Christianity is in crisis in the West. The Inkling friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, analysed why. He developed an account of our spiritual predicament that is radical and illuminating. Barfield realized that the human experience of life shifts fundamentally over periods of cultural time. Our perception of nature, the cosmos and the divine changes dramatically across history. Mark Vernon uses this startling insight to tell the inner story of 3000 years of Christianity, beginning from the earliest Biblical times. Drawing, too, on the latest scholarship and spiritual questions of our day, he presents a gripping account of how Christianity constellated a new perception of what it is to be human. For 1500 years, this sense of things informed many lives, though it fell into crisis with the Reformation, scientific revolution and Enlightenment. But the story does not stop there. Barfield realised that there is meaning in the disenchantment and alienation experienced by many people today. It is part of a process that is remaking our sense of participation in the life of nature, the cosmos and the divine. It's a new stage in the evolution of human consciousness.
Psychotherapist and former Anglican priest Vernon (The Meaning of Friendship) responds in this slipshod work to what he perceives as "the crisis" of waning interest in Christianity by re-centering western Christianity as a mystic tradition. Vernon claims inspiration from Owen Barfield one of the "Inkling" group of writers that coalesced around J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis during the mid-20th century. Vernon calls on Barfield's division of time into three stages ("original participation," "withdrawal of participation," and "reciprocal participation") as a framing device for the rest of the book, an examination of Christian mysticism. These stages, Vernon argues, form a journey from an unconscious identification of self with object (in this case Christianity) to a chosen, fully conscious identification of self and object. His analysis is primarily an interpretation of the mystic practices of early Israelites and ancient Greeks, and ends with a call for the restoration of mystic Christianity. While Barfield's stages are supposed to provide a framework, the chapters are only loosely connected, the invocation of Barfield's time divisions obscures more than illuminates, and the work's actual connection to the history of Christian mysticism is tenuous at best. Those looking for a close reading of Barfield's work on Christianity will be disappointed. \n