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Love Makes No Sense, by Jennifer Strawbridge, Jarred Mercer, and Peter Groves

by
14 June 2019

Stephen Cherry reflects on an Oxford parish’s presentation of doctrine

THIS book is based on two powerful assertions. The first is that the love at the heart of the Christian faith makes no sense. The second is that it is important to think clearly about it. And yet the introduction goes on to insist that “Christian theology is far from abstract,” and that “teaching divorced from everyday life is not Christian teaching.”

The six contributors, all priests, are involved in the St Mary Magdalen School of Theology in Oxford. Between them, they contribute a total of ten chapters that cover the classical catechetical territory, though it starts with “Jesus” rather than “God the Father Almighty”. They go about things in a similarly direct and teacherly way. This reader would not be surprised if told that the chapters had started life as talks.

It is clear that, while purporting to represent “Christian theology”, the book represents a particular brand. In the “suggestions for further reading” at the end of each chapter, the reader is encouraged to read many of Rowan Williams’s more recent and accessible books, but not one of Tom Wright’s. Also, there are no references at all to the awkward Anglican thinkers of a generation ago, although challenging Roman Catholic writers such as James Alison and Herbert McCabe are repeatedly plugged; and more venerable Anglicans such as Oliver Quick and Michael Ramsey are recommended to those who want to read more.

It is less clear whom this book is for. It assumes too much to be addressed to the “unchurched” and too little to be of interest to the “cultured despisers”. Maybe it is aimed at people who have been subjected to forms of Christianity which are presented in the abstract, and which are more inclined to begin from the wrath of God than God’s love; Post-Evangelicals and lapsed but lonely Roman Catholics, perhaps. Or is it for regular churchgoing Anglicans who don’t have the advantage of having a school of theology attached to their parish church?

So, for this reader, the book is somewhat misrepresented as an introduction to “Christian theology”. To justify that title, it would need to include a more overt invitation to be part of a questioning community, and bit more openness to other readings of the gospel of grace and love. As an introduction to the teaching of modern Anglican Catholics, on the other hand, it is a reliable guide.
 

The Revd Dr Stephen Cherry is the Dean of King’s College, Cambridge.

 

Love Makes No Sense: An invitation to Christian theology
Jennifer Strawbridge, Jarred Mercer, and Peter Groves
SCM Press £12.99
(978-0-334-05728-4)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 

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