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Book review: Theology for the End of the World by Marika Rose

by
22 September 2023

This view of Christianity and its achievements is bleak, says Robin Gill

DR MARIKA ROSE is Senior Lecturer in philosophical theology at the University of Winchester, a regular contributor to Radio 4’s Daily Service, and a trustee of Greenbelt. Her first book, A Theology of Failure (Fordham University Press, 2019), focused mainly on the failings of theology. Tellingly, she admitted in a 2019 blog that she wrote the book because “I was asking . . . ‘how can you stop being an evangelical without turning into a liberal?’” Younger reviewers than me found this book better at deconstruction than construction.

A similar verdict might be made of her new book, which also focuses on (predominantly Evangelical) theological failings. Her prose is lucid and knowledgeable, but, some might conclude, too angry and gratuitously crude, and her final positive position remains elusive. Friendly critics of my youthful attempts at preaching — as an unreconstructed liberal, albeit sadly lacking an Evangelical past — informed me: “We got exactly what you don’t believe, but didn’t quite catch what you do believe.”

There is quite a bleak side to this book. When asking what Christians should do today, she offers three stark imperatives: “realize that we are complicit in the brokenness of the word . . . because we’re Christians; realize that there is nothing we can do about it; realize that, for many of us, the gospel isn’t good news but bad news. . . So we have sinned, we can’t save ourselves, and the gospel isn’t such a good news after all. I hope you are excited!”

She states repeatedly that Christianity has been deeply tarnished by the Crusades, by colonialism (Nigel Biggar’s Colonialism was yet to be published), and by slavery, and that, today, “Church leaders embezzle money, are unfaithful to their partners and abuse the people in their care; they f*** up” . . . a vulgarism (with others) that she uses five times — doubtless, for effect, but still unusual in a theological text (as SCM Press must know).

Yet, slowly and tentatively, a more positive position begins to emerge with an interesting chapter on the “five women of questionable reputation”, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary, in Matthew’s genealogy, who challenged their social context of patriarchy and male property rights. Using stories from sex-worker collectives (some given shelter by churches in London and Paris), the author sees strong women defending their extended but fatherless families lovingly in a world quite alien to her own Evangelical, rule-bound, nuclear-family upbringing: “All we have is each other.”

Despite this positive intermission, she is soon back to chronicling earlier racism, colonialism, torture, and anti-Semitism by “Christians” in Iberia and Latin America. She then moves to churches today compromised by the woes of capitalism, while conceding, then rejecting, the qualifier that “Throughout the history of capitalism . . . Christianity has acted as a kind of moral restraint on the unrestrained freedom of markets.” She concludes sweepingly, instead, that “Capitalism and racism are not separate systems but two parts of the same system that was brought into being by Christianity.”

A chapter follows, “God is Useless”, in which, as “a millennial”, she complains, somewhat contradictorily, about “skyrocketing rents”, “mortgages out of reach”, inadequate working conditions (even within her university) and comfortable retirement prospects disappearing — most, of course, requiring greater (capitalist) funding. Then it’s relentlessly back to slavery.

There is, I believe, an interesting, creative theological voice embedded here, but I hope that she releases it more in the next book.


Canon Robin Gill is Emeritus Professor of Applied Theology at the University of Kent and Editor of
Theology.


Theology for the End of the World
Marika Rose
SCM Press £19.99
(978-334-06066-6)
Church Times Bookshop £15.99

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