“Christians have given atheists less and less in which to disbelieve” –Alasdair MacIntyre
Western Christianity received the atheists it deserved. Better yet, Britain has the atheists American Christianity earned: Those for whom Christianity is a cloud of illusion composed of the collective rituals and fears of humanity’s childish past. Those meteorologists hope for a strong rational wind to clear our minds and lives. They are critics who only speak the language of caricature.
I’ve tried to avoid this conversation for the most part. Both sides seem invested in a project of systematic confusion. Then, from the clouds of the Internet comes a distant thunder. There is a book, and it is good. You see it excerpted on someone’s Tumblr. It slides by on your Amazon “Customers Who Bought This Also Bought” scroll. Next you see it on a friend’s bookshelf, and then someone praises it in a conversation. It announces its arrival with a thud at your front door, and you read it. This book is Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic: Why Christianity Makes Surprising Emotional Sense, set to come out in the US this autumn.
More narrative than argument, Spufford’s account reflects its author’s lack of interest in tossing another stick into the standard anti-New Atheist bonfire. He uses their collective brood to establish the climate to which he writes, but then spends little time with their ideas. Instead of arguing the history, brandishing the philosophy or defending the ideas of Christianity, Spufford defends Christian emotions. The danger for such a book, as Wordsworth expressed it, is that, “we murder to dissect.” Spend an entire book on emotional navel-gazing and your feelings might lie cold and dead on the page, chopped to bits by over-analysis. Spufford’s emotions avoid such a fate. Think of Unapologetic as a virtual reality tour of the pathways of a heart, a guided exploration of his emotive geography—like explaining Christianity by starting with the Psalms. What does it feel like to trust, to forgive, to cry, to screw up, to hope, to love when one believes the God of Everything interrupted death and is mending the world in this flesh and blood man, Jesus Christ? Spufford invites the reader into the emotional language and landscape of Christianity, overthrowing the mini-tyrannies and traditions of the Christian/atheist “mud-wrestling match” in the process. 
The human race has come up with plenty of myths that are the theological equivalent of pornography, stories following the directorial instructions of wish fulfillment. The story of Christ—his ministry, death, resurrection—has become familiar in all the wrong ways, morphing into a clone of our petty and parasitic prejudices. For Christians, Spufford’s writing makes the familiar strange; for others it can make the strange intelligible. Humanity is an infinite onion of self-deception and distortion—or, as Spufford shorthands it, sin is the “human propensity to fuck things up,” or HPtFtU. Christianity is the “League of the Guilty” and Jesus is Yeshua. In this context Unapologetic includes perhaps the greatest midrash (a creative retelling that is also a commentary) on the gospel stories that I have ever encountered: stripping away the false layers of suburban sensibility, Spufford channels the directed lunacy of Christianity’s founder.
His retelling makes the story of Christ peculiar for the right reasons—its foolish generosity, unsettling judgment of self-righteousness, the seemingly naïve and insane proclamation that, even though the world is mangled, there is no limit to what can be repaired. Spufford reminds us that the Christian God is the God who spent more time in gutters than he did in palaces.
The Christian community is just as subject to HPtFtU as the rest of humanity. Still, Spufford wisely sidesteps the kind of quantitative misery-counts we hear too often from evangelicals that sound something like “Christianity has caused less suffering than your worldview.” “The bad stuff,” says Spufford, “cannot be averaged. It can only be confessed.”  Truthful human self-narration only occurs in this context. God’s grace provides a painful reorientation, not a simple run through the divine dishwasher. Grace makes us “better readers of each other,” shaping and changing us, not necessarily into lives of virtue, but a sense of healing and forgiveness. 
Spufford’s experience and his Christianity prevent an easy satisfaction with easy answers and by the end he has outpaced his New Atheist opponents not through arguments but the telling of a story. The narrative of Christ is its own apologetic. No system of theodicy can withstand an honest look at the world. The sharp and spinning gears of history grind up every justification and explanation. We have no answer but “God with us.” Spufford is right: we don’t have a solution, we have a story and a person.
Spufford writes within earshot of both the cry of Calvary and the music of Mozart—recognizing that a Christianity that fails to “take suffering seriously” or fails to mourn is a Christianity without hope. Scripture tells the story of a God whose arms are wide enough to embrace both. The world is more than tragic and to say otherwise is just self-deception. The world is hopelessly broken…and yet. I am hopelessly broken…and yet. The cross was our violence in response to God’s presence, to hearing the truth about ourselves…and yet. HPtFtU is the truth, but not the final truth. The cross is a sign and promise of God’s faithfulness amidst our failure, our HPtFtU. God does not ration forgiveness. Through Jesus, God loves us so we become God’s again. Jesus is the Triune God’s “and yet.” Christ is the conjunction that makes sure that death is not the final word of creation. He is the “and” that replaces the small dot following “death.”
Though Spufford writes with over-caffeinated agitation, his prose is hypnotic, full of stinging wit and perfect metaphors. It’s impressive that such a book emerges amidst the New Atheist gladiatorial clamor, taking a lead pipe to the theological and rhetorical knees of the current conversation. One could quibble with a number of passages—how Spufford lumps Islam and Judaism together, or the string of assertions that populate certain segments. But that would miss the point. The more I read, the more most theology books seem the equivalent of a police officer handing out parking tickets in the middle of a riot, or a professor giving a lecture after the class has left. Spufford stands apart: think the Psalms, think Augustine’s Confessions, think Edward’s Religious Affections. Francis Spufford has given us a gift, or better yet a counter-gift. The gift is his narrative; the gift of Christ’s story retold. It’s not a perfect gift, but it certainly is the right one. Christianity will be the better for it, and so will atheism.
 Francis Spufford, Unapologetic, somewhere.
 Ibid., 169.
 Ibid., 203.
 Ibid., 164. Also, this statement draws from a similar statement by Jurgen Moltmann.
 Ibid., 207.