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Is the Good News bad news?

Is the Good News bad news?

In the Comment is Free section of The Guardian‘s website, Theo Hobson has a few things to say about Francis Spofford’ new book Unapologetic. He writes of Christian faith:

[W]hat motivates one to take this deeply dubious, rationally unjustifiable, tradition seriously? And it is a deeply problematic question for the defender of Christianity. For the honest answer is that people tend to come to faith through feeling unhappy, dramatically, traumatically unhappy, with themselves, with the world. Does this mean that a key part of Christian proclamation should be: first discover your true inner misery? Doesn’t that sound a bit … grim?

And later:

Christians are logically committed to saying that atheists and agnostics are too contented. They ought to be more traumatised by life. They ought to be traumatised by the universal human capacity for evil, and they certainly ought to be traumatised by the sheer nihilism of secular modernity. They ought to suffer deep psychological crises, in which they learn of their need for God. It doesn’t sound like very good news, does it?

Francis Spufford’s book has helped me to see that Christian apologetics needs to be more honest, and also more confrontational. It should be honest that faith arises through a traumatic sense of moral inadequacy, and of despair. And it should be confrontational: you ought to feel this. If you are happy pursuing your pleasure, and chatting about celebrities or novels, and how moral your opinions are, then you are sitting in the sty of contentment, meaning death.

So, to appreciate the Good News, do you have to understand that the world is bad news?


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25+ years ago, I’ve never forgotten an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (a series I loved), by that old atheist, Gene Roddenberry.

The Enterprise (24th century) has discovered a 21st century satellite filled w/ cryogenically-preserved [sic] humans. Dr Crusher, shaking her head at the 21st c primitives: “It seems they feared death.” [Whereas the 24th century (atheist) contemporaries had of course out-grown that superstition!]

Bullshit. I didn’t believe that atheist li(n)e then, I don’t believe it now. If one believes that death means CEASING TO EXIST, and you’re telling me you’re all La-Dee-Friggin-Dah about that, you’re either lying to me, or (worse) lying to yourself. Get off the “River in Egypt” (w/o Osiris! ;-p) and DEAL. One way or another.

JC Fisher


Talking to atheists about God is like trying to talk to the tone deaf about music. Why even bother?


Kevin McGrane


Many years ago SEABURY PRESS had a study course for membership in the church. The first booklet or chapter asked the question “why do we need a savior?” Does anyone remember the name of that course. It was classic theology of making the case that we have a need for a savior .. if we don’t need a savior why is that a primary title we give to Jesus?

Bill Dilworth

I’m sure there are many Episcopalians, mostly of the Original Blessing school of thought, who disagree with both Hobson and Schmemann, but I’m not one of them. I suggest that the post’s title confuses things, though, in that it mixes up the diagnosis with the cure, the crisis with its resolution. The Gospel is the response to bad news, no more bad news in itself than an EpiPen is bad news to someone in anaphylactic shock, or water is bad news to someone who’s on fire.

Gregory Orloff

In not a dissimilar vein, theologian Alexander Schmemann wrote:

“Let us stop to consider the word ‘salvation.’ We need to dwell on this because we are dealing here with a concept so familiar to every believer, a concept to which he has become so accustomed that he no longer hears its full significance. Christianity is a religion of salvation. This means that it is not merely a ‘life improvement’ plan, it is not a scheme for overcoming life’s day to day adversities, nor is it a set of abstract principles and norms of behavior.”

“Salvation presupposes that one is perishing. A drowning man, a man whose home is engulfed in flames, a man falling over the edge of a cliff does not pray for comfort or comforting words, but for salvation. Yet it is just this sense of perishing, and therefore the experience of Christianity as salvation, that has been suffocated over the long centuries of Christianity.”

“The vast majority of Christians continue out of habit to say words such as ‘Savior,’ ‘salvation,’ ‘save us,’ but within themselves they now unconsciously experience these words in a different way than did the early Christians. Within Christianity itself a peculiar substitution of words has taken place, or rather, not of words, because the terminology stays the same, but of meaning, how the words are heard.”

“This substitution has taken place because we have stopped viewing ourselves as beings who are truly perishing, beings whose life is rushing inexorably toward meaningless collapse, whose life is engulfed by evil, by senselessness, by the horror of dying and death, by the bestial struggle for survival, by the terrible lust for power, by the war of all against all, by lies which poison the very sources of life, by ignorance and by the universal sentence of death; in other words, we are engulfed by everything which our so-called civilization uses -– alas, successfully –- to suffocate life and deface it.”

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