God is No Thing

Coherent Christianity

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Rupert Shortt
  • London, England: 
    Hurst
    , July
     2016.
     96 pages.
     £9.99.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781849046374.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

At first, I thought this little book was just another of those responding to the so-called “New Atheism” in apologetic terms and repeating the usual answers and arguments used in replying to their accusations against Christianity. And to some extent, the book is one version of this genre. But there is more to it.

The book starts out with the honest acknowledgment that agnosticism and atheism are reasonable worldviews. But it then points to an understanding of Christianity that is not focused primarily on doctrine and beliefs. Author Rupert Shortt’s focus is on what modern Christianity can contribute to the transformation of the human heart, or, less metaphorically, to the development of wisdom, discernment, and maturation: an attitude towards the world that is rooted in the reflective resources of the Christian tradition. For this purpose, he draws on a wide variety of resources in the contemporary debate, presents insights, and responds to criticisms shaped by ignorance. His focus surfaces most clearly when you reach the middle of the book. By pointing to religious experience and religious practice as the core of Christianity, Shortt manages to make his case in a way that is shaped by wisdom and a recognition of how important it is that human life makes profound sense. Hence, this is not just another book rehearsing common arguments that we have listened to previously.

In one way, I would wish there was no need for books like this any longer: books that show how there are strong sources in the Christian tradition that are intellectually consistent and deeply committed to making life worth living, taking both religious experience and modern science seriously without ignoring either of them. But Shortt points, and rightly so, to the lack of knowledge about these sources, and the lack of their reception in (parts of) modern culture, and perhaps especially in the public debate. He thereby brings forth knowledge that is present, but placed in the back by all those ignorant about the intellectual tradition of Christianity, and instead shaped by home-made, flawed, and misleading ideas about how most Christians in history and in the present are relating to science. Given that Shortt is right in claiming that religion is not going to disappear, his statement that “religious literacy is hardly an optional extra” (9) is a very apt remark.

The title of the book hits the nail on its head: To state that God is no thing is the main starting point for thinking about God and the world. It allows for considering the contents of the Christian tradition not as concerned with the “supernatural” as such, but with seeing faith in God as a way of life. Furthermore, Shortt’s understanding of Christianity is open to the wisdom of other religious traditions concerned with similar aims. Instead of being an apologetic book, this book should be read as an invitation to take the reflective sources of Christianity as a way to open the mind as well as the soul. It is a book about how modern Christianity can open up new paths to a spirituality that cares about this world and its political challenges, about the self, and about God. God is No Thing is not only advancing a case for religious literacy, it also gives a voice to those, who, like its author, will insist that even Christians must maintain the distinction between “good and bad religion.”

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jan-Olav Henriksen is Research Dean and Professor of Philosophy of Religion at MF Norweigan School of Theology, Oslo.

Date of Review: 
November 3, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Rupert Shortt is religion editor of the Times Literary Supplement and a former Visiting Fellow at Oxford University. His books include Benedict XVI (2005),Christianophobia: A Faith under Attack (2012) and Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop (2014).

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