And Is It True?

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  1. Review

    Richard Clarke feels passionately that it is right for him to go on holding onto his faith in God. He has admired the great courage of a range of people to whom he has ministered, who through very difficult times in their lives have managed to cling onto their faith in God. He knows he belongs to a church of unlike-minded people, for some of whom the nature of believing is perceived differently from his perception of it. Not for him a religion of easy certitudes and absolutes, a religion of comfort with little need to question or search.

    The main substance of his book "And is it true?" is concerned with the conditions, as he envisions them, under which a believer or an enquirer may search for truth and faith. He compares these conditions with the space between the opposing trenches of World War 1’s "no-man’s land", which he describes as a place of vulnerability and insecurity. Truth, he argues, is not found in entrenched positions.

    While he accepts that people’s negative attitudes towards the church as an institution may well put some off Christianity, his hope is that others will look beyond the corruption, abuses and absorption with power of the churches and genuinely find it worthwhile to search for the truth and the God proclaimed by Christianity. Indeed part of the cost of his own Christian living is to remain within the church, such as it is today. In part he loves it, in part he hates it.

    He engages with scientific determinism and post-modernist ethics, philosophy and theology as he looks for reasons for believing in God, a basis for morality, and a way of thinking about judgement and an after-life. He explains how he understands the Bible and doctrines such as the Incarnation in which no-man’s land has its place.

    He is deeply concerned that the church should not become overly anxious about its own internal problems, at the cost of its critical engagement with the world at large. He acknowledges a serious tension between the claims of justice within Christianity and the comfortable Western European life-style he leads.

    By his drawing on a range of poets, novelists and other writers including Owen, Weil, Arnold, Camus and Unamuno; we are reminded that the diagnosis of the ills of our contemporary culture and civilization, and the description of its neuroses and symptoms, often are performed better and written about more clearly by such people, rather than by many theologians and church leaders. As R.S.Thomas, the Welsh poet, wrote of the place in which he lived in retirement: "Llyn is not an escape, but a peninsula where I can be inward with all the tensions of our age." Autobiographies, p.151.

    Some who read and reflect on "And is it true?" will find it a liberating experience, most will find it a challenging one. I am not convinced that the metaphorical use of "no-man’s land" is applicable for searches for every sort of truth. I am not clear that Richard Clarke sees that logically a commitment to believing in the rightness of truth, goodness and other moral values is prior to belief in God as good and true; in other words, first, one must have made up one’s mind that one values goodness and truth and be committed to them, before one will value a God who is believed to exemplify goodness and truth; but maybe he does.

    There is a future for the church that Richard Clarke envisages and values; but it will need to fight hard to hold its place in the new Information Age; that is, if Francis Fukuyama in his book "The Great Disruption" is correct in contending that we will see a decline in "centralised religious orthodoxies". Let the author of "And is it true?" have the last word: "The Christian community is at its most effective when it is not feverishly plotting its own survival, but is functioning unselfconsciously for an end beyond itself and its survival. That is, by any calculation, what the over-used word mission actually means." (page 93).

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