All for the Glory of God
“The evening left Steve with a lot to think about. He had been wondering about a career in journalism. He loved writing and his Labour Party connections had made him feel a berth on The Guardian would suit him down to the ground. But now he wasn’t so sure. He wanted to use his working life doing something that would last for ever. Perhaps he should become a missionary instead?”
A certain theology states, broadly, that evangelism and godliness (understood in a narrow sense) are all that have eternal significance. Hardyman strongly denies this. Maximum Life discusses a number of interrelated topics united by the main thrust of the book; it is an introduction to the “cultural”, or “creation”, mandate of Genesis 1:28. The rest of the book is an examination of what this looks like on the ground, with commendably challenging conclusions. Creation care and social justice, for example, get this treatment. It is most welcome.
Throughout, Hardyman gives numerous examples that are real, and it is here that he really excels. He has a clear gifting for taking simple truths and rephrasing them in common, earthy language, so that the reader is compelled to pay attention in a way that she would not have done otherwise. Hardyman, and indeed others occupying his theological position, lead the way in showcasing how to be Christian and human. I imagine that this is why Maximum Life is often funny. There is a hilarious awareness of controversies, and it is refreshing to see some of these dealt with in a light-hearted way that never feels flippant. Although it has become a truism that there is no sacred/secular divide, Hardyman helpfully succeeds in showing that we are frequently guilty of living as if there is.
Bizarrely, I felt cautious as I read Maximum Life. Perhaps, and here I reveal my hand, it was because I am not yet fully persuaded in my own mind about some of the complexities discussed. How high a view of “calling” to have would probably be the best example of this. Whatever the reason, by being on my guard I spotted the book’s shortcomings more readily than I otherwise would.
Hardyman uses tough language at times, and this can be found when discussing precisely the controversies where care and nuance are most required. Occasionally, his treatment of Scripture feels like he is proof-texting. It is not necessarily the case that he is, or that he is trying to gloss over opposing positions (although he does not present these in any potent form). However, because of this, it is not the book to persuade sceptics.
In one or two places, the brilliant vision of the balanced Christian life that is such a strength of the book is to the detriment of callings to evangelistic extremity; mission work abroad, (singleness?) and sacrifice for the gospel are almost disparaged. This could well be because his target audience have already been persuaded of the importance of laying down one’s life, but more could be said so that those looking to be comfortable cannot abuse his writing.
That being said, Maximum Life is a good introduction to the cultural mandate and the theology of work flowing from it. Part of me thinks that I have been too harsh with my rating. Perhaps I will come back and change it.
I think that Maximum Life could be the perfect book to suggest to those who have never come across an alternative theology to the one mentioned at the outset. But to those who have encountered Hardyman’s position before and are suspicious of it, I think Creation Regained is a better recommendation.