Learning to Walk in the Dark
Barbara Brown Taylor
Canterbury Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £12 (Use code CT318
BARBARA BROWN TAYLOR has written several books and has an
enthusiastic following. I can see why: she writes fluently and
imaginatively. Her latest book contains a series of reflections on
darkness, often based on experience. She takes us into a nightclub,
a hospital at night, and a deep cave. She spends a night alone in
an uncongenial cabin. She shares insights from living on a farm.
She reflects on St John of the Cross and the dark night of the
The author points out the difficulties inherent in biblical
contrasts such as darkness and light, blindness and sight. Readers
of the Church Times will already be alert to these
sensitive issues through articles by Professor John Hull (whom I
knew before he lost his sight).
Like all writers and preachers, Brown Taylor is hoping to shed
fresh light (how difficult it is to avoid such terms) on the old,
old story. What this amounts to here is an attempt to release us
from the bondage of received Christianity into "emerging
Christianity". This is where my unease begins.
Brown Taylor seems to have joined the growing number of
Christian leaders who see the Church as an unsatisfactory sideshow,
and encourage us to embark on a personal spiritual journey. Very
often, this means replacing "we" with "me" and reducing the size of
our suitcase of beliefs - in her case, to that of a shoebox.
The author raises important questions. Is "solar Christianity"
unrealistically optimistic - and therefore escapist? Is active
church membership optional for Christians? Will her brave new
approach lead to radical discipleship - or is it self-indulgence
with a spiritual veneer? And can we dispense with ancient Christian
vocabulary? Terms that she finds dispensable - sin, salvation,
repentance, and grace - others see as vital (the Archbishop of
Canterbury, for example, has said, "'Grace' is my favourite word in
the English language").
In her later years, the novelist Fay Weldon embraced the
Christian faith. She asserted: "I do approve of religion. I think
everybody should try church before they try therapy. It's extremely
healthy for you to spend an hour a week thinking not about what a
victim you are, but how wicked you are."
Some recent words of Canon Giles Fraser are also worth
pondering: "If churches have a future, it's in addressing our
existential darkness: sin and death."
Who is right?
Canon John Young has written several books, including
Christianity: An introduction in the Hodder Teach Yourself
series and Lord . . . Help My Unbelief (BRF,