Book Review: The Compassion Quest

The Compassion Quest

This book was intriguing enough that I ended up ordering the authors previous work, “Finding Hope and Meaning in Suffering“. That, however, does not constitute a full review! Trystan Owain Hughes, the Anglican Chaplain at Cardiff University, has given the Church a challenging and engaging call to be Christ’s people of compassion in his new book, “The Compassion Quest”. For conservative evangelicals like myself, it isn’t perfect, but there is much of the Spirit of Christ in Hughes’ writing.

Hughes captures something of the heart of God, and the tensions inherent in the Christian life, when he opens with a discussion that is reflecting on his previous book as being “fundamentally inward-looking and centered on individual spirituality“. That is a good starting point, and a genuinely and authentically Christian journey will result in something that does “more than merely assist us as individuals, lest it descend into a mere tool for self help and positive thinking“. Hughes is starting from an awareness that the fully realised Christian life is something that will result in concern and appreciation of things larger than ones-self, and this is a good thing.

The main weakness of this book, for me, was the slight wooliness around whether or not God is in everything, or is everything, and what that means for making an authentically Christian statement about things. That said, one of the reasons this is the case is because the author makes some compelling and accurate criticisms of the character that Christian faith has taken on from alternate world-views; “as a result of the influence of Platonism, Christian tradition has always reflected ambivalence towards physical matter“. Hughes’ vision of compassion is much bigger than mere human compassion, it is a powerful and compelling vision of compassion and stewardship for all of creation.

Whilst the tail end of chapter 3 is somewhat concerning, as Hughes seems to want to remove certain terms from the theological discussion, his view of the Incarnation in chapter 4 is stunning. Hughes notes that “The incarnation, then, challenges the dualisms that Platonism left entrenched in our faith and it demands that we recognize the inherent value of our earthly life and of the world around“, which is absolutely true. He sounds radical, too, when he writes that “Jesus… needed to be rescued from the Church, ‘so that the world can be saved’“, and idea Hughes owes to the influence of Teilhard de Chardin, an interesting figure. The implications of the incarnation for us, then, and for compassion, are simple. For Hughes, as the body of Christ, “we are God’s hands, feet, mouth and heart on earth“.

Hughes concluding epilogue has wonderful – and explanatory – notes of personal story, explaining his own journey on this, and other issues. The title of the epilogue, “everyday compassion“, is a hint of his closing words, his challenge to the readers and the Church. This challenge is echoing the challenge of Jesus, in my opinion, and for all the issues one might have with how he arrives at his conclusion, it is the right one;

Our awareness of Christ in the people we meet and in the world around us should lead us to assert: ‘When I see suffering  I reach out in compassion.’

Do we?

This book was provided for review by the lovely folks at SPCK, and is available now. It is an interesting and unique perspective on Christian compassion that bears careful scrutiny, and its overarching challenge is one the Church would do well to read.

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