It's been an amazing holiday season though. I finished How Now Shall We Live, no mean feat when you see the size of that book (491 pages minues endnotes and appendices). Then I read - in three days flat (it was the holidays!) - A Generous Orthodoxy, which was in some ways a magnificent complement, in other ways a jagged counterpoint to How Now...
Both books deserve much thought and meditation. My fluttering surface perceptions:
- How Now Shall We Live gave me a lot of confidence in the intellectual rigour of Christianity. It gave me alternative perspectives on cultural "givens" such as evolution, the role of art in society, and the idea that popular culture is a reflection of what's really going on in society. Not to say I take everything this book says on board, but it gave me some interesting points of view that I had never heard intelligently argued before.
- However, the tone of How Now Shall We Live tended to come across as combative. It made me feel angry at the seeming monopoly of Freudian, Marxist and Darwinian ideas that are presented with great dogmatism in academia and the arts. But I, and every other Christian trying to present their case, need to get over that anger, or risk appearing as another defensive conservative thinker who just can't adjust to the present.
- A lot of How Now Shall We Live is devoted to debunking other philosophies. While this was really interesting and valuable, I didn't see it as part of presenting the Christian worldview. Instead, it can lead to the dangerous intellectual practice of assuming what we believe is the exact opposite of what "they" believe. So because we don't believe in Darwinism we reject innovation and progress; because we don't believe in Marxism, we embrace market-led capitalism; and so on. Particularly this book didn't do enough for me to address the world of business that I live in. And perhaps that was not its job.
- A Generous Orthodoxy, on the other hand, made me deliriously happy in parts, because here was someone asking the same questions I have asked, and sometimes answering them a mischievous sense of humour I would love to have. It helped me get over some of the questions of life and doctrine that are really just mental masturbation or worse, an attempt to create an intellectual system of understanding God that leaves out the need for God to explain it all!
- However, A Generous Orthodoxy didn't go anywhere near the fundamental questions of is there a God, how do we know we've got the right one, is Jesus God and is the Bible God's word? Well, it did touch on the last question, but only in asking what that means. So the fundamentals were taken as given, and that's probably right for this book - otherwise it would've been a huge volume!
It also arrived at a joyously unfinished conclusion, stating that, while objective truth is out there (and in here), we will never have it all. How Now... gives a sense of finality, which is at once comforting and profoundly disturbing. I think I prefer the state of deliriously relaxed uncertainty in Orthodoxy, and its description of our journey of discovery which we go on together, in community. The need for that was the greatest lesson learnt and desire of my heart in the past three years.