Friedrich Schleiermacher wrote his classic treatise On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers at the behest of his radically irreligious friends—emancipated thinkers who wanted to know how he could share so much of their intellectual world and yet be an ordained, believing Christian. The result was a novel, innovative phenomenology of religion that aimed at rendering religion intelligible to a large swath of modern, intellectual Europe, and which influenced liberal Christian theology for generations.
In many ways Francis Spufford’s unique, hilariously pugnacious, and vivaciously argued tour-de-force Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense could be considered a version of that same project. Only this time the book aims at “awkward” post-Christian Brits who have trouble making sense of why an emotionally competent adult would embrace belief in a sky-fairy and so forth.
Before you’re too put off, though, unlike Schleiermacher or Spong-style modern liberals, Spufford knows that big doctrines like the incarnation and the actual events of history (cross and resurrection) matter as issues of truth. He’s not offering some soggy song about the power of metaphors. The emotions must somehow connect to reality. Still, though he engages in some humorous polemics against Dawkins & Co., it’s not a traditional, philosophic apologetic for the truth-claims of the Christian faith—he doesn’t think that can really be done. Rather, it’s more of a Pascalian wager in the sense that, assuming we can’t know either way, there is real satisfaction and dignity in belief. It’s a brief, pop phenomenology of the Christian faith that tries to help the non-religious understand what it’s like from the inside.
Check out the rest of my review over at The Gospel Coalition.