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Can Holy Writ be right and wrong?

by
04 July 2014

John Saxbee watches an Evangelical wrestle with paradoxes

Paradoxology: Why Christianity was never meant to be simple
Krish Kandiah
Hodder & Stoughton £13.99
(978-1-444-74534-4)
Church Times Bookshop £12.60 (Use code CT834 )

CANON MARK OAKLEY once credited his doctrine professor with the prescription: "For all your doctrinal headaches take Paradox." Krish Kandiah has now turned this maxim into an "-ology", as if the realm of religious discourse didn't have enough of those already.

He works for the Evangelical Alliance, and, whether looked at from the perspective of style, sources, or conclusions, the aetiology of this book is evident throughout. But this only adds to our appreciation of the honesty and courage of a writer emerging from that stable to explain "Why Christianity was never meant to be simple". Evangelical theology has so often been written off as altogether too simplistic; so Kandiah is owed a hearing - and what he offers rewards our attention.

Although the reference in the subtitle to Christianity may lead the reader to expect an exploration of key credal affirmations, the paradoxes addressed here are specifically biblical, and are linked to a succession of leading characters from the Old and New Testaments. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Job, Hosea, Habakkuk, Jonah, and Esther are invoked to illustrate challenges to God's morality, accessibility, compassion, fairness, faithfulness, and reliability. Jesus and Judas point to the paradoxes of Christology and free will respectively, while a chapter is devoted to how the Cross can hold defeat and victory in providential tension.

Final chapters deal with paradoxes addressed in Paul's Roman and Corinthian correspondence, especially in relation to the ways sin and grace inform Christian discipleship and church discipline. An epilogue urges "Living with paradox" as a necessarily Christian vocation.

Why God entertains child-sacrifice, encourages genocide, sanctions innocent suffering, and imposes apparently impossible demands upon his people are, indeed, big issues. Kandiah's pathway through this theological minefield is pastorally sensitive and often very insightful. But it is not altogether successful.

For example, that God orders Joshua to wipe out the Canaanites only after he has been patient with their idolatries for a very long time hardly amounts to a vindication of God's righteousness. Surely, genocide can never be justified, however patient the perpetrators may have been, and for however long.

Part of the problem lies in the very nature of paradox. For Kandiah, paradox is sometimes the co-existence of two mutually exclusive concepts, sometimes the tension between two notions, e.g. God's transcendence and immanence, and sometimes a mystery that is logically explicable - but not yet. His usage bends to meet the message, and that doesn't help towards either clarity or coherence.

At times, the illustrations are redolent of the more mawkish TV evangelists, and little attempt is made to engage with important theologians who have ploughed this field before him, other than the occasional nod in passing. By no means least, his basically uncritical use (abuse?) of scripture ill-serves the seriousness of the matters in hand.

While this admirably readable exercise in Evangelical apologetics is more likely to attract those already sympathetic to its theological pre-conceptions, there is still much here for the general reader to use as a stepping-stone to rather more profound theological reflection.

Dr Saxbee is a former Bishop of Lincoln.
 

GERHARD VON RAD's Moses (1940) is out in a new edition, with updated notes, etc. (James Clarke & Co., £12.25; 978-0-227-17379-4).

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