Book Review: A Wilderness of Mirrors

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Mark Meynell’s A Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting Again in a Cynical World is a refreshing and brilliant apologetic, which should be read by anyone who has been entrusted with a position of leadership in God’s church.

An important book on cynicism, faith and the West

Meynell’s insightful essay exposes a major flaw in contemporary apologetics: a gap in our defences, if you will. Evangelists and apologists spend considerable time dealing with objections to Christian belief. We defend key facts from sceptical arguments. Now, for Christians, faith simply means a deep personal trust in a triune God. Meynell’s salient point is that Westerners no longer trust anyone. The Western world’s “crisis of faith” goes beyond incredulity towards meta-narratives or a hostility to Christian doctrine.

Cold warrior and spy-master James Jesus Angleton described the world of espionage as a “wilderness of mirrors”; in a world of deceit and illusion personal trust becomes a practical impossibility. Meynell’s genius is to realise that this is how we all live today – that the deceit and duplicity of cold-war espionage is a perfect metaphor for post-modernism. Family breakdown has undermined our belief in others, but the rot runs deeper. The very secular institutions which were meant to replace the Church are now treated with distrust, and for very good reason. Financiers, politicians, police-officers, celebrities, social-workers, and even investigative journalists have abused the public trust and conspired to cover up their crimes.

The BBC, the ‘gold standard’ of British broadcasting, was excoriated for shelving reports which revealed that one of its oldest stars, Jimmy Savile, was a serial sex abuser. Britain had grown used to stories about clerical abuse; celebrity abuse was new. Then faith in “the system” evaporated when news emerged that police and social workers in Yorkshire, Oxfordshire and Greater Manchester had simply ignored the abuse of teenage girls at the hands of paedophile gangs for years.

As if to prove Meynell’s point, this summer Owen Jones lengthy, detailed polemic The Establishment and How they Get Away With It became bestseller, sitting on shelves in Tesco and Asda alongside Clive Cussler and Stephen King. The public feels threatened by those with power and authority, especially those with religious authority. After all, even in the Church, authority has been abused on too many occasions. The post-modern response has been to replace religion with “spirituality”. Obligation, structure, and obedience are rejected for mysticism, therapy and mystical experience.

To argue down scepticism and cynicism we must remind our neighbours that the Gospel makes sense of the mess we’re in and shows a way out of it. No-one who believes in sin will be surprised by corruption; but anyone who knows that we are all in God’s image realises there is more to humanity than ruin and despair. We can still discern some truths and some people still tell the truth. Above all, humans are healthiest when they rest on someone worthy of total trust. And no-one but the Son of God can meet that standard.

A version of this review appeared earlier this year in Evangelicals Now

A Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting Again in a Cynical World

Mark Meynell

Zondervan Press (2015) 223 pages

£11.38 paperback; £7.99 Kindle

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