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Book review: The Love That Is God: An invitation to the Christian faith by Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt

05 January 2024

Angela Tilby considers the Michael Ramsey laureate’s invitation

MANY have tried to write a short, accessible introduction to the Christian faith. Few have succeeded. This attempt by a professor of rheology at Loyola University, who is also a permanent deacon in the archdiocese of Baltimore, is one of the most succinct, shorter than 130 pages. Last year’s Michael Ramsey Prizewinner (News, 22/29 December 2023), this is exactly the kind of little book that could be given to a friend seeking to understand more of the faith, or which could be used for catechesis: small enough to fit into a pocket, but rich enough to provide hours of meditation.

The heart of it is the claim that Love is simply what God is. It has been a tendency of rationalist critics of Christianity to write this off as mere sentimentality. The author’s disarming claim is that for God to be love is simply the most radical statement in the world, infinitely creative, subversive, and all-embracing — which is not to discount the difficulty of it. The first words of the introduction are “Being a Christian is difficult.” And that is because the Love that is God is love that goes all the way, and going all the way means going to the cross.

The implications of this are disarmingly simple and yet deep beyond measure. While some apologists will argue for God’s necessary existence from nature and from human personality, Bauerschmidt understands God’s existence in relational terms. It is God’s love that “creates the entirety of our existence”, God’s love that reveals his nature as Trinitarian, God’s love that frees us from the fear that we are unloved.

It takes a particular kind of learning to be able to write with such simplicity and clarity and the message is attractive, even compelling. Dogma has been absorbed, recast, and represented as invitation; credal statements have been expanded and interpreted as ethics.

And it is here that I have just a smidgen of doubt. The author is very clear about the social and political implications of his creed and its critique of what he calls the “ongoing war of everyone against everyone”. So he tends to see all conflict in negative terms, whether between nations, classes, parties, or races. Fair enough; but he does not really do justice to the notion that principled argument is necessary for good polity. So, read, mark, learn. But chew over before you digest.

The Revd Angela Tilby is a Canon Emeritus of Christ Church, Oxford.

The Love That Is God: An invitation to the Christian faith
Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt
Eerdmans £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.49

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