Post-mortem PS

15 March 2013

Mark Oakley reads an apologist's testament



Ten Letters: To be delivered in the event of my death
Chris Russell
Darton, Longman & Todd £10.99
Church Times Bookshop £9.90 (Use code CT618 )

HAVING recently spent a bit of a scary time as a patient in the London Heart Hospital, I was unusually drawn to the title of this book. Chris Russell has written ten letters to individuals, some close friends, and some he has never met, saying the things that he wants to be heard in the event of his death. These things, he says, "I haven't dared to say, felt confident enough to say, or just not got round to".

Perhaps inevitably, the style of a letter delivered once you are permanently out of the way has a slightly "I know best" feel to it, and I began to feel how frustrating it would be to receive one of these letters and not have the sender still alive to argue with.

Each letter, at the end of the day, is an attempt by a Christian apologist to appeal to various current experiences and mentalities. Like many effective teachers of faith at the moment, Russell steps outside the former restricting categories of churchmanship, so that he may be heard with fresh ears by other Christians, and avoid irritating the sceptical with Christian clichés.

Russell has read widely, and he appropriates it all attractively and with zest. His themes simmer to the top: we live in a world that has replaced soul with self; sin is misplaced praise; Jesus lived fully because he lived freely; only God can reveal God; the Church is a good thing, but the Kingdom is better; faith is accepting your acceptance; and spirituality musn't make God into an app, compartment, or hobby, because God is not about "that" but "all this". The scriptures, he writes, "provide a map of the terrain, stories for the journey, and a sense of thrill in our search for the destination".

The poet Mary Oliver reflected that when death came to her she did not want to find herself "full of argument". Chris Russell begs to differ. His is a punchy theology, provocative, user-friendly, and something that he wants to get out there even as the hearse pulls up. For this reader, however, it is a little too prone to be conveniently wrapped up, succinctly clarified, and offered with an attitude of "It's common sense if only you could see it."

I wanted to know where the hurt was, where the subterranean turbulence of life and faith were, and whether he has quite made the break that he suggests he has made from some literalisms. I wanted more human recognitions, shadows, and edge. But that is more about me, I suppose, just out of hospital.

The Revd Mark Oakley is Canon Treasurer of St Paul's Cathedral.

100 Best Christian Books

How many have you read?

Visit the 100 Best Christian Books website to see which books made our list, read the judges' notes and add your own comments.

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

The Church Times Podcast

Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Listen to this week’s episode online

Forthcoming Events

5-6 May 2018
Church Times Festival of Poetry
With Sarum College, Salisbury.
Speakers include: Rachel Mann, Mark Oakley and Michael Symmons Roberts, among others.
Find out more and book tickets

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read up to twelve articles for free. (You will need to register.)