My subject line sounds ridiculous, but one sentence is full of so many implications I felt comfortable putting it down. I have never read anything quite like it in my thirty plus years of reading theology books. The sentence comes from the author’s doctoral supervisor, Donald MacKinnon: “He speculated what Christian theology would been have like if in its formative centuries it had paid more attention to the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides than to the philosophies of the Stoics, Plato, and Aristotle.” Chew on that for a few moments.
Fortunately, David Ford’s book, The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit, is full of many arresting insights that you still ought to consider reading the entire book.
Ford has two conversation partners in this book: the Gospel of John and the poetry of his dear friend, Micheal O’Siadhail. It is a lively exchange throughout this marvelous work.
I should say up front that my high praise for this book does not mean I agree with everything Ford writes. When it comes to working out a distinctly Christian theology, Ford strikes me as too deferential to other religious traditions. Granted, we can learn much from those with whom we disagree, something that Ford has modeled himself. However, the scandal of the cross gets lost amid Ford’s irenic and inclusive approach. Nevertheless, there remains much to gain from a discerning read of The Drama of Living.
Ford models what he talks about with respect to lingering over important texts. Words should not be consumed (here Ford quotes Paul Griffiths), but we should “savor the words on the page…return to them ever and again.” It is akin to the point C.S. Lewis made in saying we have not read a book until we’ve reread it. Spurgeon reading Bunyan’s A Pilgrim’s Progress a hundred times is a good example. Ford’s book is written in such a way that I found myself wanting to slow down from my usual pace. Having O’Siadhail’s poetry peppered throughout was a constant reminder that The Drama of Living is unwise to speed-read.
Though Ford is a well-respected Cambridge professor, his interaction firsthand with the suffering gives him an added credibility. Ford does not escape from wrestling with this thorniest issue of all. Indeed, David Ford and his wife have been closely involved with the L’Arche community for several years. The Fords love and care for the “least of these” is beautiful and adds a deeper layer to this terrific book.
Another dimension to suffering is wonderfully laid out: that of aging and our eventual dying. Here he shares poignantly about his own father-in-law who happened to be a well-known theologian himself. Ford also shares insights from the death of Micheal O’Siadhail’s wife to Parkinsons. The insights on the power of love in these sections are truly breathtaking.
Even though I find Ford exaggerating the multiple layers of meaning in John’s Gospel due to his underscoring its “dramatic” presentation, and even though I think Ford underestimates the scandal of the cross, reading his book was indeed time well spent.