Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”
Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?“ He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.
— Emo Philips. I’m thinking of Emo’s famous joke as I’m reading the comments on my buddy Rod Dreher’s blog about Francis Spufford’s new book Unapologetic. The atheists are saying the things that atheists usually say in such contexts and so, alas, are the Christians, who are falling over themselves to condemn Spufford for failing to meet their very precise and utterly absolute theological standards.
They can’t pause for thirty seconds to think about the audience Spufford is trying to reach; they can’t be bothered to ask whether, not having read the whole book but only a newspaper excerpt from it, they have the whole story. They just see something they don’t like and sweep everything away in condemnation. Really, it’s no wonder people despise us and flee when they see us coming.
I’ve read the whole of Unapologetic and I think it’s a uniquely beautiful book. Of course, there is much in it that I don’t agree with, but you know what? Maybe in those areas Spufford is right and I am wrong. I need to consider that possibility. Moreover, there are surely many people who know nothing about Christianity, or who know little and want to know even less, who will be touched by Spufford’s approach in ways that they could never be touched by anything I write.
And there’s this too: Francis Spufford is and has been for many years a much-admired writer in England — rightly so — but his reputation will suffer because of his open embrace and warm defense of Christianity. Doors that had been open to him will close; reviewers who had commended his earlier work will henceforth look askance at it. He will pay a price for writing this book. And his brothers and sisters in Christ just sneer at what he has written, denounce the heretic, and turn away with smug self-satisfaction.