Book Review: That Hideous Strength

Disclaimer – I was provided with a review copy by the Publisher, Evangelical Press, but I hope that this does not queer my review at all.

That Hideous Strength Melvin Tinker Book Review

The cover, and title/subtitle, of this book, may put some readers off picking it up – and I think that if they did, they would be missing out on some helpful thinking and reflection. That said, in order to read this book carefully and fairly, the term ‘cultural marxism’ needs to be either put aside or explained, and the reader needs to be prepared to engage with an essentially war-focused approach to church and culture. With this in mind, the words of Paul in Ephesians 6:12 are important, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”. I’m comfrotable with the language of warfare in terms of the relationship between God’s Kingdom and the kingdoms of this world – but it is worth noting that this motif is central to this book (Hence, ‘how the West was lost’), and actually quite helpfully done. Indeed, the opening words of That Hideous Strength‘s foreword (by the thoughtful Dan Strange) set a self-aware and careful tone: “Recently an aversion to using the language of ‘culture wars’ has appeared in British Christian circles… one problem with the reaction against ‘culture war’ language it’s at odds with a constant biblical theme from Genesis to Revelation…“. Tinker teases out this theme with deference to the Tower of Babel and the titular reference to C. S. Lewis.

This is a thoughtful book – Tinker’s long learning and reading comes through, from his deft handling of biblical texts, through a close reading of Lewis, into integrating and synthesising a wide range of thinkers and positions. Whilst That Hideous Strength is primarily a book about cultural change (with the idea of ‘cultural marxism’ being Tinker’s chosen problem to tackle), we also read around and about a number of other key issues. Throughout, Tinker notes the importance of language and speech – both what words are generally understood to mean, and how they are deployed/permitted. This echoes another key theme in the book – which personally I found encouraging and inspiring – which is that of the role that the university/academy plays in culture making. The point has been made before – but Tinker demonstrates a number of ways in which this actually happens, particularly to the detriment of the Church. This, however, should not be understood as anti-intellectualism. In fact, the book is clear that abandoning the universities (where this has happened) or discouraging people from engaging in the life of the mind (as some people in the church advocate) is part of the problem. I wonder, too if it might be the case that re-engaging in efforts here is part of the church’s calling.

Overall, then, for a short and potentially provocative book, I found myself nodding in agreement quite often. There are a number of areas in which I found myself head-scratching, but ultimately I think I can recommend this book. If you are someone who has read Glynn Harrison’s A Better Story and wanted a deeper analysis of the cultural changes driving that conversation, this book may be a way in to that (a helpful ‘works cited’ section adds real value to this short volume). Similarly, if you are wanting to think deeply about the ways in which the Church and culture relate, then you could do a lot worse than picking this book up, offering as it does a mature and bold presentation of one conservative Anglican perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed reading That Hideous Strength, and whilst I think perhaps the idea that the West is lost (in a broader sense than it is a non-Christian culture, full of people who don’t know Jesus [which it has been since, well, Babel, at least!]) is a little unpalatable, I expect to be referring to this book over the next few years as English culture continues to change.

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