Category Archives: Apologetics

Lay Face Down and Clutch the Grass

If you enjoyed N. D. Wilson’s brilliant book Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World, I think you will enjoy his new DVD by the same title. The new “bookumentary” is just as artistic, personal, creation marveling, Creator worshiping, and as serious about worldview, graveyards, hell, art, evil, and enjoying hotdogs, ice cream, shorelines, and butterflies. It’s a 50-minute worldview film about God and life that will edify your soul and give you a new appreciation for the marvelous world in which we live. And it’s a project that has quite a lot of potential uses in campus and community outreach (study guide included).

Props to Wilson (@ndwilsonmutters) and director Aaron Rench (@aaronrench; also the executive director of Collision: Christopher Hitchens vs. Douglas Wilson) for pulling off a thoughtful, edifying, and artistic new film.

You can buy the movie from Canon Press ($22) or watch the trailer here:

Review: Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl

I don’t recall the last time I sprinted to Barnes and Noble to shell out full price for a book. Come to think of it, I can’t remember sprinting for much of anything.

But that’s exactly what I did when I heard N.D. Wilson’s new book had been published early and was stocked in stores earlier than expected. I jumped in the car, drove to the nearest B+N, jogged over to the Christian / Inspiration section, scanned past Osteen’s big smiley cover shot, and down until I found the “W”s. There, out of sight on the floor-level shelf, was the store’s one copy of Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World (Thomas Nelson 2009). Happy Father’s Day to me!

Wilson is a Fellow of Literature at New Saint Andrews College and the managing editor for Credenda/Agenda magazine. He’s the son of Douglas Wilson. And of all the children’s fiction authors my family reads, Wilson is one of our recent favorites. His books are a gift for families who enjoy reading together (Leepike Ridge and 100 Cupboards). [Although Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl is not for children. I kinda guessed from the table of contents that it wasn’t, and this suspicion was confirmed by one or two vulgarities.]

The framework for the book is mixed metaphor, and Wilson piles on the metaphors with each page. Life is a bit like a carnival, a serious carnival. Or life is like the four seasons. Readers who seek a literary buzz of metaphorical intoxication will find it hard to put this book down, and once they do, may find it impossible to touch their nose with their fingertips.

Notes reads like C.S. Lewis. Like Lewis, Wilson pries our sleepy eyes open to the marvelous work of God all around us—in the snowflakes, leaves, galaxies, laughter, sunshine, ants, thunder. Wilson stops us to appreciate God’s creative handiwork one molecule and one insect at a time.

But like Lewis, Wilson nudges us into deeper waters to discuss the origin of evil, God’s purposes behind personal tragedy, the vanity of human philosophy, and the absurdity of evolution. As I have already shown you on this blog, Wilson is quick to slap philosophers around like Kip Dynamite in a Rex Kwon Do (see the post Nietzsche’s Pity for an example).

Notes is interesting as an autobiographical sketch, capturing the complexity of the inner life in short and clean sentences.

Notes is good as Theology, singing a song of praise to our sovereign God who created the wonder and majesty before our eyes.

Notes is very good as literature, featuring stunning metaphors that pile and build as the book develops.

Notes is a good example of how to develop from general revelation towards the substitutionary death of Jesus for sinners.

Notes is a very good apologetic. It may be, in the words of my friend Justin Taylor, a gospel tract for postmodern times. It will prove valuable when discussing the gospel with skeptics, atheists, or even Christians who are not running barefoot through fields of God’s creative wonder.

But unlike so many contemporary apologetic works, Wilson is careful to preserve God’s active judgment in the condemnation of sinners (see p. 179). Far too often, followers of C.S. Lewis have followed him in his ambiguity here. Wilson is careful and clear.

I suppose if I could suggest one disappointment it would be this. I kept waiting for Wilson to turn his attention to the spectacular, awe-inspiring, work of God’s voice captured in two words spoken over the blood-bought sinner—”Not guilty!” Luther rightly teaches us that justification is God’s spoken declaration. His “Not guilty!” judgment is as real as the phrase “Let there be light!” This God-spoken, reality-making, “legal fiction”-shattering, voice of God over the sinner is one of the most wonderful acts of God. Yet it was a wide-eyed wonder in God’s spoken world that seemed to go missing.

All said, Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl is a rare treasure. Few living writers I’ve read match N.D. Wilson in imagination, creative articulation of orthodox theology, and ability to write in a simple prose style. That his attention has turned—however briefly—to an adult audience has resulted in a wonderfully modern, C.S. Lewis-like treasure.

Enjoy it, but beware. The book’s conclusion may leave a bad taste in your mouth.

(LOL!)

Happy reading.

