03/04/2006

The Church in Chains

I really wanted to like this book. Or, perhaps not like, exactly, but to find it moving and inspiring. It's an account of the Underground Church and its immense difficulties in the 1960s and 1970s in Communist countries, written by Richard Wurmbrand, a pastor who was himself imprisoned and tortured in Romania.

I suppose part of the problem is that it feels dated. The book is trying to alert Christians in the West to the severity of the problem - of the torture inflicted on church leaders, the brainwashing attempts, and the many other sufferings that happened. The author saw Communism as a massive force, gradually taking over the world. But now we look back and see it mostly disappearing. Perhaps there are still hidden Christians and those in prison in the few remaining Communist countries, but it's no longer the huge number that it was thirty or forty years ago.

Another problem is that the book is written (or so it seems) to make a point. Earlier chapters focus on different countries, with anecdotes about both the 'official' churches (in countries that had them) and the secret ones; tales of horrible tortures, and disappearances; quotations from both Christian and Communist publications. But there's no real development of thought, no link between many of the paragraphs, no way to identify with anyone mentioned because the whole is so horrific, and yet written in such a de-personalised way.

There's also an agenda by the author: that of discrediting those who criticised him, and (more worryingly) those who study theology, or do other works than ministering to the oppressed in Communist countries. Yes, we have much to be thankful for and should remember it, but not everybody is called to this kind of outreach.

So although there was the potential for a moving and inspiring book (perhaps along the lines of Corrie ten Boom's 'The Hiding Place') I found it rather bitty and confusing. By the end, it was hard to know what to believe and what not to believe. I'm sure there were terrible crimes committed against Christians during the era of the book, but I was no closer to understanding why. Moreover I had completely lost track of what was first-hand experience, what was second-hand recounting, and what was merely quoted from reports in media, biased one way or the other.

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