WHEN I began reading this book, I wasn’t sure if I would like it. It is written by someone who was a member of a fundamentalist Southern Baptist Church, a tradition that is quite alien to most British Christians. I warmed to it greatly, as I persevered, though: the author comes across as very likeable and thoughtful: as a former scientist, I greatly appreciated his rigorous engagement with science.
The book is essentially a testimony, an account of the author’s loss of faith and then finding it again. The title is rather deceptive, though, since what seems to have brought him back to faith was not science, but a mystical experience every bit as profound and mysterious as that of Saul on the Damascus road. His account of this is fascinating. He then goes on to seek to make sense of that experience through science. There’s a noble tradition of that: it’s Anselm’s fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding.
McHargue’s use of science in doing the latter is sensible, helpful, and at times, moving: for example, when he talks of what scientists refer to as the Initial Singularity, just before the Big Bang, in which everything which was to be was contained: “I was there in that Singularity, as were all my ancestors and descendants. Every star that’s been born, every star that has died, was there, too. So was every particle that makes up every atom in the universe. All was there, together, in the beginning.” He says that when he thinks of the Singularity, he thinks of God. So do I.
Some of the difficulties that he still has with what he describes as orthodox Christianity would not trouble many British Christians: for example, the inerrancy rather than the divine inspiration of the scriptures, and an insistence that penal substitution is the only and exclusive proper way of understanding the atonement. It strikes me as significant that, whereas the church Fathers went to great lengths in the Nicene Creed to define the incarnation, they were silent on the atonement. They were very wise.
He makes clear that he now has doubts, and seems rather embarrassed about the fact. I don’t quite understand why that should be a problem. Faith without doubt to accompany it is not faith at all, but knowledge. We are not given knowledge in this world; for now we see through a glass darkly. Physicists have had to learn to embrace uncertainty, and so must people of faith.
There are many bonuses to the book. He dispels the myth, for example, popular here, that fundamentalist Christians are mad or bad. He makes clear that the fundamentalist Baptists from whom he eventually felt it necessary to withdraw were good, godly, loving, and caring people. That has been my experience of fundamentalists with whom I have come into contact through my late wife, Denise, who grew up as one.
This is a thoughtful, thoroughly honest, and wise book. It’s also very readable. I commend it.
Dr John Inge is the Bishop of Worcester.
Finding God in the Waves: How I lost my faith and found it again through science
Hodder & Stoughton £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9