“Religion Christless, Godless – a book sealed.”
Those were the words of famous atheist and romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a damning assessment of the state of English Christianity in a poem, England 1819, that was very much a damning assessment of English society as a whole. His words, highlighting the corruption and impotency in the society of the time, stood out to me today for a slightly different reason to how he would perhaps have intended them to stand out. You see, as a Christian, I agree with him.
I agree with him insofar as this line says that without God, or Christ, religion is a sealed book. Nothing more can come out of it, nothing more can be put into it, and no one can gain anything meaningful from it. To extend the metaphor, all we have to go with from a sealed book is a fancy cover and a blurb whose promises can never be kept.
Religion without God is meaningless. Christianity without Christ is meaningless. To put it in the words of Paul, the author of much of the New Testament, “If Christ had not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith” (italics mine). Useless, meaningless, ‘a book sealed’: that’s what my faith is without the reality of Christ.
I may think that’s great then, I believe that Christ was raised from the dead and all the rest, so my faith is great and I’m great. Unfortunately, that’s not the whole story. Not for me, and I reckon not for the majority of English Christians living alongside me. England 2014 is as much in danger of a Godless, Christless religion as England 1819. Why? Because we, Christians, push Him out.
We don’t do this by cutting him out of our religion – that would be too obvious a problem. We do it by constructing our own idea of Him and ignoring the real Christ. We love the John 3:16 Jesus but we don’t talk so much about the Jesus who calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him, and if we do then we don’t necessarily think about what that means.
Jesus Christ, God incarnate, is a complex, awe-inspiring, loving, holy, powerful, suffering figure and we just don’t take that in most of the time. That Jesus is seriously challenging. I know I can’t always take in everything that He said. But what am I – what are we – going to do about that? Do we give up and say that actually, we prefer the Jesus who’s easy to love and who says nice, tweetable things that we can quote with a smile over a cup of tea, or do we wrestle with the Jesus who did say some of those things, but who also said things that can shake us to the very core of our being?
I want to learn how to follow the dynamic Jesus, the Jesus who isn’t shut up in a book but who shouts into my life from the pages and beyond, influencing, defining and shaping me. Our lives are too short to waste on a tweetable Jesus when the real thing is out there waiting for us. This religion, this Christ-driven religion, is not a sealed book. It is not meaningless. It is something profoundly constructed by the most incredible person ever to cross the horizon of this world.
This means that Christianity will not always be easy…in fact if it seems to easy I tend to get a bit suspicious. It also means that it’s not always the most palatable things, or the thing that is easy to go and tell your friends about. But this Christianity is real. This Christianity is actually worth telling your friends about. Christianity with the real Christ at the centre is earth-shattering (the other kind is tea-rippling at a push).
This is not the Christless sealed book of a religion, this is the full on, Christ-centre book of a religion that has real power to change the world we live in.
 In a Western understanding, anyway