This book is the result of the author’s engagement with Nursi’s engagement with the challenges of state-imposed seculariztion in post-Ottoman Turkey. As a prominent Anglican theologian trying to come to grips with the secularization process in England, the United States and in the West in general, he believes that there is much that serious Christians can learn from the way Nursi, the foremost Muslim theologian of the Ottoman-Atatu¨ rk era, successfully renewed the faith of ordinary Turkish people in the face of Attatu¨ rk’s aggressive secularization of the country.
The book is divided into two parts of nine and six chapters respectively. The first part focusses on ‘learning from Said Nursi’, especially in the way he challenged atheism, articulated and lived the ‘life accountable’, put personal faith before political activism, engaged religious diversity, coped with globalization (including the challenge and allure of modern Western science), and grounded spirituality in tradition. Markham then summarizes the results of this learning process in four main ‘lessons’, namely that his fellow Christians need to (i) ‘remain rooted’ in their religious and philosophical tradition and be able to rearticulate it forcefully to challenge the ‘skepticism of modernity’—there is simply no reason for them to give up metaphysics in order to accommodate the likes of Hume, Kant, Darwin, and of course Dawkins; (ii) ‘change’ but only ‘in ways that are true to the tradition’, without having to abandon the foundational doctrinal parameters of their faith like the Incarnation, Trinity and the objective reality of God; (iii) ‘witness to the truth’ of their ‘tradition in non-violent ways’, for ‘a firmly rooted faith provides a sense of security that then leads to an acceptance of difference’, instead of a violent intolerance of the other; and (iv) ‘continue to connect faith with life’, such that the experience of sickness and suffering, for instance, can actually be transformed through faith into positive, constructive acts of worship and a heart-felt liberating appreciation of our ‘utter dependence’ on God. Based on the four-fold insight gleaned from the first part of the book, the second part then takes a closer, more incisive look into the ‘dialogue industry’. Here Markham is basically in agreement with the prominent, conservative evangelical, Pastor Bob Roberts, Jr., who says that ‘the real conversation must take place between ‘‘evangelical’’ Christians and Muslims, not liberal Christians and liberal Muslims.
The former dialogue at the core of their faith and are the ones who must work [together] to resolve the tension’. In that spirit of both doctrinal honesty and pragmatic cooperation in the service of the common social good, Markham thoroughly revises (and I think improves on) the ‘ground rules’ of Leonard Swidler’s famous ‘Dialogue Decalogue’. His ‘new decalogue’ advocates the ‘recognition of rootedness and location, text and community’, and stresses the ‘importance of using the tools within the tradition that help us to appreciate fully the other’. In short, flattening the doctrinal landscape is not only hypocritical, but also counter-productive for achieving both the cognitive and pragmatic objectives of dialogue. All in all, I heartily recommend this simple yet profound book to all who wish to find an honest, sincere way to understand and cooperate with the religious other, or even those who just want to know what the whole ‘dialogue industry’ is all about.