This Dark World:
A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost
Carolyn J. Briggs
Bloomsbury, 342 pages, $24.95

If one aspect of American culture is a readiness to let people reinvent their lives, Carolyn Briggs shows near mastery of this art.

First, she emerged from a lower middle-class childhood in rural Iowa, and teen pregnancy, into a marriage and active membership in a fundamentalist church. Briggs eventually became a literature student who ditched her two-decade marriage and Christian commitment for an affair in Ireland. She says she's a Christian again, but without the "narrow" religion of her past.

Bloomsbury promotes This Dark World as an account of "salvation found and lost." It seems more an admixture of marketing hype and an account of belief not taking root in a burdened soul. Unfortunately, the book is likely to win plaudits for its savaging of evangelical Christianity as the source of one woman's oppression, and her abandonment of that faith as a fount of liberation.

Awaiting Gabriel's Trumpet

Briggs, now a part-time writing instructor at Grand View College, a Lutheran school in Des Moines, writes movingly of her quest for her place in life.

The odyssey begins in a family whose dysfunctions eventually split it apart. It includes a weekly drop-off at a Baptist Sunday school where young Carolyn makes a commitment. In her telling, that church's elders were too busy ogling her mother's legs to make the family's spiritual welfare a priority.

Discovering boys and dating in high school—and one particular classmate and rock musician wannabe—led to a sexual relationship, and then a marriage when she became pregnant.

Early in that marriage, Briggs's casual watching of televangelists rekindled her early religious interest and led her to recommit her life to Christ. Her husband soon followed, and the young couple joined "Fountain of Joy," Briggs's name for the "New Testament church" they were part of for nearly two decades. (Briggs says the church still exists in Des Moines. She declined to disclose its actual name to CT.)

While at Fountain of Joy, Briggs raised children, memorized the five points of Calvinism, and studied from an interlinear Greek/English New Testament. With one ear cocked for the sound of the "last trump," Briggs eagerly awaited the return of Christ. She writes that she could be startled even by trumpet music in a supermarket.

Yet strong contrary currents were moving. Though initially in love with her husband and attracted to his musical talent, Briggs writes of a marriage stalled between coexistence and genuine intimacy. She writes that "Doctor Dobson" was one of her favorite "radio preachers," but the couple did not seek counseling for their stagnating relationship until it was almost dead. Not surprisingly, Briggs says the last-hour counseling had little effect.

This Dark World gives the strong impression that her marriage was imperiled by association with this church, but Briggs says she does not blame the church for her marriage's failure.

Other areas hinted at in the narrative seem to fall flat. In a piece and her publisher's promotional material, Fountain of Joy is depicted as a foreboding place where members were regular victims of abuse. The book describes a church member spanking one of Briggs's daughters hard enough to leave a mark, which rightly horrified Briggs. Still, Briggs describes a church that is no candidate for cult status.

Briggs tells CT that she does not want This Dark World to be a "reverse proselytizing" book. Briggs believes she could find fulfillment only in leaving both her marriage and her church, but she says these were efforts at growth rather than attacks on her church.

I left the book saddened at Briggs's loss of faith, which seemed to stem from a lack of depth in her Christian experience. Her church may have sung contemporary worship songs about Jesus as "the rock of my salvation," but Briggs's anchor apparently did not hold when the storms finally came.

Even sadder were the seeds that may have brought her story to flower: the Baptist deacons of her childhood. Had those churchmen behaved more honorably, an entire family's destiny might have changed. While the brush with lecherous deacons is a cautionary tale for Christians, so too is the facile dismissal of evangelical faith that Briggs makes at the end of the book.

Mark A. Kellner is a writer in Marina del Rey, California.

Related Elsewhere

This Dark World by Carolyn J. Briggs is available at

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