand and can be grasped. This is one such. If you don't read this I would like to say that you are missing something really important.