Realism and Christian Faith: God, Grammar and Meaning (Book Review)

Realism and Christian Faith: God, Grammar and Meaning by Andrew Moore. Cambridge University Press 2003 pp.282 pb. 17.95 ISBN 0521524156. Reviewed by Stephen Mitchell, an Anglican clergyman, a member of the Steering Committee and a former chair of the UK network.

Once I'd got into this book, I found it extremely engaging and stimulating. I think it's an important book. Moore certainly understands the debate between realists and non-realists and he is determined to get beyond the impasse of their dispute by looking at the underlying theological and philosophical issues. We in Sea of Faith ought to get to grips with this book because Sea of Faith gets a mention—it's mentioned at least a dozen times—and some of Sea of Faith's writers are examined—David Boulton, Anthony Freeman, David Hart, and, of course, Don Cupitt.

There are some important arguments against theological realism in the chapter entitled "Taking leave of theological realism". Most theological realists, argues Moore, model their realism on science and scientific theory. To put it rather crudely, their God is like any other object of scientific enquiry, though, of course, he can't be observed. As Pascal noted, such a God bears little relation to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the God of Jesus. Theological realism makes too much of an analogy with scientific realism and too much of its explanatory power. As a result, theological realists have a tendency to defend an idol, a philosophical god.

But Moore is arguing for a form of realism—a Christocentric realism. If our speech is to be about God, then we must begin where God has given himself to be the object of our knowledge and speech. This is why a Christian realism will be Christocentric. We can begin in no other place than where God has dwelt among us.

Again, to put it rather simply, Moore argues that all our thinking about what is real and how things are must be governed by God's revelation in Christ. "Theology", he says, "is bound to take every thought captive to obey Christ . . . I write from the perspective of one who confesses the living reality of the triune God revealed in Jesus".

I fancy this will be too much for many in Sea of Faith and they will be tempted to give up. Why this narrative, they will ask? Why this revelation? What freedom of thought when all is subjected to Christ?

But in a curious way I found myself feeling a good deal closer to Moore than I do to many of my friends in Sea of Faith. For what is true of theological realists is also true for realist atheists. The God they do not believe in often bears little relation to the God of the bible. If we are to engage with those in the churches, then we should be careful not to distort Christians' understanding of God.

The book is not an easy read—there is a multitude of references to a bibliography of over five hundred books plus some five hundred or so footnotes. It may strike many that its style is very different from the light, almost footnote-free, style of Cupitt or the personal biography of Boulton, and perhaps this is what disappointed me most about the book. A different understanding of how things are needs a new way of doing theology. It's been an essential part of Cupitt's project, trying to find a new form of religious writing, a new style for doing theology. It's a style that comes across in the very books Moore does not refer to in his extensive bibliography, the Life books and Solar Ethics.

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