In Down With This Sort of Thing, author Fraser Hosford, a Dublin-based church pastor and economist, asks: “How is the gospel both good and relevant to people’s daily lives, their hopes and their struggles?” This question is not only crucially important for the church in Ireland to consider, but it is also refreshingly practical. Throughout the rest of the book, Hosford succeeds in presenting the gospel as not only true, but as a deeply transformative, life-changing message which meets the needs of a progressive, sceptical, post-religious culture.
In the first chapter, Hosford traces the huge cultural shifts that have occurred in Ireland over the last three decades, leading to the development of ‘two Irelands’: the old Ireland, characterised by adherence to tradition and religion, and the new Ireland, a much more secular, multicultural society. His use of the Prodigal Son parable to understand the interaction of these ‘two Irelands’ with God the Father is especially helpful, as he highlights that God’s grace is always on offer, even to an increasingly secularised culture which has largely turned its back on God. In the third chapter, a parallel is carefully established between the Pharisees’ hypocritical religious devotion, and the self-righteous religiosity of the Catholic Church in Ireland in recent decades. Hosford ably shows how the life and teaching of Jesus sharply contrasts with both kinds of harsh religious tradition. In the fifth chapter, the author counters the common perception that God is a celestial kill-joy who wants to curtail all individual freedoms. He shows how Jesus provides us with true freedom: not only liberation from slavery to sin, but also the freedom to stop fruitlessly searching after fulfilment in objects which were never designed to satisfy us in the first place (money, power, sex, and so on). This section of the book reminded me of Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods, and indeed there is something of Keller’s gift for cultural analysis in Hosford’s writing. He is able to weave in highly relevant examples, from the ‘Ikea effect’ to the professional struggles of Irish rugby players, to make the Bible connect with everyday struggles in contemporary Ireland. Hosford has clearly spent time truly listening to the questions of his own culture, which is why he is able to compellingly instruct the church to pay close attention to the task of listening in the final chapter: “The church’s ministry, too, is to be incarnational, mirrored on Jesus’ mission…it has to go to people, get alongside them, serve them and listen to them.”
Overall, I found this a fascinating analysis of the state of Christianity and the Church in contemporary Ireland. What’s relatively unique about this book is its commitment to understanding evangelical Christianity in contemporary Ireland, a nation which has one of the smallest evangelical populations in the English-speaking world. There are, of course, others who have given insightful analyses of evangelical faith in Ireland from both theological and sociological perspectives (Patrick Mitchel and Gladys Ganiel being notable examples). But Down With This Sort of Thing is a rare gem: an analysis of Christianity in Ireland that is accessible without ever becoming shallow. It will be of great help to people who wish to understand Irish Christianity better, as well as for those who wish to connect their faith to their culture.
Down With This Sort of Thing can be purchased here.