Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Hearty Slap In the Face

By its own admission, there is almost no need to classify this book.  Is it about God’s presence in this world?  Yup.  Is it about the beauty and pain in this world?  Yup.  Does it contain a letter by Hamlet, Prince of Denmark?  Yes.   Does it have a lot to say about ants and snowflakes?  It most certainly does.  This is, after all, a book about someone who believes he is on a tilt-a-whirl.  A perfect, spinning orb of a tilt-a-whirl.

N.D. Wilson’s book was, for me, a deep breath of fresh air.  I spend a lot of time with what some call ‘serious’ books on philosophy, theology, history and so forth and I was drawn to the sense I got that this book doesn’t take itself seriously, but simultaneously takes its subject matter seriously.  It delivered.  While the chapters will often take their own routs around the subject matter, they all lead you to the end of the book.  Wilson isn’t random in his “Notes,” but surprising, often humorous, and sometimes quite moving.

If I had to put the thesis of the book in a sentence it might be, “a hearty slap in the face to the problem of evil.”  Wilson knows his philosophers and theologians.  He does not neglect the age-old arguments and points of views on ‘either side’, but he does not take the strict philosophical tact to deal with this problem.  He is interested in the story the world is telling, the roles we all play (and by “we all,” I mean to include earwigs, mayflies, naked mole rats, and fat rabbits), and what God is up to in all of it.  He asks, “How could an all-good, all-powerful God allow evil in the world? Or, from a slightly different angle: how could an all-good, all-powerful God allow David Hume in the world?” (pg. 78)

Through his perspective on daily life and God in it, I found a deeply thoughtful reflection on what I would call relationship with God.  His book inspired and encouraged me to take in more of the things around me from a different, God-saturated, point of view.  When I got to the chapter on hell, the pastor and theologian within me was worried.  It was wonderful.

I think this is a great book for encouraging a meaningful and daily trust in the God who really is there, and happens to be here as well.

If this review was helpful, click "Yes" on the Amazon review.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

A Great Shot In The Arm

In case you haven’t noticed, there has been a barrage of belligerent atheists writing volumes of popular works attacking religion in general and Christianity in particular.  And if you are not careful you can get the feeling that they have the upper hand right now.  Their books sell well, they make the debate rounds (well, most of them do), and many of them have been guests on a plethora of TV and radio shows.  They talk a great game and many have been lead down their primrose path.

It turns out, however, that only one or two layers beneath the overly confident surface lies a surfeit of good ideas.  With a little guided and informed examination it is revealed that their bark does not measure up to their bite.  Mitch Stokes’ book is that examination, and is a very well-guided tour of the problems with the so-called new atheists. 

But the book begins in an unexpected place.  In fact, I’m not sure I have read a non-technical or popular level book on Christian thought or apologetics that begins where he does.  You might expect a book like this to open by dealing with the major arguments for God’s existence or the reliability of Scripture or even a blow-by-blow examination of the new atheist’s arguments.  Instead, Stokes begins with the issues of argument, reason, and knowledge in the first place.  Specifically, he uses the epistemological work of Alvin Plantinga to argue against the evidentialism, Enlightenment rationalism, and scientific provincialism inherent (and necessary) to the work of the new atheists.  In essence, he pulls the rug out from underneath their entire scheme.

From there Stokes deals with what are probably the two most popular and potent attacks on the faith – the assertion that science has ‘disproved God’ and the problem of evil.  Both sections are rich with table-turning insight and are profitable for anyone who has confronted these arguments or even doubted because of them.

If you are accustomed to a Christian apologetic being primarily about various arguments, you might end up a little frustrated with Stokes’ take on their role and usefulness.  He does not get rid of the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, but he does see a need for good arguments to bolster the reasonableness of faith.  If I have a quibble with the book it is that I might place more emphasis on the power and usefulness of the arguments themselves, but that did not get in the way of the value of this work for me.

If you are worried because you don’t know what any of that means, you are in luck.  Though his book will force you to think and slow down a bit, it is entirely readable and accessible if you are ready to do so.  I thoroughly enjoyed discovering this book, its treatment of Plantinga’s ideas, and it thorough treatment of the new atheists and their arguments.

Stokes states that he wrote this book to encourage the believer and even possibly help anyone toying with doubt, and I think he has done a wonderful job.

If you liked this review, click 'Yes' on Amazon.