Waking Up to God: A Book for Such a Time as This

Added about a year ago by Neil Richardson

GUEST BLOG: Neil Richardson talks us through the motivations and concerns behind his new book Waking Up to God.

Each week’s headlines seem to highlight the timeliness of my new book Waking Up to God. Steadily worsening economic, health and social crises, serious political dysfunction, a darkening international scene and a deteriorating earth and seas are problems enough. Against that background, my book aims to offer new perspectives, and some hope and light.Neil Richardson

I should explain what lies behind it. First, my wholehearted engagement with life, with politics – local, national and environmental – and with the Church, its failures and all.  More basic still, I’m a human being, as you are. A driving conviction of this book, and of most of my life, has been that it’s more important to be human than religious.

As a human, I’m fortunate to be very happily married, with three wonderful sons and daughters-in law, and growing grandchildren (aged now from 5 to 13), who have never been far from my mind as I’ve been writing.

Other influences include being a teacher of the Bible for much of my working life as an ordained minister of the Church. For me, the Bible’s relevance seems to grow with almost every day that passes. That doesn’t reflect a fundamentalist approach on my part. ‘Relevance’, anyway, is an ugly, utilitarian word to use of something as special as the Bible. (It’s like wondering about the relevance of my marriage).

What else prompted the book? Well, I was irritated by Richard Dawkins’ book Outgrowing God, published in 2019. Dawkins, admittedly, has rendered a service to the Christian faith and Church by showing what kind of God and what kind of Bible Christians don’t believe in. What a pity, though, that, as a former Oxford professor, he didn’t take the trouble to acquaint himself properly with that faith- for example, Christianity’s doctrine of creation - or with the fine biblical scholarship available these days. Few, if any biblical stories, are simple historical accounts of what happened. That goes for both the Old Testament and the New.

For all his brilliance as a scientist and writer, Richard Dawkins is becoming increasingly passe, as both scientists and theologians are observing. The world has moved on from his best-selling The God Delusion.  So I’ve permitted myself only a few brief references to him. But his shadow is there in one of the subtitles of my Chapter Four, ‘Growing Into God’.

There has been another seminal influence on my thinking and writing – my marathon-running. My experience of the London Marathon, combined with a fresh reading of the New Testament, convinced me that becoming a Christian is best understood as ‘joining the human race’.

For this reason, I describe Jesus as ‘the ultimate human being’ -what St Paul’s otherwise puzzling reference to ‘the last Adam’ means. I attempt to correct other misunderstandings or misreadings of Paul. He is more human than we’ve been led to believe.

The version of Christianity developed here is, quite simply, Christian orthodoxy – but with a fresh, contemporary look. Still central to that faith is the divine-human partnership which Christians believe was demonstrated in Jesus of Nazareth.

But old ideas often need to be stripped away – which is why I begin my discussion of Jesus by calling him ‘The Enigma from Nazareth’. Enigma he must have been – especially as his favourite way of referring to himself seems to have been ‘a human being like me’. Older, more sexist translations have usually rendered the original ‘the Son of Man’.

Christian faith isn’t complicated; it’s often the misunderstandings and distortions of it which are the problem. Most of all, what is said and thought about God – and done in God’s name – constitutes one of the greatest obstacles to recovering faith today. So Chapter Two is a ground-clearing exercise. Its title, ‘The Creator’s Gamble’ introduces a risk-taking God. It incorporates, as it must, evolution into its perspective; the section ‘God and the gods’ contrasts the life-giving and life-denying effect of the real God and false gods, including, in our day, the ideologies and systems which usurp the Creator. Chapter Two’s final section, ‘Humanizing the world’ seeks to correct a widespread misconception about God: God is actually on humanity’s side.

We’ve read into the Bible themes not there at all: for example, that God the Father had to punish God the Son in order to be able to forgive our sins, (shades of Dawkins again!); that goes also for the notion that God is a killjoy, and so is the Christian faith. Rather, it’s usually our moments of joy which bring us closest to God.  But contemporary attitudes to time and to money have skewed our perception of both God and life.

Other titles and subtitles reflect other personal concerns. Along with Archbishop Rowan Williams, I signed the Anglican-Methodist Covenant for unity in Westminster Abbey in 2003. I served, too, for many years on another committee working for Christian unity, the British Catholic-Methodist Committee. Those of us in the churches under-estimate the corrosive, subversive effect of our divisions on our authority. Can anyone be serious about the Church without sometimes wondering whether they should stay in it? Chapter Five’s title ‘Towards a more Human Church’ conveys what is at stake.

Other themes, such as ‘Who Owns Planet Earth?’, illustrate wider concerns. Distortions of Christian faith today are far from being the only challenge. There are deeper issues, such as the widespread assumption that this life is all there is. My final chapters seek to show how that is not so.

Throughout the book, I’ve wrestled with the three questions our world largely ignores: what kind of creatures, really, are we human beings? Have we a future, and, if so, what kind? And, behind both questions, is ‘God’ not a delusion after all?

​Neil Richardson was tutor in New Testament Studies and later Principal of Wesley College, Bristol. He is the author of numerous books. You can get your copy of Waking Up to God – here!

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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