I have decided that the most lavish picture of academic grace is glancing over a syllabus and seeing a novel assigned. This quarter for Evangelism and Mission we are gifted with being able to read and discuss The Sparrow.
Mary Doria Russell’s first novel, The Sparrow, can be simplistically described as Jesuits in Space. Her later novels, aside from The Sparrow and it’s sequel Children of God, are best described as historical fiction. While The Sparrow is true science fiction, the novel is much more complex than just a mission to space, as the novel gets to the heart of what a life serving God entails–disappointment. The story is not at all about telling aliens about Jesus, but rather about how mission can be a converting ordinance for the missionaries.
The Jesuit scientists wen to learn, not to proselytize. They went so that they might come to know and love God’s other children. They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the farthest frontiers of human exploration. They went ad majorem Dei gloriam; for the greater glory of God.
Reading the various debates about the recent spoken word about Jesus and religion has been a surreal experience because I am in the midst of teaching a class on Karl Barth, a 20th century theologian who coined a rather famous (or infamous) line regarding religion, “religion is unbelief” he would eventually say in his magnum opus,Church Dogmatics.
But re-reading his Commentary on Romans, I am not sure Barth’s quip is so easily applied to the present resistance to “religion” (re: institutions and doctrine) in favor of Jesus. Barth writes, “Religion is neither a thing to be enjoyed nor a thing to be celebrated…” (258) Barth wrote this in the midst of an extended reflection on religion as a refusal of God and of our creatureliness. Some might take (and have taken) Barth to mean that instead of religion we need Jesus rather than these man-made edifices of institutional power. » Read the rest of this entry «