Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense
by Francis Spufford
(HarperOne, 2013, 240 pages)
Francis Spufford is known as an essayist and a book critic, not as a spiritual writer or theologian. Accordingly, his book on the sensibility of Christianity is not so much a defense of Christian doctrine as it is a descriptive exploration of the psychological and emotional viability of Christian belief. This is how Spufford states his thesis: “You can read any number of defenses of Christian ideas. This, however, is a defense of Christian emotions – of their intelligibility, of their grown-up dignity. The book is called Unapologetic because it isn’t giving an “apologia,” the technical term for a defense of the ideas” (23). Setting aside the issue of the factual truth of Christianity (without dismissing its importance) Spufford examines the emotional logic of the faith.
One of Spufford’s major themes throughout the book is the wisdom and explanatory power of the Christian tradition’s recognition of “the human propensity to f*ck things up,” which he refers to in shorthand throughout the book as the HPtFtU. The word “sin” has lost much of its traditional meaning in contemporary use, but the HPtFtU captures the essence of the Christian notion of original sin as a pervasive condition and a destructive human orientation. For Spufford, this is the basis for Christianity’s realistic view of the world. He goes on to describe experiences and explore issues like the believer’s sense of God’s presence, the problem of evil, the Incarnation, and Christian ethics from this starting point. It is this point – the point of either dramatic or quiet crisis in an individual life – that Spufford begins to reconsider the viability of Christianity’s way of understanding the world.
There are many writers who churn out popular books on religion that ask us to “reimagine” or “redefine” a faith. One of the things that separates Spufford’s book from this field is the fairly traditional character of his faith. While he is progressive on social issues, and critical of fundamentalism in this respect, he asks no one to cast away the old language and formulations of the Christian tradition – simply to set them aside temporarily to consider the tradition from another angle. Spufford’s witty and evocative writing reveals the emotional content of Christian faith to be well worth considering.