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There appears to be more Christian literature around than ever before at the moment. I don't know whether this is a response to Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion", which has meant that Christian writers and publishers have increased their outputs, or because I'm noticing it more. Timothy Radcliffe's ''Take the Plunge'' is taking a more or less opposite view to that of Dawkins, exploring the importance of baptism in everyday life and arguing that there is no aspect of life that cannot be touched if you are baptised and therefore living with faith.
Radcliffe talks about all aspects of life and how important faith and baptism are to them. From the moment of birth there is not a moment in life that cannot be improved if you are living it with God. Radcliffe sees baptism as the first step along a life of faith that will be with you until death. He sees this as a way to avoid many of the pitfalls of modern living; rejection and fear of death among them. Although he mostly applies this to the modern world, he notes that Christians have been setting themselves apart from secular society by baptism since the days of the earliest church in Roman times.
Interestingly, although a brief mention of it opens each chapter, the main focus here is not on the baptismal act itself. Radcliffe prefers to talk about the effects of the baptism on the believer and how the faith that prompts the act will seep into all areas of life. Given that the baptismal act is only a brief moment in a person's life, this widening of scope is necessary to avoid what could have been a very short book and opens it up to a wider audience.
My first surprise in reading the book was how accessible the writing style was. One of my recent reads, "The Face of God: The Gifford Lectures" by Roger Scruton, proved to be very tough going, so I wasn't expecting too much here. However, Radcliffe's writing is very clear and inclusive. Perhaps because of my experiences with the previous title, I certainly didn't expect to find several jokes and some beautiful poetry. Perhaps the moment that most made me feel included was when I came across a quote Radcliffe used which described the colleague at the next desk almost perfectly.
This accessibility is in no way achieved by the lack of research. Admittedly, a large part of his research involves writings and articles on or by members of his Catholic faith, but there is a much wider scope than that. There are references here to Dickens and Tolstoy from secular writings and G. K. Chesterton and various Popes from the Catholic world. But his references are certainly not based in the past, as he also quotes Zoe Heller and Lady Gaga, as well as making a reference regarding actress Megan Fox. Regardless of your stage of life or era, there is going to be a name here that you recognise, all of which are quoted or referenced with complete relevance to Radcliffe's main argument.
If there was a downside, it was to me the slightly limited scope in areas of faith. Radcliffe is a Catholic and so the entire book is presented from this standpoint. Whilst this is entirely understandable, some aspects of the book did make it slightly less comfortable for me as a born again believer. Radcliffe quotes from the Apocrypha at a number of points, which isn't widely used outside the Catholic faith. He also uses baptism to refer to infant baptism, which isn't something my church teaches, although thanks to having parents of a vague faith, I was Christened as a child, as well as being baptised as an adult.
Although some of his points on faith weren't entirely in agreement with mine, I did find myself agreeing with Radcliffe's basic argument. The points he makes on baptism are equally valid in terms of adult baptism and particularly where he talks about the wider faith of which baptism is a part, I felt this was a very well reasoned book. The focus on Catholicism may make this more suited to someone of that faith, but as a book on the important of faith in modern culture, there are many aspects here that relate well across all branches of Christianity and all presented in a very readable form, although with a cheapest price of more than £4.50 on Amazon, you need to be seriously considering baptism or studying theology to make this worth a purchase.