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Reviewed by Linda McCullough Moore


Salvation Lost, Misplaced

A former evangelical revisits the country of belief and believers.

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Perhaps because of this, I can't help but think that Marks wants to have it both ways. Decry the God who isn't. Then sketch sympathetic portraits of the people who would die for Him. Marks is too respectful of delusion, much like those who would dub Jesus a fine fellow and forget that pesky diagnosis of psychosis earned if a mortal man believes he's God Incarnate. One wants a more decided stance, a firmer argument. Marks, by fits and starts, is admiring and wistful (for this delusion?), then damning with faint praise, praising with faint damns. These are people who believe in God, in Jesus, in hell and heaven. If they are crazies bent on converting the planet, forget wistfulness, burn your copy of Pat the Christian, and let's have at the questions.

The book is rife with them. What is human agency in our redemption? What is the agency of God? Who's doing the saving? Who decides the thing? The conundrums of active vs. passive voice are given flesh and form. Marks' life story asks if our salvation can be returned. What of eternal security? Are we meant to argue people into the Kingdom? How do you square a loving god with tragedy and evil? (No anodyne theodicy need apply.) Is it to be hell for those who've never heard the Gospel? Marks isn't asking, Where do we post the Ten Commandments? May we be wished a Merry Christmas?

The documentary Purple State of Mind, just out, is a companion piece to Marks' book. In the film, Christian filmmaker and author Craig Detweiler and his old friend John Marks take on these questions and each other in a series of four conversations. On screen, Marks charms and bullies, provokes and entertains. Detweiler waffles and grins. He is sweet, does not offend. But neither man's argument is strong or compelling. And that's the point. Of the movie. Of the book. At the end of the day, it's not about the argument. The message of the film is that there are no winners, no losers. There is only the relationship of these two former college roommates, who shared four years at Davidson, four years of waning adolescence, four years of faith in Christ. And then, across two of these things we call our lifetimes, a conversation runs.

Bosnia, Hiroshima, Rwanda, Armenia. Marks makes a list at the book's end, and then concludes, "A god who can't stop it has no right to my loyalty or my belief. For now I'm a free man in a free land. I'm a man of the 20th century. And I rest on the authority of the uneasy dead." His response to the kindly Texan's question? "Leave me behind." (And one imagines his reliance that the savior in whom he disbelieves will honor his request.)

Marks answers the original question, but has he taken the full measure of the irony of being asked, "Will you be left behind?" I think he has. And if the question is a caricature, a reduction, why then, so let the answer be a cartoon caption too. Marks is smarter than this, his whole book screams, It's not that simple. Marks concludes by saying that the dead do not lie easy. One thinks he knows full well how much more we, for now the living, soldier on with a great, long–practiced lack of ease.

Take a long, hard look at dying, Marks says, but he demands we look at living too. Read the paper. Watch the news. Then, please, he says, we need a different question.

So back then to my worn, red–letter edition, children's Bible. A color–coded, quick perusal has Jesus' questions running more along the lines of, "What would you like me to do for you?" Jesus asking, "What would you say about that?"

Or, in a John Marks vein, finally one day on a cross, Jesus presaging prayers in 1993 in Bosnia for murdered Muslim sons: "God, why have you forsaken me?" Our echoes of that question meeting with an answer because He asked it there.

Linda McCullough Moore, essayist and fiction–writer, author of The Distance Between, lives and writes in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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