One book that is probably going to be given to many and various people this Christmas, and possibly find its way on to many shelves, is the latest in the discussion generated by the so-called ‘New Atheists’. This book, however, is ostensibly written by a Christian. Francis Spufford is a writer and teacher of writing, and writes “Unapologetic” because, as his subtitle goes, “Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense“.
An interesting premise for a book then! There are three main parts to my review – the style and writing of the book, the picture of the Christian story that Spufford paints, and his success in doing so. Firstly, and most positively, the style and writing of “Unapologetic”. I love the way Spufford writes – and so, apparently, should I, as he has won awards for writing and indeed teaches writing – partly because I can so identify with the ‘stream of consciousness’ style in response to stimuli that he employs so successfully here. The odd swear word will put off some, but it also demonstrates the passion of the writer, and so doesn’t come across like a schoolboy trying to impress his peers. This is one of the most readable books I’ve read this year (and I read a lot of books!), which is a commendation in itself. The writing is enjoyable, and it is easy to see what Spufford is saying, rather than flailing around between meanings, as can happen with books on a spiritual theme.
Spufford paints a picture of the Christian story, a version of the Christian message, that is quintessentially british, quite Anglican, and generally hopeful. I disagree with him on some fairly key areas, but I thoroughly agree with his central premise: that Christianity makes sense. In his own admission – on the back cover in fact – this is not meant to be a technical, doctrinal apologetic, but it is a book very aware of the odd place of religion, particularly Christianity, in the UK and the West today. The opening story about his daughter is quite charming and revealing, and makes a point that many will identify with; “We’re weird because we go to church“. This book makes much of human sinfulness – which Spufford amusingly (and arguably quite helpfully) identifies as “HPtFtU” (or, in English, the Human Propensity to F*** things Up [first swear, please forgive me, oh invisible editors]) – which is helpful, and an excellent starting point.
Where I found myself disagreeing with Spufford’s presentation of the Christian message was occasionally serious – such as the existence of hell, for example – but his core message is helpful. I wouldn’t recommend this book to a serious seeker, or for evangelism training, over C.S.Lewis or similar, but it is helpful. This book adds to the discussion. This, arguably, is the emotional, unfinished side of the coin that David Bentley-Hart’s superb “Atheist Delusions” forms the rational/historical side of. Its also an immensely enjoyable and readable book. I don’t know if I’d revisit it, but I did enjoy it, and felt it has a use.