———–

Title: Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World
Author: N.D. Wilson
Boards: paper
Pages: 203
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Year: 2009
Price USD: $14.99 / $10.19 from Amazon
ISBN: 9780849920073

“I’m With Jesus”: A Simple Approach to Apologetics

imwithjesusI don’t know how many escalators it took, but it was a long descent to the basement of the Louisville convention center. At the bottom of the last escalator an open door invited guests into a large room of chairs and tables. Off to the side of the room was a circle of 20 chairs. I was here mostly out of curiosity.

Upstairs a conference was taking place and pastor Mark Dever had invited anyone who was questioning the faith, or skeptical, to join him in the conference basement where they could ask him any questions they wished. I was here to listen.

The 20 chairs filled up quickly, mostly with college students, gathered in a circle of strangers, filling the room with awkward, anxious silence. But it didn’t take long for Dr. Dever to begin, to greet each individual personally, and to invite the questions.

The stories represented in the room were diverse. One young man had grown up in the church, but towards adulthood became increasingly skeptical towards the church. One young woman talked about her struggles in her transition from Eastern religions to Christianity and how she was not convinced Christianity was an improvement, or if the transition was worth the hassle. Another young man was interested in the faith but held tightly to questions that he believed contradicted the inerrancy and validity of scripture.

I don’t recall all the specific questions that were asked (there were many questions), but I clearly recall one moment when Dr. Dever responded to one question with a very simple answer—“Yes, I do believe in that, because Jesus said it happened, and I’m with Jesus.”

At that moment something in my mind “clicked.” Like the first marble dropping in a Rube Goldberg machine, Dever’s statement set off a series of mental and spiritual connections. I scribbled in my notebook one simple line: “I’m with Jesus.”

After the meeting I found my way out of the conference center basement and out onto a sidewalk, breathing the fresh air, and tossing around in my mind a new, simpler approach to apologetics. I call it the “I’m With Jesus” method. Now of course this is not the only thing to be said about Scripture, the authority of the text, and the infallibility of the Old Testament, but it’s a very handy apologetic approach for settings like this one.

Perhaps it would help if I demonstrated this by asking and hopefully answering a handful of common questions to illustrate how it works.

Question: In that silly story about Jonah getting swallowed by a whale, certainly you don’t believe that really happened, do you? Was he a real man or a fictitious character to begin with? Did he really spend a weekend inside a whale? Did he really go on to preach in Nineveh?

Good questions.

Answer: Yes, I believe Jonah was a real man, a prophet, who was also swallowed by a “great fish” (whale?), who spent three days inside that fish, before eventually finding his way to Nineveh. How do I know? I know because Jesus confirms these facts by the testimony of his own mouth (Matt. 12:39-41). Jesus assumes the validity of the story, so I affirm it, too. I’m with Jesus.

Let’s try another one.

Question: Did the Genesis flood really happen? Did Noah really build an ark? Did the flood really destroy the population? Wasn’t the flood story just a rip-off from some ancient flood myth told by the Babylonians?

Let’s ask Jesus.

Answer: “And he said to the disciples, ‘… Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:22,26-27). I’m with Jesus.

Let’s turn to the authenticity of scripture.

Question: How many authors composed the book of Isaiah? Some scholars would say the book has multiple authors (2 or 3), some doubt that any of the authors could have been the prophet Isaiah himself, thereby undercutting the authority of scripture in some ways. So how do we answer? Ask Jesus.

Answer: In the gospels we see that Jesus assumes that the prophet Isaiah wrote the book of Isaiah, citing Isaiah as the single author, and alluding to no secondary authors (see Matt 13:14 and Isa 6:9-10, Matt 15:7 and Isa 29:13). I’m with Jesus.

The same works on a critical issue of personal salvation.

Question: Is Jesus really the only way to God? Aren’t there multiple paths to heaven?

Answer: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). I’m with Jesus.

That’s how it works.

Actually, consider collecting your own list of difficult questions and then go read the gospels. See if Jesus answers your questions or makes allusions that help to answer your questions. You may be surprised at what you learn.

This method of apologetics will not answer every question (I know), but it certainly helps out with some big ones.

Conclusion

C.S. Lewis famously said that Jesus was either a pathological liar who duped us, a lunatic nut case that should have been medicated, or he is the Lord over all creation who is to be worshiped and followed (my paraphrase). Jesus can be only one of the three—but he must be one of the three.

By arguing from his very own words we set forward the ultimate question that faces all of us, a question straight from the mouth of Jesus: “Who do you say that I Am?” We all must reckon with Jesus. We must all either reject his words or we must trust his words.

I’m grateful for the lesson learned in a convention center basement. This truth, so simple and yet so profound, has altered (and simplified) my understanding of apologetics.

I’m with Jesus.

Matter

“If God does not exist, then nothing matters.
If God does exist, that is all that matters.”

The words of an unnamed skeptic as quoted by Dr. Bill Brown in the DVD series re:View, episode #02: “Sign/Ultimate Questions.”

