A book to make you rethink
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Date: 14 August, 2006
Charlotte Haines Lyon reviews Christ in Practice and finds that her latest book of the month is causing her some headaches.
The question of the week was how to write this review. I was going to tell you, Christ in Practice is an adept analysis of what it means to live “in Christ.” Then I would have assessed the different arguments of the book. The problem is it wouldn’t have been an honest review.
Basically, I was trying to avoid baring my soul. However, my job is to write about what I really think about a book so here goes (please be gentle!)
Eight years ago I stopped going to church. I had a major crisis of faith, found little support and decided it was more congruous to leave. However I have never been able to completely turn my back on Christianity despite often wanting to.
Recently I have been happily bobbing along, dodging any real thought as to what I believe. Until that is, this book turned up. Thanks to Dr. Marsh, I have had to spend the last few weeks really thinking about God and faith. I am not sure I am any clearer but my brain definitely hurts!
The book starts by debating Bonhoeffer’s response to the question “Who is Christ?” There are no obvious answers such as “Lord and Saviour of humankind”. Rather the answer seems to lie in how community and relationships function.
Marsh suggests that a contemporary response to the question is to ask, “What is Christ doing in the midst of the national, family, working and educational life, and among friends, as well as in the form of church.”
How refreshing. I realised early on that the words were making sense and could not be immediately brushed off. I was going to have to rethink this God business. Again.
Marsh suggests identifying motifs in the story of Christ and looking for them in the world. He goes on to include the following as signs of Christ: where people suffer innocently or for a just cause; solidarity is shown for the mistreated; acts of forgiveness; truth telling, abusive power being challenged; creativity blossoming; renouncing a reliance on wealth and sharing meals.
These things I can relate to and want in my life. (Well actually I don’t want to suffer but hope that I would do if necessary.) As Marsh says, Christology is an ethical challenge. I have been trying to think of myself as an ethical person without the Christ bit so this was interesting.
Despite my best efforts, I have found it difficult to explore all of these things without recourse to Christianity, especially around the forgiveness issue. That is not to say that these motifs are exclusively Christian. My reliance on Christianity speaks more of the tradition that I have grown up in than Christianity alone necessarily having the answers.
Marsh echoes this as he questions whether it is possible to see Christ in non-Christian situations. He thinks it is, though cautions against the “danger of Christian imperialism.”
Rather he suggests we are carrying out a Christian theological exercise and reflecting and interpreting life. It is not they are Christian events per se. Yet it is important to Marsh that such interpretations and reflections are offered for discussion. He argues that they have inherent value and mustn’t be ignored.
For Marsh to experience Christ involves community. It is not an individualistic occurrence. This strong emphasis throughout the book – he explores different settings including work, education, home and the church – makes a change from the overused concept of a personal relationship with Jesus.
For it is that with which I struggle most. That alongside demands to sign up to a ten-point creed or to kneel in front of Jesus proclaiming him Lord of my life. This book contains none of such requirements.
Christ in Practice follows an alternative tack and opens the door to some possibilities of faith. It has in the very least provided powerful concepts to chew over.
Yet it has done more than that, it has pulled Christ out of the dusty box that I had filed away somewhere in the doldrums of my brain.
I am not claiming a Damascene moment but maybe Christianity is something I could and would do business with after all. Certainly the world could do with a few more books of such thoughtful, social and ethical theology.
Christ in Practice: A Christology of Everyday Life
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