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Freedom to differ

by
14 October 2016

Christopher Landau finds a topical survey uneven in quality

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Faith, Freedom and the Future: Challenges for the 21st century
Michael Nazir-Ali
Wilberforce Publications £12.99
(978-0-957572-55-3)

 

 

THOUGH written by a retired bishop, this book brings to mind the proverbial curate’s egg. Published by Wilberforce Publications, a wholly owned subsidiary of the somewhat notorious campaign group Christian Concern (Letters, 13 May), it is a book that seems to assume a very particular audience — and, indeed, some of the pieces read like transcriptions of lectures that Dr Michael Nazir-Ali may have delivered at Christian Concern events.

The lack of an acknowledged editor perhaps explains the curious way in which the book jumps from one topic to the next, as it considers a wide range of contemporary challenges facing the Church. An opening chapter on justification is followed by reflections on love and law in Christianity and Islam, which then leads on to a chapter, “Is there a Gospel for the 21st Century?”. All are important and challenging topics in their own right, but this reader was left somewhat confused as to how the discussion of one led on to the next.

The book also suffers from an inconsistency as regards the depth in which topics are explored. Nazir-Ali’s expert knowledge of Islam, and his ability to tease out both similarities and differences in relation to Christianity, is demonstrated repeatedly — and there are valuable observations here. But some contemporary ethical issues get the briefest of treatments: “designer babies” receive a two-page chapter; euthanasia is considered in four.

Nazir-Ali’s assessment of multiculturalism is one of the most arresting discussions. He regards its rise as a failure of Christian hospitality. Immigrants should have been welcomed to the UK having been told that “Christian faith is absolutely central to our institutions and our values. . . Hospitality would have led to engagement and to dialogue. . . Instead of which what happened was the invention of multiculturalism, which was basically saying, ‘Well we really don’t know who we are, we certainly don’t know who you are, so let us continue living our own lives as best we can.’”

Some of Nazir-Ali’s observations can, perhaps, be made with unique candour, given his Pakistani family background and his combination of Muslim and Christian heritage. His is a compelling voice for a Church that sometimes struggles to make sense of England’s new multifaith reality. But I fear that this book is unlikely to be much read beyond a conservative Evangelical constituency. I hope that Nazir-Ali might return to similar themes in future with a more established Christian publisher, whose editors might tease out a more clearly and consistently argued critique of the ways in which the Church faces the challenges of this century.

 

The Revd Christopher Landau is Assistant Curate of St Luke’s, West Kilburn, and Emmanuel, Harrow Road, in the diocese of London, and is a former reporter for BBC Radio 4’s World at One and PM.

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