This is David Dark’s third book and the one that announces the arrival of a most important writer in twenty first century Christendom. More accessible than his earlier work, perhaps helped along by his wife, the singer Sarah Masen, jotting a note on his manuscript, “love thy reader,” Dark takes something that we have been told was absolutely wrong and makes it the absolutely most important thing. How many times have we heard that we cannot question God? Well, Dark suggests and suggests most persuasively, that takes away the most important tool of repentance and Reformation.  Indeed, it is a simple extension of that latter movement  which rebelled against some human Magisterium telling us what to think unquestioningly and suggested that it was the right for every man and woman to read the Bible and think for themselves before obeying what they came to think. Repentance, the argument continues, is when you perpetually question yourself as a work of the Holy Spirit bringing sanctification to your mind and heart and soul.

As always Dark is prophetically astute and you get the vibe that the human relationship that we call life and the spiritual realms that that fits into is much deeper, higher and wider than the “I prayed this prayer and am going to sit now, smug in my elite Gnostic knowledge, at the door of salvation and wait for heaven to come to me.” As a pastor of University students I have come to realise that sitting at the door of the Kingdom when the Kingdom is laid out before them to explore is not so much a laziness on my students part as a deeply rooted fear. When you are frightened into the Kingdom by not so much the excitement of knowing God as the fear of what would happen if you didn’t want to know God the fear is difficult to shift. When you are given a welcome pack on arrival that suggests this all you need to know and do and never question then fear is not only deeply rooted but flourishes. Dark reveals a deeper, higher and wider experience of faith and lets us revel and laugh and cry and rage within it.

Human beings are also given a new lease of life. The “perversion” as he describes it of dehumanising to the labels of society or even the Church is ripped out by connection, engagement and listening. Those who don’t think what we think are not enemies to be excluded but can be recourses of grace and kindness to help us question our prejudiced perceptions. This is a book about how to share truth in love and grace and hone that truth in the sharing. Allow me to indulge in just one quotation, “More humility might characterise our talk of God if we believe that the whole truth can never be entirely ours and that our attempts to nail God down are always well-intentioned human constructs at best and idols at worst.”

In doing all this, as is his favourite past time, Dark leads us into critique of what is happening on Television, in cinema, literature, art and the iPod. Of particular note this time around his take on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129 had me rushing for the Complete Works; his review of Arcade Fire enriches every new listen of their songs; and as always with David there are now a plethora of films, novels and theology I need to amazon.com!

Working with students who annually seem slower to critique the faith they have been handed hook line and sinker, and who therefore struggle to form a world view that might make them world formative believers in their future vocations, I would love them all to have read this book before they arrive. Dark has come up with a work as essential a work as Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace was in the nineties.


Paul Hutchinson

Thanks for this Stocki - I'll have to watch out for this book. (It might even be good for my church book group!)

One impression that occurs to me reading your review is to wonder "what kind of questioning are we talking about"?

It can be argued that the Enlightenment was an outgrowing of the questioning process started by the Reformation. This led to a lot of positive outcomes, and a lot of things that were very corrosive of Christian faith as well (e.g. the debunking of mystery in favour of hard facts and empiricism). NT Wright argues that the Enlightenment (and a century and a half later, Post-Modernism) was a case study of what happens when people ask the right questions in the wrong way.

But what you say about the experience of your students arriving at university really strikes home. I have struggled for years with the kind of Christianity that makes "terror of God's wrath" the basic building block of faith. In practice, it always seems to produce a lot more neurosis than maturity, and certainly, self criticism doesn't get much of a look-in. How and why do you go about growing in relationship with a cosmic bogeyman, anyway?



It would be interesting to get Darky’s view on at what point does a questioning believer become a non-believer. If I question and doubt that the bible is in anyway a reliable historical document of the events and conversations in the Middle East 2000 years ago: Is that a doubt too far?

I find that modern Christians tend to exalt doubt as an indicator that they are ‘thinking’ Christians, but only inside a very strict and safe framework of faith.

Paul Hutchinson

I think the phrase "a doubt too far" is a bit misleading - it implies there are questions that are off-limits, that somehow get you kicked out the fold for asking.

The Gospel accounts paint a different picture - when Thomas questions the resurrection of Jesus, Jesus responds with compassion rather than rebuke.

But I think that if the position you describe is more than an unresolved doubt, but rather a resolved conviction ("actually, I'm pretty much convinced that the bible is not in any way based on actual historical events"), then I guess the conviction leads to the conclusion that Christianity is founded on a mistake, and so belief in Jesus becomes pretty meaningless - it's probably time to find an alternative worldview (e.g. Marxism, Buddhism...)

I'm not overly surprised that most Christians don't spend long hours pondering stuff like this though - it would be like a married person spending their lives wondering whether there's a actually a much more appropriate partner for them to be married to out there. It's the kind of question you really ought to reach a conviction on before you get married!

Reaching such a conviction frees you up to concentrate on more relevant questions like "how do I best show my love for this person I'm married to?", "what sort of stuff do we not communicate about that we should?", "what am I taking for granted here?" etc...


Paul, you seemed to be saying then that questioning IS a bad idea (almost)... Should we not recognize the innate danger in ‘questioning’ our Christian beliefs, and ask if it is a risk worth taking? Given the limited control we have over what we believe and what we do not (outside of wholly rational enquiry), we can’t force our self to believe something against the honest judgment of our cognitive rationale (or at least we can, but it’s called willful self delusion).

If we were to conclude though honest questioning that we disbelieve that the bible is reliable reportage, and because of that we cannot honestly say that we think that Jesus was the son of god, born of a virgin, rose from his death or performed any super natural signs of deity, and that as a result of this new historical analysis we are no longer in a position that we are Christian at all, with possibly catastrophic consequences for our soul in a Christian after-life… would not the least-worst option for us be to avoid questioning our belief at all.

We can of course question our beliefs in a context of ultimate faith in a risen Christ to answer our questions, but is this really questioning at all or just a faith affirming mind game?

Paul Hutchinson

No I'm not saying that questioning is a bad idea - although having read your last comment a few times through, you seem to be!

I'm certainly not suggesting we need to pull psychological tricks on ourselves to convince ourselves we believe something we actually don't. (I know what you're talking about here, and it's not particularly life-affirming). God has nothing to hide - if affirming something we actually believe to be a lie is an entry requirement for heaven, then I'm not so sure that heaven deserves its popular reputation.

It's simply that I've met people who use questioning as an excuse for a lifelong commitment to fence sitting. I have one friend who was vacillating for some time over which worldview was for him - Evangelical Christianity or Atheistic Hedonism. He couldn't make a call between the two in terms of ultimate truth. Fair enough, if that's where you're at.

A few years later, I got talking to him in depth again, and he'd never got off the horns of this particular dilemna. My beliefs had changed a fair bit in the intervening time, his had stayed right in the same place. I felt like shaking him and shouting "make up your bl&%dy mind!" (Heck, maybe having a go at atheism would be ultimately preferable to this self imposed misery...)

In practice you reach a conviction and then you follow it through - you decide which basket you're going to stick your eggs into. It's not that you'll never have cause to question your convictions (I'm really NOT saying that), but life's too short to pull apart and second guess every single choice we make for the sake of it.

Personally, I believe that the New Testament is more or less based on actual events. Your mileage may vary - I've spent enough time with people whose opinion is different that it doesn't make my shock me or make my opinion fall apart any more. :-)

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