Category: Christian Life & Discipleship
This book crackles from the first page of the Introduction. It is a relentless yet utterly reasonable critique of what we in the developed world have come to regard as common sense and the birthright of every world citizen. It is in fact the modern emphasis on "rights" that comes close to the root of the problem. We have come to expect governments and institutions everywhere to successfully provide people with the kinds of rights that our own culture with its hyper-prosperity can dream of. And in the process we have mown down and ridiculed virtually every other system for providing meaning and security in the lives of ourselves and others.
And western Christians have been party to this effort and are as infected by this virus as anyone else. Pearse restrains himself from rubbing our noses in it, so I'll do it for him. It shows even in the way that we fight, however passionately, for Christian positions. Thus, opponents to "a woman's right to abortion" fight primarily on a platform of the rights of the unborn child rather than on a platform of responsibilities. My favourite example, however, is when Pearse points at the "world prayer" books or brochures we evangelicals are so good at producing. Each people group contains a reference to how "these people have a very strong sense of family" or "in this culture, people generally regard the needs of their community as more important than individual preferences." Not just some groups contain these references, but every single non-Western entry, yet recorded each time as if it were something remarkable about this particular group, rather than what is clearly the truth, that it is we, not they, who are the exceptions in not even feeling this much less acting upon it.
Readers of C S Lewis will recognize in Why the Rest much the same eye-opening powers of observation, surgical logic and clarity of expression as in Lewis's short masterpiece The Abolition of Man. Like that classic, this is not a complicated book to read, but it is not an easy book to live with. Unlike Lewis's work, however, this one is concerned more with twenty-first century social realities than with nineteenth- and twentieth-century intellectual and educational philosophies.
The surprise throughout the book is that it's not the critical leftist beating up you constantly expect (and half-feel you deserve). It's neither a crusade for self-justification nor a pilgrimage of supposedly cleansing guilt. It's a vigorous hike into the truth we cannot usually see. It's an unveiling. Pearse is not the enemy; he's a friend who knows you all too well and thinks you need to have a chat. He's not out to smash all your furniture and steal your jewelry. But you may find yourself wanting to dress more simply and extremely suspicious of veneers.
This is a true and important book. You avoid reading it at your peril.
Conrad Gempf, October 2003
Dr Conrad Gempf teaches New Testament at London School of Theology. He is the author of Jesus Asked (Zondervan, 2003), Mealtime Habits of the Messiah (Zondervan, 2005) and Christian Life & The Bible (LST, 2006). He writes extensively for various books, journals, magazines and websites; here's his blog: Not Quite Art; Not Quite Living.
Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.SPCK | Order from www.christianbookshops.org