Don’t play it safe

by
03 April 2007

Be more radical, says Steven Shakespeare

iStock

An Introduction to Radical Theology: The death and resurrection of God Trevor Greenfield

O Books £12.99 (978-1-905047-60-4)
ChurchTimes Bookshop £11.70

FOR this author, radical theology takes as its starting-point “acknowledgement of the literal or metaphorical Death of God.” This “requires a rethinking of Jesus away from the cosmic redeemer back towards the human teacher”. Subjective experience takes precedence over the objective reality of God.

Greenfield’s book puts these ideas in the wider context of Enlightenment and romantic thought, and the theological ferment associated with Bultmann, Bonhoeffer, and Tillich. They are followed by more recent troublers of theological peace: John Robinson, Don Cupitt, and John Spong. The second part of the book tackles important issues, such as the place of Jesus, and the nature of ethics, in radical theology.

The writing is, by and large, engaging, but the book has two drawbacks. The first is stylistic. Highly compressed accounts of great thinkers read, at times, like abbrevi-ted lecture notes, and occasionally lapse into the kind of jargon that might pass by Greenfield’s intended audience. But the text is of limited use to students, because the quotations are not referenced and there is no index. The second objection is more substantial. Radical theology, in this account, seems to define itself by caricaturing and dismissing Christian tradition. Rejecting the idea of God as the “old man in the sky” is hardly fair to most Christian theology.

This is a pity, because the Church does need to hear these discomforting voices, and question its truth-claims. As it stands, the reader is left with little but the death of God and some generally left-leaning ethical positions. Greenfield raises the possibility that the rejection of God’s objective reality might not be the end of the story. But he tells us little of the strange and unsettling “resurrection” of God implied by the title.

It is almost as if this type of theology is not radical and self-critical enough. It embraces a Dawkins-style rationalism and modernism which close off conversation. An example: God made flesh is rejected in favour of Jesus as good teacher. This, we are told, is the “safer” option for secular people. But why on earth is radical theology playing it safe?

Dr Shakespeare is Anglican Chaplain at Liverpool Hope University.

To place an order for this book, email details to CT Bookshop

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

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

Welcome to the Church Times

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

Non-subscribers can read five articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)