Van Til 2.0

Until recently, readers wanting to tackle the works of Cornelius Van Til could expect a number of difficulties along the way. Van Til’s complex and lengthy arguments, and his robust vocabulary, had the potential at any point to turn a reader’s well-fought comprehension into a concession of confusion. Readers (like myself) need a trail guide through the writings of Van Til. And now we have them.

P&R has been releasing classic works by Van Til in a retypeset version of the original, adding to them detailed introductions and hundreds of clarifying footnotes to lead the reader in their journey through the works of this pioneer of apologetics. To date three volumes are available in their newly edited form:

Christian Apologetics, second edition, edited by William Edgar (P&R, 2003). Paperback, 206 pages. $10.39.

An Introduction to Systematic Theology, second edition, edited by William Edgar (P&R, 2007). Paperback, 409 pages. $13.64.

The Defense of the Faith, fourth edition, edited by K. Scott Oliphint (P&R, 2008). Paperback, 427 pages. $13.19.

Machen: Christianity + Culture

If you tune into the volume of books, articles, and cross-country speaking tours you may get the idea that the church just opened her eyes to see that she lives within a culture and needs to do something to understand and engage that culture. Some may say the church is still sleeping through the present culture, unaware of what’s happening around her in the arts, literature, worldview shifts, etc.

Which is why I find myself consistently amazed when I read evidence of how long, how deeply, and how carefully the Reformed tradition has sought to wed theological precision to cultural engagement for the sake of saving the lost.

Take Baltimorian J. Gresham Machen for example (1881-1937). On September 20, 1912, Machen opened the fall semester at Princeton Theological Seminary with an address titled, “Christianity and Culture.”

Listen carefully to Machen as he balances the primacy of the gospel, reformed theology, and cultural engagement. He said:

“… Are then Christianity and culture in a conflict that is to be settled only by the destruction of one or the other of the contending forces? A third solution, fortunately, is possible—namely, consecration. Instead of destroying the arts and sciences or being indifferent to them, let us cultivate them with all the enthusiasm of the veriest humanist, but at the same time consecrate them to the service of our God. Instead of stifling the pleasures afforded by the acquisition of knowledge or by the appreciation of what is beautiful, let us accept these pleasures as the gifts of a heavenly Father. Instead of obliterating the distinction between the kingdom and the world, or on the other hand withdrawing from the world into a sort of modernized intellectual monasticism, let us go forth joyfully, enthusiastically to make the world subject to God. …

There are two objections to our solution of the problem. If you bring culture and Christianity thus into close union—in the first place, will not Christianity destroy culture? Must not art and science be independent in order to flourish? We answer that it all depends upon the nature of their dependence. Subjection to any external authority or even to any human authority would be fatal to art and science. But subjection to God is entirely different. Dedication of human powers to God is found, as a matter of fact, not to destroy but to heighten them. God gave those powers. He understands them well enough not bunglingly to destroy his own gifts. In the second place, will not culture destroy Christianity? Is it not far easier to be an earnest Christian if you confine your attention to the Bible and do not risk being led astray by the thought of the world? We answer that of course it is easier. Shut yourself up in an intellectual monastery, do not disturb yourself with the thoughts of unregenerate men, and of course you will find it easier to be a Christian, just as it is easier to be a good soldier in comfortable winter quarters than it is on the field of battle. You save your own soul—but the Lord’s enemies remain in possession of the field. …

I do not mean that the removal of intellectual objections will make a man a Christian. No conversion was ever wrought simply by argument. A change of heart is also necessary. And that can be wrought only by the immediate exercise of the power of God. But because intellectual labor is insufficient, it does not follow, as is so often assumed, that it is unnecessary. God may, it is true, overcome all intellectual obstacles by an immediate exercise of his regenerative power. Sometimes he does. But he does so very seldom. Usually he exerts his power in connection with certain conditions of the human mind. Usually he does not bring into the kingdom, entirely without preparation, those whose mind and fancy are completely dominated by ideas which make the acceptance of the gospel logically impossible. …

Modern culture is a tremendous force. It affects all classes of society. It affects the ignorant as well as the learned. What is to be done about it? In the first place, the church may simply withdraw from the conflict. She may simply allow the mighty stream of modern thought to flow by unheeded and do her work merely in the back-eddies of the current. There are still some men in the world who have been unaffected by modern culture. They may still be won for Christ without intellectual labor. And they must be won. It is useful, it is necessary work. If the church is satisfied with that alone, let her give up the scientific education of her ministry. …

The church is puzzled by the world’s indifference. She is trying to overcome it by adapting her message to the fashions of the day. But if, instead, before the conflict, she would descend into the secret place of meditation, if by the clear light of the gospel she would seek an answer not merely to the questions of the hour but, first of all, to the eternal problems of the spiritual world, then perhaps, by God’s grace, through his good Spirit, in his good time, she might issue forth once more with power, and an age of doubt might be followed by the dawn of an era of faith.”

[Quote taken from D. G. Hart’s, J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings (P&R, 2004) 399-410.]

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